What your chickens need for the winter – A helpful guide

Many owners who have chickens already will deal with this question every year. Not every winter will be as cold as the previous one unless you live in a very cold climate or region. The first thing you’ll want to do is climatize your chickens so they’re hardy in the winter.

This includes some simple steps that keep your coop healthy all winter long. Here is a quick guide on what do chickens need for winter:


Don’t heat the coop

The whole idea to help your chickens get used to the cold is not to add heat to your coop. Your chickens will huddle together for warmth when it gets cold. Adding heat sound humane but if there is too sudden a drop in power, it can be a disaster. More than likely your chickens won’t be outside anyway, so let them keep warm inside the coop instead.


Don’t over insulate your chicken coop

Even in cold weather, your coop needs air to circulate. With all your chickens’ grouping together it will be plenty warm. If your coop is sealed up too much, humidity and ammonia will do more harm than good. Let the fresh air flow through cracks so excess moisture is not staying inside your coop for long.


Don’t lock-up your chickens

Even if they never come out in the wintertime, keep the door open just in case. On warmer winter days it won’t be uncommon that your rooster will venture outside for a peek. But on heavy snow days, this is the only time you should keep the door closed. Deep snow is no place you want your chickens falling into.


Don’t let their water freeze

Keep their water supply fresh and never allow it to freeze. Having a heated dish is nice but you won’t hurt their feelings if it’s a normal dish. Since you’re going to be checking on them at least twice a day to replace a feeder, then that’s fine.


Give your chickens regular clean-up and food

While all your chickens will be inside all day, clean-up and feeding are essential. There’s going to be more poop and goop to clean up, so having clean bedding and snacks ready for them. Also have some grit added to the food will aid them since they can’t go scratching for food outside.


Don’t let your chickens get bored

Give a bit of activity for your chickens by hanging pecking snacks around the coop. This can include cabbage or even suet cakes. This helps your chickens pass the time creatively and keeps them from turning on each other out of frustration. This will help you deal with what do chickens need in the winter to fight boredom.


How cold is TOO cold for chickens?

This is a highly debated question since you might have heard how to ethically treat your chickens. Yes, you’ll want to keep them warm and dry, especially if there are chicks. But is there a temperature too cold for chickens?

The answer is yes, anything that can freeze outside is too cold for your chicken. As long as your coop is insulated enough to keep water from totally freezing, your chickens can tolerate the cold. Besides that, you’ll know if they are too cold if they are showing some warning signs.

A chicken will puff their feathers up more than usual, and often stand on one leg. When there are chicks present inside the coop, check for their loud peeping as a sign they’re also too cold. To add more insulation to a coop to keep in the residual heat, add a layer of Tyvek home wrap around your coop.

Just don’t block any vents that allow air to flow through. In a pinch, you can just use a plastic tarp attached to the outside with strategic holes poked in it. If the weather falls into a major cold snap you might consider moving your chickens to the garage or barn.

But only in extreme cases where temperatures are reaching dangerous freeze levels. If you install a temperature gauge inside your coop, then you should buy one that’s a wireless WiFi thermometer. You can also track the humidity levels so that your chickens also stay healthy. This will be especially important if you add a light inside or a heated feeder.

While light is only used to keep your chickens accustomed to daylight schedules, sudden spikes in temperature could mean danger! It might not be a bad idea to install a video webcam so you can view your coop via smartphone app!


Can chickens freeze to death?

The worst thing that can happen is having your chickens freezing to death. The reason can be due to a coop that isn’t properly insulated. And this issue with little chicks is even more dangerous if a coop temperature is too cold. To keep your coop from becoming too cold you should only worry about large gaps in the coop.

Your coop can be wrapped in insulation material from the hardware store. Use a trusted brand like Tyvek, which is used on your house to keep heat in. However, the problem comes from keeping too much heat inside without having good air ventilation.

Your chickens don’t need to be too humid in the air that promotes bacterial growth. With all the chicken poop and humid air, you risk your chickens getting sick through viral infection instead. Chickens will do fine in a cold coop as long as it’s not cold enough for ice to form.

