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How Cold Is Too Cold For My Chickens?

How Cold Is Too Cold For My Chickens?

Here in the North Eastern States, we need to know how cold is too cold for my chickens.

It’s never too early to look at this year’s winter months, so we need to prepare ourselves and our flocks for the long months ahead.

Many beginner chicken keepers are amazed at just how hardy and tough chickens are.

But still, a common concern is how cold is too cold for my chickens?

Do they need a heat lamp to keep them warm?

In this article, we look at, what to do, and what not to do for chicken winter preparation.
Make sure to read on to learn how to take care of your hens during the coldest months of the year.

How Is Cold Too Cold For Chickens?

Chickens can deal very well with temperatures that send us scurrying for the fire. Their plumage has a couple of different layers which trap air near to the body.

If you have ever paid attention to the feathers when they molt, you will see a couple of different types of feathers. The contoured plumage feathers, wispy feathers, and some feathers are a combination.

The wispy feathers are the under feathers that are closest to the skin. All that fluffiness holds the airtight against the body, heats the trapped air, and keeps the chicken warm and cozy.

The chicken also has a high metabolic rate which helps it keep warm.

A hen’s resting temperature is between 105-109F (40-43C), and their hearts can beat up to around 400 beats per minute! This high metabolism certainly is useful in winter.

Chickens can survive quite well with temperatures down into the teens. In fact, if you place a thermometer in your coop overnight, you will likely find the temperature has been maintained in the thirty to forty-degree area.

Each chicken has generated enough heat to keep themselves and their flock mates warm.

Many folks in Alaska and North Canada keep chickens throughout the winter without added heat and problems.

As long as your hens have a weatherproof coop and are in good health, you’d be amazed by the sort of temperature they can withstand.

Let’s now turn our attention to making sure your hens are prepared for winter.

Are Your Chickens Prepared For Winter?

If you live in a rural area, you have probably already stocked up on everything ready to ride out the snow and ice. Have you got everything your birds need, though?

A shortlist of your poultry needs includes:

  • Feed- enough to feed your flock for two weeks minimum; three would be better. I include scratch and corn in this area too.
  • Water- if you have a limited supply or rely on electricity to pump a well, for example. Get, and fill some plastic containers (I re-use old plastic gallon containers). Allow one cup/bird/day. So one gallon will hydrate eight chickens for one day.
  • Large can of bag balm or petroleum jelly for protecting those combs and wattles.
  • Straw or bedding of choice. Get extra- chickens don’t like walking on snow, but they will venture out if you put down the straw.

Too Cold For My Chickens

Feeding Chickens for Winter

Since I like to spoil my girls, I usually keep a large oatmeal bag ready for those bitter mornings.

They love oatmeal with chopped fruit, seeds, etc. It’s usually a battle to see if I can get it into the feeders before they run me over!

They get this once or twice a week as a treat.

Greens such as kale, collards, fruit- apples, bananas, and melon are also nutritious treats. As always, moderation with the treats, please!

Helpful Hint: Supermarkets in the US toss out old, deformed, or slightly damaged fruits and veggies. Get to know the manager and see if it would be acceptable to use these for animal use.

Most managers are excellent about it and will let you have stuff free or at a greatly reduced price.

Make sure you have sufficient feed for your flock in case of emergency. As noted above, two weeks supply should be enough- but if you live way off the beaten path, you may want to get more.

In the evening, just before bedtime, throw them some scratch or corn. Both of these will keep the birds’ digestion going through the night, adding some warmth to the chickens’ bodies.

Be moderate with how much you give them, as too much will make them fat and unhealthy. How much is enough? About two beakfuls each.

Too Cold For My Chickens

Providing Chickens with Water during Winter

Water can be a huge problem in winter. If you have the luxury of heated drinkers or bases, it makes life easier all around.

If you don’t have electrical access in the coops, you will be running back and forth three or four times a day to keep them hydrated. It doesn’t take long for the water to freeze over and become impossible for the birds to drink.

Many folks use the heavy-duty plastic bowls- the ice takes longer to form, and when it does, you can take out the ice as one sheet.

I also give my birds Apple Cider Vinegar once a week and vitamin/mineral powder on another day.

Too Cold For My Chickens

Keeping Hens Warm and Dry

This is the essential thing- dry and no drafts blowing through the coop.

Chickens need a safe, secure place during the snow or rain or when the wind is cold and blowing. The coop does need ventilation, of course, but the air should not be blowing directly onto the birds.

