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Chickens and Cold Weather

By Robert Plamondon 

Tags: chickens, cold,

I’d rather not heat my chicken coop unless I have to. How cold is too cold for my hens? 

two chickens in snowChickens can handle very cold temperatures. Some experts say chickens don’t really start suffering until the temperature inside their coop falls to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll start suffering earlier if it’s damp inside the chicken house, or if they haven’t become inured to the cold (which is why some people think using heat lamps for hens is a bad idea unless it gets incredibly cold). 

The lowest temperature we’ve had at my place is 8 degrees. My chickens didn’t mind this low temperature at all, and they live in wide-open, tumbledown coops, with all feeding and watering done outdoors. 

Even if your chickens are all right in the cold, you need to make sure they have access to water in below-freezing temperatures. As for waterers, if your coop has electricity, I’d suggest getting a couple of galvanized feed pans and using them for waterers on top of a heated stand. If they freeze up, swap in a replacement and take the frozen one inside to thaw. Open pans get messier than real waterers and have to be dumped out all the time, but they’re the best choice in freezing weather. 

The other problem with open pans is that the chickens can flip the water all over the place and soak their combs and wattles, which will get frostbite if this happens. One possible fix is to create a wooden float that floats on top of the water pan. Put a bunch of 1-inch holes in the float. This keeps the water-flipping to a minimum and helps insulate the pan. I’ve never tried this personally, but it’s mentioned in several old-time poultry books as a proven trick. 

— Robert Plamondon, 

Photo by Dusty Boots Photography 

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2/12/2016 3:30:08 AM

My chicks and chickens are getting the first winter as well. We have one rooster and 3 hens hatched in march of 2015. We decided to try and hatch some chicks this fall-with success we have 4-hopefully hens hatched around 10-31-2015. I recently started putting the the new chicks outside as our winter in MD has not been to bad. Ive been working on getting them all together as a group. The older chickens are still getting used to them. The rooster and our golden comet are the problematic ones. However, things are getting better. I built them a nice coop but plan to add on to it. The new chicks have been in our garage and out during the day. I made them a temp coop and placed next to the big coop. They go in an out of the big coop to eat, drink and sometimes for shelter. At night they are back in the temporary coop. Im up tonight and checked on them-its 18 outside. I have a heater in the large coop on low. The new chicks don't have heat but I have blankets wrapped around there coop. I got up this morning to check on them as I was worried. They all seemed to be fine. My oldest 11 year old boy got me into these. Never had chickens before but Im enjoying every minute of this. It has been a lot of fun for my 3 children and myself. Enjoy the eggs and the rooster-hes my big dog as I call him.

2/5/2016 4:24:20 PM

I have a hen that is making a whizzing sound and snezzing . my question is it possible for chickens to develop respretoriy problems and colds

11/16/2015 9:52:36 AM

I have 3 chickens that will have their first winter this year. I am concerned about my chicken coop being warm enough with out any heat. I also have a 10x10 pen attached to my coop and so far I have been moving both every week, so they have access to new grass and is fresh from feces. I guess I will need to put down some cover in the pen grown. I use pine shavings in their coop Plan to put coop and pen close to our house this winter to have easy access to my chicken. We also let them out at least once a day for few hours and sometime twice a day. Getting ready to experience my first winter, bought a heated water feeder. My husband and I have enjoyed these chickens tremendously, they are part of our family. Coming running up to us for snacks. Carol

11/25/2014 12:57:18 PM

It's been unseasonably cold here in Ky. I have a plastic watering device that of course froze up on me. I set a very small pallet on the floor, placed a heating pad on that and the watering device on that. Temps got in the low teens and the water stayed thawed. Chickens are very happy.

