Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter is EASY! Here Are 17 Foolproof Ways (With or without Electricity)
You may be tempted to start knitting wool socks and little hats for your birds, but keeping chickens in the winter is easier and more effective when you follow our tips.
Our favorite way cuts down on work for you, heats the coop, and helps feed your veggie garden come spring. But, is it effortless to do? You’ll find it soon enough if you stick around!
So, brace yourself (and your flock) because winter is coming. Here is how to keep chickens warm in winter:
1. Let Them Outside
Just because it’s cold and gray outside, it doesn’t mean your chickens want to be cooped up all day (pun intended). Chickens are hardy birds and can handle the winter chill. So, let them out for a morning stroll. The exercise will help keep them warm.
2. Shovel Away The Snow
Chickens don’t like walking in the snow, and who can blame them? It’s not like they wear shoes. Shovel out an area for them to hang out in and cover it with straw so the ground isn’t so icy on those chicken feet.
3. Cozy Up Your Coop
Remember, you only need 3 square feet per chicken. If there’s too much space in the coop, it’s time for a winter redecorating! Create a smaller space inside. Think of it as a makeshift playpen with a heat source!
4. Feed Them Before Bed
During winter, give your girls (and boys) a tasty snack like cracked corn a few hours before bedtime. Why? When they sleep, their body will break down and digest the treats, generating extra body heat.
5. Feed Them Warm “Stick To Your Ribs” Food
During winter, chickens burn more calories to stay warm and toasty. To sustain their needs, you can either increase your feeding frequency or swap feed with higher protein levels.
For cold mornings, you can feed your chickens warm oatmeal or cooked potatoes. They are safe and healthy!
The amino acids in proteins are essential for healthy feathers development for warmth (1). Another way is to add healthy fats to their diet.
6. Hang Out With Cabbage Heads
Tie a cabbage from a string and place it in the coop. Whenever a chicken wants to take a bite, it will swing around just like a tetherball. The chasing is not only amusing and fun to watch, but it gives your birds a much-needed exercise to warm their bodies up.
Check out this video of how to make the cabbage on a string:
7. Keep Your Chickens Hydrated
Chickens need water to stay hydrated and digest all that food you have been feeding them. So don’t think just cause it’s not hot outside, you can slack off on giving them water.
If temperatures drops below freezing, make sure your chickens have water in the morning and not ice. There are many different ways to keep water from freezing. And plenty of them doesn’t even require power.
8. Ventilate And Insulate Your Coop Properly
Adding natural insulation, like packed snow or straw bales, outside your coop can help keep heat in. Good ventilation will allow the warm, humid air to leave the coop. As long as the air stays flowing, mold is less likely to grow.
9. Roosting The Night Away
At night your chickens want to snuggle up together on a roost and fluff up their feathers to keep warm. Your roosting poles should be at least two feet above the floor (2).
10. Let The Sunshine In
You can extend the chicken coop or build a space like a greenhouse and cold frame to warm up chickens and protect them from the elements. It can be as simple as wrapping some transparent plastic over your chicken wire. But that will give the chickens a place to get out to even in the worst weather.
11. Turn Up the Heat
If you are anxious that it is too cold for chickens, you can always add one of the best chicken coop heaters. Look for an option with safety features like automatic shut-off and a thermostat to prevent overheating your chickens.
12. Drive Out The Drafts
While you want air to flow in your coop, you don’t want winter wind chill blasting away on your birds when they are trying to roost. As coops age, the wind can find its way in through the nooks and crannies in your walls. Make sure you go through and caulk up and lose joints and fill any hole that might have appeared over time.
13. Slather On A Salve
Large combs and wattles are prone to frostbite. You can help protect your birds by slathering them with vaseline or petroleum jelly (3). If you are like us that prefer a more natural option, try coconut oil or bag balm. They should work just as well.
14. Light Up The Night
Adding a light to your coop will not only add warmth for your birds but also increases egg production. You may notice that as the nights get shorter, your hens stop laying (4).
“Supplemental lighting should be at a low intensity level, just bright enough to be able to read a newspaper at bird level, and applied in the morning hours so that birds naturally roost.”
To keep chickens warm with light, don’t use LEDs. Incandescent bulbs are a better heat source choice since they release 90% heat (5).
15. Trap The Heat
You can use thermal mass to trap the heat from the sun and help warm up your coop. Concrete floors, especially when painted black, are great heat sinks. The sun shines on them all day, warming them up. When the sun goes down, and the air cools off, the floor then releases that heat back into the air, warming the space.
16. Lay The Litter On Deep
This low maintenance method for coop bedding creates a layer of compost at the bottom of the bedding. As the composting process breaks down the poop, it gives off heat. While the deep litter method may seem a little gross, this heat can keep your birds warm. And come spring, when you clean out the coop, you have great compost for your garden. Win-win!
17. Heat Your Water
Another way to trap heat in your coop is to store it in water. Similar to the idea of the thermal mass in a concrete floor, here you are holding the heat in barrels of water- the larger the barrel, the longer the heat will stay in your coop. Be mindful of how humid your coop gets. If you don’t have good ventilation, you can try bringing in hot bricks instead of water bottles.
Yes, chickens lay eggs in winter. You may notice a decline in egg production as the number of daylight hours decreases. You can increase egg production with artificial lights. However, some breeds are more affected by light than others.
Yes, a chicken can freeze to death in winter but this is exceptionally uncommon. Generally, a bird has an underlying condition or was in poor health, to begin with. As a precautionary measure, many chicken owners conduct winter-proofing.
Yes, a chicken can freeze to death in winter – if left unattended. However, this is exceptionally uncommon. Generally, the chicken was in poor health, to begin with. People keep chickens outside in extreme climates in Canada and Alaska, and death due to cold is uncommon there.
- Feather Growth And Development. Retrieved from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/world-s-poultry-science-journal/article/abs/feather-growth-and-development/5E3B3BFCE10D1794E1519A8D5BA77B4E
- Hen Basics. Retrieved from: https://www.saanich.ca/assets/Community/Documents/henbasics.pdf
- Frostbite In Chickens. Retrieved from: https://poultry.extension.org/articles/poultry-health/frostbite-in-chickens/
- Decreasing Daylight And Its Effect On Laying Hens. Retrieved from: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/decreasing-daylight-and-its-effect-on-laying-hens
- Led Lighting. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/led-lighting
Tana grew up around island farms and pine forests. Her love for nature lead to her degree in Biology and mission to lessen her environmental impact. Now she grows food in her backyard and shares what she learns from Eco Peanut with others.