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By December 22, 2012 Read More →

Tips for Keeping Your Chickens Warm and Alive in the Winter

How to keep your chickens warm and alive during cold winter!
Written and Lived by Stephanie Dayle

Do you ever wonder if your chickens are cold in the middle of the winter?

Photo by Stephanie Dayle © 2013

I know I do!  Here are some safe tips for keeping chickens in the winter that will help you and your chickens enjoy, or at least tolerate the season.

Chicks
If you have batch of chicks in a brooder when a cold snap hits – check on them frequently and if you see them all huddled together and peeping loudly, they are too cold.  Lower your red heat light to increase the temperature of your brooder for your chicks or add another light.  Put a cheap, non-digital thermometer down at their level to monitor the temperature, as you also don’t want them getting too hot.  Young chicks should be kept at 95 degrees or a little better for their first week then the temperature can drop a couple of degrees each following week.

In the winter a brooder should be in a draft free area and either up off of the cement floor or there should be adequate insulation between the chicks and the floor, like several fluffy inches of bedding.  If there is a power outage it will be necessary to bring your chicks indoors and place them near your alternative heat source to keep them alive.  Our alternative heat source is a wood stove, so using the cheap little thermometer we would find a suitable spot by the wood stove.

Cold Hardy Breeds
Most adult chickens will do just fine in winter, even in cold climates.  They may not enjoy it all the time, but they are very adept to it.  Some breeds are more cold hardy than others – I make sure my flock is made up of mostly cold hardy dual purpose breeds because in our area it is not uncommon to see winter temperatures drop below zero.  Cold hardy dual purpose breeds include Australorps (my favorite), Delawares,  Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks (Plymouth Rocks), Brahmas, Buckeyes, Jersey Giants, and Sussexs, just to name a few.

Photo by Stephanie Dayle © 2013

Daylight Hours
These hardy breeds will get you through the winters with more than a couple of eggs too.  Although you may need to add a light on a timer (like this one here) that is rated for outdoor use and is heavy-duty enough to handle the draw of a couple of lights at once.  If winter egg production is your goal, it is important to do this BEFORE daylight hours start dropping.  Hens prefer at least 14 hours of daylight to stay productive and if you let daylight hours drop before getting your light installed, her egg laying cycle will shut down or slow for winter, even if you later add a light.  While I use a light for my hens, I know several friends who don’t use any light at all and they see only a slight drop in egg production.

Is it too Cold?
Many people are tempted to add a heater or leave a light on all day during the cold of winter thinking that their poor chickens are freezing out in the weather.  Most experts strongly advice against this.  The risk of fire is too great and chickens are far more resilient than most people think. Making a cautionary point, a regular 100-watt light bulb burns at 200º F; a heat lamp at 500 º F, wood ignites at 575º – 600º F, leaving very little margin for safe operation. The wood dust and their soft downy feathers that like to collect on the bulbs will ignite at an even lower temperature.

A single, heat lamp (250w) running all the time will cost you something like $24+ per month on your electric bill. If you live in an area where a snow storm or ice storm could knock your service out for days, chickens used to a very warm coop could find themselves in real trouble.  Even in normal winter temperatures it’s hard on your birds to go from the warm coop to outside and then back in.

If you have chosen cold hardy breeds and your coop closes up – insulate the coop and close them up at night to keep the wind out, protecting them from the wind and humidity is your best defense against winter temperatures.

Most cold hardy chickens will do just fine even when temperatures hover around zero and have been recorded doing just fine in even sub-zero temperatures. Chickens have 8,300 feathers and know how to arrange them just right so they stay warm. Sometimes chickens can develop frostbite on their feet and combs so its import to keep an eye on them during such temperatures.  A little vaseline applied before dark can help prevent this if you feel like chicken wrangling.

The Question of Vaseline or Oil – Does it Work?
Vaseline does not keep parts of your chicken’s body warmer – but it does keep moisture from condensing and freezing directly on the surface of the comb or wattle which is usually the cause of frostbite on chickens since their appendages can in fact withstand subzero temperatures. Remember chickens are NOT mammals and do not react the same to cold as mammals, they are far more resilient to cold. However, if it is cold enough that parts of the chicken are actually freezing, vaseline will not help.