If your coop is drafty, you could wrap it with Tyvek or a similar barrier. Cheaper still is tar paper. It will eliminate those drafts and is easy to work with. I have wrapped my two outside coops with one or other of these products. It took a few hours for each coop.

Vents should be placed above the bird’s heads so that warm, moist air can escape. While the hens are sleeping, their breath is releasing moisture into the air around them. This moisture is not healthy for the flock. Excess moisture build-up can lead to moldy bedding- in turn. The chickens will inhale mold spores and become sick.

It can also lead to frozen combs and wattles.

The hens must be kept in a dry area. When they get soaked with water, the feathers cannot perform as they should, so the bird will quickly get chilled and die from hypothermia.

If you have a hen that has got herself soaked, you can consider bringing her into the house. Once she is dried out and fluff up her feathers once again, she can be returned to her flock mates.

Should I Add Heat To My Coop?

The million-dollar question every year becomes ‘should I add heat to my coop’?

This is something that is a personal decision, really. We should note, though- chickens really do not need extra heating until the thermometer gets into the very low teens and single digits.

I don’t advocate extra heat in the coop for a few reasons:

  • Chickens are comfortable with the temperature in the teens- remember they have feathers!
  • Unless securely fixed in place, you run the genuine risk of a coop fire from heat lamps.
  • If you keep your birds too warm, they will start to suffer from the cold when they go out. Remember, too much heat is unhealthy.

Chickens themselves add heat to the coop. The hens all piled together adds a considerable amount of heat, about the equivalent of a ten-watt light bulb per hen.

Should you add heat, add something like a small oil-filled radiator (firmly fixed in position).

Bedding of your choice, lots of it! I use straw in my coops. It is relatively cheap and warm, plus the girls can glean a few missed grains here and there.

I pile the straw in areas they like to sit in so they can sink comfortably and talk away to their flock mates.

If your coops are outside, you will need an extra straw for the walkways. Chickens will venture out in the snow but not in the snow. If you throw down some straw, they will happily walk on it.

If you are going to clear paths for them, make sure there are a couple of places when they can hide- hawks and owls are hungry this time of year.

It’s ok to stack straw bales around the outside of your coop, but please don’t stack them inside.

Bedding such as straw can become damp and moldy, leading to respiratory problems with your flock.


So there you have it- it has to be extremely cold to upset chickens! They can adapt far better to the cold than to heat.

The worst thing about winter is keeping the drinkers from icing over. If you have an electricity source, spend a few dollars and get yourself a heated drinker. It will save you a lot of grumbling when the snow is blowing.

Watch out for ‘mischief’; boredom can set in, and then you will have to keep them occupied so they don’t pick on the girls lower in the pecking order.

Our comprehensive Winter Guide has much more information on winter-related issues, so check it out!

Before you go, I’d love to hear your top chicken-raising winter tips in the comments section below.

How Cold Is Too Cold For My Chickens-

73 thoughts on “How Cold Is Too Cold For My Chickens?

  1. Thanks for the article. We have Oklahoma chickens. I think now we only need a small blub for light in the winter. Not sure yet what our winter will be like.

    1. I love receiving this helpful newsletter. I would add putting a heat lamp in a coop cold also be counterproductive as chickens need rest from laying during the winter months.

      1. Many breeds lay eggs all year round I have six red sexlinks and it was minus 19 ‘ C last night and i used a large glass bottle filled with hot water from the kettle Lid goes on then wrapped in a towel sits in an old saucepan and slid into the coop This keeps my girls a little bit warmer and their water won’t freeze as I place the waterer on a heated glass lunch container that I also filled with water
        I have a thermometer in the coop so I can check on them
        I also insulated my coop
        Insulation, vapour barrier, and used a thick wool cloth on the walls and the ceiling so the birds cannot damage the poly. There is enough gaps around the doors to let in / out air
        Now I also learned about a method of cooling the coop with jars of cold ice water too
        I may have to this coming summer as we experienced Many high 30’ C -days in 2019
        Also use coconut oil on birds’ combs and wattles not petroleum oil !! Yuck !!

    2. during the cold winters I use a small wood burning stove out in the open for my chickens. Initially they were curious about what I was preparing for them, then you could see how they would come close and enjoy being warm.

  2. Funny, I was just talking about when we need to turn on our heat lamp, and then I see your message. Greatly appreciated; thanks.

    1. Hi Andi,
      I just place it into their water following the dilution advice on the packaging- normally 20ml per litre 🙂

    1. Hi Gillian,
      I would only feed your chickens sweetcorn as a treat. A cob will be plenty for your three girls 🙂

  3. Another add to the flock is to throw in a whole pumpkin so it breaks apart and let them go at it.about 1 a week. I stock up by growing or buying. They love it!

