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How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

Updated: Apr 22



How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

One of the most commonly asked questions I get while raising backyard chickens is how I keep my chickens warm in the winter. I live in Minnesota after all so it’s a valid question!

 

When I first started, I was actually pretty concerned about this, too. Our winters can get really cold and harsh. My coop wasn’t insulated, and I’d heard that running a heat lamp all the time wasn’t safe. I would lay in bed wondering if my chickens would be okay!

 

But after a few winters with a large flock, I’m here to tell you that your chickens will do just fine in the winter with a little knowledge and a few additions to your coop!


How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

The ideal temperature range for chickens is between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below this range can cause stress and discomfort.

 

But just how cold is too cold? The answer is - it depends. Chickens are comfortable at temperatures as low as 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit but can withstand subzero temperatures with a draft-free shelter.

 

However, it is important to note that the actual temperature tolerance of chickens depends on various factors such as breed, age and overall health. For instance, some chicken breeds, such as the Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, can withstand much colder temperatures than others.

 

How can they do this? Chickens have little built-in winter coats with down feathers, so the cold doesn’t bother them nearly as much as the heat. The biggest thing to watch out for is frostbite on their combs, waddles and feet.


How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

 

How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter

Here are my top tips for keeping your chickens warm and healthy all winter long!

 

1. Ventilation is Key

Your coop doesn’t need to be insulated, but it does need good ventilation. Constant cold air on your chickens can be harmful, but so can stagnant air. Ensure your coop has good ventilation to prevent moisture and ammonia buildup. Start by inspecting your coop and sealing any holes or cracks, but make sure to leave sufficient openings at the top of the coop for proper ventilation.

 

2. Monitor Moisture

Moisture buildup is a common winter issue and can lead to frostbite. Frequently check surfaces in your coop for moisture buildup and address any issues by increasing ventilation and cleaning up manure ASAP.

 

3. Protect Against Frostbite

Frostbite can occur on unprotected areas of your chickens, such as toes and combs when temperatures drop below freezing. Make sure your coop is well-ventilated and consider applying coconut oil or Vaseline to their exposed skin areas if temperatures are not below freezing. Vaseline or jellies will also freeze when temperatures are too low. If frostbite does occur, take immediate action to care for your chickens' wounds.

 

4. Provide a Flat Roosting Bar

Replace round roosting bars with flat 2x4s. This way, they can cover their toes with warm feathers. Avoid materials that retain cold, such as metal or plastic, as they might cause frostbite.

 

5. Large vs. Small Flocks

Large flocks tend to huddle together at night to stay warm, while smaller flocks may need extra protection in drafty coops. One solution is to wrap your coop in plastic, but again, leave adequate ventilation at the top.

 

6. Keep it Dry

A dry coop is essential in keeping chickens warm during the winter. The deep litter method and using Coop Recuperate is a great way to keep your coop dry and clean. It contains organic DE, lemongrass and eucalyptus essential oils to keep your coop smelling fresh and dry all winter long.

 

7. Fresh Water

When the temperature drops, it’s crucial to ensure your chickens have access to water that won’t freeze. You can use plastic heated waters that are covered to prevent accidents. Make sure your electrical source is free from dust and shavings to avoid a fire. My favorite waterer is the electric nipple waterer. I’ve used heated dog bowls in the past, but you have to clean it daily due to the chickens’ dust, so I don’t recommend this option!

 

Do Chickens Need a Heat Lamp?

Many people wonder if chickens need a heat lamp during the winter months. The short answer is no! While heat lamps can supplement warmth, they are not essential. In fact, heat lamps can be dangerous if they aren’t used correctly.

 

Heat lamps can be an extreme fire hazard and can even cause injury to chickens if they come in direct contact with them. Instead, provide your chickens with adequate food, water, bedding and shelter that protects them against wind and tough weather conditions.


If temperatures are dangerously low (like -50 with wind chills like they get here in Minnesota), add a safe heat source. Meaning, a well-placed form of heat that will not catch fire or be positioned somewhere your chickens can touch it. Caged heat lamps or heating panels in the coop are often best. Do your research and make sure to find a safe heat source for the winter if you need it!


Chicken Supplements for the Winter

When the weather patterns fluctuate (and they often do in Minnesota!) I incorporate Flock Fixer in their water. I always give them Chicken E-lixir as a daily vitamin to support their digestive and immune systems. However, during times of stress, I use Flock Fixer. It includes the necessary vitamins, minerals and organic oregano essential oil to boost my flock’s immune and digestive systems. It has literally saved some of my chickens’ lives!

 

Lastly, along with a well-balanced chicken feed, giving your chickens scratch or cracked corn will also keep their little bodies working to stay warm. I highly recommend Happy Tract or Golden Graze. They will “flock” to these chicken treats!

 

How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

Keeping your chickens warm in the winter really isn’t that hard. If you follow these simple tips, your chickens will do just fine! Us humans on the other hand? I have no recommendations for us there! Haha!


How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate?

Happy winter, everyone!

 

–The Wing Lady

 

 

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