A Guide to Heat-Tolerant and Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

Learn How to Protect Chickens From Frostbite and Heat Exhaustation

cold-hardy-chicken

Although it’s easier to keep chickens warm vs. cool, it’s important to choose the correct breed for your location, whether that be a cold-hardy chicken or a heat-tolerant chicken breed. Because let’s face it, the weather plays an important part in our lives. There’s a reason it’s the most-watched part of our nightly news. It affects us and it affects our chickens. Every year there are stories of folks that bought the wrong breed for their climate and experience losses, have unhealthy chickens, or end up bringing their birds inside where the climate is more moderate. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure to pick a breed that will live comfortably in your climate. Your birds will thank you for it!

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What Makes a Cold-Hardy Chicken Breed? 

A cold-hardy chicken is often nicely feathered along with small combs and wattles that reduce frostbite chances. While we find cold weather to be a pain, always having to bundle up when we go outside to refill chicken feeders and waterers, our birds often adjust quite well. In winter you’ll find your birds will roost closer together creating lots of body heat. You’ll also find them hunkering down on their roosts making sure their legs and feet are tucked under for extra heat and protection. Many birds will fluff their feathers keeping body heat closer to the skin.

While it’s always important to make sure your coop is clean and dry, it’s key in winter. Moisture build up, from dripping waterers and excrement, can lead to high levels of ammonia which can damage your chicken’s lungs. Also, excess moisture leads to chicken frostbite. Make sure your coop is not drafty but does have ventilation allowing moisture to escape. And, for cold-hardy chickens with feathered legs and feet, make sure they have a place to get those feathers dry. Otherwise, those areas are more prone to frostbite with wet, frozen feathers. Frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes, so make sure to monitor your birds and their environment.

cold-hardy-chicken

Popular Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

Black Australorp
Brahma
Buckeye
Cochin
Delaware
Dominique
Easter Egger
Jersey Giant
Naked Neck
New Hampshire Red
Orpington
Plymouth Rock
Rhode Island Red
Salmon Faverolles
Sex Link
Sussex
Welsummer
Wyandotte

Chickens

What Makes a Heat-Tolerant Chicken Breed? 

You’ll find that many heat-tolerant chicken breeds have a large comb and wattles; especially the Leghorn which is known for its heat tolerance. The comb and wattles act as air conditioners. As warm blood is pumped to those parts, heat is lost as it is dispersed over a large surface area.

Heat is probably the hardest weather condition to deal with when it comes to chicken keeping. You can warm up in winter in a variety of ways. But cooling down is much harder. Heat alone can be tough, but heat and humidity are the worst. Chickens will naturally seek out cooler areas of a backyard and then hunker down during the hottest part of the day.

You can help your chickens stay cool by providing shade areas with plants, trees, or structural overhangs like decks. Also, provide a few more waterers during warm weather and place them in shady areas that are cooler. That way your chickens don’t have to move far to get hydrated. Hang a fan in the coop to promote air movement even during the summer nights when temperatures don’t cool much. Give your birds some cool and hydrating treats like chilled blueberries and watermelon. And make sure not to play with them too much. The more active the bird, the warmer the bird!

cold-hardy-chicken

Popular Heat-Tolerant Breeds

Black Australorp
Brahma
Delaware
Leghorn
New Hampshire Red
Plymouth Rock
Rhode Island Red
Sussex

Which type is best for your location, a cold-hardy chicken breed or a heat-tolerant one? And which specific breed is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments
    • I live in a climate where summer highs are not often over 75*F, so I can’t answer as to how well they take serious heat, but I can say that they’ve been reasonably cold tolerant. I had to bring my current Buff Silkie cock in the house for one night this winter because the cold was getting too much for him, but he was okay for the rest of winter. I don’t think they enjoy cold as much as some other breeds, but they can survive it. You do have to be careful about drafts if you have them; they lose heat easier than other firm-feathered breeds and varieties. A side note: most of my Silkies to date have been hatchery quality, but I had one exhibition quality male a few years back and he did just as well in the cold. I hope this helps!

      Reply
  • Good article! You forgot Chanteclers, probably the best cold tolerant bird of them all. They are a well-feathered cushion combed breed that was developed expressly for Canadian weather. They come in two varieties, White and Partridge, and have good rates of lay as well as meat production. I have owned over 20 breeds of chickens (more if you count varieties) and I liked the Chanteclers so much I am selling all but my Ameraucanas to focus on them. Another side note: I have also found White Leghorns to be some of the most cold hardy birds I have ever owned. I know, you’re thinking “Wait, what?” I can’t blame you. Hear me out anyway. They have very thick feathering that is quite firm, yet still downy; their temperaments are active and they’re too fidgety to stay on the roost and decline all winter. That’s been an issue for my flock, where the less peppy breeds stay on the roost and don’t get water or feed and just waste away. I think that’s why I lost a Svarthona cockerel during a two week cold spell of daytime highs below zero Fahrenheit. Yes, the White Leghorns have large combs, and even the hens get some frostbite in -30F temperatures. Frostbite is annoying because it decreases egg production, but it doesn’t kill the bird. Dubbing might be a viable alternative… or maybe a strain of rose combed leghorns that lay as well as the single would be a good project to take on someday. Anyway, just a little food for thought.

    Reply
  • I would have thought you would have placed light breeds such as the Anconas, Andalusians or the Red Faced Black Spanish as Heat Tolerant, as they have lighter body types and less weight to cool down in the hot months. I have to disagree on the heavy breeds you chose for heat tolerant, Brahma, Rocks and Sussex’s all carry too much weight to be considered hot weather keepers, I’d not cross a hot climate with them. Please rethink those choices.

    Reply
  • David G.

    Here in Fort Worth it does get HOT! We’ve been very happy with our Black Stars, Black Australorps, and RIR’s. We also have a Silver Laced Wyandotte and a couple Easter Eggers. In all this heat, they’re still laying day-in and day-out! The City lets us have 20… so we have… uhh… 20 😉

    Reply
  • Have had lots of different birds over the years and found RIR to be best all around birds. Hot, cold, wet or dry, they are just good birds.

    Reply
  • Friend O.

    Our temperature is of the two extremes often -25 Celcius for long periods of time in the winter then swinging up to 45 celcius in the summer, we keep what we call Bulgarian Backyard chickens, no idea what they are but with care they survive though one did have a touch of frostbite last year. We have just raised some Orpington chicks so hopefully they will survive and next year we are contemplating getting some Brahma chickens, it will be interesting to see how both breeds compare against our current ones. I will mention that though egg numbers declined in the winter not a day went by when we did not find 2/3 eggs in the nest boxes. We were keeping 10 hens at the time.

    Reply

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A Guide to Heat-Tolerant and Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

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