    1. I give whole pumpkins to my chickens as well. They love it!. I also read somewhere that the seeds are a natural dewormer. 🙂

  4. I texted awhile back about my girls not laying after getting their new house and then going into moult well they seem to be starting up! Thank you so much!

  5. Hi Claire, you write “chickens really do not need extra heating until the thermometer gets into the very low teens and single digits.”
    What would that be in Celsius please – I’m not familiar with the Fahrenheit scale.
    Thanks a lot – and, as usual, thanks for the excellent advice.

    1. Hi Lynn.
      That would be fahrenheit 🙂
      However if you’re concerned you can always leave a thermometer in their coop to double check the temp. You don’t really want it dropping much below freezing…

      1. “You don’t want it dropping much below freezing,” but your article just said it can get into the teens. Which is it?

  6. Our chickens don’t mind snow at all. They venture from their coop and roam through the yard even with several inches of snow on the ground.

  7. Thanks for the info. Very helpful. I have a hen that is molting right now. I’m in Utah and it has been getting to single digits and in the teens. She is not thoroughly molting but loosing some. Do I need to be concerned? Also, someone abandoned a rooster and I found him on the side of the road. He is a Buff Orph and my two hens that I have are also Buffs. They get along great. He has an injured foot and I have been giving him a foot soak every other night in Epson Salts. He seems to like it a lot. I don’t know if his foot is broke but it is not deformed in anyway. I think it is badly bruised. Is this safe to do? His comb and wattles are badly frostbitten but I have been giving him the Vaseline treatment. He’s a funny bird and I think he is liking the special treatment. Any advise?

  8. Hello! We live in Truckee CA- and with several feet of snow this winter! We have only been using a heat lamp when night time temps drop below zero F. Thinking about getting a Thermometer to check on what the coop temp really is. Thanks!

    1. We have a weather station and put an extra sensor in the coop so we can see the temp inside from the comfort of our home. Very helpful.

  9. Living above the arctic circle. We put a heat lamp in the coop and a water warmer. When it’s -10 or colder we keep the heat lamp on 24 hrs a day. When it’s 10 above or so to -10 below, we turn it on only at night, or if it’s really windy. Above 10, no heat lamp, but we have to check the coop twice a day for eggs so they don’t freeze. One of our friends uses an electric blanket, or electric back pad under her nesting boxes and leaves it on low, her eggs never freeze. We also insulate the outside of the coop in winter, then remove pinkboard during spring.

    1. Looking like I’m going to hook up the heat lamp for my gals this week. It’s “Arctic Circle” weather here in Upstate NY

    2. I love the heating blanket idea, but many heating pads now come with a shut-off timer. I guess you would have to shop carefully.

  10. Thanks for the information. In East Texas we are never sure what the temps might be. I was worried my “laying ladies” might get to cold but now you have eased my mind. We will continue to let them use their own ability to stay warm unless the temp drops into the teens.

    1. Same here, Dale, here in the Hill Country. I’ve not been concerned about a fire, because of the care I take, but every living thing needs dark time. This is a very timely article.

  11. Hello – We just got five 1-month old chicks, and it’s supposed to get into the 20’s the next couple days. I’m worried about fires and heat lamps so we’ve brought them into the house (in a box) for a temporary solution. But obviously the bigger they get the less that will work. How hardy are young chickens like this? The lady told us they needed to be at 70 degrees right now.

    1. Hi Naomi,
      Without older hens to keep them warm, they aren’t very hardy. I would keep them indoors during these conditions.

  12. Thank you so much for this website I am a newbie at raising chickens and you have lots of good information here appreciate it

  13. Hi, is there any suggestions for a rooster? Got abandoned one, seems extra hardy and doesn’t go to the shelter even in the rain and wind, sleeps on top of the coop (will get hens in the end of the month) …
    Worried he might get soaking wet and get really cold! The temperature is average at night around 5-7 degrees celsius. Anyone thoughts?

  14. I am new with raising chicken
    If I put hay for warmth and rain will they get confused and lay eggs in hay rather than in nesting bed
    Really enjoy your information

    1. Hi Joy,
      Congratulations on getting your chickens!
      They shouldn’t do, but if on the off-chance they start laying there, use ceramic eggs to encourage them to lay in the nesting box instead.

