After raising chickens in New Hampshire and upstate New York for well over a decade, we are often asked ‘do chickens need heat in the winter?’ We all enjoy our chickens and we don’t want them to suffer in the cold.
Keeping chickens warm in winter comes down to a few key elements. In this post we will outline when chickens need heat and try to answer some of the common questions about raising chickens in the winter such as:
- Do chickens need a heat lamp?
- What are the best cold weather chickens?
- How cold can chickens handle?
We also have some specific advice on how to safely keep chickens warm in the winter months besides just using a heater.
Please note that heating your chicken coop increases the risk of fire. We recommend not using heat lamps but urge you to make your own decisions reguarding fire risk in your coop.
You might also like:
- Complete List of Chicken Keeping Supplies
- Do Chickens Need Water at Night
- How do you Keep Chicken Water from Freezing
- Do Chickens Need Light at Night?
Do Chickens Get Cold?
The quick answer is yes – chickens can get cold.
How cold a chicken gets depends on their breed, age, and the specific weather conditions. Chickens are generally more cold-hardy than many other domesticated birds, but they still require protection from extreme cold. Most chickens can tolerate mild to moderately cold temperatures, but when the temperature drops significantly, they are at risk of suffering from cold stress, frostbite, and even death if not adequately sheltered and provided with appropriate warmth.
When trying to decide – do chickens need heat in winter? you will need to assess your chickens, your coop set up, and your comfort level.
How do Chickens Stay Warm in Winter?
Chickens stay warm in the winter by seeking shelter. In addition chickens will fluff up thie feathers to create an insulating layer of air that traps heat close to their bodies. Roosting is another important tactic, as chickens huddle together on elevated perches at night to share body warmth. The food and water chickens eat also help to keep chickens stay warm.
Below you can explore some specifics to help you decide for yourself – Do Chickens Need Heat in the Winter?
Can Chickens Survive the Cold?
While chickens are more hardy than other birds they can get frost bite or even die if the temperatures are too cold. Unfortunately for chicken keepers, the exact temperature that is too cold for chickens varies. While we’ve had chickens survive an outside temperature of -10 degrees with no issue in their coop, a chicken outside in -10 with precipitation and wind may struggle. In addition, the length of exposure is also important. In general, most chickens will struggle if exposed to temperatures below 0 degree F for a prolonged time.
In terms of frostbite. Chickens can get frostbite on their red combs and wattles. This occurs in cold temperatures, and also when there is moisture in the coop or there are drafts. Frostbite can also occur on chickens feet, although roosting hens will cover their feet with their bodies and feathers. Below you can see solutions for taking care of chickens in the winter to help decrease the risk of death and frostbite.
Do Chickens need Heat in the Winter?
You will see so man different opinion on whether chickens need extra heat in the winter and there are valid points on both sides of the argument. We take a moderate approach, and only have our own experience to guide us.
Before you heat your chicken coop, it’s important to take steps to insulate your coop, select cold hardy chickens and feed your chickens to help keep them warm.
We only add heat to our coop when we have a major temperature swing, and even then we take extra precautions. In general, we only add heat to our coop here in New Hampshire between 5-7 days all winter. Here are the criteria we generally use when deciding: Do Chickens Need Heat in the Winter:
- Dramatic temperature swing – specifically in the fall when chickens are not ready for the change
- Temperatures below 10 degrees F – especially if this cold will last for more that a few hours and if there is wind that may cause drafts even in our insulated coop.
- Sick or injured chickens are usually removed from the coop and put into a warmer area in our barn or garage.
Problems with Heating a Chicken Coop
The biggest risk to heating a chicken coop is the risk of fire, but there are also a few other negatives to consider. Before you decide to heat your coop in the winter, you will need to decide whether the benfits outweigh the negatives for your specific case. Below we’ll look at the specific risks:
Fire: fire is the greatest risk when heating your coop. This is especially true if you are using a heat lamp. Every year coops burn down from heat lamps. We have use heat lamps but advise against a heat lamp. Even if you secure your heat lamp in several ways, chickens can fly into the light, or the light can shatter and catch the bedding on fire. This year we will be using this coop heater from Cozychicken and feel like this is a safer option for our chickens.
