How to Deal with Winter and Your Laying Flock

Winter in the northern part of the country can be quite cold. Your laying flock may need a little help from you to thrive during the deepest, coldest winter months. Let’s talk about which breeds are better suited to living in colder climates and discuss some things to watch out for during sub-zero temperatures and ways to support your flock.

Generally speaking, breeds of chickens that have large floppy combs and a lighter body weight tend to not do at well in the colder climates. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. With a little knowledge and preparedness, you can keep some of the Mediterranean breeds in the colder climates, but it requires some effort. Some of the breeds to steer away from would be the White Leghorn, Blue Andaulsian, Dorking, and Campine. The Swedish Flower Hen is also one that may or may not do well in the cold because of its comb, but the comb on this breed can vary from bird to bird, so I put it in the “maybe” category. The Cream Legbar and Frost White Legbar males may have issues with their large combs in freezing temperatures, but the females have much smaller combs and can do better.

Luke head shot

Large spiked or floppy combs and wattles can be injured by frostbite in freezing temperatures.

Breeds that have smaller combs and heavier bodies will generally do better in colder climates than the lighter weight breeds. Some good choices for cold climates are just about any of our brown egg layer breeds with the slight exception of perhaps some of the Marans, as their combs tend to get a little larger.  The Easter Egger and the Blue Ameraucana will also do very well in cold weather.

So, what do you do if you have a large combed breed and live in an area with freezing temperatures in wintertime? Remember two V’s: ventilation and Vaseline. First, make sure that your coop is well ventilated. Frostbite on large combs becomes more of an issue if the coop is not well ventilated and humidity is allowed to build up inside of the coop. It sounds counterintuitive, but allowing an open window or keeping an exhaust fan running during extreme cold will actually help prevent frostbite damage from occurring. Another thing you can do is apply a light coating of petroleum jelly to the comb and wattles of large-combed birds to help “seal” the skin, thus preventing injury.

Toes are also subject to frostbite damage. To prevent toe injury, use the flat side of 2 by 4 lumber as roosts so that your flock and cover their toes with feathers as they sleep.

frostbite toe

Frostbite injury on a rooster’s toe. Notice the missing toenail on the right foot.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to provide a heat source during winter in your coop. Heat lamps can be dangerous if they fall and catch bedding on fire. As long as the flock can huddle together, are well fed and have a dry, clean and well-ventilated coop, they should be fine in winter. However, you do need to provide access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times, and the winter months can be challenging. Check out our Cold Weather Supplies in our online store for great products for helping you keep your flock nice and cozy in the cold weather. We hope these suggestions will help you choose the right breeds for your flock and help you manage your flock this winter.  Happy chickening!

3 comments

  • This will be my first winter with my MARANS. I think I’m ready just one question. Should I close the coop hatch door for winter and not let them out in the run? I’m doing the waste method as u discussed in your blog. I live in northern Ky. The winters here are not like the north. I do worry about Frost bite.I have 3 Roos 2 cooper and 1 blue they are in the building next to the hens. Do I close their hatch to the rum also. While in the run the Roos and hens see each other. In the spring I will try to mate my blue with his blue hen. So excited for spring but ffirst I have to get everyone through this winter. I will add a light with a 60 watt blub. Anything else I need to know. I will get electric waters if I notice their water freezing. We have insulated both house. Wish me well this our first winter together. Thank you for your blog site. Dottie from Ekron KY

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    • Hi Dottie! Thank you for your questions. I would definitely still let your chickens outside into their run every day, even during the winter. They may get bored if not allowed to scratch and peck which could lead to some bad behaviors. You’ll want to have a heated waterer on hand in case the temperatures do dip down below freezing. I generally recommend against heating the coop with a light bulb in the winter, as the risk of a coop fire outweighs the benefit, in my opinion. It sounds like your coop is well insulated, so the chickens’ own body heat will help them get by in the colder temperatures. Give them a high carbohydrate snack in the early evening and that extra energy will help them stay warmer at night when they temperature does dip. Happy chickening!

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      • My light is in the ceiling it has a covering, it’s not a heat lamp have to find the carb treats you were speaking. Im retired and at home with them. I just love them. I plan spending time with them and the Roos I dont want any of them to die. I have hen that gives me a double yoke eggs about every other day. I guess egg production will lessen come winter. Thx you for listening to me go on about my chickens

        Liked by 1 person

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