It’s no secret that chickens have been domesticated for a very long time and are some of the most used flock birds both for eggs and milk. That being said, farms around the world from different climates raise chickens for both eggs and meat and so far have found ways to bypass the strong winter winds and frigid temperatures. Chickens have long ago adapted to the changing weather and climates and thanks to their feathers, they can stay warm during the cold winter temperatures, especially at night. What’s worth mentioning is, however, that some chicken breeds are more accommodated to colder climates than others.
Their long evolution has allowed chickens to stand freezing temperatures pretty well. That means that they’ve adapted to survive in extremely cold climates, as well as the temperature below freezing. Chickens have higher body temperatures compared to humans and don’t sweat and lose heat as humans do. In addition to that, their feathers have perfectly evolved to protect them from point of freezing.
During the winter, all domestic chickens will spend more time inside their chicken coop, snugly fit next to other hens and roosters, sharing heat, and trying to get warm.
In situations when the temperature is not too low, chickens will go out and stretch their legs, but they’ll search for ways to maintain their heat and function properly in the winter.
If you’re a farmer who has built a large chicken coop for their chickens, there’s only so much that you can do to keep your chickens warm. As we mentioned earlier, they are perfectly capable to keep themselves warm, but if you live in colder climates you will want to consider getting chickens that are more accommodated to cold weather.
With that in mind, regardless if you have chickens that are suitable for cold or not, in this article, you will learn just how much heat chickens need in the winter to stay warm. Additionally, we’re going to list what you can do to keep them even warmer. Keep in mind, too much heat is bad for chickens as they can’t regulate temperature with sweating as some other animals can. Continue reading to learn more.
How Much Heat Do Chickens Need in the Winter?
If you’re a new farmer who’s just to expect a winter with their chickens, or you’re experiencing a colder winter than usual, you must be concerned whether your chickens can handle the cold temperatures.
Being so fluffy and fragile, anyone who’s inexperienced with chickens would be concerned about whether chickens have what it takes to withstand the cold and sharp winds of winter.
Luckily, chickens have been adapting for thousands of years to the colder winter climate. That allowed them to be more than capable to survive freezing temperatures.
They are equipped with thick feathers that cover all their vital organs and allow them to remain warm even during the coldest of winters.
Just like animal fur protects different animals in the winter, in the same way, thick chicken feathers protect chickens from snow and cold winds, acting as a coat. Even when their legs may feel cold, they can tuck their legs and bill inside the warm feathers when they’re laying down and remain warm that way.
When chickens will feel warmer, they will go take a walk around their enclosure and absorb the sun rays and overly necessary vitamin D that ensures proper functioning of their immune system, which will additionally protect them from the cold weather.
The vast majority of chickens that have thick feathers are doing great at protecting themselves from cold weather. However, just as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, some breeds are better at resisting cold than others. They have thicker and larger feathers that allow them to remain warm.
Additionally, chickens that have smaller combs have better cold-resisting traits, and the less of their bare skin is exposed, the better they are at withstanding cold. Some of those breeds include:
- Plymouth Rock
- Cochin chickens
- Rhode Island Red
Temperatures for Adult Chickens
Adult chickens are most adapted to temperatures that are in the mid-70s, according to a study. However, don’t be worried if the temperature is lower than that, they’re perfectly adapted to that kind of temperature, this is just a placeholder for the best temperatures they can withstand. Natural body temperatures of adult chickens are from 105 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, according to report.
If you’re worried that adult hens won’t be able to lay eggs in temperatures that are below 70 Fahrenheit, don’t worry, they can still lay eggs even with freezing temperatures below that.
Chickens adapted to the colder temperatures and can function just fine during the winter, but to ensure the overall good mood and high enthusiasm in laying hens, it’s still good to ensure that they have enough warmth in their coop and that they can still spend their energy properly during the day.
That being said, every farmer should ensure that their chickens will remain warm, neither too cold nor too hot – but warm. As mentioned above, even though chickens are good at regulating their temperatures in cold climates, they are not so good at regulating high temperatures.
When exposed to hot environment chickens will feel like eating less and that will result in poor egg quality. Having a spacious coop will ensure that every hen has enough space to be comfortable, and stay warm next to a heat source when they need one.
Temperatures for Chicks
If besides eggs you’re also using chickens for breeding, you must be much more cautious about regulating the temperature for chicks than for chickens. Chicks are babies and they are not adapted to super-frigid temperatures. They are sensitive to colds and may get sick and even die.
Chicks are small, their feathers aren’t developed yet, and require a lot of food and heat to stay warm, even during regular temperatures.
One of the key things to do in the early stage of their lives is to ensure that they have enough heat in their room so that they can remain protected from catching a cold which can be fatal for them. The ideal temperature for chicks is from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit from the moment they hatch.
In some situations it’s okay to keep them on lower temperature as long as that temperature is not under 80 degrees. According to a study, chicks exposed to lower temperature than 80 experienced lower growth rate. It’s the best to lower the temperature as they grow and turn into pullets and cockerels.
It’s worth noting that as they get older you can decrease that temperature. They will be ready for the temperatures of adult hens once they reach 5 weeks old. Once they do, you’re free to reduce the temperature to 70 to 75 degrees.
How to Provide Heat for Chickens in the Winter?
Even though chickens are adapted to cold climates, there are still a few things you can do to make sure they are warm, because even though chickens are well-adapted to the cold temperatures, they will still prefer to feel warm and that will improve their overall mood.
