What Temperature is Too Cold for Chickens?


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The cold months of the year are approaching gradually and as an owner of chickens, you are wondering whether and how your chickens will survive the cold. It is normal for poultry farmers to get scared when the cold months approach because no one wants to wake up and see dead birds on their farm.

How cold is too cold for chickens?

Healthy, adult chickens can survive almost any temperature in the United States so long as they have adequate shelter from wind, snow, and rain. Chickens in severe climates should be provided with an insulated coop. In the most severe climates, heat should be offered as well.

In this article, we will discuss how cold is too cold for your birds, signs of a cold flock, some useful tips that will help you during the winter, and breeds of chickens that do well in cold weather.

Can Chickens Freeze to Death?

chicken standing on ice and snow

Chickens can freeze to death in cold temperatures if measures are not taken to protect them from the elements.

While a “yes” answer may not have been what you were hoping for, the answer could be a “No” when appropriate measures are put in place for your birds. Here are a few factors to consider:

The Breed of Your Chickens

The breed of chickens you own determines how they handle low temperatures. There are some breeds with more down feathers (a fluffy type of feather used for insulating the bird) than others.

Some breeds eat more food and have a higher rate of metabolism than others. For your birds to have the best chance of surviving the winter, choosing the right breed will certainly help. A list of breeds that withstand cold temperatures will be listed later.

How healthy your birds are

How healthy your birds are will also help determine whether they will survive cold temperatures or not. Healthier birds are more active and eat a lot. This excess movement and feeding increase their body temperature.

As endothermic animals (I.e. warm-blooded), chickens can regulate their body temperature. When you are sick, can you easily regulate your body temperature? Of course not. Likewise, unaided sick birds find it more difficult to survive the winter.

chickens eating treats in the snow

The Average Conditions of Your Coop.

Is your coop well insulated? To survive cold temperatures, your birds need an insulated and well-ventilated coop. Cover the floor with hay or sawdust, provide heat lamps in extreme cold, and make the floor as dry as possible. A wet floor increases the chances of cold and diseases because bacteria do well in a wet environment.

Can Chickens Sleep Outside in the Cold?

healthy chickens roosting in the snow

As earlier stated, different breeds of chickens have different responses to cold temperatures. If given the chance, some breeds will continue to forage for food in the cold and might even sleep outside.

Other breeds will not go out of the coop if it is too chilly. If your chickens go out to the cold, continue to forage for food, and do not show signs of feeling too cold, they are fine to be outside.

That doesn’t mean they should sleep out there. Make sure that you provide your chickens with an insulated coop or a place they can run to when they feel too cold.

Some chickens will roost or nest in trees and bushes outside, but you always want them to have the option to come in if they need to.

How to tell if Your Chickens are Too Cold

With this information, you can observe your birds and search for symptoms of a cold. When you observe these signs in your flock, you have to take necessary actions. Here are signs of a cold flock:

Huddling Together

You can tell that your chickens are cold when they huddle together repeatedly (especially in cold or rainy seasons). A healthy flock will leave their coop and forage for food. A cold flock will huddle together and become less active.

This chick is showing signs of being cold with raised shoulders and a scrunched up appearance.

Standing on a Leg

Since the lower part of their legs have no feathers, chickens can raise a leg close to the rest of their body to keep it warm. They will switch between both legs when they are cold. Look for this sign in your birds to know when they are cold.

Comb Changes Color

A pale comb is an indication of a sick bird. When the color of the comb of birds becomes pale in cold months, you need to treat your birds and keep them off the cold.

Likewise, a chickens comb can become dark black and frostbitten. This is why chicken breeds with rose combs, pea combs and walnut combs, for example, tend to do better in the cold than breeds with single combs or even buttercup combs.

Excessively Fluffed Feathers

To conserve a warm body temperature, birds puff their feathers. The feathers are fluffed to trap as much hot air as they can. When your chickens appear fluffed and inactive excessively, they are showing signs of being cold.

Should You Change Diet When it is Cold Out?

Chickens need to eat more in colder temperatures. The food they eat provides them with nutrients to grow more feathers for insulation, and digesting the food is a source of heat.

speckled sussex in the snow

It is best to feed your birds at least 1.5 times more during the winter. If possible, offer them free-choice feed in very cold climeates.

Here are a few tips on increasing your chickens feed consumption during the winter:

Hang a Green Piñata

By green piñata, we mean hanging leafy greens like cabbage and lettuce above the birds. A green piñata makes your birds more active because they have to jump to reach it. Leafy greens are also nutritious and will provide your birds with vitamins needed to survive the cold.

Use Feeding Troughs

Birds eating from troughs during the winter is more advantageous than eating from the ground. In the winter, the ground becomes cold, wet, and soggy.

