Many people ask: Do chickens need heat in winter? The answer is backyard chickens are far more cold-hardy than you may imagine. Courtesy of fall molting, chickens should have a full set of new fluffy feathers for winter that will keep them perfectly comfortable in temperatures down to 40 degrees and just fine well below freezing, assuming they are in good health. However, there are a few simple winter chicken keeping tips you can employ to help your flock through the winter.
Chickens fluff their feathers out to trap the warm air in between the feathers and help their bodies to stay warm. At night, once they settle on their chicken roosting bar, the fluffed feathers and the body heat of the hen next to them helps create warmth and get them through the night. As long as your coop is dry and draft-free, with some ventilation up high above the roosting hens’ heads, they should get through the winter without needing any heat.
A thick layer of straw on the floor of the chicken coop and straw bales lining the inside walls make for easy, safe and inexpensive ‘insulation’ that can be used as coop bedding come spring. Straw has wonderful insulation properties since warm air is trapped inside the hollow tubes. The Deep Litter Method is also a great way to not only make coop cleaning easier and more economical, but provide natural heat inside the coop as well as some really great compost come spring.
On all but the most blustery of winter days, you should open your coop door and let your chickens decide if they want to go outside or not. Fresh air and sunlight are important to their health and happiness. Chickens don’t seem to like wind or walking on snow, but if you make a path from the coop door to a sheltered corner of the run (plastic tarps, sheets of plywood or other barriers make a nice windblock in a sunny corner), and then set out some stumps, logs, boards or even outdoor chicken roosting bars, you will find your chickens enjoy spending time outdoors.
Toss out some scratch grains or cracked corn and your backyard chickens will enjoy scratching and searching for the treats. High-energy treats such as homemade suet or seed blocks are also a great winter treat and boredom buster.
These few simple things can make the cold winter months easier on your flock, so why not consider these six simple tips:
1) Close all the coop windows and vents except a few small vents up high.
2) Add a thick barrier of straw to the floor and walls.
3) Try the Deep Litter Method.
4) Make a wind block in a sunny corner of your run.
5) Add logs or stumps for the backyard chickens to stand on to get up off the cold, snowy ground.
6) Feed scratch grains or suet treats before bedtime.
For more tips, tricks and advice to help you raise your chickens naturally, visit my blog Fresh Eggs Daily. For additional tips on winter care for your flock, visit what does a chicken coop need for winter as well as a story about one small flock owner’s success with a heated chicken waterer.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.