How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens? Keeping Your Chicken Cosy

Arpitha Rajendra
Feb 29, 2024 By Arpitha Rajendra
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Two hens in a chicken stable walking in the snow
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 9.9 Min

Winter weather is not as harsh on chickens as you think it might be.

Chickens will need a cozy coop whenever they need to stay away from cold temperatures. You can modify the coop when the temperature is freezing.

Chickens are world-famous, especially for the fresh eggs they produce. These domesticated red junglefowl subspecies are native animals of southeastern Asia. In the wild, these omnivores will scratch the soil in search of insects, seeds, and even animals like small snakes, lizards, and juvenile mice. Originally raised and bred for special ceremonies and cockfighting, they are now commonly used as a food source and kept as pets. Over 50 billion chickens per year are reared for fresh eggs and meat. These animals are quite hardy and can tolerate below-freezing temperatures. However, chickens are comfortable with temperatures around 70-75 F (21.1-23.8 C). Chickens do well in cozy and warm temperatures. Temperature is an important factor for breeding, hatching, and nesting. The average lifespan of chickens is 5-10 years. So, how cold is too cold for chickens? A few experts state that chickens suffer from extreme cold and cannot withstand temperatures below 20 F (-6.6 C) and this temperature is too cold.

Chickens do not like to stay out in cold winters for long. It is also their choice as some chickens might get out of the coop and roam around and others might stay inside. Chickens must be provided with stimulating activities both outdoors and indoors.

If you enjoy reading these facts about how cold is too cold for chickens, then make sure to read some more interesting facts about can chickens eat apples and why do chickens eat their eggs here at Kidadl.

Can chickens stay outside in the winter?

Yes, chickens can stay outside the chicken coop over the winter and they do love the snow.

Some breeds of chickens that can survive and do well in cold temperatures are the Rhode Island red, the silkie, the Cochin, the Buckeye, and the Dorking. Raising chickens is quite easy; however, they will need a little more care in winters to keep warm to maintain their body heat. Chickens will need good shelter, especially in windy and wet weather, to survive the cold. They will need dry bedding. Make sure there is no moisture build up on their beds in the coop because it can cause respiratory problems. To avoid this you can make use of more shavings in the cold winter than in the warm season. It is also necessary to provide enough ventilation to prevent the accumulation of ammonia for the healthy lifestyle of chickens. The ideal temperature for the chicken coop is around 70-75 F (21.1-23.8 C). These birds will experience cold stress if temperatures drop below 55 F (12.7 C). These birds make use of their wattles and combs to release body heat. To warm their wattles and combs chickens will hide their head under their wing when they sleep. They also fluff their feathers to warm up.

A heat lamp is usually unnecessary if there is a coop to protect adults and chicks from drafts and wind. A heating lamp may be a fire hazard. After you have created a ventilation spot in the coop, eliminate drafts and wind by building a window. Walls must be insulated. You can provide chickens with heated water. A few chicken waterers have a heated water bowl for winter with which you can make sure your chicken has water year-round. No matter the type of breeds of your chickens, if your chickens are sick it is better to get them inside. Until their recovery, breeds must be provided with a well-heated enclosure for their body to recover. It is also not a good idea to house sick birds with the flock. If your chickens feed on extra supplements, then they will lay eggs even in winter. Although they might produce a lower number of eggs in winter, certain breeds are hardy and can lay eggs in winter. It is also recommended to collect eggs often in winter as they might freeze. If eggs are left out for too long then they will expand before cracking.

Rural chicken farm stable with chickens walking outdoor on a winter day.

Should you insulate the coop?

Yes, your chickens must be kept in an insulated chicken coop.

To survive the freezing temperature of winter and stay warm, chickens must have a well-insulated coop with ventilation. This insulation is an important condition for these hardy, egg-laying birds especially if you are raising chickens that grow in warm weather. Chicks and hens cannot withstand freezing temperatures and do not need heating within the coop. Make sure not to add heaters if your chicken flock is suffering from an illness. They can have a coop with the usual ground or installed flooring. You can also cover the floor using sawdust or hay as these materials are used as insulation to keep chickens and coops warm. It is also important that chickens do not enter the coop with snow on them. Moisture present in the coop is not healthy for the flock.

For proper ventilation and insulation in the coop, the chicken must have a large enough coop. The layer of insulation can be added either on the inside or outside the coop. Cardboard can be used for insulation and it is also effective and cheap. Cardboard will keep your chicken's coop draft-free. Cardboard sheets can be attached to the interior layer of the coop. You can stick a layer of styrofoam to the roof of the coop. This layer will prevent the escape of hot air in the coop. It is also vital to install this layer away from the reach of your chickens. Otherwise, your chickens will peck away all the material. It is better to add this layer to a winter coop. Bales of straw can be used too. Straw must be leveled and piled up to 4 in (10.16 cm) in depth and this protects chickens from the cold ground. Straw will also absorb droppings. Another option is to make use of old blankets and towels. This material can be combined with a layer of cardboard for a better coop shelter.

