How To Keep A Chicken Coop Warm In Winter

How To Keep A Chicken Coop Warm In Winter

Not sure how to keep a chicken coop warm in winter? Then pull up a chair, because we got quite a few (battle-tested) ideas for you today.

 

(Want to know how to keep your flock’s water from freezing? Get my genius hacks here).

 

herbs for backyard chickens

 

While the winters never get too brutal here in Missouri, we still do get our share of freezing temps (usually in January and February) thanks to the polar vortexes from our Canadian friends up North.

 

And trying to keep a chicken coop warm in winter is never fun. In fact, it’s usually a battle of ingenuity, and we’re kept on our toes trying to find new ways to keep the flock toasty and cozy when it’s gotten so cold we don’t even have a prayer of getting the hose getting unfrozen.

 

Now before we begin, just remember: For the most part, your chickens will be fine during the winter.

 

Every year, I get a few people who ask whether their hens will freeze in temperatures below 40 degrees, and the answer is no. Your chickens will likely be fine no matter what.

 

Only once temperatures dip below zero and into the VERY below zero temperatures (negative 30 degrees, for example) do you really need to be concerned about keeping them warm.

herbs for backyard chickens

 

In temperatures above zero, your chickens will fluff their feathers to stay warm and all the walking around and foraging will help keep their blood circulating and their body temperature up.

 

At night, they’ll bundle together on a roost and keep their little legs warm by sitting on them.

 

But you still are probably wondering how to keep a chicken coop warm in winter, so here’s some ideas we’ve used on our farm to get you started!

 

  1. Shut the door midday and let the sun warm your coop up

 

We’ve had a lot of luck with the various coops on our property by using solar energy to keep the coops heated.

 

Our coops have windows, so for the first part of the day, we can open the coop doors and let the hens forage.

 

About mid-day, you can close the doors and allow the heat to get trapped inside the coop, keeping it warmer than it would be otherwise.

 

Now, don’t ask me how many degrees this will raise the temperature – that’s going to depend on a wide variety of factors.

 

And this won’t work 100% of the time. But it might be the difference between 22 degrees and 32 degrees in the coop – and that’s a heck of a difference.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

2. Use lots of straw & clean out every week

 

Straw is an amazing insulator – that’s why you see those straw houses becoming so popular.

 

Putting about a foot deep of straw in your coop will do wonders keeping the cold air out and the warm air generated by your flock’s body heat in.

 

As a bonus, your flock won’t have to stand on a cold floor.

 

Now, you might hear that straw is not good to use as bedding – to each his own. Some people have decided that straw harbors mites, and the answer is if you don’t clean your coop, pretty much anything will harbor mites.

 

Clean the straw out of your coop weekly, and you’ll be good to go.

 

Wondering how to keep a chicken coop warm in winter? Keep your backyard chickens toasty warm with these 6 genius hacks!

3. Deep litter method

 

If you don’t know what the deep litter method is, or if you’ve heard of it but aren’t sure what it entails, then you can learn everything you want to know right here.

 

Now for full disclosure, I don’t use the deep litter method. But people who DO use it claim it can raise the coop temperature by about 10 degrees – pretty significant when your talking about daily highs in the teens.

 

The reason it generates so much heat is because the manure dropped by the chickens composts, and the breaking-down process causes heat.

 

herbs for backyard chickens

4. Radiant space heater

 

Like the deep litter method, this one isn’t going to be for everyone. If you’re not sure what a radiant heater is, you can see an example here (you can also buy one here).

 

Now note, I didn’t say heat lamp – that’s a definite no-no because they get way too hot. Every winter, there’s a slew of posts on Facebook about people who used a heat lamp and their coop went up in flames.

 

Just say no to heat lamps.

 

Radiant heaters are a different thing – they don’t get so hot and have some safety features. They can raise the temperatures in your coop a few degrees, and that can make all the difference.

 

Just note, you will need an electrical source to use a radiant space heater.

 

Now, would I personally use one of these in my coop? Probably not. I’m WAY to paranoid about fires and our winters are not that cold – it’s the odd day that things get below zero.

 

That being said, you might want to use one – and if you do, the more power to you.

 

 

5. Use a treeline to break the wind

 

We have one horse pasture that I swear is 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the others. When the water is frozen solid in the other fields, it’s not even icy in this particular pasture.

 

And the reason is that there’s a lot of trees causing a ginormous windbreak. And it makes all the difference.

 

It’s pretty insane how much a treeline can keep a coop warm simply because it’s keeping the cold winds away from your flock.