sarah gar
1/25/2013 8:13:32 PM

my bosses have gone on holiday and i am looking after their hens and chickens but i find it hard for all the chickens to go in the coop at night. they usually go in around 5 in the evening when its getting a little dark but last night the younger chicken, that i thought had gone in the coop with the others, was out all night, and i am worrying that i could cause some harm to it by being out in the snow, its windy too. im also worried that it is out again tonight, and im not sure if it was 6 or 7 hens/chickens. i am really worried that the young hen is out all night again and that it might get chased by some foxes or even badgers or that being outside in the cold with no food or water could bother it. does any body have any advice?? id really appreciate any info ASAP, thanks

patricia chamberlain
11/24/2012 8:57:41 PM

I have 6 hens and Banton roaster. I also have a 10x10 wood shed for them, They sleep in their nest box's at night. Have a dog heated water dish. I put a garlic clove in there water with 2 tbsps of apple cidar vinagar.for the minerals and anti-biotic. There free run in my yard in good weather to catch all the bugs and grubs. Have a light on in the day being its cold now with a lot of snow, they don't care to go out, and light goes off at 10:PM.Straw on 1/2 of floor and half of pine shavings. In the morning I make them their dish of milk and oatmeal which warms them up and they love it. They are in their 2nd winter now. Any new idea's out there???

10/24/2012 7:27:15 PM

William Bryce, i am new to chicken owning and live in Helena, MT!!! we built our coop on top of a wooden dog house that is insulated....we are contemplating if we should insulate the top half also??? we bought a red heat lamp (because someone told us to lol) is it necessary??? we have 8 hens, 1 rooster...any advise would be great with heating, cleaning, etc...your the first person from MT so i wanted to pick your brain! thanks!

ashley thurber
1/4/2012 2:50:28 PM

I live in florida and its been kind of cold lately.. if it gets really cold some times i feed them warm oatmeal an mix some feed in with it they love it an i dont have to worry about them to much

sherilee diebold
12/13/2011 1:58:30 PM

I live in Southern Ontario and we have already seen quite a few days of below freezing weather. I have put a heat lamp in my coop. It is right in front of the laying boxes and hangs down on top of my waterer. I have it plugged into a thermostat plug which turns it on when it reaches minus 2 and off when it reaches 0 or something like that. Anyways it does double duty, it keeps my eggs from freezing, provides the extra light my hens need to keep laying through the winter and keeps my water from freezing. Plus I did insulate all the walls of my coop this past summer. So far it is working great. I have a light in there as well on a timer to give them the extra light but once my heat lamp starting staying on quite a bit I unplugged that light assuming the heat lamp will provide the extra light now. This is my first foray into laying hens. I've had them since last May.

johnny mcmahan
12/12/2011 5:52:37 PM

There really isn't any need to buy alot of stuff to keep your chickens water from freezing. It's been below freezing in my area for about a week and my birds water hasn't frozen at all. I picked up a two hole cinder block, about $3 at the local home improvement place and the same kind you might use to build a wall, and set one of the holes over the top of a mechanics drop light with a 60 watt bulb which I had placed on the ground where it would stay dry. I then placed a large clay type dish, the same kind used under outdoor pots, on top of the hole the drop light is under. The standard chicken waterer goes on top of that. The bulb in the drop light heats up the clay dish which in turn heats up the waterer. No more frozen water. Check around on youtube, lots of people have great ideas for this kind of stuff.

marcie w
11/25/2011 4:51:10 AM

We purchased a heated water dish (comes on when the temp falls below 38 degrees) for the chicks and my husband modified a chick waterer so the bottom would fit into the heated dish, so it looks like a regular waterer. Then he cut a slot out of a 5 gallon bucket and turned it upside down over the waterer & put a brick on top so it couldn't be turned over, so now the girls have water whenever they choose. On another note not related to waterers...... don't have anything metal near the chickens when the temps are freezing because if they stand on the metal, their feet will freeze to it and they could lose their feet.