When birds eat from the ground during the winter, they will be eating cold food which can reduce their body temperature. Eating from a wet ground could also make birds sick since bacteria grow with moisture.

Make sure you have multiple feeding troughs so that your birds will not compete nor climb each other when eating.

chicken feed dishes in the snow

Keep the Water from Freezing

If you can, provide a water heater for your birds. If you do not want to use a water heater, a cheap way of keeping your water from freezing or getting too cold is by placing the trough on sawdust or hay inside the coop.

You can also try insulating water containers to prevent them from getting cold enough to freeze. It is essential that your chickens have liquid water, of any temperature, to drink.

Consider Adding Supplements to the Water

During the winter, it is a good idea to add supplements to the chicken water because your birds will be provided with increased vitamins needed to survive the cold.

Some people use leftover vegetable stocks while others use dried herbs. There are also water soluble vitamins (like these on Amazon.com) that can provide an added boost to your chickens.

Just be sure that to check with your vet before adding any supplements not specifically labeled for chickens.

Give More Proteins and Carbohydrates to your Birds

chickens eating grains during winter

Proteins and carbohydrates are important for birds in the winter especially hens because they are recovering from egg-laying.

A good source of carbohydrate for your birds is oatmeal. We suggest that you give cracked corn to your birds late in the day because digesting corn warms your birds and keeps them full for a longer period.

For protein you can try meat scraps or even growing mealworms as a healthy treat.

Keep in mind that these feeds are recommended in addition to a well balanced flock feed or laying pellet.

Should You Insulate the Chicken Coop?

chicken coop covered in snow

Whether or not you should insulate your chicken coop depends on a variety of factors. If you are raising a breed of chickens that cannot withstand cold temperatures, the chicken coop should be insulated.

If, however, your birds are of the type that are typically okay with cold temperatures, you may decide not to insulate the coop.

Weather is, of course, another factor. How many truly cold days do you have? What type of cold do you typically experience in your area? Is it a dry cold, wet and windy? All of those things can play a part in determining whether or not to insulate your coop.

Let us discuss some advantages and disadvantages of insulating your coop.

Advantages of Insulating the Chicken Coop

Just to mention a few:

  • It keeps your birds warm
  • Insulating prevents cold-related diseases
  • It makes your birds more comfortable during the winter
  • It is generally safer to insulate because you are sure that your birds won’t get cold

Here are some reasons why you should insulate your chicken coop:

  • If your breed is small in size.
  • When you have lengthy and very cold winters.
  • You should insulate in a frequently wet and windy winter.
  • If you don’t have many birds. When they aren’t many, they cannot huddle.
  • Insulate when your chickens have large combs (they are more susceptible to frostbite).

Disadvantages of Insulating the Chicken Coop

Not everyone insulates their chicken coops. Here are a few reasons they give:

  • Insulating the coop costs more money initially.
  • When you insulate, your chickens become more dependant on being pampered instead of adapting to the cold.
  • Insulating the coop is a waste when your birds are winter-hardy.
  • Insulation can reduce airflow in the coop, therefore, reducing the ventilation.

Here are some instances of when you may decide not to insulate:

  • If you have many birds.
  • When your bird’s comb is small.
  • If the size of your bird’s breed is large.
  • If you can keep your birds from getting wet.
  • If you can prevent wind from entering the coop on very cold days.
  • When your winter period is short and not so cold.

Consider the factors above to decide whether to insulate or not.

How to Insulate or Warm your Chicken Coop

  • Provide heat lamps (be cautious due to fire danger).
  • Use a deep litter system.
  • Eliminate drafts by covering holes that cold winds can pass through.
  • Insulate the coop with spray foam or fiberglass. Cover it with plywood afterward.
  • Trap sunlight by using well-insulated windows. This works by allowing sunlight to get into the coop, trapping the heat inside. It is like a greenhouse.

List of Cross Breeds of Chickens that Do Well in Cold Weather

buff orpington in the snow

There are so many breeds of chickens that do well in winter. Here are some examples:

  • Plymouth Rocks
  • Rhode Island Reds
  • Brahmas
  • Buckeyes
  • Buff Orpingtons
  • Welsummers
  • Australorps
  • Wyandottes
  • New Hampshire Reds
  • Faverolles
  • Dominiques
  • Buff Orpingtons

Final Thoughts

The breed, health, and conditions of your chickens determine whether they will survive the winter or not. You should train breeds that can survive the winter and also feed them more in cold temperatures. Chickens get warm when they eat more and are active during the cold.

Signs of a cold flock include huddling, inactivity, paleness of combs, etc. When you observe such signs in your birds, you should warm-up and insulate their coop so that they can survive the winter. Examples of winter-hardy chicken breeds include Australorps, Dominiques, Plymouth Rocks, etc.

Sources:

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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