Chickens And Cold or Freezing Temperatures

chickens in cold

Caring for chickens in the wintertime is perhaps one of the most important times to care for your hens. If you are new to raising chickens, you likely have a few questions about chickens and cold or freezing temperatures.

How you go about this, and even if you have been raising chickens for a while, there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

Below I will answer a few common questions about cold temperatures and how it impacts your flock.

Chickens And Cold
Can Chickens Freeze to Death?

Can chickens freeze to death? This is a question everyone asks, and the answer is simple.

Yes, chickens can freeze to death, but the main reasons it happens are that either they aren’t in good health and you didn’t know it. Or that their coop isn’t prepared for the winter. 

If you prepare their coop and keep them in good health, they should not freeze just because of the cold.

Some people live in Alaska and Northern Canada that don’t use electric heat and never lose a chicken due to the cold, and it gets freezing there.

If you can see or hear wild birds in the area where you live, and they don’t freeze, then neither would the chickens.

Because they are larger and have a lot more protection with their double layers of feathers. 
So, you need to make sure their coop is prepared for the winter.

Also, if you find one of your chickens seems to be sick while it is cold, they are for certain weakened. They need a little extra care (TLC) to keep their health from decreasing while it is cold outside.

You should put your compromised chicken in a crate in a part of your house or garage where it is warmer. That will keep her from using up so much of her energy to keep warm.

Then, of course, you transfer her back to the coop carefully.  If you are just thinking about preparing your coop for winter, you will need to improvise quickly, like the example below.       
improvised winter chicken coop                                             

Can Chickens Stay Outside in Winter?

Yes, they can, and most of them like it a lot, especially the cold-hardy breeds. Chickens are created to regulate their body’s temperature with their undercoat of feathers, and they increase food intake during cold weather.

Sometimes though, during extreme weather conditions, they might need shelter during the day. This should be taken into consideration when high freezing winds and wet freezing conditions a present. 

You can look for some signs to see if the cold weather is stressing your chickens. Chickens give off signs of being cold when they huddle into one corner or puff up their feathers to trap body heat.

Many times, they will have one foot up as close as they can to their belly feathers, trying to get it warm while standing on one leg if you see this plan quickly to address the cold conditions.

chicken on one leg
Are Chickens Okay in Freezing Temperatures?

Yes. Honestly, they are much better in cold temperatures than they are heat tolerant. Some breeds of chickens are better in cold climates than others.

If you are in a location where there will be a lot of snow, you want to make sure you get the breed that can handle the colder weather better.

If you wonder how cold is too cold for your flock, read our article specifically addressing this.

Chickens will also tuck their head underneath their wing while sleeping, which will also help them to retain the heat they would lose through their comb.

Chickens can struggle with drastic climate changes, but they shouldn’t get stressed out if they are not already sick.

You can put salve or petroleum jelly on their wattles and combs to help keep them from freezing if you are concerned.

Keeping Chickens Warm in the Winter Without Electricity?

You can keep the chickens warm in the winter without electricity is to have the chicken coop winterized.

Make sure there are no holes that a draft can get in the coop. If you find any, cover them up, paying special attention to the north and west sides of the coop. I

f you have them all sealed up, it will help it retain the heat better. Many people are concerned about the actual temperature, but drafty and windy locations are the main concern. 

A chicken has a resting heartbeat of over 300 beats a minute, and its body temperature is from 104-110F. This gives them a high metabolism that helps them stay warm in the winter.

That is why if you check the temperature in the coop with a thermometer overnight, you will probably find that it has stayed in the 30-40F range the whole night. That is from their combined heat working together. 

You also need to make sure the coop has ventilation, so the ammonia gas doesn’t build up from their poop, causing damage to their lungs. The ventilation helps cut down on the moisture from poop. Otherwise, that moisture could cause the chicken’s combs and wattles to freeze by condensing on them. 

Ventilation location needs to be in the roof of the coop or gable ends and nowhere near their roost area or nest boxes where it would cause a draft and make them get cold.

Two other things that can affect the moisture in the coop are if the bedding isn’t dry, and last is if you have a waterer in the coop at night, it causes a lot of moisture and can cause spillover and freezing conditions.

All the humidity or moisture increases the risk of unhealthy conditions that lead to respiratory ailments and mold-related illnesses

Can Chickens Survive Without A Heat Lamp?

Yes. They don’t need the extra heat because they have their own heater: their feathers. They have two different types of feathers, the contour feathers, the firm ones on the outside, and the downy feathers, which are the soft fluffy ones on the inside.

The downy feathers are the ones closest to the skin and trap the air and keep them warm. 

But that also depends on if there are drafts in the coop. If there is a draft, that cool air will go in the space where their feathers are keeping them warm.

Replace the warm air with the cold air and instead make them chilled.

That is why you need to make sure there are no drafts in the coop.

If you insist on using a heat lamp, ensure you secure it several feet away from any flammable material.

Never hang it from the cord due to the risk of getting bumped by your chickens. 

Is It Okay for Chickens to be Out in the Rain or Snow?

They may or may not go out the rain or snow, but it all depends on them. My flock tends to enjoy the worst of weather.

Sometimes by my own nudging, they will get forced back into the coop.

Because of their feathers, though, they don’t get wet at first rain as it takes a while for their water repellent feathers to allow the rain to seep through. 

For chickens, the rain provides great opportunities to forage and eat insects and worms that appear, depending on soil and landscape type. 

4 thoughts on “Chickens And Cold or Freezing Temperatures

  1. I have a store bought cool that the chickens use to lay eggs. My run is a converted wooden swing set that is 8×6 ft. There is a board running across the top and this is where they roost at night. I closed in the sides to keep the wind off them and the roof is galvanized tin. I live in Eastern NC so it doesn’t get too cold but I’m wondering if it will keep them warm enough?

  2. I have four chickens. Two sets of bonded pairs The 2 pairs do not like to be with each other Will they stay warm in the winter with two separate houses to sleep in? Two in each one?
    One is a plastic 4 x 4 x 4 tote. The other is a 55 gallon plastic barrel.

  3. Like the info and attention given on the important issues with flock care. I would say that most important is pay attention to the birds, appearance and how they react to you, feed changes and they are communicating just not words. Your eggs tell story on hen health too.

  4. I have three red chickens, no ruster)two gynae hens, and keep them for about, 2 years,my first ones, they look fine, and made least year winter okay, they don’t sleep in the nest they sleep hanging on the perch, tougher ) what you can tell yo me,?

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