Rhode Island Red Chickens are known for being cold hardy. They can easily withstand temperatures that would have us running inside to warm up. However, they do have their limits, like any other animal. Learn how cold is too cold for your Rhode Island Reds, and how you can help them get through the winter chill.
Rhode Island Reds Cold Tolerance
Every year, we are admonished to bring our furry friends inside. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog. Luckily, this doesn’t apply to chickens. Although it could make Christmases a bit more lively!
How Cold Is Too Cold For Rhode Island Reds?
Rhode Island Reds can easily tolerate temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. Many owners say that they only provide heat if the temperature dips below -18 degrees. This is much colder than a human could withstand, but Rhode Island Reds are born for this weather. They have tight feathers and plenty of down.
The biggest concern with very low temperatures is frost bite on the comb or wattle. If the temperatures are below 0, applying some Vaseline to these areas can help prevent frostbite.
Acclimatizing Your Rhode Island Reds To The Cold
There’s one caveat to the cold tolerance rule. They must acclimatize to the cold weather. This means if you provide them with heat when it gets cold, you must maintain it. Many owners have found their chickens frozen because the power went out, and the chickens lost their heat source.
Chickens naturally molt when the weather begins to turn cooler. They shed their summer feathers for a warmer winter set. Their bodies adjust to the cold gradually. If they aren’t allowed to adjust, they will have a much lower cold tolerance.
Some owners worry about a quick drop in temperatures. Should you be worried if the temperature suddenly goes from warm to cold? In some areas of the country, this is a common occurrence. You can wear shorts one day, and require a coat the next.
Chickens are adapted to nature’s natural rhythms, and even her occasional whims. They will pick up on cues the weather is getting cooler, and begin their adjustment process. They may need supplemental heat if the temperature drops very drastically, with a change of 50 degrees or more. If the low goes from 60 degrees to 10 degrees, this may be too much for them. However, this is a rare occurrence.
Keeping Them Dry
Chicken’s feathers provide plenty of insulation when they are dry. When they are wet, however, they can freeze. A light snow or snow on the ground is usually well tolerated. A cold rain followed by a drop below freezing can be problematic.
When it is cold and wet, you should be sure that all chickens make it inside to shelter before turning in for the night. Ensure that none of them are showing signs of hypothermia as well. The most common scenario is for a chicken to get wet, cold, and then disoriented. They don’t remember to go into the shelter at night, which causes them to freeze. Usually, bringing them inside out of the elements is all that is needed.
Drafts and Ventilation
Chickens require good ventilation, even during the winter months. However, strong drafts are taxing for them. If the coop is made from wire, you can use plastic or cloth to keep out the wind. If it’s very cold or windy, you may need a tarp as well. Ventilation should be provided near the ceiling. This allows fresh air in, without the draft blowing directly on your birds.
Bedding And Run
You’ll need to keep their bedding as clean and dry as possible during the winter. Straw is an excellent choice, and also provides extra insulation from the cold. Spreading straw in the floor of the coop can also help protect their feet from frostbite.
If there’s frequent snow, you’ll want to add a roof to their run. Clear plastic is best for this. Chickens need access to the outdoors, even in cold weather. However, most do not like to walk on snow. It also poses a risk of frostbite.
Knowing if a Chicken is too Cold
If a chicken appears disoriented, listless, or isn’t eating, they may be experiencing hypothermia. Frostbite can also indicate hypothermia. If their wattle or comb turn pale, they may have frostbite. Severe frostbite will cause it to turn gray, and eventually black.
You can put the chicken inside your shirt to warm them. This is a great first step when you encounter a chicken that is too cold, and sometimes all that is needed. If they don’t liven up very quickly, or appear to have frostbite, you’ll need to bring them inside.
Heat a towel in the dryer and then wrap it around them. Once they begin acting like themselves again, they can go back to the coop.