  15. When the temp drops and its snowing do I open the coop and let the chickens free range or keep the door close?

    1. Hi Cathi,
      You can keep the coop door slightly open and they will decide if they want to go out or not.
      I find mine like to go out providing I cover the snow with something like leaves 🙂

  16. I have 6 leghorns and 2 australorps that started molting what seems like since June. I’m concerned that only one australorp has finally gotten her feathers back but the other 7 are still bare on their whole backs. I’m concerned with them being cold, what can I do to help with them getting their feathers back? I give them mealworms, cracked corn and crumbled feed along with any scraps we have which isn’t much. I hang apples in the coup when their in a lot and I give them some bread and apples night and morning. Love your website and thank you for any suggestions. I have a cozy coop heater for when it gets below 30 F

  17. Straw bales work well once it’s cold but can become a hiding spot/breeding ground for pests like lice or fleas in warmer months.

    1. We have a lot of mice, pocket gophers and voles around here. I’m afraid straw bales would be too tempting for them to pass up as winter quarters.

  18. I have a young polish who insist on sitting on top of one of the coops. I worry about her. With our weather is crazy and wet in Las Vegas. Why doesn’t she go into coop? I bought more hens like her and still not going in at night. She I’d not getting picked on. Please advise….worried mom!

    1. My 4 chickens have a small enclosed house inside a12 by5 foot enclosed ceiling to floor run then they have one half of my front yard walled on the front and side 8 ft chicken wire fence on side and the right half of the front of my house for the back with wisteria roof.In the summer they were sleeping on their roof, so we built roots inside their enclosure so they could sleep ” under the stars” I had to pick them up and put them in their house and shit them in for 3 days when it started getting cold now they go on they’re own. As soon as it warms up I’m sure they will be back out in the fresh air again.they are closed in but just giant chicken wire box. I live in the woods in Mississippi 19 miles from town we have all kinds of wildlife but the only problem I have are squirrels. If your baby is safe and no-one is picking on her she probably just likes sleeping “under the stars”. I have my hammock ready for spring and I plan on sleeping with the chickens! Good luck!

  19. I bought fall chicks and put there coop in my garage that is not heated, but I added a heat lamp on the outside of the coop shining in one corner. That allows them to get heat if they need it and it also serves to dry out the moisture in the air. One thing to remember is that even though the garage is not heated, they will have to transition a little at a time to be ready to go Outdoors when the lows at night are still in the 30s F.

    1. Good tip Diane, I always transition my chicks with a few hours of sun, if its a windy day and a chill I put them in a box with sun beating and some wind, and help them transition into the current local climate.

  20. Hello, I live in Canada and in winter can get to -40 degrees celsius. I want to know what the average temperature in the coop should be when it gets that cold and will heat lamps be enough?

    1. Heat lamps will suffice as long as there is no draft and no moisture. Our chickens have done well in -30 nights, but I made sure to protect from any winds and added abundant straw for the cold stretches. Careful with the heat lamp and fire hazards.

  21. I’m interested in getting 4 chickens and have not had them before. I live in the north east US where it gets cold in winter. How should I go about getting the right hen house set up and chicks?

  22. Hi Claire,
    We have 5 chickens. 4 of them sleep in the larger coop but the one Americana always stays by herself in the small coop. Will she be able to stay warm enough in the winter here near the Mt. Hood National forest?

  23. Hey,
    I have two chickens but, not a coop I am worried they will get really cold (one of them is almost completely full grown and my other chicken is still young but has a lot of feathers to keep her warm, and they sleep right next to each other) my hens sleep on the window stil in front of my room. It is September in Connecticut so it is relatively cold.

  24. Pick her up and put her with the other hens. She will eventually start to be with the others. It worked for me.

  25. Hi
    We just moved from the warmth of Texas to the foothills of maine. We only have one girl and we are not sure how to house her without danger from the change in temps (low teens today). She currently is inside. Any suggestions would be great.

  26. Ive had combs and waddles freeze. Do you have any idea what temp to aim at in the coop to avoid that? I know that they seem to do okay in the 20s. These are Minorcas and Andalusians, tho I have had at least one Standard Cochin get frost bite on his comb.

  27. I am lucky to have the space and resources to have billet a 40 foot hoop with cattle panels and white tarp on to my coop. I got most of my idea from YouTube. I have 42 chickens 2 heated waters 2, 5 gal bucket feeders,as well as using fodder for my chickens in winter. My coop is home built and insulated. I will use oil filled heater when it gets below 0. My girls are very spoiled

  28. I have three Buckeye hens, that are very productive. One has already laid 8-9 double yolkers! I noticed my one hen has a problem. When walking more to the right, she will walk sideways, and crouch down while doing it. Now I notice her with her head down, shakes it, and walks backwards! Is there something neuro going on with her?? Wondering if she has a brain tumor! What do you think is going on?? It’s not affecting her egg laying.

