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 then you likely have a few questions and just how you go about this, and even if you have been raising chickens for a while there is still an opportunity to always learn something new. Below I will answer a few common questions about cold temperatures and how it impacts your flock.
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 healthy condition, they should not freeze just because of the cold. There are people that live in Alaska and Northern Canada that don’t use electric heat and never lose a chicken due to the cold, and it gets extremely cold 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 then they are for certain weakened and 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, and 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 now just thinking about preparing your coop for winter you will need to improvise quickly like the below example.
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 the 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.
There are some signs that you can look for 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. They will also many times 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.
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 the 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 are wondering 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 in drastic climate changes but if they are not already sick they shouldn’t get stressed out. 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?
The way 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. If 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 what the main concern should be.
A chicken has a resting heartbeat of over 300 beats a minute and their 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 chickens combs and wattles to freeze by condensing on their 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 is 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 which are 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 which 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, make sure you secure it several feet away from any material that is flammable. 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 has a tendency to enjoy the worst of weather and 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 do forage and eat insects and worms that appear, depending on soil and landscape type.