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.
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.
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.
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.
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.