Reliance on Electricity: this can cause two problems. First it can increase your electricity bill if you are heating your coop often. In addition, if you rely on heating your coop, and your chickens become accustomed to a warm coop they can become distressed if the power goes out and the coop suddenly becomes cold.
Overheating: While not a common problem, it is possible to overheat a coop, especially a small coop.
Ventilation: Overheating your coop can cause problems with moisture and if there is not adeuate ventilation your chickens can develop respiratory problems. Make sure your coop has ventilation and has enough bedding and space to keep moisture low.
How to Heat a Chicken Coop
If you are planning on keeping chickens warm in winter, you have a few options. Before you add a heater to your coop you should look at the other options for keeping chickens warm in the winter. Start with improving your coop, selecting cold hardy chicken breeds and making other changes. This will improve your chickens health in the winter and you will only need to heat your coop on especially cold night.
Scroll down to the next section to see all the ways you can protect your chickens from the cold without the use of the heater. If you live in an area with mild winters, this may be all you need to do to keep your chickens warm in the winter.
If you are looking for a chicken coop heater, we recommend trying the Chickcozy coop heater. This heater is what we are using this winter and it is safe and offers protection if it tips over. Below you can see some general information about the heater.
This coop heater can be attached to a wall or left standing in your coop. Unlike a heat lamp, this heater heat radiantly, reducing the risk of fire. You can also control this remotely and set it to help keep your chickens warm in the winter.
Another common option that many people use is to use a heat lamp for chickens in winter. While this works and can help keep your chickens warm, the risk of fire isn’t worth it. We used a heat lamp for the first few years to heat our coop occassionally when there were no other good heaters on the market. We strongly recommend other options before you decide to use a heat lamp.
One final option is to get a heated chicken perch. On the surface this seems like a good option as you will be heating your chickens directly. A heated chicken perch has the benefit of keeping your chickens feet warm, but may not provide heat to the part of the chicken that needs it the most (the comb and wattle).
We have never used a heated chicken perch so can’t speak specifically to the effectiveness, but if I had the choice, I would choose a safe coop heater instead, although new designs may improve the current heated chicken perch options available.
It’s also important to note that even running an extension cord to a chicken coop increases the risk of fire.
How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter Without Electricity and a Heater
Before getting a chicken coop heater, you should take other measures to protect your chickens in the winter. These methods should be used in conjunction to better protect your chickens from the cold. Before you answer the questions – Do Chickens Need Heat in the Winter? it’s best to find ways to keep your chickens warm in other ways.
Select Cold Hardy Chickens
Cold hardy chickens are the first step in raising chickens in the winter. These chickens have been bred or selected for their ability to deal with cold temperatures. Most of the birds have smaller combs or more dense feathers. Here is a list of the most cold tolerate chicken breeds:
- Barred Plymouth Rock: Known for their cold tolerance, these chickens have striking black-and-white plumage and are friendly and docile, making them ideal for cold climates.
- Rhode Island Red: These birds are hardy and adaptable, with excellent cold weather resistance, and they are also prolific layers of brown eggs.
- Wyandotte: With their beautiful, laced feathers, Wyandottes are robust and able to handle cold temperatures due to their well-insulated bodies.
- Australorp: Originating from Australia, Australorps are cold-hardy, easygoing, and known for their record-breaking egg-laying abilities.
- Orpington: Orpingtons come in various colors and are renowned for their thick, fluffy feathers that keep them warm during harsh winters.
- New Hampshire Red: These chickens are close relatives of Rhode Island Reds and share their cold-resistant traits, along with a good egg-laying capacity.
- Sussex: Sussex chickens have dense feathers and are quite adaptable to cold climates while producing a steady supply of creamy-white eggs.
- Buckeye: Buckeyes are a hardy, American breed with feathers that provide excellent insulation against cold temperatures.