    1. We have a Buckeye named Alayna who does the exact same thing. Sometimes we jokingly call her side winder. Pretty normal behavior for her.

  29. My chickens seem to be molting a little late. The temperature is already below freezing at night and I’m concerned about them freezing. What is the best way to keep them warm and healthy when molting in the winter?

  30. You say that chickens can do well even when temperatures drop into the teens. Well, here in Montana, we usually have a period of a couple of weeks every winter that drop into the NEGATIVE teens or as low as minus 20. Please give more info for extremely cold weather protection!

  31. I use a plug in heated water bowl for dogs for water for my girls. It has worked great. We also got a flat panel heater (looks like a flat screen TV) for the nights it gets into the single digits or negative. It is low heat with no bulb and no risk of fire. We mounted ours on the wall next to the roost.

  32. We normally use heated roosting perches and a heated water bowl that automatically turn on at 35F and below. If it gets really cold (low teens & single digits) at night or first real cold of season, we have a temporary cardboard coop in the basement for night time. We only have 7 hens so not a problem.

  33. Hi everyone, I apologise first as this will be long email. I have a silkie x called snowy, I brought her and a few others off someone. Snowy is a noisy girl with a big personality. 3 Weeks ago I noticed a change in Snowy she was not herself, going away when I was feeding the others I thought she may be getting bullied. I offered her food but she was not interested and too quiet for my liking. She and the other girls are free range. Then one morning I noticed her sitting down and there was a dark green (I thought it was black) yellow watery poo. I looked up my chicken book and researched what the problem could be….very helpful advice. Snowy has had warm baths, parasite treatment, apple cider vingear (diluted), mashed egg, yoghurt, poweraide, dogfood with garlic (on advice) her poos are normal now, she has started to make clucking noises but still wont eat or drink on her own. I have tried to get her to walk and checked her for bumblefoot. Any suggestions will be appreciated. Her comb isnt bright red like an egg layer. Our vets are not much help.

  34. My 4 chickens have a small enclosed house inside a12 by5 foot enclosed ceiling to floor run then they have one half of my front yard walled on the front and side 8 ft chicken wire fence on side and the right half of the front of my house for the back with wisteria roof.In the summer they were sleeping on their roof, so we built roosts inside their enclosure so they could sleep ” under the stars” I had to pick them up and put them in their house and shut them in for 3 days when it started getting cold now they go on they’re own. As soon as it warms up I’m sure they will be back out in the fresh air again.they are closed in but just giant chicken wire box. I live in the woods in Mississippi 19 miles from town we have all kinds of wildlife but the only problem I have are squirrels. If your baby is safe and no-one is picking on her she probably just likes sleeping “under the stars”. I have my hammock ready for spring and I plan on sleeping with the chickens! Good luck!

  35. We just adopted 6 Hen “chickren”! SO your site was very helpful! They are very spoiled!

  36. I have wanted to raise chickens for about 25 years now. But although I have read up about it on your and other sites, I still have concerns.
    First and foremost, I want my chickens to free range in the garden. But we have wolves, coyotes, fishers, foxes, raccoons, cougars and bears here, as well as weasels and hawks. I work so I can’t stay outside babysitting them. Even if I were able to solve the free range issues with predators, I fear that they would not be safe even inside a chicken coop. Then thirdly, I am concerned that having chickens would attract predators and make it unsafe for children and even us. Actually I am not too worried about the wolves, but fishers, coyotes, and especially the coywolves, cougars and bears might start hanging out at our house. The forest comes to within 20 feet of the house and our property borders on a lake. I have not seen these issues addressed in the chicken raising posts I have seen. If you can advise me on these issues, I would be most grateful. Then lastly, it can get to -40 here on winter nights, although with global warming it is less frequent than it used to be. I don’t think chickens will survive that even with good insulation without heating, correct?

  37. It gets to -30 C here where I live what temp should I have the coop at for my chickens to survive? I have a heat lamp but fear a fire, I was gonna use a radiant heater but don’t think it will get warm enough.

  38. I’m sorry, I feel like the information is going back-and-forth between if we should add a lightbulb or a heat lamp. I feel gear they are one and the same?
    It is cold and snowy here in Utah. Our coop has a very small enclosed area and the rest is open chicken wire. We have a Lakenvelder and a Blue Andalusian which are not as cold hardy. Thank you in advance.

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