Installing wide perches will let the birds sit on their feet to keep them warm. I used 2x2s for my coop, closet dowels also work as do 2x4s.

If Additional Heat is a Must
Occasionally Mother Nature will just have us out matched so in the case of an extreme life threatening cold snap, you may have to add an additional source of heat.  In this case I would like to suggest a 60-100 watt light bulb or ceramic bulb and not an actual heat lamp bulb.  This will be just enough to take the edge off of the cold, will be cheaper to operate, and will be less of a fire risk than a 250 watt heat bulb.  Secure the light in two places so if one connection fails the other will catch it before it comes in contact with the chicken’s bedding, somewhere your chickens can’t mess with it.  Chicken coop fires do happen and the likelihood of chickens surviving even a small coop fire is slim (news story – coop fire kills chickens and destroys garage).

When the cold snap is over remove the light from your coop.  If a cold snap of this severity were to happen in conjunction with a long-term power outage it may be necessary to move your chickens to a warmer location, perhaps in your garage, basement or even in the house with you.  Dog crates are handy for impromptu moving of chickens – bring them in warm them up, then pack them easily back outside when the weather is safe.

Ventilation
When you close your coop up in the evenings make sure to maintain adequate ventilation, otherwise moisture will collect inside leading to frost-bitten feet and combs.  Vents placed high on the coop wall are excellent for this purpose.  This is also why it is important to keep your chicken litter clean and dry. While a deep litter system will also insulate your coop from the cold it’s important to remove wet spots as soon as possible to avoid an accumulation of moisture.

Your chickens will huddle together and stay quite warm all night, I have heard that one chicken puts out something like 10 watts of heat, so if you have 10 chickens huddled together in your coop, it’s the equivalent of running a 100 watt light bulb in there all night.  As long as it isn’t humid or damp in there you most likely will not see frostbite.  One of the things I use to guard against moisture is wood pellets (the plain ones they sell for wood stoves), they will dutifully absorb any extra moisture expanding into saw dust as they do so.

Photo by Stephanie Dayle © 2013

Water
A key issue for chickens or any poultry in the winter is a supply of fresh water, so if you don’t like hauling water to your chickens twice a day because it continues to freeze solid, construct your own chicken waterer that uses a submersible aquarium heater or invest in one of the store-bought waterers with a built-in heater. Another alternative is one of the old fashioned base heaters, you sit your metal poultry waterer on these as it heats from below controlled by an internal thermostat.  In sever cold temperatures chickens should never go more than a couple of hours without fresh water.

Snow
When you open your coop up in the morning to give them the option of going outside, keep in mind most chickens do not enjoy the snow so they probably won’t venture out of the coop much if the snow is deep or if the temperature drops below 20 degrees.  This is why I shovel the snow out of my chicken pen in the winter – to encourage them to go outside and get a little fresh air.  If they are getting a little restless in their coop and still don’t want to go outside you can hang a half a head of cabbage from the top of the coop and let them spend all day shredding it, it will keep them busy and it’s a good treat for them too.

Warm Treats and Food!
What I also make a point of doing is storing at least a winter’s worth of feed for my chickens.  This way if anything happens and I can’t make it to the store my chickens will not go hungry.  I maintain that supply at all times, using the oldest food first and buying more or growing more to replace what I have used, nothing goes bad and it doesn’t take up much space to store.

I also use food to help warm my chicken up, occasionally on real cold mornings I will make them up some warm oatmeal for breakfast, any oatmeal will do, and they’ll love the snack.  Another thing that anyone can do to help keep their chickens warm is feed them a little bit of corn scratch in the evening – this will help keep them warm all night long. Chicken feed with higher protein levels will also help keep them running warmer.

PLEASE NOTE: Scratch grains should not comprise more than 10% of your chickens diet. Scratch feeds, (usually cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, or wheat), are relatively low in protein and do not provide balanced nutrition. In fact, if too much scratch is added to an already complete diet, nutrient levels can be diluted. Therefore, it is recommended that scratch be fed sparingly (info source 1) (info source 2).