Water feeders mustn’t freeze, so it’s your choice if you want to invest in a heated model. If you’re new to keeping chickens in a backyard coop, you might also think your coop needs to be heated. It should not be heated so your chickens have a chance to get used to the weather naturally.

Heating a coop is a nice idea, but what if there’s a power outage without a generator backup? You can be sure your chickens will freeze if the temperature drop is too sudden. Having a cold coop is still better than having frozen chickens! So making your coop properly insulated is about all there is to it.

When the weather turns nastier than usual, you can always move your chickens to a safer temporary holding place. You should also think about installing temperature and humidity gauges you can monitor on a Smartphone app.


What is the ideal temperature for chickens (in the winter)?

To give you an exact temperature that your chickens will be happy within the winter is 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit! And you might think that’s pretty cold but actually, it’s not, especially for feathered chickens. The feathers that cover your chicken aren’t like the rest that lay on the surface. There are fluffier layers that are closer to the skin.

This feather fluff holds in heat and allows chickens to tough it through the winter chill. On a typical summer day when the weather is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, your chicken is always warmer. Their body temperature will be around 105-109 F (40-43 C), which is why they’ll be resting in the shade.

With nearly 30 degrees difference between the actual weather and all those layers of fluff, they can take cold days. This is why an outdoor chicken coop that’s insulated with the right amount of air ventilation is all you need.

The internal temperature from 5-6 hens and a rooster won’t be sweltering but will be in the low 60s to them. And since your chickens will like to huddle together, this banded form of heat conservation will be shared at night. In the day they’ll keep busy eating, scratching around the coop, and laying eggs.

If you put a light inside the coop, it should be to keep your hens on a normal egg-laying schedule. Hens can still produce plenty of eggs in the winter if you stick to a light cycle that simulates summer. Your light source can also be a LED light set on a timer so your chickens forget it’s winter.

When the weather reports are saying the temperature will be colder, you’ll need to take action to counter major cold snaps. This means you may have to move your chickens to a warmer area just in case.


Should a chicken coop be insulated?

In the wintertime, your coop should always be insulated with an external covering. A coop is always supposed to have good ventilation to give airflow in the summer. Yet for the winter, you’ll have to deal with humidity issues if you don’t provide air movement too. This means that any covering you add to the outside should still provide clean air that gets in.

Using any kind of insulation plastic or tarp material is good to keep the cold wind off your chickens. This plastic can be stapled onto the outside easily, and should also have slits or holes that give breathability.

Keeping your coop clean in the winter will be equally important to control any kind of odour problems, bacteria, and ammonia. Your coop needs to be cleaned more often since your chickens will spend more time inside, than in the summer. If you’ve thought ahead, then you’ll add a temperature and humidity gauge that you can monitor remotely.

Perhaps you can take it one step further by adding a webcam. Then you can have instant access to seeing what your chickens are up to at any time. Just make sure there’s an infrared LED light on at night so you can see in the dark.

With insulation added for winter months, allow your chickens to have the coop door open in the daytime. What do chickens need in the winter will also include fresh air and sunlight. It will keep them thinking they have a normal ‘summer’ schedule and continue laying eggs.

Just make sure you keep an eye on deep snow around the coop door, otherwise, you’ll keep it closed. Average winter days where there’s no snow, offer chickens a chance to stretch their legs if they dare come out…


Do chickens need a heat lamp in the winter? (can they survive without a heat lamp?)

Over the years it’s always been a growing debate whether to add a heat lamp inside a coop. The internet is often full of nonsense that includes questions like this. So let me tell you why a heat lamp is dangerous to the life of your chicken. Even in the cold of winter, chickens have several layers of feathers.

If you’ve ever plucked a chicken, it’s not so easy to get all the fluffy down feathers off. This layer of protection against the cold also holds-in the body heat of your chicken. Adding a heat lamp to your coop might cause chickens to die from heat exposure.

