How Do Chickens Stay Warm in the Winter?
by Meghan H
Published December 21, 2020
A common concern from our customers is how to care for their chickens in extreme temperatures. Meyer Hatchery ships chicks all over the United States, so some of our customers live in areas where winter sees well below-freezing temps and months of snowfall. The first component of a winter-hardy flock is to choose hardy breeds! The most popular choices for cold-hardy breeds are most of our brown-egg layers but white egg layers can also be considered hardy with special considerations. The concern for most white egg layers is that their larger combs can be prone to frostbite.
Our first instinct to keep our feathered friends warm is to batten down the hatches and cover every opening of the coop but, a well-ventilated, draft-free coop is one of the most important parts of keeping chickens comfortable in extreme temperatures. Well ventilated but also draft-free almost sounds like a contradiction, but the key is the placement. A draft would be an airstream that blows directly onto the chickens, either at floor level or roost level. Good ventilation would be an airstream that does not directly hit the chickens, such as roof or eaves level. Optimal ventilation will ensure condensation levels are minimal and ammonia build-up stays at bay.
The Deep Litter Method for bedding is a favorite for customers in extreme climates. And, the in-coop composting actually generates warmth!
In addition to what chicken keepers do for their flock, chickens have plenty of their own instincts and attributes to keep themselves comfortable. First is their amazing feathers! You know the molting period that chickens experience when they lose a bunch of feathers and look rather pathetic? The purpose of the molting process is to grow new, strong, and warm feathers in preparation for the winter. Another amazing chicken instinct is how they roost. Besides fluffing their awesome feathers for warmth while roosting, chickens will sit upon on their legs/feet to keep them warm. This roosting position is why ideal roosting bars are off the ground and about 2-4 inches wide. Chickens will also huddle with their flock mates for some extra warmth.
Movement and activity is another great way that chickens combat the cold. While most chickens are hesitant to walk or scratch around in the snow, you can still encourage them to stay active inside their coop with treats and boredom busters. To encourage your chickens to go outside the coop even when the ground is covered in snow, your chickens will be grateful if you lay down a path of bedding, such as straw or pine shavings. Every flock seems to have a chicken that has no problem braving the snow and cold as they venture out of the coop, and there also always seem to be chickens who refuse to explore any winter wonderland!
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