Chickens actually thrive in colder temperatures.
It is the heat that really drains your chicken and can cause some significant health problems.
However this does not mean that chickens can survive all cold temperatures.
But just how cold is too cold for chickens?
In this article we will talk about what temperature is too cold, how to help your chickens through the winter and much more…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens?
- Chicken First Aid For Winter
- How To Prepare Your Chickens For Winter
- How Do Chickens Naturally Keep Warm During Winter?
- Which Breeds Are Cold Hardy?
- Frequently Asked Questions
How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens?
There are various tales of chickens surviving in Alaska or Canada when the wind chill temperatures were around -50°F. You can also find several reports of chickens surviving when the temperatures in the coop was around 18°F.
So chickens are certainly okay in freezing temperatures.
A lot depends upon the circumstance.
If a chicken was exposed to subzero temperatures without any protection from the wind and snow, I suspect it would not be long before she succumbed to hypothermia and death.
As long as they have protection against the elements they will do fine in freezing temperatures.
The coldest it has been here in upstate New York is around -10°F and my chickens have done fine in their coops. When the weather warms to zero, there are a couple of hardy (or daft) hens that wander around in the snow for short periods of time!
So rather than worrying about the absolute temperature it is more important to make sure your chickens have a suitable coop and living conditions (more on this later).
How To Know If My Chickens Are Ok In The Cold?
How do you know when your chickens are struggling in the cold?
There are a few obvious signs such as:
- They sit hunched over.
- Their feathers are all fluffed up.
- She will not eat or drink much.
- Notice her perching on just one leg to keep the other one warm.
- She will be pale.
- Sleepy and lethargic.
If you notice these signs then now is the time to act to help your chicken.
Chicken First Aid For Winter
Chickens that are suffering from hypothermia will need to be moved to a warmer environment.
Place them somewhere warm and quiet, then let them warm up slowly. If they are wet then make sure to dry them off quickly with a towel and a hairdryer.
Once their circulation starts to return they will start to perk up and take notice of their surroundings. You will notice color returning to their comb and wattles, her eyes will be brighter and more alert. They will eat and drink at their own pace so do not rush them.
After she has recovered she should stay in a warm area for 24-48 hours for you to watch and evaluate her. After 48 hours you can safely return her to the flock.
Another issue you will have is frostbite.
Those big combs and wattles often get frostbitten in bitterly cold weather. The culprit for frostbite is moisture in the coop which is caused by poor ventilation.
You can use Vaseline and spread it on their comb and wattles to help to protect them from the moisture which causes frostbite.
Frostbite on the feet is far more serious.
Chickens have been known to lose one or both legs because of severe frostbite.
How do you spot frostbite?
In mild frostbite the area may look pale/white, swollen and be warm to the touch. This is mild and if the damage is not too severe, the tissue may regenerate. With severe frostbite these pale areas will turn a bruised looking color before turning black. Blackened tissue is dead and will not regrow. Do not trim combs or wattles that have blackened as these dead areas will fall off naturally.
Whilst you cannot treat frostbite you can prevent it. Make sure to keep your chickens warm to prevent frostbite.
How To Prepare Your Chickens For Winter
Preparing The Coop For Winter
Preparing their coop can help to save your flock from a lot of grief during those dark and cold winter days.
You really should give your coop a thorough check at least twice a year to keep on top of any problems. The autumn check should include all of the following points:
- Check for any rodent activity. Are there any mouse or rat holes that need to be dealt with? Fixing them now will be easier than when the cold weather sets in.
- Are there any holes or cracks in the coop? These holes can cause misery when the wind can sneak in.
- Check for leaks. Leaks are not known for getting better, they only get worse. Find the source and repair it.
The first step in this maintenance process is to clean the coop out.
Once the floor is clean you can see any mouse holes or cracks where pests might be able to get in. Repair these areas so that the access is blocked.
Next you need to check any seams or joints for integrity. You can use your hand to feel for any drafts and patch them over where needed.
I think leaks are the worst.
They always take up more of your time than you think they are going to. Nevertheless, they do have to be plugged, so find out where they start and plug the hole. Wetness in the coop can lead to mold, which in turn leads to respiratory issues.
Now is a great time to spray for lice, mites and other little creepy crawlies. You can get the coop smelling fresh by using a spray of vinegar mixed with herbs or lemon. Do not forget to dust the floor and nest boxes with chicken poultry dust.
You should also clean the feeders and waterers and replace all the bedding.
Tips To Care For Chickens During Winter
In addition to preparing their coop, there are a few things that you can do to keep your chickens healthy through the winter.
- They should have free access to food so they can snack whenever they want to.