And yes, there are plenty of first-timers who have chickens who are afraid to let them get cold. Keeping a coop warm in the winter is a bad idea since a single power outage might happen. If you’re not well-equipped to start up a generator, your chickens will not last long.

The ability of your chicken to withstand the drastic cold changes won’t be there, and likely they will die. And since a chicken that wasn’t given a chance to experience winter weather will be more at risk. Sudden temperature changes are too much for your chicken anyway, so any kind of coop heating is a bad idea.

As for how a chicken can survive without a heat lamp is simple enough to explain. Your chickens are hardy birds that are built to withstand any kind of weather. Provided they have a good coop that helps to keep them warm in the winter. They have thick layers of feathers that begin to get fuller and fluffier the closer they get to their body. In the summertime, chickens will often lay in the shade since the heat is too much to bear.

Chickens often retreat to a coop if there is no shade available outside.

So as the seasons change, chickens will fair better in cooler weather due to all that plumage and down. Amazingly your chicken can be comfortable in a winter coop that is considered freezing to most people. Going down to temperatures in the low 30s might sound chilly, but your chicken can still be fine.

Weather below freezing however is a different story, since no animal should be allowed outside in that weather. I would suggest moving your chickens into your garage where it’s not as cold. Hens always tend to huddle together joined by a rooster, to keep warm.

If your garage is too cold, then a space heater would be a good idea to bring the room temperature up to 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s about as much as your chicken really needs for heating. Your chickens’ thick feathers will help protect them further without a single complaint. As for little chicks, they are often underneath your hens’ breast feathers where a majority of warmth is found.

Admittedly, I would say that little chicks are the most sensitive to cold weather but their mother knows best. Your hen will always round little chicks up to look after them and keep them safe.

After all, in the wild, this is how animals take care of their young. You and I have both become dependant upon wearing clothes and enjoying the luxury of indoor heating. But when you consider that your chicken comes with a built-in feather covering for warmth, is truly amazing.

Yet at some point, there was an opinion decided your chicken needed heating in their coop in the winter. Does that also mean that you should install coop air conditioning in the summer? If you can see the rationale in that question, there is no need to wonder anymore.


When should you heat a chicken coop?

There are only a couple of exceptions that I can advise to heat a chicken coop. The first is if you live in a place where the weather is very cold. If you have the means to install a heating system that has continual electricity, it’s your decision. Your chicken may have little chicks that are born in the winter too. So careful warming needs for them, (in the early stages) after they are born are important.

Newborn chicks will need to be kept in a separate container that has controlled heating. But your chickens don’t need to be kept warm all winter long unless it’s freezing cold outside.

At that point, you might prefer to keep them where wind and heavy snow isn’t going to be a danger. I’ve seen others who raise chickens in their backyard using a light bulb to keep a coop warm at night. It doesn’t do much help except for adding a few degrees difference at best.

Chickens like to clutch together for warmth when it’s cold, so it’s no surprise that they’ll do this naturally. Adding a heating source takes away a natural resistance to the winter months. Once you raise a chicken like this you’ll need to repeat this every year.

Consider that is going to be an extra cost for you for the next 5-10 years! So you have to wonder if that extra money spent on heating a coop is worth it or not.

On the flip side of that advice, I think that you’ll find chickens can grow quite hardy without coop heating. Raising your chickens through normal winter elements means healthier for survival in general. This is also passed down to all the eggs that are produced and the little chicks that follow.


What should I put on the floor of my chicken coop?

The best floor covering in a chicken coop is chopped straw. It’s cheap and is highly absorbent and also doesn’t rot so easily. Pinewood shavings are nice since they aren’t toxic to your chicken if they eat some of it. Not to mention the pine smell is helping to keep odour in your coop low.

But honestly, the best is dry straw. If you have to order from a farming supply, a whole hay bail is worth the cost for a couple of months of coop bedding. It’s also bio-degradable so it can be composted.

If you are using chicken poop mixed with straw with your garden soil, it makes great manure. This is a plus if you enjoy fresh vegetables that are an extra compliment from your chickens. In the winter you’ll need to change to bedding more often since chickens are inside the coop for longer periods.

