Chickens don’t usually live inside the house with their family. So, people often wonder if it’s safe to leave your chickens out in their coop when it gets cold. It can get too cold for chickens, and they can freeze to death if you intend to keep chickens, whether as a farm or just as a backyard hobby, you’ll have to prepare for the winter, especially if you live in an area that turns into a white wonderland in the later months of the year.
The temperature you need to keep your chickens at will be determined by the chickens you keep; some chicken breeds are bred to withstand colder temperatures and can thrive in temperatures slightly below freezing, but not all of them can.
Cold Weather Chicken Breeds
Here’s a quick list of cold weather chicken breeds:
These chickens will do fine in the winter if their coop is insulated and kept from going too far below freezing. They have double-layered plumage that keeps them warm even in cold temperatures. That being said, you should still avoid leaving them outdoors in temperatures that are too far below freezing and especially if the temperature dips below zero Fahrenheit.
Hot Weather Chicken Breeds
Some chickens will freeze in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So, when purchasing chickens, make sure you get chickens that are best suited to the climate you live in. These chickens are hot weather chickens only and shouldn’t be kept in temperatures that are even slightly nippy.
Warm weather chickens should be kept only in appropriately warm environments. They have thinner coats and will freeze to death quickly when exposed to cold temperatures.
The Wattle and Comb Matter
Chickens regulate their body temperatures using their wattles and combs. The blood vessels in their heads release the heat in their body through the wattle and comb to keep the chicken from overheating. They also trap heat to keep the chicken from freezing to death when it’s cold.
If the chicken loses their wattle or comb during a fight or attack, it will not regulate its temperature properly and may die from heat or cold more quickly. Any chickens who do not have a wattle or comb should be kept indoors in an insulated and heated environment during the winter.
Regulating Chicken Coop Temperature
Chickens rely on their owners to regulate their surrounding temperatures. Most chickens need some shade and water in the summer, but it’s a little harder to keep them warm during the winter. Properly insulating your coop is imperative if you live in an area with a full-on winter season. If you keep warm weather chickens, the coop should never drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold weather chickens can withstand temperatures around the freezing point, but their surroundings shouldn’t drop below freezing on average.
Heat lamps placed in your chicken coop can help protect your chickens from the cold when they’re inside the chicken coop. Without them, your chickens may die from hypothermia. A cold coop with no heat lamp in the winter is dangerous to chickens. Eggs can freeze solid if they’re laid during the winter as well.
Even cold weather chickens should not be left out of their heated coop for more than a few minutes but allowing them a little bit of time to stretch their legs will not harm them. Most chickens don’t like snow and will turn around and go back into the coop, but some may want a little bit of fresh air even in the winter.
Insulating your coop might sound like a lot of work, but your chickens will thank you for it. One common way to protect your coop is to use insulating plastic and a tarp. First, wrap insulating plastic around then whole coop and the wrap a tarp around it to keep the warmth inside the coop.
If you want to make a fully insulated coop, you can protect the coop using livestock-safe insulation. Your local chicken farming supplier will have plenty of options for insulation and other items you can use to enrich your chickens’ indoor lives during the winter.
What If My Chickens Are Already Freezing?
A chicken that is becoming hypothermic will be listless, limp, and cold to the touch. If you’re looking this up because you’ve come home to cold chickens already, the first step is to bring your chickens somewhere warm. Many farmers will set up a little chicken refuge in their garage during the worst of the winter months.
When moving them to the garage, make sure you tuck each chicken under your coat, close to your body to transfer some of your body heat to them. Once they’re in the garage, you can set up space heaters, heating pads, or heated blankets for your chickens to use to keep warm.
You don’t want to set these up in the coop because they could cause a fire in the coop and kill your chickens. On the cement of your garage, there are far fewer things that can catch fire.
If you’re setting your chickens up with space heaters in your garage, make sure you buy the heaters that automatically turn off if the chickens knock the heater over.
What If My Chickens Get Buried in the Snow?
Chickens will huddle together for warmth when it gets cold, which can help them stave off hypothermia, but your chickens may get buried in the snow by a falling snowdrift while they’re outdoors. If you don’t properly prepare your coop for winter, you may have to dig the whole coop out.
You don’t want to use a shovel because you might harm the chickens. Since you can’t see where the chickens are in the snowdrift, there’s no way to remove the snow except with your hands safely.
Keeping chickens has become a popular hobby in America, with more areas relaxing their backyard chicken laws. This means we have to ensure that they’re being held in the correct temperature range. It isn’t just about their comfort, though that is also critical. It’s about keeping your chickens alive.
Featured Image Credit: Amy Kerkemeyer, Shutterstock