- Can you turn part of your pen into a sun area? You can use plastic sheeting to keep the area dry and snow free, on the warmer days they might like to sit in the sun as long as they are protected from the wind.
- Chickens with large combs and wattles will benefit from a thin layer of Vaseline being applied to them before they go to roost.
- Put down lots of straw or bedding. It is soft and warm to sit on and provides something to scratch through. You can encourage them to scratch through it by sprinkling a handful of cracked corn in it.
- If your birds like to go outside then throw down a layer of straw for them.
- Make sure they always have water available.
- Give them a snack before bedtime (cracked corn or scratch) to help keep them warm.
- You should have enough perches for everyone so they can get up off the floor at night.
- Give them activities to do. Cabbage piñata is a favorite and will get them moving.
Should You Add A Heater To The Coop?
This is an age-old question with two definite camps: for and against.
One thing to remember is that your chickens are much stronger than we give them credit for.
They can survive temperatures that we think of as too cold to go outside and we go light the fire and pull up a chair. We have already talked about how they manage to stay warm and it is very effective as long as we remember to give them a coop that is dry and draft-free, secure and safe.
Generally chickens do not need additional heat in the coop.
However, there are some times when you will need to use a heater.
If you keep breeds that are not cold hardy then you will need to use a coop heater. Silkies come to mind because they do not have interlocking feathers, so they struggle in the cold.
Another exception would be if you have chickens that are sick. They should be moved to a warmer area as they will not be able to beat the cold as well as their sisters.
How Do Chickens Naturally Keep Warm During Winter?
Chickens have a few natural ways to keep warm on those bitter cold days.
To start with a hen’s normal body temperature runs between 105-109°F, which is already quite toasty.
Feathers are the real insulator though.
Their dense under fluff keeps all that generated heat close to their body and maintains a barrier between the hen and the cold. Those pockets of warm air stay close to her body and are heated by the chicken’s own body heat. Her plumage feathers can be fluffed up too. When she does this the air trapped between the feathers warms up and creates a larger area of insulation for her.
Areas that are exposed to the cold such as: legs, feet, comb and wattles require different tactics though.
You may she her standing on one leg with the other drawn close into her body. She will alternate legs in an attempt to keep them warm. If there is a thick layer of straw on the ground then she may sit on her legs and feet to keep them warm. In the coop at night she will sit down over her feet and legs to keep them warm, so wide perches are best for her.
The comb and wattles can be tough for her to keep from getting too cold. At night she will stick her head under her wing, but this still leaves some of the comb exposed.
Eating also can help keep them warm.
Food is fuel and the process of converting it generates heat. So you can give them a handful of scratch or corn to give them something to digest overnight.
When they are roosting they will sit close together to share their body heat. You may be surprised to learn that each hen generates the equivalent heat of a 10 watt light bulb.
Which Breeds Are Cold Hardy?
There are some cold hardy breeds that do very well in the colder climates.
These breeds have certain adaptations to deal with the problems associated with the cold. They usually have smaller combs and wattles and denser feathering. They also store more fat and have more muscle than many other breeds.
Other breeds that are known to do well are Dominiques, New Hampshire Reds, Orpingtons, Ameraucana, Easter Eggers and Faverolles.
Rhode Island Red and Welsummers have tight feathering and are cold hardy breeds too.
Breeds such as Sultans and other delicate tropical breeds are not going to thrive in bitterly cold weather. Bantams too can suffer badly in the cold. If your coop is not suitable for keeping these birds warm during the winter months then you are going to have to move them to more suitable accommodations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can chickens freeze to death?
If they are left out in severely cold and wet weather they can easily freeze to death. It is our job as flock keepers to make sure this does not happen by providing a living area for them that is dry, draft free and secure.
Can baby chicks survive in the cold?
Baby chicks up to the age of around eight weeks should not be kept outside in the cold.
When they are very small, they cannot regulate their temperature like an adult can. Because of this they are very sensitive to cold weather.
Even at eight weeks old they should be given some time to acclimate to the cold. It is best to wait until they are around 16 weeks old until they can tolerate the cold much better.
Will my chickens still lay eggs during the winter?
Some breeds will lay eggs during winter, however most breeds will stop.
You can read 11 cold hardy chickens that lay eggs during winter to find out which breeds are the best egg layers during winter.
After reading this article you will now be able to keep your chickens warm and toasty through some pretty severe weather.
As long as you keep them dry and out of the drafts, and give them good quality food and fresh water then they should be just fine.
If the temperature starts to drop to freezing then you should follow the advice in this article. Make sure to take quick action if your chickens are showing any signs of frostbite.
What is the coldest weather your chickens have survived?
Let us know in the comments section below…