When planning your chicken coop designs for anyone who lives in the frigid north, have you ever wondered how cold is too cold for backyard chickens? I’ve heard other people say things like, below freezing, below zero, and when it feels too cold for me. New chicken owners experiencing their first winter with chickens in a variety of backyard chicken coop designs can become concerned when the real winter weather arrives. I live in a fairly moderate area where winter is normally not too severe. We do get some winters that are colder than average and this often will bring questions about how to keep the chickens comfortable and thriving. I don’t get too worried about my healthy flock members during the winter. Chickens are much more cold hardy than heat tolerant.
Signs of Cold Weather Stress in Chickens
While many people know what to look for when it comes to common chicken diseases and symptoms, most don’t know what to look for when it comes to cold weather stress in chickens. A chicken that is feeling stressed from the cold will look cold. It may be huddled and not moving around much. The feathers may be fluffed up considerably and the chicken may stand on one leg, keeping the other tucked up in the belly feathers for warmth. This is past the time to take action. Chickens are designed to self-regulate body temperature with their downy undercoat and increased food intake during cold weather. But there comes a point where they will need some shelter even during the day. Heavy snow, wind, and freezing temperatures will require a few modifications in order to keep the flock healthy and happy.
Chicken Coop Designs for Winter
Using chicken coop designs tailored for your area’s weather patterns is the most important step you can take to prepare for keeping backyard chickens in cold weather. The coop can be insulated during construction or insulation can be added after. Ventilation is still important, so do not make the coop airtight. Allowing for good ventilation while still providing insulation is key and will keep the chickens comfortable while in the coop during extremely cold weather. Keep the interior dry to prevent possible frostbite on combs, wattles, and feet. Ammonia build up will be controlled by keeping the coop dry, too A good winter chicken coop structure will provide shelter from the wind, wet weather, and drafts.
Insulation can be added to the inside or outside of the coop. Hay bales are often used for insulation and can be stacked on the inside or outside of the coop against the walls. Pay particular attention to the north and west sides of the building. Insulation can also be added during coop construction. Building a double layer wall, which traps air between the layer, is one method. Another is to use conventional insulation covered by plywood to keep the chickens from pecking at the filling. Adding electric heat may only be necessary when temps fall way below zero. Keep in mind that there are risks associated with using a heat lamp in a structure full of straw. Secure the lamp 18 inches away from any flammable material. Don’t hang the lamp by the cord, and check the lamp frequently.
A secure place for your heated chicken waterer is also a good idea when thinking about how to design your chicken coops for winter.
For those of you who have extreme winter weather for months at a time, follow these simple methods to keep your flock healthy and content. Raising chickens is an important part of self-sustaining living for many of us, so we need to remain vigilant and watch your flock members carefully, checking for frostbite and signs of cold weather stress.
Do you have any suggestions for coming up with chicken coop designs that are good for keeping your flock warm over the long winter months? Leave a comment here on this blog and share your ideas and chicken coop designs with us!
Janet writes about chickens, ducks, rabbits and more general livestock and homesteading topics on her blog Timber Creek Farm.