Cold Weather Chicken Care: A List of Do’s and Don’ts

You may be wondering how to take care of your chickens during the winter months and if it is going to get too cold for them to keep warm, especially at night. Chickens can handle reasonably cold temperatures and will be able to handle more than you may think! Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for cold weather chicken care this winter.

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The Do’s

Straw

Straw strands are hollow and can hold heat very well, and this makes straw an excellent insulator for your chickens. Add a thick layer to the floor and nest boxes, so they have comfortable bedding in the coop. You can also sprinkle a little path on the ground when you let your chickens outside. With the straw path, you will not have to shovel as often, and they can still get around without getting too wet.

Food and Water

Food and water are essential all year round, but especially when the chickens are using much of their energy to stay warm, especially at night. Chickens will usually not eat in the dark, so it is vital that they have access to as much food as they want during the daylight hours while an extreme cold spell is happening.

Petroleum Jelly

Hens and Roosters with larger combs can quickly get frostbite. Using Petroleum jelly on their combs, ears, and wattles can help prevent frostbite during bitterly cold days.  

Proper Ventilation

Two areas in the coop need to be checked for ventilation. It’s important to eliminate drafts at the bottom, but also essential to make sure there is proper air flow through the top of the coop. Proper ventilation will reduce moisture content and keep your chickens nice and dry. If you notice condensation on the inside of your coop, you may need to increase the ventilation to correct that because too much moisture can lead to cold, sick chickens.  

Boredom Busters

While your chickens may spend more time in their coop on bitter cold days, it is always a good idea to have activities to keep them occupied. We have excellent boredom buster ideas here. Giving them something to do will keep them from picking on each other while they are waiting for the weather.

Have Good Roosting Bars

Wooden roosting bars are better than metal, which can be too cold during extreme weather can cause frostbitten toes. Wooden roosts that are made from 2″x4″ lumber with the flat side up will allow the birds to nestle their feathers down over their toes at night to help their feet stay warmer.

Water Heater

Unless you have a couple of waterers lying around where you can switch them out a couple of times a day, it may be beneficial to invest in a water heater. They will still need to be refreshed daily, as the extra warmth could harbor bacteria. Also, to limit that growth, you could add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, which is also very beneficial for the bird’s immune systems as well. 

Light source

If you would like your chickens to continue to lay for you throughout the winter, they need at least 15 hours of daylight. Adding a non-heating light on a timer will help them continue to lay eggs. It may still be less than the spring and summer months, but it should help keep them consistent.

The Don’ts

Don’t insulate too much

As mentioned earlier, too much insulation can cause a build-up of moisture. Too much moisture will end up making your chickens colder and also give bacteria a chance to grow. Which can make your chickens sick very quickly, especially with the ammonia build-up from their manure. Ventilation is key! 

Don’t keep them locked up

You may be thinking that chickens do not want to be in the snow. However, keeping them cooped up for too long can cause respiratory issues, cannibalism, and make them miserable. Even in winter days, even if it is snowy, they can roam and enjoy the outdoors. If they do not want to walk in the snow, you can lay down a path of straw for them or even shovel a path. Either way, they will like to get out as much as possible.  

No Heat Lamps

It is important to remember, heat lamps should not be used in the coop. Other heater options are available if you live in an extremely cold climate. Heat lamps do not mix well with straw and wood and could cause a fire. Plus, your chickens are just like us; they will get used to the cold when given a chance. Offering heat will make them colder when they do venture outside. Your chickens’ natural instincts will be to huddle up when it is cold to stay warm. As long as they have the proper environment, they will be able to keep warm even in the coldest of temperatures.  

Don’t Forget to Clean

It may be cold and hard to get outside, but cleaning the coop must still get done as much as possible. Your chicken’s straw or bedding should be clean and dry to keep their feet warm when they are not roosting. 

Check Your Birds’ Physical Conditions

Cold weather means the birds will fluff their feathers to help themselves stay warmer, so it’s important to pay more attention to their body condition. Check if any of your chickens have a sharp, prominent keel bone, indicating that she may be losing weight. Check their fluffy bottoms weekly for any stuck feces that could freeze and block a vent. Also check for frozen mud buildup on the toes, which is especially important for any birds with feathered legs.

Too cold? While there is not a specific temperature listed for cold-hardy chickens, given the right coop environment, most chickens can withstand below-freezing temperatures into the teens for quite a while!

Do you have tips and tricks for cold weather chicken care of your own? Share them with us in the comments below!

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