Keeping chickens through the winter is not a hard thing to do with the right information.  I hope this article helps and if you have any tips or advice please leave a comment below to help others.

 

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About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" to be released in August 2014. "I write articles based on my own experience about emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. Yes, families such as mine still do exist! I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because of I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts. I also have a full time job with an hour commute - my alter egos are as a Marketing Director, and an amateur photographer. " To connect with me --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

26 Comments on "Tips for Keeping Your Chickens Warm and Alive in the Winter"

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  1. Seriously, use a Broiler, keeps chicken warm and tasty

  2. Phil Burns says:

    They also tend to quit laying after that :)

  3. Janey Sams says:

    I only had 14 chickens and the neighbor’s dog got all but one. I have figured the best way to keep her warm is in a pot of boiling water…

  4. Great article. I have barred rock hens and live in zone 7. I wish I’d got a light set up before the days got so short. I’m getting 2-3 eggs a WEEK from 4 hens right now.

    I was considering putting the brooder lamp in their hen house, but now I think I’ll let them be. They have a fairly small hen house, entry is through a plank/ladder that comes in through the floor. Don’t know if I should block it to keep the wind out at night… they are all huddled up as far as they can get from the opening. I just worry about them freaking out when they can’t get outside in the morning first thing.

    • Hi Valerie,

      Don’t worry about your chickens freaking out if you can’t get outside first thing to let them out. If you close them up it will be relatively dark in the coop so they will remain inactive, and it really is the best way to protect them from the wind chill and night time predators. I do always ‘try’ to open it up about when it gets light outside though – as they need those daylight hours, but couple of late mornings won’t hurt them. You know what they say about keeping farm animals “If you aren’t a morning person, you will be.” We also have an opening and a plank/ladder but have made a door that we can swing shut at night.  

  5. Ya, well, to each chicken there is a time and season. I prefer dinner time and a good poultry seasoning!

  6. I’m preparing to get chickens soon! :D

  7. My chickens are in a tropical climate no heat needed. Why is the majority of Prepper literature dedicated to cold northern climates?

    • I’ve noticed this too (zone 8/9 desert), but if you are diligent there is information out there; it’s just harder to come by. Most of my research is from looking at the opposite of what is “good” or doing the opposite of what an article says (i.e. from this article I get that I should increase ventilation in the summer).

      Also, look into local contacts (farm supply stores or neighbors). They know all about your local climate and it’s impact on farm stock!

      • Just a Mom says:

        I imagine prepping in colder climates is a little more difficult (shorter growing season, and the need for keeping yourself and your kids and critters warm during the longer, colder winter, for starters). I’m about at the point where I’d give anything to move to a warmer climate. :) If you start a site for prepping in a warmer climate, let me know!

        What I’d love to see are more sites dedicated to city and suburban prepping. Those are the folks that will need it most in an emergency situation. Especially those that can’t “but out”.

    • Well – it is winter here. And I do live up North. Therefore, its only natural for me to write about what I have experience doing. I think the reason why you see more articles like this specific for colder climates is because the colder climates require such unique preparations to guard against extreme cold.  Now that’s not said to marginalize the challenges the warmer zones face, but it said to recognize that colder zones do face some unique issues that if ignored will be a matter of life or death to chickens living in those Northern Zones.
      The other reason why you see more chicken articles written in the prepping world geared to Northern climates is because of the popularity of the American Redoubt real-estate for preppers.  A lot of people who prepare move to, or want to move to the American Redoubt area for safety reasons. Most of the American Redoubt is a cool Northern Climate (zones 6-4). These articles can be helpful to people who have either recently relocated to the American Redoubt or who want to relocate, but want worry how their animals will survive such harsh winters. The American Redoubt is a strategic relocation movement, which designates three western states (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming), and adjoining portions of two other states (eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington) as a safe haven and designated point of retreat for survivalists, conservatives, and preppers.  
      Also, most of the advice in this article can easily be applied to warmer climates. The facts do not change if you live in a zone 8 or 9. Your coop still needs to be well vented, I know it gets cold even in the desert – therefore your best defense against the cold is still going to be closing your coop up at night to protect them from the wind. You may or may not have to worry about your water freezing but you may still have to make sure they get the right amount of daylight hours to continue to lay that will not change.You may not have to worry about shoveling snow but you may have to worry about it getting too wet in the rainy season – you might want to throw some straw down in their pen area periodically to give them something dry to walk on. I do the same thing in the spring. And you can still make use of wood pellets to absorb moisture in your coop.
      This spring/summer I will write on article on dealing with the heat – so you can apply that information to your warmer zones as well. But since it is winter, I am going to wait on that for a few months. 