Throw the left-over poop and bedding into a 50-gallon drum until spring arrives. Then you’ll have plenty of manure to use for planting new vegetables and fruits all through the summer.

Also, add some bio-degradable grit on the bedding so it will give your chickens the means to chew their food. As chickens scratch around in the bedding looking for food, this grit goes to their gizzard. It will all come out of your chicken in the end, so nothing is wasted. As an added bonus you might scatter seeds and other tasty snacks onto the bedding.

This allows your hens to have a daily activity that they won’t get bored of. Otherwise, boredom can lead to fights with other hens. What do chickens need for winter other than that?


How do I keep my chicken water from freezing?

Special feeders are available just for chickens to drink from. In the dead of winter, it’s not uncommon that a feeder will start to freeze. This is why you should have at least two of these feeders that can be switched daily. This should take place once in the morning, and then again at night.

At the coldest point of winter, you might need to check the water feeder more often. Not that the inside of your coop is going to drop to freezing levels, but it won’t hurt to check anyway.

There are new water feeders that are heated and won’t freeze over no matter what. These will need continual electricity to power, and often times it just isn’t worth the hassle. How much trouble is it for you to go into the backyard to check the water? If that isn’t a good enough reason here is another.

Water that is heated also promotes bacteria that can get in the feeder. That’s a problem that can make your chickens sick or in the worst case that they die. I don’t recommend a heated water feeder for that very reason.


What to feed chickens in winter

For a balanced diet, your chickens will eat nearly anything you give to them. This includes left-over lettuce and cabbage, carrot shavings, vegetable scraps. Food pellets, grain, seeds, berries, and fruits. As horrible a thought as it sounds, they will eat an egg that is going bad after it’s cooked. There isn’t anything that chickens don’t like to eat if they are given the chance. Obviously, non-sugary cereals and processed food aren’t advised, so stick with natural foods like corn and grains.

There’s plenty of pellet food available if you intend to have your hens laying eggs. Common sense will also tell you that a good variety of vegetables and fruits will produce great egg layers too.

Bread can be added on occasion but not too much. Left-over rice and oatmeal are perfectly fine to feed your chickens as well. If you want to be exotic, you can include beef, pork, fish, and excess fat trimmings. If you have left-over chicken, you might be surprised they don’t mind this meat a single bit.


In Closing

What should you keep in mind when keeping a backyard chicken coop in the winter? Here is the best advice that you can be sure to remember what do chickens need in the winter:


  • Give your chicken coop adequate insulation

Choose a quality covering that is rated for house insulation or something similar. In the cheapest cases, a plastic painting tarp is good. Make sure that you put slits and holes where ventilation helps air circulate.


  • Only have a heated coop in case of emergency

You will have to judge how cold your backyard temperature gets every year. How much snowfall you get Vs mild winter weather. Heated coops need continual attention that chickens don’t naturally need. Only use heating if temperatures drop to extreme levels.


  • Let your chickens adjust to the winter weather

A healthy chicken is used to all-weather conditions, so allow them to live in a coop that’s insulated properly. Their feathers are their main protection from the cold, and you don’t need to change their built-in abilities to keep warm.


  • Clean and maintain your winter coop more often

Bacteria and ammonia will be trouble if you don’t clean your coop. In the winter you need to do this more often. Provide fresh food every day along with grit for your chickens’ gizzards to work. Always add a hanging snack to keep bored chickens busy during the winter months.


  • Always check the water feeder

Use two water feeders just in case the temperature makes their drinking water freeze. Check your chickens’ water at least twice a day or more in colder days. Don’t buy water feeder warmers since this can promote bacteria.


  • Invest in some practical gizmos

You can keep track of temperature and humidity through a device that measures both. Many new models have an app you can track on your smartphone. Use a LED light set on a timer to simulate the change in daylight hours so your hens keep laying eggs regularly. Also, invest in a webcam that allows you to watch your chickens via a smartphone app in the day or with night vision.


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