Type Of Bedding To Use For Chickens In The Cold

Types of bedding options for your chickens are pine needles, sand, cedar shavings, shredded leaves, paper, pine shavings, hay, straw, sawdust, mulch, grass clippings, shredded cardboard, and rocks.

Bedding can be placed within the coop to keep the floor cleaner as all waste and moisture are absorbed by the bedding. Proper bedding for chickens in colder weather can prevent bad odors. This way the coop remains odor-free and clean and keeps all of your hardy egg-laying birds healthy. It is also important to change the bedding whenever there is a strong odor due to moisture build-up. While changing the bedding make sure to give the coop a good wipe using apple cider vinegar.

Sand is a good option for bedding although mites might live in it. Chicken mites are also quite common. If you are using sand then it is important to ensure your chickens remain mite-free. Pine needles are also a good option. If there are leaves fallen around your yard, you can shred them and place them at the bottom of the coop. It's a great option to use your chickens' poop as compost and turn it into fertilizer. When you clean the poop from the coop you add it to your garden soil. Pine shavings are little chips and you can find them easily. They work to fight the odor in the chicken's coop and they also tend to keep moisture away from the shelter. Cedar shavings are also similar. Shredded papers can also be used but it neither effectively keeps odor away nor absorbs moisture. Straw is also great; however, it can attract mites. Hay can also be used. Mulch is also good as it can be used as a fertilizer for your garden. Sawdust also absorbs waste and moisture well. Cardboard shredding is a good option. Chickens love scratching around in grass clippings. It is also a great fertilizer once soiled. Small round pebbles are also good and easy to clean. To get the dirt off of pebbles you can use water.

Signs Of Cold Weather Stress

Some signs of cold weather stress are perching, inactivity, hypothermia, fluffed feathers, lethargy, shivering, lack of interest in water or food, and frostbite.

Cold weather stress in chickens can cause pasty droppings or diarrhea, respiratory issues, internal parasites, improper diet, or coccidiosis. You need to monitor your chickens for varying degrees of cold weather stress when warmer weather changes into freezing weather. Flock interaction is also an indicator of stress. Change in actions or behaviors can indicate different degrees of stress. One way for chickens to conserve body heat is by fluffing their feathers. The air that is trapped in their feathers warms the body, acting as an insulator. Fluffing is not healthy because cold air trapped in the feathers takes a lot more time to heat up to the required degrees, making it harder for your chickens to conserve heat. Perching for a long time is a sign of minor cold weather stress. Chickens might perch in hot and warm places to conserve energy and heat. This perching for heat can easily turn into lethargic perching. If your chicken is not eating, drinking water, or moving around for long then it can be serious. Periodic perching is fine as long as your chickens are active. It is common for your chickens to reduce activity in winter weather compared to summer weather. Chickens might stand around in a flock to conserve heat and energy or hang out around the feeder. However, it should not result in total inactivity.

The inability to conserve energy results in a decrease in chickens' body temperature in weather that is too cold for chickens. Chickens will then start to shiver to stimulate heat. Shivering can be due to extreme cold stress. Shivering can be visible in your chickens and it expends more energy. This energy comes from reserves that are usually fat and once this is used up, it can be dangerous. Later stages of shivering can cause lethargy. Lethargy must not be confused with perching. Lethargy due to cold stress can be accompanied by shivering and a chicken will not move no matter what you do. A lethargic chicken will not eat food or drink water. It's a bad sign when a chicken denies feeding even if food and water are kept near it. Frostbite can be caused by cold stress but is mostly due to moisture that freezes close to the skin. Cold stress increases the chances of frostbite. Circulation is restricted to wattles and combs and probably even toes and feet. This will lead to loss of appendages, infection, and even death because of gangrene. Frostbite can be due to not having enough protection from winter cold or not having adequate ventilation in your chickens' coop.

You can help your chicken by providing some healthy treats, providing energy sources (a supplement can include warm oatmeal with very little cayenne pepper for proper circulation), encouraging activity and also making sure to provide protection when you begin to notice any cold weather stress in your chicken. You may provide heat and more energy in the form of food if your chicken is shivering. Supplementary heat will also help if your chicken is lethargic. Your chicken will need intensive care in a warm infirmary if your chicken has no interest in water or food and has a case of frostbite.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestion for how cold is too cold for chickens, then why not take a look at why are my chickens not laying eggs or leghorn chicken facts?

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Written by Arpitha Rajendra

Bachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

Arpitha Rajendra picture

Arpitha RajendraBachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

With a background in Aeronautical Engineering and practical experience in various technical areas, Arpitha is a valuable member of the Kidadl content writing team. She did her Bachelor's degree in Engineering, specializing in Aeronautical Engineering, at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology in 2020. Arpitha has honed her skills through her work with leading companies in Bangalore, where she contributed to several noteworthy projects, including the development of high-performance aircraft using morphing technology and the analysis of crack propagation using Abaqus XFEM.

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