  8. Darla White says:

    Wonderful article. :-)

  9. good article steph…makes me wonder now after our little snowstorm had we had chickens would i feel sad for them out there freezing lol…

  10. VetMike says:

    I am curious if you have a problem with predators? I live in central Nebraska and coyotes are an issue. We do not have wolves but there are mountain lions and the rare bobcat.

    • Hi Vet Mike! Thanks for the question.
       
      We do have lots of predators out here (Coyotes, Bobcats, wolves, foxes, weasels, stray dogs, raccoons, skunks, hawks, owls, just about the only thing we don’t have to worry about are snakes and the Mountain Lions around here usually do not go after chickens, however Black Bears have been known to bust into local chicken feed bins and pork out on the chicken food). And we do worry about them that is why my chickens have a fortified pen. The picture from the article was taken prior to our chicken pen remodel – the new chicken pen is done in field fencing and comes complete with latches and a top. With the new pen even though I let my chickens out almost every day we’ve never lost a chicken to predators.  I only let them out when I am home and I make sure there is nothing in the skies when I do.
      We are so rural that it really is almost impossible to keep chickens safe without a pen with a top on it.  Another step I took was putting rocks around around the bottom of the pen – this prevents an easy dig though.  Its a little bit more work getting that all that set-up but worth out there as I have lost NO chickens to predators. If you want to see a picture of my current set up – go my facebook page by clicking on my icon here and look in my photo album called “chickens”.  

  11. Jim T. Bacon says:

    my run is 6′w x 6′ tall x 11′ long with 2 coops. My rooster and one hen raised together occupy one smaller hutch then my daughter and i built one from hardwood pallet lumber about 3′w x 4Tall by 4′ long with a shingled roof and 2 perches. We now have 8 hens and 1 rooster, all bantams. I keep their hay bales on the outside of a completely enclosed run, also chicken wire top and sides with a heavy 3′x6′ door. I keep 90% of it tarped in winter so they can be outside when it snows :)

  12. Living in Florida, winters are mild. Where I live in Florida, Central East Coast, the temps can get in the mid 30′s and sometimes upper 20′s. I just close the vent hatches but don’t close them completely. We’ve got 1 Barred Rock, 1 Golden Comet, 1 Australorp, and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte. It’s mid-January and we’re still getting 3-4 eggs a day. Y’all can keep the snow.

  13. Winter is nearing and I am really scouting for some tips to keep my “gurlz’ comfortable and warm this winter. Yes warm treats like corn can be given in the evening to keep them warm the whole night I’d like to add that during winter, chickens might not prefer to go outside and most of the time will stay in the coop. What I do is i hang a cabbage on a string inside the coop. Chickens will usually enjoy toying with the cabbage as well as eating them. This will keep them a bit busy inside the coop. :-)

  14. Valerie W says:

    we live up in canada and get temperatures down to -30 quite often over the winter. keeping the chickens warm and making shure their water stays unfrozen long enough for them all to get a drink is a big challenge. i find it hard not to laugh at you talking about the temperature hovering around zero because we have it going below zero at night and we haven’t gotten around to insulating yet (got to get on that). if you make sure you stop drafts, and insulate you should be fine, in our large flock we get a few every year who get frostbite on a comb, had a couple lose a toe, but they all make it through as we do. alive but cold.

    • -30? Well bless your heart Valerie! Living proof that chickens can survive the cold just fine without at heater! Please keep in mind that my main audience is in the the lower 48 and incase I forgot to specify the temps listed in this article are in Fahrenheit and not Celsius. To be fair we have also experienced temperatures ranging from -20°F to -30°F however they occur sporadically and not an a regular bases around here.



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