 

If your chickens are in a tractor, or if you can somehow move them behind a treeline, you’ll be able to keep the coop from losing warmth.

 

If you can use something else to create a windbreak (moving the coop behind a structure so it’s protected), then that’ll work as well.

 

If you plan to use straw in your coop, you could even buy extra bales to create a “wall” to break the wind (don’t laugh – we’ve done it and it WORKS.)

herbs for backyard chickens

  1. Use insulation around doors and windows

This one will take a bit of planning on your part, but you can save a lot of heat by simply eliminating drafts. (After all, it IS those polar vortexes that contribute to the cold in the first place)

 

Making sure your coop doors and windows have proper insulation will go a long way.

 

Don’t use any of that spray foam however (my husband loves that stuff and it’s a nightmare to look at and clean up, and your chickens might decided to taste test it – never a good thing.)

 

If you’re trying to figure out how to heat a chicken coop in winter, then spend a little and get something like this that will do the job without taking the chance your flock will try to eat it.

herbs for backyard chickens

Want genius ideas to keep a chicken coop warm in winter? Here's 6 genius hacks perfect for beginner backyard chicken mamas!

Do Chickens Need Heat In Winter? Let’s Keep ‘Em Safe!

Do Chickens Need Heat In Winter? Let’s Keep ‘Em Safe!

Winter is coming, and that means I’m getting a lot of emails asking things like: “Do chickens need heat in winter?” and “Do you need heat lamps for chickens?”

 

Winter is a tricky time on the homestead because you’re navigating through cold weather, wet weather, snowy weather – sometimes all in the same day.

 

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that cold weather isn’t much of an issue with chickens….but cold WET weather can be deadly.

 

Every winter, I spend half my time wringing my hands because our chickens play outside when it’s freezing rain, and don’t have enough sense to go into the coop when the temperature drops further.

 

We haven’t lost a chicken to the cold yet (knock on wood), but I do stress in the winter months over their health.

 

So, to solve the question “do chickens need heat in winter”, the answer I’ll give you is: It depends.

 

Let’s look further.

 

Can chickens survive winter?

 

In short, yes. Chickens do quite well in freezing temperatures. They have natural defenses against the cold, and their feathers provide protection.

 

How?

 

Well, over winter, you might notice your chickens fluffing and ruffling their feathers. This isn’t just to make them look cute (although they do).

 

When your flock puffs their feathers, they’re creating a gap of air, which acts like a layer of insulation between them and the cold.

 

During the day, your flock likely will move around a lot; this keeps their bodies even warmer, including their feet, combs, and wattles.

 

At night, when they’re quiet, your chickens will keep their feet warm by crouching over them and insulating them with their feathers.

 

As for their combs and wattles, you probably will notice your chickens tucking their heads into their wings at night to protect them from frostbite.

 

So, chickens naturally are pretty prepared for cold weather.

 

Do chicken coops need heat?

 

Every winter, I get asked “Do we need heat lamps for chickens in winter?”

 

I’m personally not a fan of heating chicken coops, and I think heat lamps are fire hazards. We don’t heat ours.

 

Before I got wise to the dangers of heat lamps, more than once we woke up to a house filled with smoke because a chick or a piglet messed around and knocked the heat lamp over – and these were heat lamps with regular 75 watt bulbs in them.

 

So, that gives you some indication just how dangerous they are – and they’re exponentially MORE dangerous with the red heat lamp bulbs.

 

The red heat bulbs get extremely hot – we’ve tested their temperatures as high as 140 degrees before.

 

Chickens like to constantly reinforce their pecking orders, and all it takes is one careless hen to knock over a heat lamp and cause a fire.

 

Every winter, I’m sent photos of coops totally destroyed in a heat lamp fire – and the owner’s flock is totally gone.

 

I’m just plain not a fan of chicken coop heat lamps.

 

In most cases, chickens don’t need heat in winter, EXCEPT if you live in a very cold environment, such as parts of Minnesota or Canada that can easily reach -30 degrees F.

 

If you’re concerned your flock won’t be warm enough on particularly cold nights, offer your chickens some extra feed or cracked corn so they have extra calories to burn.

 

You can also feed your flock an extra meal or offer their grain free choice to keep their calorie count up.

Need some chicken treat recipe ideas? Check out my ebook Cluck Cakes!

do chickens need heat in winter

Freezing rain: The silent killer

 

More so than any other type of winter weather, freezing rain can devastate your flock.

And chickens, unfortunately, don’t always have enough sense to keep out of freezing rain.

