How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens?
Are you trying to raise a few chickens in your backyard?
If yes, then you may be wondering, how cold is too cold for chickens?
Depending on where you live, the winters can be pretty brutal and you may be concerned that your beloved chickens are freezing their feathers off.
If you’re wondering how to keep your chickens warm this winter, read on to learn the tricks of the trade.
FACT: Chickens are More Tolerant of Cold than Heat
Here is an interesting fact about chickens.
They can tolerate cooler temperatures with much more ease than they can endure hot weather.
This may seem a little odd since thousands of birds migrate to find more comfortable refuge in the winter. However, chickens are fairly resilient birds - although just like with anyone, too much cold can be a bad thing.
Illness and even death can occur if the proper precautions are not taken.
Can chickens stay outside in the winter?
With a bit of information and a few handy tricks, you can keep your fowl flourishing all year round.
Some Things You'll Need
Take a look at our list of everything you’ll need to keep your chickens warm, happy and healthy.
What You Need
5 Tips To Ensure your flock does not Freeze over
OK. Now you should have what you need. Here are 5 options to help you help your flock stay warm, happy, and laying eggs.
Tip #1 - Let Your Chickens do the Work
This one’s easy enough.
If winters are fairly mild where you live, but it still gets a bit nippy overnight, you can trust that your chickens can keep themselves warm.
Feathers - Chickens have a few different types of feathers that help to insulate their bodies and protect against the wind chill.
Stay inside - When it gets colder, chickens will spend less time outdoors and more time in the warmer parts of the coop. Make sure the light source is functioning as this is also a source of heat for them.
Roost together - The chickens will huddle together to keep warm. Make sure there is an adequate roost that will fit all your chickens.
Don’t keep individual birds! They need friends to make it through. This is especially important if you want to keep baby chickens warm. Keep them with their mama, separate from the rest of the flock, and she will keep them huddled and warm.
Eat plenty of food - Chickens will eat more to generate more energy. This is something you can help them with though!
Give your flock some extra treats and snacks that are higher in fat, especially in the evening. If you need ideas on what to feed them, check out this article.
Tip #2 - Ensure their Coop is Safe
If you’ve been thinking about your winter chicken coop design, remember that no matter where you live and what the climate is like, it is imperative to have proper ventilation in your coop.
The combination of the cold and humidity (which is generated by the chickens themselves) can result in respiratory illness and even death.
So while it may seem like a good idea to shut the coop windows and doors in the winter, this may do more harm than good. Have a look at this article to learn more about the importance of proper ventilation in the winter.
Is your coop not up to par?
You may need to construct (or purchase) a new coop to make sure your flock has satisfactory housing.
Check out our guide on what makes a good coop.
Tip #3 - Ensure their Coop is Comfortable
Now that you have a coop conducive to good health, you can outfit it to ensure your friends are cozy and warm.
A good trick is to double the amount of bedding they have.
This includes straw, hay, wood shavings, and grass clippings. Whatever you have been using, double up and give them something nice and warm to sink into.
This is a simple and effective solution for how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity.
Another important tip is to ensure your chickens’ water isn’t frozen!
Give them warm water throughout the day, and make sure you replace it frequently to avoid it freezing over.
For more information on how to keep your chickens' water from freezing, check out our article on How To Keep Chicken Water From Freezing for some top tips and recommendations!
Tip #4 - Ensure their Coop is Fun!
What you may not realize is that chickens can also get a touch of cabin fever in the winter.
Staying inside their coop for long periods can cause aggression and extra squabbling, so ensure they have something fun to do indoors to distract them!
Hang some veggies from the ceiling of the coop, pinata-style, so they have something to peck at. Scatter corn kernels around the floor of the coop so they can have a scavenger hunt.
Remember, fun (and mental well-being) is important for animals too!
Plus, there is the added bonus that moving around to play will keep their bodies warm.
If you are keeping chickens in winter, keep them stimulated!
Tip #5 - Bring in the Heater
Sometimes all this won’t be enough.
You may live in regions that get many, many degrees below zero. Blizzards, hail, and freezing rain will chill anyone to the bone, even your feathered pals.
If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to bring in the big guns and set up a nice electric heater.
It is very important to have a thermostatically-controlled heater, that turns off after no longer than 15 minutes and doesn’t add more than a few degrees of heat.
Remember that the inside of the coop will almost always be warmer than the outdoor temperature, even if all the windows are open.
Different breeds of chickens will have different tolerances to the cold, which is why it is difficult to say definitively how cold can chickens survive.
This is why you should keep a watchful eye on your flock for any signs of being too cold, rather than making the decision to use a heater just because the thermometer is giving a certain reading.
However, the closer the temperature gets to freezing, the more precautions you should take. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Signs your chickens are too cold:
They have stopped moving. Just like people, chickens find it difficult to move if they are too cold.
They will not respond to most external stimuli unless it is life-threatening.
They will tuck their legs into the feathers under their bellies.
They will retract their necks so they look like a ball of feathers, rather than a lovely bird standing tall and strong.
Remember that this will not necessarily depend on the temperature outside.
There are many owners living in cold countries who do not use a heater, even overnight, and their chickens are healthy and strong.
Just be mindful of what behavior is ordinary and what behavior is NOT for your chickens, and act accordingly.
No eggs? Maybe lighting is the solution. Find out how much lighting you need to keep your chickens laying, in this article right here.
The Bottom Line - How cold is too cold for hens?
Just like with humans, different chickens will have different reactions to cold weather.
Some are happy to frolic in the snow, while others will want to spend the winter snuggled up indoors.
As the weather starts taking its turn in autumn, start prepping their coop with extra bedding and warm water, and watch for cues from them to determine if that is enough.
What works best for you and your flock? How cold is too cold for your chickens?
Let us know in the comments below!