william bryce
11/23/2011 11:12:26 PM

We have our girls in a semi insulated coop that has a wind and solar battery based power system. The excess energy is dumped into a heater with fans so when the wind is blowing and stripping the heat from the coop it adds more. The water has an electrically heated base that comes on when the temp fall below freezing. Lights and ventilation are controlled by a DAQ system automatically and I can monitor it via the internet ( Here in Montana it regularly gets below -20F and the hens still do just fine. The coop is a cheap 4X8 garden shed with a top mounted vent fan one window and nesting boxes and roosts.

bill reynolds
11/23/2011 6:33:49 PM

I live in NW Minnesota and the temps here fall into the -30's and -40's. The coop is an old build with no insulation. I use a heated dog dish which is on block for water, 60 watt yellow light to comes on at 5am and off by 8am. Then it's back on again just prior to sundown, until 8pm, seems to be plenty of light for the egg production. My chickens lay throughout the winter, the trick is to get the eggs before they freeze and crack. My chicken refuse to go out if there is no bare ground or straw to walk upon, so some snow removal is necessary. I too use the deep litter method, thus cleaning a coop is only a couple times a year. No plastic, no heaters, no insulation, no humidity raining down on the chickens and all are doing just fine!

2/20/2011 7:11:53 AM

Vicky- you didn't say how old your hens are. Did you get them as chicks in the summer? If they are older than a year, winter production will drop (without artificial lighting) since the days are shorter. This is nature's signal to your hens that this is not a good time to raise chicks (a hen's purpose for laying eggs), so egg production drops or stops. Many pullets (hens under a year old) will lay through their first winter. I have found that a pullet who hasn't started laying before winter has started will probably not start laying until daylight increases to close to 12 hours a day (but that has just been my experience). This is why I get my chicks in spring- so they start laying in fall and then continue through winter. The other thing to consider is how winter hardy are your birds. I have Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Australorps, Wyandottes, and Barred Rocks. These are winter hardy varieties who seem to handle the shorter days better and will continue to lay in the winter- just not as frequently as they lay in spring or summer. The cold can stress out your hens and stressed birds do not lay. Here in New England we've had a particularly hard winter with some extremely cold temperatures and snowstorm after snowstorm. My chickens don't seem to mind the cold as much as the snow. They will not go outside unless we remove the snow, so my husband will snowblow an area for them. I've noticed egg production drops for awhile after we have had back-to-back storms.

2/20/2011 6:46:10 AM

Lori- it sounds like you may want to add some vents (or crack open a window if possible). Maybe this site will help you- Best of luck!

1/24/2011 7:02:53 AM

We live in Maine and winters can get very cold. In fact, it was 10 degrees below zero (F) last night. The chickens made it through, though were certainly moving a bit slower this morning. They are in an unheated coop, 10 x 12'. I use a deep litter system which I think radiates a bit of heat, they have two south-facing windows, and I give them extra scratch in the winter--both in the morning and in the evening before they roost. I think the natural sugars in the corn give the chickens an extra boost of energy, and giving them scratch in the evenings provides them with an additional boost to keep warm through the night. My only issue is with water. We do not have power to the coop and there are many trips out there with fresh water on cold winter days. My wish is to get a solar panel out there so I can hook up a heated pad to their watering system. Other than that, happy chickens in an unheated, unlighted house, and we're still getting eggs each day.

1/20/2011 3:28:07 PM

I have Dominiques and some Wyandotte crosses, mostly many different mixes, but I have to say the Dominiques lay in zero and negative degrees, although with less frequency, but they seem to prefer to be out of the house even up to -20 and below. I put a heated water bowl out in single digits and below, but other than that, they are very hardy species.

1/13/2011 9:45:45 AM

I have 9 hens and 2 young roosters. I have only had them since summer, they live in a metal shed. They seem to stay warm, but i only get 2-3 eggs a day. They get plenty of scraps and warm water during the day. Winters get pretty cold here. What am i not doing right?

