How To Keep A Chicken Coop Warm in Winter
If you think about the history of chickens, domesticated chickens have been around for thousands of years. They were an important resource for mankind long before modern conveniences were invented. The pilgrims brought chickens when they first landed in America.
Despite their proven hardiness, many chicken raisers spend hundreds of dollars and loads of time and energy on keeping their chickens warm in the winter. How cold is too cold for chickens and how far do you need to go to keep your coop warm?
In this article we’ll take a look at how to keep a chicken coop warm in winter, and some of the things you can do to help keep your flock happy during these cold months.
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Facts About Chickens and Cold Weather
The Livestock Conservancy led a workshop on managing poultry health. They listed the top five killers of chickens and what can be done to prevent chickens from dying from these causes. Chickens dying from cold temperatures was not on the list. The top five culprits were:
- Death by predator attacks
- Infection from egg peritonitis
- Vent prolapses
- Fatty liver syndrome also known as scratch fed syndrome
Cold Weather Not A Major Source of Poultry Death
The reason that dying from cold is not on the list of common chicken killers is that chickens are very robust. They have an amazing ability to regulate their body temperatures. Their coat of feathers adapts to both summer and winter conditions which keep their bodies at an optimal temperature all year round.
In hot weather, a chicken will shed the downy layer of feathers to stay cool. In winter, they will grow back the down to stay warm. A chicken has a resting temperature of 105 to 109 degrees F. They have a very fast heartbeat of 400 BPM which boosts their metabolism and helps them produce and retain heat when the temperatures drop.
If you’ve ever slept under a down quilt, you know how quickly you get warm. This is how a hen feels wrapped in the down from her own body. Her soft feathers plump up and her body stays nice and toasty warm. Chicken down is their best defense against cold weather. As long as the coop is dry and well ventilated, the chicken has its own ability to produce heat.
How Cold is Too Cold for a Chicken?
Chicken experts believe that chickens don’t begin suffering until the temperature inside the coop reaches minus 20 degrees F. This is based on ideal coop conditions and that the chickens have been cared for properly.
When temperatures drop into the single digits, chicken breeds that have large combs and wattles may need some help with the protection of body parts.
If your chickens will be experiencing sustained cold temperatures, you may want to take measures to prevent frostbite. You can apply a salve like Waxlene or petroleum jelly to combs, wattle, and legs. This will create a barrier to the cold for susceptible body parts.
Signs Your Coop is Too Cold
You should provide your chickens with a roost at least 2 feet off the ground and with plenty of room to cuddle. Chickens will huddle together for warmth. If you go out to your coop on a cold night and your chickens are not huddled together, this is a sign that there may be a problem.
Here are other signs to look for to determine if your chickens may need more protection to deal with the cold temperatures.
- Chickens are in distress, agitated, not settled
- Lack of movement, they should still be alert and reactive
- Feathers are excessively fluffed
- Standing on a single leg with the other tucked under their feathers
Monitor Chickens Behavior Closely
When temperatures reach a dangerous level, you must monitor the behavior of your chickens. Check on them often. If you are doing everything right as far as shelter, feed, and water, you may need to do a better job of winterizing your coop.
If you do feel your chickens are cold, you need to improve their conditions. Once they fail to keep warm by natural means, it is time for an intervention.
If you see any signs of illness or respiratory distress in frigid temperatures, you may need to consult a vet. Act immediately as waiting in those conditions could be fatal for your chicken.
How to Winterize Your Chicken Coop
Rural Sprout suggests 5 ways you can winterizing your coop. You can take the steps now, before it turns frigid, to keep your coop warm if you suspect you are in for a cold and frosty winter. However, its not too late even if the temperatures have dipped down low.
A well-insulated coop will help keep the coop warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Good insulation will also regulate humidity. Your chickens will happier and more comfortable in a dry coop. Consider the following options for insulation:
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- Fiberglass – easy to do if you are a fan of DYI. Be sure to cover the insulation with some type of siding to keep the chickens from pecking at it.
- Spray foam is more expensive but very effective.
- Wool blankets can be hung on the walls and will help retain heat.
- Create a double wall and place an insulating barrier between the two. The higher the insulating properties, like solid foam, the better the results.
2. Eliminate Drafts
This is essential for your chickens to stay warm. Chickens stay warm by puffing their feathers. This creates a pocket of warm air between skin and feathers. Any draft will disrupt the feather, causing the chickens to lose that pocket of warm air.
Seal up any areas that may be allowing a draft into the coop. The biggest culprits are usually doors and windows. Use caulk where you can. If you are leaving an opening for entry and exit, hang a blanket over the door to keep the breeze out but still give chickens access.
Ventilation is important to keep air quality good and air circulating. Especially in winter, carbon dioxide and ammonia can build up because it is harder to keep the coop clean. Chickens can be prone to respiratory infections so air quality is important.
You can create ventilation by drilling holes in the wall near the ceiling on opposite sides. This will let air flow, but not cold breezes. You can take it one step better by installing proper vents in your coop.
4. Deep Clean
Deep clean before the cold sets in by removing all the soiled bedding on the floor and in nesting boxes. Once the bedding is removed, scrub down the coop. This will help eliminate mites and parasites. Let everything dry out thoroughly before replacing the bedding.
Consider adding Diatomaceous Earth on the floor and nesting boxes before adding the bedding to keep away harmful pests. It’s best to use at least 6 inches of bedding in the winter to help insulate the floor and retain heat inside the coop.
5. Dust Bath
In the dead of cold and winter, your chickens will be missing their usual routine of dust bathing, especially if the ground is covered with snow. Make a dust bath for your chickens and place it in the corner of a coop, away from the roosting areas so it doesn’t become soiled. Use a combination of sand and Diatomaceous Earth to keep away mites and parasites.
6. Store Supplies
Stock up on supplies for your coop before winter arrives. You never know when snow and ice will prevent you from your regular runs to the farm store.
Having extra feed, bedding, treats, and medications, before the cold weather arrives, will prevent you from running out of essentials if the weather turns bad for an extended period of time.
Read More: How To Properly Store Chicken Feed Long Term
Other Winter Considerations for Your Coop
The type of food you feed your chickens in the winter may help keep them warm. Cracked corn is high in carbs and will help your chickens keep warm from the inside. Consider adding cracked corn in the winter if it isn’t part of their regular diet.
Depending on your electricity situation, you can add heat lamps to your coop. While not necessary, it may make you feel better knowing that your chickens have a source of warmth on freezing evenings.
The main rule is safety. Choose a product that is safe for a coop and specified for being used for poultry. A heat source is useful to keep the coop warm enough to prevent eggs from freezing and cracking.
There are many options to choose from. A heat lamp can cost as little as $10. More deluxe coop heaters can cost up to $50. Adding a light source at night may also encourage certain breeds of chickens to keep laying through the shorter daylight hours of winter.
Just like humans, chickens can go a little stir crazy if they are forced to stay inside when the weather gets bad. You can find a plethora of chicken toys to help keep the ladies entertained this winter.
Not only will help with squabbling among themselves and fend off boredom, but it will also encourage the flock to move around and get some exercise. This can also be achieved by hanging fruit like clumps of grapes, or vegetables, like a head of cabbage, on a string from the ceiling.
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