- Dominique: Often called “Dominickers,” these birds have a long history in the United States and are known for their ability to withstand cold winters.
- Chantecler: Developed in Canada, Chanteclers are specifically bred for cold climates and are prized for their ability to endure frigid temperatures.
- Russian Orloff: These chickens have a unique appearance with feathered legs and a small crest, and they are adapted to cold climates due to their Russian origins.
- Icelandic Chicken: Originating from Iceland, these chickens are exceptionally cold-hardy, and they have unique genetic diversity due to their isolation.
- Buff Brahma: Brahma chickens are large and heavily feathered, making them well-suited for colder regions, and they are also known for their gentle temperament.
- Barnvelder: Hailing from the Netherlands, Barnvelders are cold-tolerant and produce dark brown eggs with a rich flavor.
- Cochin: These chickens have feathered legs and are well-insulated, which helps them stay warm in colder climates.
Insulating your coop will help keep the heat inside the coop and decrease drafts in the coop. Seel cracks in the coop and add insulation. It’s also important to note that chickens will peck exposed insulation. Insulation should be covered to keep chickens from eating insulation.
South facing windows will also offer daytime heat in the chicken coop.
While it may seem counterintuitive to add ventilation to a chicken coop, proper ventilation will keep moisture down in the coop which can cause more problems that simple cold weather. Ventilation at the roofline will keep drafts from the chickens level.
We use the deep litter method in our coop to help keep chickens warm in the winter. Deep bedding helps to reduce the moisture in the coop as the bedding absorbs the moisture. This bedding also offers additional insulation. During the winter, we do not remove the bedding, but simply add new bedding to build up layers.
While many people describe this method of actively providing heat by creating a composting situation, we have found that you will need a VERY deep layer for this to provide heat to the coop.
Chickens like to roost and this can help keep them warm in the winter. This allows chickens to cover their feet with their feathers and they will naturally huddle together on the coop to keep warm.
A specialized diet can help chickens stay warm. One way chickens stay warm is their digestive system. When chicken digest their food, they generate heat. o support their cold weather resilience, increase their intake of energy-rich foods such as grains, corn, and cracked corn. These foods are not only nutritious but also generate heat during the digestion process, helping chickens maintain their body temperature. Additionally, supplement their diet with hearty treats like black oil sunflower seeds or mealworms, which provide extra calories and protein to sustain them in the cold.
Ensure Chickens are in the Coop
This last suggestion may be obvious, but make sure that your chickens are inside the coop at night. A chicken that is left outside, even in cool temperature are at a much higher risk. You can help secure your chickens by checking on your chickens at night and using an automatic chicken door, especially if you won’t be home right when it gets dark. On cold days, we will sometime shut the coop door early to help keep chickens warm.
How to Prevent Frostbite in Chickens
One of the main reasons people ask – do chickens need heat in the winter? is to help reduce frostbite.
While all the methods above will help reduce frostbite in chickens, many people also apply petroleum jelly to comb and wattles to provent frostbite. I tried this one time. While this may be slightly effective, it is not practical with a large flock and you are better off spending your time improving your coop design.
Common Questions about Do Chickens Need Heat in the Winter?
Do chickens lay eggs in the winter?
People often wonder do chickens stop laying in winter? Chickens often stop laying in the winter, but adding heat to the coop won’t help your chickens lay eggs in the winter. Whether a chicken lays eggs depends on the amount of daylight. Some people add light to the coop to keep their chickens laying eggs over the winter.
Should you provide additional protein for chickens in winter?
Additional protien will help chickens stay warm in the winter. In addition, chickens need more proteien when they are growing feathers, so extra protien will help them grow feathers to keep them warm.
Should you bring chickens inside when it get cold?
While it might be tempting to simply bring your chicken inside when it gets cold this can cause problems. Bring chickens out of the coop increases stress and can throw off their temperature regulation. If you need to bring your chickens into a more secure and warmer place for a night – secure them in an unheated area where they can still roost. We have put out chickens in the barn during a winter storm when we knew we wouldn’t be able to get to the coop and we may lose power.