1/4/2011 7:17:53 AM

We got our first ever batch of chicks in the spring of this year, so we're no experts, but I'll share what we've done. We've got 18 chickens in a 10x8 coop, double-walled and insulated, with an attached 10x10 run that has a roof and is enclosed with plastic for the winter. The chickens still go out every day, since the run's dirt floor is nice and dry. At night, we close them in. They have a red night light that goes on at dusk and turns off at 10 p.m. They also have a heated waterer base that keeps their water from freezing. They also have a brooder lamp with a red bulb that turns on if it gets below 30 degrees in there. It's the end of December and we're still getting over a dozen eggs a day. The extra electricity is worth it if it keeps them happy and laying. However, a possible power outage could be disastrous if they're not used to going all night without the heat. Not sure what we'd about that. We may try not heating next winter and see how they do. Can anyone help with one problem? We have moisture build-up on the windows. How can we prevent the extra humidity in the coop? I'm told it invites frostbite.

1/1/2011 12:25:28 PM

Also, my coop does not have electricity. Without any extra light, my chickens are still laying through the winter. Each year I have pullets who tend to lay through their first winter, plus I keep cold hardy breeds- so even my older Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Australorps will still lay (just not as regularly).

1/1/2011 12:20:40 PM

I live in New England and my chickens are in their "winter" coop. It is a small, mobile coop with a wire floor (with a thick layer of hay covering it). This coop would normally be too small for my 46 chickens (who free range in our orchard during the day), but the smaller coop keeps them warm when they all pack in at night. The door to their attached outside enclosure remains open at all times to encourage air circulation (along with the ridge vent), plus the hay gets turned and new hay put down daily. This coop is well insulated and is currently turned so the window is facing south (for maximum solar heat gain). There have been mornings when it is in the single digits outside, but in the 50's inside the coop! While the chickens are outside, some will take advantage of the "Dogloo"- a doghouse a friend gave us which we also line with hay. This gives them another place to go if they want to get out of the cold or wind without having to go into the coop.

12/27/2010 5:02:24 PM

I've kept chickens in Wisconsin for over ten years, but this is the first year I lost a chicken to cold. I believe it was because she was trying to roost by herself. She also was not very high off the ground the night before she died (and also, I would assume, the night she died. I found her on the floor completely intact.) We had a predator problem a couple of months ago and that scared the hens away from roosting on their perch--they scattered all over the coop, to their detriment when it became cold!

12/27/2010 12:03:50 PM

This is my first winter with chickens. I have them in a "moveable" coop with no bottom (dirt floor) so I put down leaves then a large sheet of cardboard and then more leaves which is keeping it nice and dry. I tarped it and I'm letting the snow build up for insulation so it's pretty warm in there most of the time. I've been lighting it during the day, but once I let them out they spend most of the daylight hours outside in a run that I covered in clear plastic and installed a perch for them. I only feed and water them in the outdoor run so that there's no moisture problem indoors. Got a heated poultry waterer for xmas so we'll see how that works. I've been using an open rubber pan and one of my roosters did get a bit of frostbite on his wattles and comb when it got down to -1. Next time I'll try vaseline. I have large winter hardy breeds, some with rose combs. The ones with the rose combs have had no problem so far, even the rooster.

12/27/2010 10:20:48 AM

How do you keep the birds warm if the power goes out and they don't have the heat lamp? A friend is going to get chickens soon and will give them a heat lamp. When she asked how to keep them warm when the light doesn't work I didn't have an answer for her.

