poultry outside in the winter

How To Keep Chickens Warm In The Winter

For those of us who love our chickens, we want to go out of our way to keep chickens warm in the winter. It’s true that, as chicken keepers, we are responsible for keeping our poultry safe and warm in the wintertime, but there are right and wrong ways to do that. In this article, we’ll be talking about how to keep chickens warm in the winter and the heating methods you should avoid.

How cold can chickens tolerate?

Chickens are surprisingly hardy in colder climates, especially cold weather breeds, like silkies, wyandottes, and welsummers. But just like people and other animals, if it gets too cold and they don’t have appropriate shelter, they can freeze to death. Chickens can tolerate temperatures down to freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celcius. Once it drops below freezing, things can get a little bit rough for your chickens. They need a safe, warm shelter where they can hunker down during extremely cold temperatures.

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How to keep chickens warm in the winter

Keeping your chickens warm in the winter is one of the most important duties of a chicken keeper. The good news is that it isn’t all that difficult to do. There are 6 simple steps you can take to help keep your chickens nice and warm when the days get shorter and the nights get colder.

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Provide lots of bedding

Providing a deep layer of bedding at the bottom of your chicken coop and in the nesting boxes will help your chickens keep their feet warm and provide a layer of insulation at the bottom of your chicken coop. Chickens don’t like snow, nor do they like having their feet resting on very cold surfaces. Bare wood flooring in a chicken coop during the winter will be unpleasant for your chickens and will lower the temperature inside of your chicken coop to possibly dangerous levels. I strive to keep a 3-6 inch layer of bedding in my chicken coop during the winter.

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Provide a roost

Providing your chickens with a roost is key to their happiness and health, regardless of the time of year. A roost is a long, flat dowel or board that their talons are able to wrap around. Chickens prefer to roost on wood that resembles branches, where they would roost in the wild. Adding a chicken roost will give your birds a place to huddle up next to each other in the winter. Your birds will fluff out their feathers and share their body heat with one another, helping to keep each other warm.

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Insulate your chicken coop

The body temperature of a chicken runs much hotter than a human. Chicken body temperatures usually range from about 105 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re little furnaces! One way to keep them warm in the winter is by capturing their body heat inside of the coop. Just like with your home, adding a layer of insulation to your coop can make all the difference. Just be careful that any insulation you use is not exposed to the inside of the chicken coop. The last thing you want is for your birds to be pecking at and eating your coop insulation!

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Reduce ventilation openings

I wish I could say there was a firm rule on how much ventilation you need to provide your chickens in the winter, but there really isn’t. It depends on a number of factors, from the size of your coop to how cold it gets in your area. The Feather Brain has an extremely thorough analysis of just how much ventilation you should have in your chicken coop, but for winter ventilation, the golden rule is to have as much ventilation in your coop as you possibly can without letting in dangerous winter drafts. In my experience, this has involved reducing the size of my coop’s ventilation windows during the winter. It may be different for you.

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Place your coop in a sunny spot

If you live in a region that isn’t totally overcast all winter, placing your chicken coop in a sunny location can help increase the temperatures inside of your coop. This tip is a double-edged sword, as it will also increase temperatures in the coop in the summer. This tip is ideal for climates that are cold in the winter and mild in the summer.

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Be careful with heat sources

Baby chickens need a heat source, but not adults.

I understand the impulse to keep your chickens warm in the winter. I spent years living in Colorado, where temperatures could drop as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit, far below freezing. But not once did I ever provide a heat source inside of my chicken coop. The reality is, they don’t need a heat source unless it’s going to be really, outrageously cold outside, and even then, it shouldn’t be much of a heat source.

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Chickens that are in a properly insulated chicken coop, free of drafts with plenty of bedding and an appropriate amount of ventilation will huddle up for warmth. Providing a heat source to your chickens can be dangerous. I have seen chicken coops burn down because a heat lamp got knocked down or a radiator got knocked over. It’s just not a safe option for your chickens. Please avoid using heat sources inside of your chicken coop.

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Thomas Nelson
Gardening Expert
Hi! I'm Thomas, one of the founders of The Garden Magazine. I come from a long line of gardeners who used the art of gardening as a way to live long, healthy lives. I'm here to share my knowledge of gardening with the world!
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