Chickens in a Minute: How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens in Winter?

Learn Whether Your Chickens Need Heat in Winter or Not

how-cold-is-too-cold-for-chickens

Barred rock hen standing on the edge of a frozen farm pond.

It’s a common question that even long-time chicken keepers ask. How cold is too cold for chickens in winter? It’s reasonable to wonder, given that we’re bundled up to fight off cold during the winter months and, for all intents and purposes, our chickens look the same as they do in summer.

So, how cold is too cold for chickens? There’s no magic number or exact answer to this question. In general, chickens can survive quite well in cold temperatures. If you live in an area with cold winters, it’s a good idea to consider stocking your flock with cold-hardy breeds like Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Red and Barred Rocks to name a few.

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Rather than asking how cold is too cold for chickens, the better question to ask is whether your chicken coop is properly prepared for winter. There are two things that are absolute musts for a chicken coop in cold weather. First, your chickens need fresh water that’s not frozen. There are lots of ways to keep your water flowing including refilling throughout the day to using a heated water bowl. Second is proper ventilation. Lots of people associate ventilation with blowing winds. In the case of chickens in winter, proper ventilation does not mean a drafty coop, it means allowing moisture to escape. Your first reaction may be that your coop stays dry and doesn’t have leaks so there’s no moisture that needs to escape. But, the reality is that in winter your chickens are more likely to spend more time in the coop. All that breathing in an enclosed space equals moisture and chicken droppings equal even more moisture. All that moisture can lead to mold and ammonia build up and lead to respiratory illness. Make sure your coop bedding is absorbent and clean.

how-cold-is-too-cold-for-chickens

Speckled Sussex hen looks for food in the winter

As for your chickens themselves, you should check them often during cold weather to look for signs of distress. Don’t forget that in below-freezing temperatures and wind chills, chicken frostbite can happen and it often happens quickly. Ten minutes can be all it takes even in a cold-hardy chicken breed. A clean, dry coop and places to roost and get off the ground when your birds are outdoors is the first line of defense against frostbite.

What do I need in my Chicken Coop?

Download this FREE Guide from our chicken housing experts — chicken coop plans to ideas for nesting boxes. YES! I want this Free Report »  

On most winter days it’s perfectly fine to open your coop door and let your chickens roam. Some will. Some won’t. But all should be given the choice. If it’s snowy, clearing some walking paths and areas to peck and scratch can give your birds better access the outdoors. Make sure to protect vulnerable combs and wattles with a thin layer of Vaseline. And provide your birds with boredom busters, so their choice is staying in the coop, it’s still stimulating and doesn’t lead to destructive behaviors like pecking and bullying.

how-cold-is-too-cold-for-chickens

how-cold-is-too-cold-for-chickens

Wondering how cold is too cold for chickens inevitably brings the question of whether to heat a chicken coop or not. If chickens are a cold hardy breed and their coop is properly prepared, most chickens will not need heat in winter. They will become acclimated to the cold just like humans do. Have you ever noticed that a 60-degree day at the end of winter feels like summer, but a 60-degree day at the end of summer feels like winter? Our bodies become accustomed to the temperature of the season and so do our birds. On a cold night as your chickens huddle together, their body heat can bring the temperature of the coop up. Many chicken keepers report freezing temperatures outside while the inside of a chicken coop is above freezing. Heating the coop can be a fire hazard and can stop your chickens from acclimating to the season. But use common sense, if your temperatures are extremely low for long periods of time, your birds may be able to use some extra warmth to survive, just make sure the warmth is delivered safely.

Have you wondered how cold is too cold for chickens? What are your methods for keeping your chickens safe and warm during the winter? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments
  • My chickens will not stay in the chicken house at night but prefer to sleep on a high roost (6′ off the ground level) even on the coldest nights. I am buying one of the heaters advertised in your magazine but wonder why they prefer the outdoor roost to a very nice chicken house with roosts. My chicken yard is totally wired top to bottom so predators are not a problem. Appreciate any insight about this. I live in Alabama so our winters are cold but not subzero.

    Reply
  • I live in Northern Ontario, Canada and the winters can be very frigid and harsh. I have 5 Red Sex chickens that I adopted. The coop is insulated with 1 1/2″ styrofoam insulation. The water in the tray part of the waterers does freeze but I put a small juice bottle or pop bottle in the waterer with 1/2 cup of salt and the rest is water. Shake to dissolve the salt and put the bottle, sealed tightly, in the waterer. I actually had to add a second bottle to my large metal waterer that is in the run area. My chickens don’t free range ( although I’d love them too) because we have many wild animals and hawks here. Unfortunately some days we are gone for appointments, which we have to travel to for an hour or more and the water in the trays has frozen. I also try to leave an ice cream pail in the run when I’m not home just so they have some water if it freezes. It seems to take a long time for the water in the ice cream pail to freeze and the thin film of ice on the top is pecked at to break it and they get a drink. I think it doesn’t freeze much because they tend to have a lot of straw in it when I go to check it.

    Reply
  • Our chicken are given snow when we have it in the winter. When we have no snow I try to use our one faucet that is hit by the sun and use bucket.

    Reply
  • I live in northern New England. As long as there is adequate ventilation and clean, dry bedding, my chickens have done ok in subzero temperatures. However, be cautious with long periods of that type of temperature. Also, old or unhealthy or molting chickens don’t handle cold as well-I will sometimes bring the oldest ones into our basement on the coldest nights.

    Reply
  • I have 5 cold hardy hens in Northern MN in a 6’x6′ slightly insulated coop with skylight panels for roof (covered with shade tarp in summer or gets too hot), hardware cloth door covered with 4 mm clear plastic sheeting, and thick layer of pine shavings over dirt floor. Blocks wind decently well with foam spray in gaps but roof panel tops offer some ventilation. With full sun, plastic sheeting and roof when bare of snow give some greenhouse effect. Attached covered 4′ tall 5’x10′ dog run with N wind blocking tarp and lots of dry straw let them outdoors safely. I do use extension cords from garage – one for a heated dog water bowl on a step stool and low watt panel heater in coop and one exclusively for a 250 watt red brood lamp for when the nights or days drop into the single digits F or below. Panel heater turned on when about 20 F or less unless birds still molting and then more generous with the heat. Panel sits at entrance to raised nest box so very well be coziest spot. Relatively mild past two winters since had the hens with max low at -25F a few nights (not including wind chill) so we will see how it goes when it gets really cold. It’s been -10F in the coop and they manage when fully feathered with some Vaseline on the combs.

    Reply
  • Forgot to mention that the red brood lamp is secured to rafters of coop not only with c-clamp but with carabiner type clasps secured to eye screw in rafter so there is no possibility of the lamp falling to the shavings. Adjustable to as close as 3 feet above nearest roosting hen but typically further. Also I choose not to use white light for promoting lay as I let the birds respond to natural light and red lamp only.

    Reply

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