12/24/2010 8:36:21 PM

When I first starting reading up on chickens, the importance of the wavelength or color of lighting for chickens was interesting - blue/green for fast early growth and red for laying. So a heatlamp makes sense if it keeps the chickies warm and even fosters laying thru the season of cold, short winter days - Please indulge me this diversion from chickens - Since doing the reading on lighting (and health impacts),I took out some of my old flourescent bulbs in favor of either tungsten or newer lcd lighting inside the home. It made me wonder if the "it's something in the chicken" theory about kids maturing earlier was actually something in the lighting!

toni honeybee farm nh
12/24/2010 6:56:20 AM

My husband and I have 10 NH reds that we got this spring. They are very healthy and personable. We love them. Almost every day we get 9 eggs! We wanted to keep them happy so we have a timer that goes on @ 6:00 am, and then goes off @ 7:00 pm. We also insulated and panneled thier coop. Even though the weather here can drop to single digits the coop is above freezing. So far egg production remains the same and no freezing water! What can we do about moisture? Thanks!

charles tutt
12/23/2010 8:04:23 PM

I've noticed that day-length has almost everything to do with layer productivity. When I added light in the morning and evening via timers, thus extending the day-length, my girls continued to lay eggs. Some Amish friends of mine associated colder temperatures to cessation of egg-laying, citing cold feet. That has not been my personal experience.

kyt eubanks
12/23/2010 7:09:53 PM

Last year for our small home flock of Barred Rocks and Buff Orpingtons we bought a heated water bowl for pets from Walmart. It holds a little over a gallon of water and as long as it stays plugged in it keeps the water about 50 degrees. We do have to empty it every morning and refill but it's been worth it. My girls are in a metal shed cum coop and have a large run where they can get out of the coop at will. Kyt

elizabeth hollingsworth_2
12/23/2010 6:49:08 PM

i live in N. Florida. we had about 3 nights where it got down to the high 20s and we lost 1 hen 1 night, and almost lost another hen the 2nd night. we cardboarded up their coop and stuffed a bunch of hay in there (it's a small, portable coop), but couldn't put a heat lamp in there as there is no electricity where we have them. the cardboard & hay seemed to do the trick. so i think it's according to what's normal for your area.

12/23/2010 4:10:16 PM

i live in Saskatchewan,Canada and the temp gets to -30 celcius or - 25 Farenheit i have a 12 x 24 coop with about 45 birds i have 2 heat lamps and the water tank and water never freeze it is insulated and yes the chickens love to peck the snow off my boots when i feed them i have Rhode Island Reds and Bardrock hens they lay great throughout the winter

12/23/2010 2:08:47 PM

Very timely article! As most here, I have been adding the warmth of a heat lamp on the nights when the temp is going to move down below 20 just seems like the right thing to do to me. I have 10 golden comets in a 4x6 coop and they seem to be handling their first winter very well so far. I have not yet noticed a decrease in egg production, not sure if that's due to the breed or the added heat and light. Happy Holiday's everyone!

karen crow
12/23/2010 1:03:15 PM

...Another thing is to have enough chickens so they can keep the coop warm themselves, and don't make the coop too big. We keep anywhere from 25 to 45 chickens in an 11X13 coop with a large roost, and a ladder leading up to it.

karen crow
12/23/2010 12:56:26 PM

We purchase chickens that have rose combs, which are flush with their heads. In the winter, they mostly roost in the chicken house; they huddle together for warmth, and when they sleep, they tuck their heads under their wings-It's actually quite warm in there in the winter! We always cover the ventilation windows with plastic, and put on a heavier door with no screen. We also make sure they have plenty of water, in deep water troughs, and keep an eye on it. Similar to inside only cats and dogs, I think that if I put heat on them, they will be less able to tolerate any cold at all. Where we live, in the Ozarks, we don't get a lot of deep cold anyway.

