How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens in Winter? — Chickens in a Minute Video
Learn Whether Your Chickens Need Heat in Winter or Not
Reading Time: 3 minutes
It’s a common question that even long-time chicken keepers ask. How cold is too cold for chickens in winter? It’s reasonable to wonder, given that we’re bundled up to fight off cold during the winter months and, for all intents and purposes, our chickens look the same as they do in summer.
So, how cold is too cold for chickens? There’s no magic number or exact answer to this question. In general, chickens can survive quite well in cold temperatures. If you live in an area with cold winters, it’s a good idea to consider stocking your flock with cold-hardy breeds like Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Red, and Barred Rocks to name a few.
Rather than asking how cold is too cold for chickens, the better question to ask is whether your chicken coop is properly prepared for winter. There are two things that are absolute musts for a chicken coop in cold weather. First, your chickens need fresh water that’s not frozen. There are lots of ways to keep your water flowing including refilling throughout the day to using a heated water bowl. Second is proper ventilation. Lots of people associate ventilation with blowing winds. In the case of chickens in winter, proper ventilation does not mean a drafty coop, it means allowing moisture to escape. Your first reaction may be that your coop stays dry and doesn’t have leaks so there’s no moisture that needs to escape. But, the reality is that in winter your chickens are more likely to spend more time in the coop. All that breathing in an enclosed space equals moisture and chicken droppings equal even more moisture. All that moisture can lead to mold and ammonia build up and lead to respiratory illness. Make sure your coop bedding is absorbent and clean.
As for your chickens themselves, you should check them often during cold weather to look for signs of distress. Don’t forget that in below-freezing temperatures and wind chills, chicken frostbite can happen and it often happens quickly. Ten minutes can be all it takes even in a cold-hardy chicken breed. A clean, dry coop and places to roost and get off the ground when your birds are outdoors is the first line of defense against frostbite.
On most winter days it’s perfectly fine to open your coop door and let your chickens roam. Some will. Some won’t. But all should be given the choice. If it’s snowy, clearing some walking paths and areas to peck and scratch can give your birds better access the outdoors. Make sure to protect vulnerable combs and wattles with a thin layer of Vaseline. And provide your birds with boredom busters, so their choice is staying in the coop, it’s still stimulating and doesn’t lead to destructive behaviors like pecking and bullying.
Wondering how cold is too cold for chickens inevitably brings the question of whether to heat a chicken coop or not. If chickens are a cold hardy breed and their coop is properly prepared, most chickens will not need heat in winter. They will become acclimated to the cold just like humans do. Have you ever noticed that a 60-degree day at the end of winter feels like summer, but a 60-degree day at the end of summer feels like winter? Our bodies become accustomed to the temperature of the season and so do our birds.
On a cold night as your chickens huddle together, their body heat can bring the temperature of the coop up. Many chicken keepers report freezing temperatures outside while the inside of a chicken coop is above freezing. Heating the coop can be a fire hazard and can stop your chickens from acclimating to the season. But use common sense, if your temperatures are extremely low for long periods of time, your birds may be able to use some extra warmth to survive, just make sure the warmth is delivered safely.
Have you wondered how cold is too cold for chickens? What are your methods for keeping your chickens safe and warm during the winter? Let us know in the comments below.
17 thoughts on “How Cold is Too Cold for Chickens in Winter? — Chickens in a Minute Video”
I always wonder if it’s too cold but I’m mostly concern about fresh water. My birds stay in their run outside most of the time but the water heater is in the coop. Will they know enough to go in the coop to drink when they’re thirsty or do I need to provide unfrozen water access outside too?
They almost always are smart enough to know that they need to go inside to get a drink. But if you see them acting lethargic, then I would recommend putting water outside, too.
They know where it is. Don’t worry about that
What will happen to our rooster, his wattles are black! Willfrostbite kill him?
Will my rooster die of frostbite? His wattles are all black!
Hi Deb, I’m sorry to hear about your rooster. Right now, the biggest danger is infection. The wattles can heal but would benefit from a wound care product to facilitate healing and keep away infection. Keep him comfortable, as well, so he’s not too stressed.
Marissa thank you for reply, he is actually looking pretty good right now! I’m amazed they survived the long cold spell! We are keeping a close eye on him to make sure he does not get infection!
One of my hens was attacked by a racoon earlier this year. She survived but is missing a large section of feathers on her back. We live in Wisconsin and the cold days are coming. What can I do to make sure (Merry) will be warm enough?
You can buy or make a chicken saddle for her. It’s to keep roosters from tearing up their backs but it works for that also.
Best wishes for her
I keep a heated water outside, as well as their food. I bring the food in every night. If the sun is shining, their geodome run is usually 10 degrees above the outside temperatures. I did install a small heater in the coop when we started getting nights up to 10 below zero, and only run it if the temperature is 5° F or lower.
5°F is -15°C, that’s awful cold before the heating comes on, did you mean 5°C?
Why do chickens dig in the coop. They
are making crater holes everywhere. They don’t do this in the summer.
They are dust bathing, which is a natural behavior that they seem to enjoy and keeps external parasites down. If you have space, you can put a sandbox, or large shallow bin in the coop with a mix of play sand/organic potting soil and a few cups of diatomaceous earth. Many birds use and love these spots. If birds are pooping in them, they do need to be cleaned periodically to avoid eye infections. Depending on temperatures in your area, you may be able to scoop it like a cat litter box or dump it periodically. Luckily, most of the contents can be composted if you have space to do that.
Honey and tumeric combined will help to keep waddles and combs from getting infected. Mix them together to make a paste. The mixture combined is antibacterial and anti inflammatory.
I used this in 2 roosters that were badly burned in a coop fire. Their waddles we’re swollen and had huge blisters. I rubbed it all over their faces for several days in a row. It’s very sticky and puts a orangish color all over your birds heads. It will dry and harden and form a crusty scab. Leave it on them. Apply it for several days until the swelling goes down. One the swelling goes down leave it on the bird. It will come off after a while. This doesn’t hurt you bird at all. You can use it on any burn or cut for just about any animal including yourself or family members. When you use this on burns with blisters, the blisters will be gone in 24 hours.
My rooster had frostbite on his wattles and comb. Bottom of his wattles are black. What kind of wound care product do you suggest?
My rooster had frostbite on his wattles and comb. Bottom of his wattles are black. What kind of wound care product do you suggest? Thank you
We don’t heat our henhouse. We have heated water bowl and both regular bedding and straw inside. But it’s 14 below tonight and we brought them in to my studio which is around 58 degrees tonight. We’ll let them out in the morning (it will still be frigid) but may have to bring them in one more night.