The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway: Except for Chickens! A Guide to Keeping Your Flock Warm in Cold Weather

Has the cold weather and almost freezing temperatures been getting you down? Well, just like us humans, it’s especially important for poultry (including chickens) to stay warm. If backyard chickens have to deal with prolonged cold, this can decrease their metabolism, reduce their egg production, and lead to increased sickness or even death. In this article, we’ll cover signs your chickens may be displaying in reaction to cold weather and ways to keep your feathered friends warm, so the cold doesn’t bother them (or us)!

 

Identifying When Your Flock Is Cold

 

Most chickens are able to maintain their body temperatures when the outside temperature is between 60℉ – 75℉; these temperatures are where they thrive! However, when the outside temperature becomes lower than 60℉, a chicken’s body temperature will begin to lower as its losing more heat than its producing—which can lead to cold stress. How can you see if your chickens are experiencing cold stress?A tan hen and brown rooster sit "puffed up" on a perch.

 

  • Huddling Together: When the temperature gets too cold, you may see your flock huddling together for additional warmth.
  • Puffing Feathers: Chickens puff up their feathers to help trap air in their feathers, so if you see your chicken doing this they may be trying to keep warm.
  • Frostbite: Frostbite may show up as black spots or areas on your chickens comb, wattle, or feet.
  • Unusual Behavior: Besides huddling together, chickens may also be stiff and cold to touch. Their eyes can be closed or they can be very slow to blink.

 

Upgrading and Preparing Your Coop for the Cold

 

Before you start to implement improvements to your coop, first identify if there are any issues or problems that you can fix. Look for:

 

Two pullets stand on dry bedding.

  • Drafts/Holes/Cracks: If these are present in your coop, they can be causing cold air to come inside the coop and prevent chickens from keeping themselves warm. Depending on your coop, you can repair drafts, holes, or cracks with wood, chicken wire mesh, and insulation.
  • Manure, Bedding, and Potential Wet Areas: Even if the weather isn’t freezing, manure and soiled bedding can make your flock colder. Manure from chickens is about 70% water which can obviously get cold and affect your chicken’s core temperature. Therefore, picking up manure routinely means your flock won’t have the potential to get colder or sick from this. Removing soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh bedding also means that your chickens will have warm areas within the coop to sit, rest, and walk.

 

Once you have fixed these problems, you can begin to implement additional measures to keep your flock warm in cold weather. These include:

 

  • Providing Roosts: Roosts in chicken coops are elevated bars where your flock can rest on. These keep them off the cold ground, and when chickens roost they lay on their feet and warm themselves up!
  • Heat Bulbs and Lamps: We usually recommend against this but you can give your chickens supplemental heat in the form of heat bulbs and lamps! Remember there is a fire risk, so regularly check on your additional source of heat and keep wires away from water and your flock. In addition, if you have a well-built coop you shouldn’t need heat bulbs and lamps.
  • Let Air In!: This may seem counterintuitive, but good ventilation is still necessary in your coop even when it’s cold. When the moisture is too high in your coop and the weather is cold, frostbite can happen. Your chickens will thank you if you leave a window or door open on warmer days!

 

What Happens if Your Chicken has Frostbite?

 

If you find that your chickens have frostbite, black points or areas on their comb, wattle, and/or feet, it’s best to consult a veterinarian on how to treat this. Severe frostbite can lead to combs, wattles, or feet falling off. You can use petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) to insulate their feet, combs, and wattles but this is a preventative, not treatable, solution.

 

Conclusion

 

When the weather gets too cold, it’s important to problem shoot your coop for any issues, identify signs your flock may be cold, and implement measures to keep your chickens warm like supplying them with supplemental heat and removing soiled bedding. The cold doesn’t have to bother you or your flock, so good cluck in keeping them warm!

References:

Caring for Chickens in Cold Weather (University of Minnesota)

 

Written by Reena Grewal, University of California, Davis Student