How to keep chickens warm in the winter

Frosty-chicken-wire

This morning in Olympia, Washington the temperature is hanging out right around 23 degrees. It’s getting cold with no plans to get warm anytime soon. I got this email from reader Karen asking – what should she do for her backyard chickens in the winter!?!

The weather is getting cold here in Vancouver, Washington. I imagine it is getting cold where you are too! We have a flock of 5 now. I was wondering what you were doing to keep your chickens warm (or at least happy). Our coop is a little bigger than yours, and we just use shavings on the floor. The windows are closed, and the one inch vents are all we leave open at night. I hope they survive. They must be heartier than I think? Here’s to surviving our first winter with the girls!

Happy December,
Karen

Keep-water-thawed-for-chickens

Well Karen, this will be only our second winter with our chickens, so I’m certainly not an expert. But I can share some thoughts and ideas based on what we do.

I think the most important thing to remember is - keep their water supply thawed at all times. Some of the ways you can do this include:

  • Bring the waterer inside at night time (while the chickens are sleeping) to keep it from freezing overnight. Just make sure to bring it out early – you know they like to wake up early!
  • Add hot water to the waterer to keep it from freezing and give your chickens a warm treat. You can do this a few times during the day.
  • Update your waterer to have a heated base. Example here: Farm Innovators Heated Base For Metal Poultry Founts Model HP-125, 125-Watt although I think you’ll find them cheaper at your local farm store. And I have seen tutorials online for making these which if you’re handy will cost you even less.

From what I’ve read chickens are marvelously hearty. I mean they are covered with feathers – the same things we fill our comforters with. At night they huddle together to stay warm. They are really very, very hearty chicks.

If you’re still worried, these are other options:

  • Reduce wind “chill” – During the summer an open coop with a breeze is a good thing to keep the air circulating – an important thing for a healthy coop. But during the winter, you can board up (or cover with a tarp) the sides of the coop that might be more prone to wind. You don’t want it completely closed up – you need the circulation, but you could provide an area outside of the wind for the chickens to go if they want.
  • Add a heat lamp – Depending on your coop style and the availability of electricity – a heat lamp might be a possibility. I think some people use heat lamps during the winter to keep egg production up. We haven’t added a lamp yet, but this might be something to check into! Just make sure it is safely installed and away from things like shavings that might catch fire. This is really important.
  • Make sure they have a roost - A roost, at least a few feet off the ground, is important so they are sleeping up off the ground. They huddle on the roosts and they will fluff their feathers to stay warm.
  • Deep litter method - We use the deep litter technique in our coop. We let the bedding (shavings) sort of compost in the bottom of the coop. You add layers of fresh bedding and it all just sort of works together. We clean in out every spring. The great thing about the deep litter method is the “composting” litter gives off a bit of natural heat.

Scratch-to-keep-chickens-warm

  • Feed them more scratch (corn product) because corn produces more energy when it’s digested – so they stay warmer (also why you want to give them less during HOT summer days). It’s always good to toss them a handful right before they go to bed as a bedtime snack and to keep them toasty during the coldest time of the night.
  • Keep an eye on the eggs – you don’t want them to freeze if you can help it. You can pick them up when you check on the chickens water throughout the day.

These are all the tips I have for you Karen. If anyone else has any other ideas for Karen, please leave a comment! 

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Comments

  1. Like most animals, chickens are fine in the cold if they have a way to stay dry. Wet feathers can’t fluff out to trap air. Having a way to “dogpile” inside the coop keeps them cozy and toasty at night. I covered the top and sides of my run with plastic to protect the ladies from snow and windy rain but left space at the bottom to allow for circulation.

    Please give a second thought to simulating daylight to promote egg production. Egg laying is physically taxing. Their tiny bodies need the rest provided by Mother Nature.

  2. It was freezing here in Camas,WA this morning, too. I went out early and checked on my girls. Both waterers were frozen. Got fresh water immediately. And some warm oatmeal! :)
    DH had chickens growing up and does laugh when I fuss! (especially when I say they need some warm robes and slippers!) :)
    He says no heaters! Like Kira said, they are hearty and adjust.
    I do give them scratch.
    I am really surprised that my (3) girls are all still laying an egg daily! I thought production would have slowed down with the cold and shorter days?

  3. From what I read we should avoid heating the coop. Chickens are very cold weather hearty, but if their bodies adjust to a heated coop and then the power goes out, they will likely die. I think heating the water is a great idea though, ours has certainly been frozen on these cold mornings. And adding the extra scratch is great since that’s another way they heat themselves through the night – a full gullet.

  4. Thank you so much for all the wonderful tips and tricks! It’s nice to get some ideas and reassurances from someone who has already lived through a winter with their girls. :) Seems like this winter is going to be colder than the last… or maybe I just didn’t pay attention last year because we had no chickens to fuss over! I guess it’s too late for the deep litter method (we just cleaned out our coop a few days ago: NEWBIE), but if the temperature drops too low, we will definitely put in some kind of a heat lamp. However, if the power goes out, it won’t do them much good. HUMMM… Hate to warm ‘em up and then freeze ‘em! But I will certainly look into getting them some corn scratch ASAP.

    Keep me posted on how your chickens are doing in this cold weather!

    Thanks much,
    Karen

    P.S. Will look forward to seeing what everybody else is doing to keep their chickens warm as well! I bet the olden-day farmers would laugh at us… :) Fuss-fuss-fuss!

  5. To keep my flock of 4 warm we use a heat lamp on a timer, and a tiny aquarium heater in the water. We also have a normal light on a sensor that turns on at dawn and off at dusk to simulate a normal day to keep their egg production up during the winter when they don’t get any natural light.

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