With that in mind, before you jump to get a heat lamp or a ceramic heater (we will talk about it a bit later) check out the tips and tricks on what you can do to provide heat for chickens in the winter.
Prepare Coop for the Winter
One of the first steps to ensure that chickens will remain warm during the winter should start as soon as the temperatures become lower, in mid or late fall. Some people prefer to do it in the early fall too, but it’s of utmost importance to carry out the necessary repairs and maintenance over the chicken coop before they start closing themselves inside during the cold temperatures.
Winter is known for heavy winds, rain, hail, and snow, which is why it’s necessary to cover the winter coop roof holes, and wall holes, and that way prevents leaks. If some holes are larger, make sure to cover them with strong material and insulate the coop from windbreaks. More importantly, other animals will search for ways to keep themselves warm, and that leaves room for predators to get into the coop and mutilate your chickens.
Make sure to repair all perches that are loose and smoothen sharp edges that could cause your hens to get hit or injured. Aside from establishing the proper insulation for the winter coop, the outdoor enclosure should also be fixed.
That said, repair the mesh, and the fence, and add an extra roof like a windbreak which will allow chickens to remain more protected from rain and snow. It’s also important to keep the enclosure properly ventilated so that the bad odors from feces can leave out without causing any health problems to chickens. It’s also super-important to clear the run and coop regularly.
Try the Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method refers to a method to deepen the bedding material. Additionally, it includes using chicken poop to accumulate during the spring and summer so that during the cold winter month there’s enough composting material which in combination with the chicken bedding can provide a source of heat for chickens.
It’s not the cleanest way to take care of your chickens and it will ensure a lot of bad odor, but it’s a good way to keep the chickens warm without using heated lamps and other potentially dangerous sources of heat. It’s also shown to be particularly good for laying chickens.
Add Supplemental Light
Whether some hens will stop laying eggs in the winter or not is completely individual. Some of them can continue laying eggs and granted proper conditions, those eggs won’t freeze. Some other girls will stop laying eggs and that’s completely normal and not a reason to worry.
Those that do continue to lay eggs will still appreciate extra heat to assist them in doing so. That way, you can use supplemental light to keep them warm. It’s just a light that will allow them to have an extended source of light for laying on eggs during the dark cloudy days which are also short in the process.
Editor’s notes: Keep in mind that supplemental light is not good for all chickens. While there are benefits to using it, it might also confuse and stress some hens out. It’s important to keep it off during the night so that chickens can relax and not only focus on laying. According to some reports, keeping supplemental light on all the time can stress some chickens out and shorten their egg-laying life.
Provide them With Fun Activities to Pass the Time
When days are extra-cold and humid, filled with snowy blizzards and rain, your girls will prefer to stay inside the coop. However, staying in the coop too long, and snug fit with other hens and roosters may keep them nervous and stressed, especially if they are limited in space.
Chickens are social animals and need a way to stay entertained throughout the day, and one of the better ways to keep them entertained is by creating games that they can play among themselves. Allowing them to be restless, and spend their energy will also keep them warm in the winter, so consider adding some kind of a ball that they can push or pluck on.
Many farmers leave a head of cabbage or lettuce hung on a piece of wood and they run and peck it around while pushing it to swing slightly. If you’re leaving lettuce, avoid leaving iceberg salads because they are too heavy for their tiny stomachs.
Your hens won’t be just happy and warm, their stomachs will also be filled from eating healthy snacks even during the winter. Keep in mind, according to a report, enriched environment with entertainment options keeps chickens happy.
Cover Their Combs With Petroleum Jelly
As mentioned earlier, chicken breeds with smaller combs are better at being adapted to winter because their combs won’t freeze. If you have chicken breeds that aren’t naturally better at withstanding winter months there are still a few things you can do.
One of those things is to cover large combs of chickens with petroleum jelly to prevent frostbite. You can also cover their wattles with petroleum jelly to prevent frostbite.
Editor’s notes: Keep in mind that frostbite isn’t as serious for chickens as it may be for some other animals and humans. Usually, it’s not as severe, and will mostly heal on its own.
Add Extra Hay to Their Coops
Once the temperatures drop close to the freezing temperatures, such as around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s necessary to introduce some newer ways to keep chickens warm, and one of those things is adding extra hays to their run and coop enclosure.
Whether you choose straw or hay, you will be doing your chickens a favor as their legs will stay warm and won’t experience frostbite.
Introduce More Feeding Options
Allowing your chickens to eat feed that is richer in nutrients will also keep them warm. Many farmers introduce extra treats and corn cobs in their diets to consume more calories and stay warmer that way. Many farmers do that in the evening too so chickens can remain warm during the night.
Corn is known to take more time to digest than other food, so it will remain warm while the food is being digested in its stomach.
What to Avoid When Providing Heat for Chickens?
There is a practice that many farmers do that is extremely dangerous for chickens, and that is placing a heat lamp or ceramic lamp in the coop. Such practice is often dangerous and detrimental to birds such as chickens. In addition to that, the heated lamp is dangerous because it can be a source of fire hazard.
More importantly, chickens can heat up and become too hot instead of feeling warm which can affect their mood and behavior toward other birds in the flock. Additionally, sometimes due to extreme wind or storm, the heated lamp can drop and leave chickens with sudden temperature drop which can be bad for them.
Even though chickens are adapted to cold, they shouldn’t be forcefully adapted to warm or even hot weather during the winter, because once that source of heat is gone, they won’t be able to re-adapt to cold weather. Avoid using heated or ceramic lamps for chickens, unless it’s extremely cold where your farm is.