12/23/2010 12:30:16 PM

Helpful article. I just received 3 Lavender Silkies for Christmas about 10 weeks old. I have them in a large container inside the main coop and protected from the older chickens. I worry they are not up to the cold and so at night I have a heat lamp high above their container in the morning I put them in an outer covered pen full of leaves and a big box turned on its side and layered with shredded paper. They seem very happy... Am I over doing my care? Are they tougher than I think? Can they be with the other chickens yet? I'd sure hate to lose them. It's a bit of work but I think chickens deserve to be comfortable. My 5 mixed hens and rooster seem very healthy and my four guines as well(they haven't seen the inside of a pen for 7 years) Of course I live in Central Texas so deep cold usually is pretty short term.

ohio homestead
12/23/2010 11:37:29 AM

Our chickens are on their second winter and not laying much, but last winter they were laying at about 50 percent capacity until we put in a red heat lamp...and then they began laying near 90 percent capacity. Apparently, they liked the heat! So, I think a heat lamp at night definitely helps winter egg production, and it's nice for your chickens...just because they can survive low temperatures doesn't mean they enjoy freezing out there on those cold nights! You could go out there and survive in the chicken coop too, but would you want to if you could have a heat lamp? Be nice to your chickens! ; )

12/23/2010 10:49:26 AM

I have been the proud owner of 3 hens since May of 2009. From little fluffy peeps they have all grown to be lovely ladies. Last winter it snowed about 50" here (which is way too much). So I kept a tarp over their run and a tarp over their house. Most of the time I could simply shake the tarps off and their run and house was snow free. Sometimes I literally had to dig them out. The first snow really worried me. I thought they would suffocate in their house because the snow was so deep and the tarp blocked everything out. Once the house was dug out, I opened the coop door and the three of them came tumbling out, hungry and cackling like usual. The only problem we had with the hens is one of them was being horribly picked on by the other two (feather plucking to the point of blood) -- that we had to separate the "victim" from her tormentors. Her feathers are growing back but soon we will have to re-introduce her to the house. We've tried putting her in the garden (neutral territory) but the other two chase her! Not sure what to do.

12/23/2010 9:50:57 AM

I am planning to buy some new hens this spring. I have always had single combed birds and have had some get their combs frostbitten. This is not from their water, but only the tips that do not tuck under their wings at night will be frostbitten. I have tried coating their combs with vaseline or udder butter, but not sure this is really a preventative. Can anyone tell me if they have had experience with other types of combs such as pea or rose combs NOT getting frostbit? It seems that these types of combs would tuck completely under the wings...? Thank you!

patti cordeiro
12/23/2010 9:32:34 AM

I have a heat lamp pointing at the hanging waterer inside the hen house, which is on a timer, and comes on about 4am for a few hours. It melts any ice that has formed. When we get many days that are not above freezing, I re-set the timer to stay on most of the time... it also gives a bit of heat to the small hen house. Fortunately Southern Tennessee doesn't get all that cold.

jolyn rebecca snider
12/23/2010 8:57:50 AM

Do chickens eat snow? Could this be an alternate source of water should the water freeze and you couldn't get to them for a few days (in case of a super snow storm) ??? I used to make sure there were piles of snow near my coops because occasionally it was a day before I could get to them and couldn't change out their water. All of mine survived but just wondering for information for someone else. Becca

scott richmond
12/23/2010 8:57:25 AM

I also use a heat lamp on a timer coming on every other hour on the hour. I leave it off in the night time hours so the chickens can rest. This has kept the coop warm enought that the water stays thawed out and the chickens are laying almost to full capacity. I did add a door dormer to shield the inside of the coop from the wind. This has allowed the chickens to use all five nesting boxes instead of the last one on the opposite end.

joseph carlin
12/22/2010 10:13:48 AM

Good article. The only thing I do a little differently(and I'm no expert) is that I do use a heat lamp if nighttime temps start reaching lower than 15 or so(coop generally seems to stay above freezing from chicken heat and deep litter on it's own until then). It serves two purposes. I phase out the usual winter light and lower the fixture enough that it sheds significant warmth on the waterers. Keeps the water ice free, the light keeps my chickens laying, and I've been lax in my records, but egg production seems to keep up better with food consumption slightly down in the winter months when I introduce that artificial warmth and the chickens are expending less energy heating themselves.