 

Last winter was terrible with cold rains in freezing temperatures, and more than once, we had to run out and cover the runs with huge tarps to keep the rain from hitting our birds.

 

While in snow and cold wind chickens can fluff their feathers, if they’re doused with water from a cold rain, they have a harder time fluffing their feathers – and it can dangerously lower their body temperatures and cause stress on their bodies.

 

It’s hard to get your flock dry in cold weather once they’ve gotten drenched.

 

When there’s freezing rain in the forecast, our flock stays inside the coop for the day with some extra treats and boredom busters.

 

If your chickens DO become wet in cold weather, then I recommend using a heat lamp for a couple hours and toweling everyone off (if you don’t have too many).

 

Once everyone’s dry, then remove the heat lamp and keep them inside until the weather is better.

 

What Does a Chicken Coop Need in Winter?

 

Ok, now that we’ve established my deep and unrelenting hatred of heat lamps, let’s talk about how you CAN protect your flock over winter.

 

While your flock will naturally insulate themselves by fluffing their feathers, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to cold breezes.

 

One of the best ways you can protect your flock is by giving them a draft-free coop.


What does this mean?

 

Before cold sets in, go over your coop.

 

  • If it has windows, are they sealed well?
  • Does their door shut well at night?
  • Are there any gaps in the walls that can cause drafts?
  • Is the floor solid? Does it have holes?
  • Does the roof keep the coop dry?

 

When the chilly winds pick up, your flock will thank you for taking the time to eliminate any drafts from their house.

 

They’ll thank you even more for making sure that any cold rain or snow can’t get into their coop, so be sure to double check their roof and keep windows and doors closed when the winter weather gets really nasty.

 

Ventilation

 

You should also make sure your coop has adequate ventilation.

 

Because chickens will naturally stay inside their coop more during the winter, they’re more likely to drop manure inside their home….and breathe the noxious fumes of ammonia.

 

Keeping the coop clean and ensuring there’s adequate ventilation will help prevent any respiratory problems from creeping up.

 

Preventing frostbite

Frostbite is caused by cold combined with moisture, either from something like rain or moisture from the buildup of manure.

 

Like any other living organism, chickens are at risk for frostbite over winter, particularly on their combs, wattles, and legs.

 

All is not lost however. Frostbite CAN be prevented by coating the combs and wattles in a thick layer of petroleum jelly….if your chickens will sit still long enough.

 

Keeping Eggs from Freezing

 

When it comes to the question “do chickens need heat in the winter?,” the question isn’t just about your flock.

 

Eggs can easily freeze when the mercury dips, causing them to explode and become useless, so you should take extra care to gather eggs multiple times during the day.

 

If they are frozen, but unbroken, then let them thaw gently at room temperature. If they’re broken, then they can be fed to your chickens, other critters (like pigs), or composted.

 

Keeping your flock prepared for nasty weather is critical to helping your flock survive winter.

 

The bottom line is keep them dry, keep their home dry, and give them extra feed, and they’ll do just fine when the cold temperatures hit.

Do CHICKS need a heat lamp? Well, that’s a whole other story. Check out my Podcast on Raising Chicks Naturally for some advice on heat lamps for chicks!

I’d like to hear from you!


Did you ever wonder “Do chickens need heat in winter?” Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment below!

 

References:

Hassanpour H, Khalaji-Pirbalouty V, Nasiri L, Mohebbi A, Bahadoran S. “Oxidant and enzymatic antioxidant status (gene expression and activity) in the brain of chickens with cold-induced pulmonary hypertension.” Int J Biometeorol. 2015 Nov;59(11):1615-21. doi: 10.1007/s00484-015-0968-z. Epub 2015 May 5. Accessed August 30, 2016.

 

Singh Y, Ravindran V, Wester TJ, Molan AL, Ravindran G. “Influence of feeding coarse corn on performance, nutrient utilization, digestive tract measurements, carcass characteristics, and cecal microflora counts of broilers.” Poult Sci. 2014 Mar;93(3):607-16. doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03542. Accessed August 30, 2016


Want to learn more about how to raise chickens naturally? The Backyard Chicken Bundle includes 5 individual ebooks about raising chickens, checklists, videos, and more! With gorgeous full color photographs, charts, and recipes for all-natural coop cleaners, layer feeds, herbal first aid salves, and more, it’s $250 worth of valuable resources a chicken mama needs in one place!

Click here to purchase the Backyard Chicken Bundle.

Backyard Chicken Bundle