Do Chicken Coops Need Heat?

Find out if your chickens need extra heating during the winter or not.

| December 2017

Chicken Fact or Chicken Poop by Andy Schneider (Quarry Books, 2018) is a reference for separating fact from myth regarding chickens. Schneider is known as “The Chicken Whisperer” and is an expert on backyard poultry. This excerpt addresses the question of whether chicken coops need to be heated or not.

The Research

Chickens are birds of the bamboo forest. They are designed for fairly warm climates. They have strategies for both keeping warm and expelling heat. However, humans have greatly influenced the appearance of the chicken. Some breeds, such as the Chantecler, have been selected for their adaptability to colder climates. So what does a cold coop really mean to a chicken?

Chickens lose heat through their combs. Males have larger combs and wattles and in the winter, are more prone to frostbite on both. Hens have smaller combs and wattles and therefore less surface area. Not all chickens put their heads under their wings at night. Even if they do, breeds with large combs may not be able to completely tuck the comb under their wing. Any exposed flesh is prone to frostbite at night, when temperatures are at their coldest.

Toes can also get frostbite. Chickens like to pull their toes up under the feathers on their breast. The shape of the roost in the coop can either help or hinder this process. A wider, flatter roost will allow birds to tuck up their toes and any unfeathered areas on their legs. Egg laying can be forfeited for many reasons, including suboptimal environmental conditions.

So, what are the critical temperatures for frostbite? Anything below freezing, which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. What about temperatures just above freezing? When the temperature of the coop drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, hens start to slow down the egg-making process. Prolonged low temperatures may start to yield smaller eggs or fewer eggs. Temperatures below freezing for prolonged periods reduce this rate of lay much faster. When temperatures get below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, your flock may stop laying eggs altogether. A hen will stop producing eggs in favor of staying alive.

The Verdict

Fact and Poop. You may find providing heat to be out of the question on your farm. Luckily you have other options in the form of good insulation and winterization of the coop. How do you insulate? It can be as easy as stacking hay bales around the walls or putting up insulation on the roof and walls. Chickens eat insulation so be sure to cover it up with plywood. Winterization can include wrapping draffy portions of your coop with in thick plastic.

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