Chicken keepers wonder every year how to keep chickens warm in winter weather. Cold climates aren’t something I’ve been familiar with growing up in Florida, so moving to Kentucky brought a new experience when the sunny days turned to cold temperatures. Although I wasn’t a new chicken owner, I was worried about the chickens the first winter I was here.
Always keep an eye on the forecast for cold weather to be as ready as possible for extreme winter weather on your homestead. Are the single digits accompanied by a winter storm, bringing heavy snow or ice?
You’ll need to check the projected high and low temperatures, but more importantly, the wind chill. Cold winters can also bring strong winds. This can make it feel much cooler outside than your weather app claims in the colder months.
Here are some tactics, tools and actions you can do and take to keep your chickens warm this season.
Tips for keeping chickens warm in winter weather and extreme conditions.
Chickens are capable of regulating their body temperature with their downy feathers so it’s very unlikely they’ll need additional heat once colder temperatures arrive. Regardless, it’s still good to be aware of their comfort levels and know what to do if unusually severe winter temperatures in the coldest months make an appearance.
How do you know if your chickens are cold? If your flock of chickens are all huddled in one corner, they might be trying to generate warmth. Your chickens will puff their feathers out to trap body heat, as well, when they’re cold.
Keep a close eye on your flock during extreme weather conditions. Be prepared to address anything that looks off.
These 17 tips on how to keep chickens warm in winter weather will help you keep happy and healthy chickens this winter season. And the good news is you’ve probably already done most of them since many of the tips are generally the best way to take good care of your entire flock, anyway.
Table of contents
Keep a healthy flock
Some chicken farmers don’t believe in providing supplemental heating if you have a healthy flock. There are truths to that.
For example, chickens molt in the fall to prepare their bodies with warm, fluffy new feathers just like wild birds do. A chicken’s feathers provide much heat and extra insulation on cold nights.
These new feathers act as natural insulation when the cool weather comes. Additionally, you’ll see a decrease, or complete halt, in egg-laying in the winter. During this time, chickens are channeling all their energy into staying warm and giving their egg system a rest. You’ll see a change in egg production a few times throughout the year when raising chickens. You can read more about that here.
If for some reason your flock didn’t molt this year, or maybe partially molted for whatever reason, and you have extreme cold days headed your way, then you might want to take extra precautions and provide supplemental heat. If a partial molt has occurred and you know your chickens typically molt completely this time of year, make sure to check their overall health for parasites (you can start by checking their chicken poop).
Provide them with unlimited, extra feed
Chickens will burn calories quicker while trying to stay warm. Consider using a gravity feeder to provide your flock with consistent nourishment and a good quality feed. Providing grain all 24 hours a day can supplement these lost calories.
Some folks also like to hang vegetable piñatas, provide black oil sunflower seeds or even give warm mash of fermented feed and scratch grains.
Your flock will eat more in the winter, especially if you don’t increase their protein intake. If for some reason the weather cools and your flock won’t eat, you might inspect them for illness.
As always, make sure your livestock has fresh water in a clean water bowl (or container of your choice). If your chickens have a chicken run, make sure they can access their food and water during the day. If you don’t want to have to hassle with pouring hot water over their frozen drinking water in the morning, you can place the reservoir in their warm coop. Be sure it’s far enough away from the roosts, and not roost-able itself.
My husband put a heat bulb in a cinder block hole, put a smaller/thinner cinder block on top and his 5-gallon chicken waterer on top of that and it never froze. It even provided warm water for his flock!
It was a super easy way to prevent the water from freezing when we were away for a few days. His flock laid fresh eggs all winter and his chicken house stayed comfortable during the cold winter weather.
Increase protein intake
It’s a good idea to increase protein intake during the cool months when raising chickens. Providing amino acids helps to maintain egg production and support new feather growth. If you can’t provide free feed for your flock, consider buying nicer feed with a higher protein count.
You can also provide a small cracked corn snack at the end of the evening and suet cakes. For the DIYers out there, you can make your own suet cakes for your flock while you’re snowed in the house!
Thermo emergency heat blanket
This might be one of my favorite suggestions from a social media group. If you’re worried about your flock and need a list minute type of fix, tent a thermo emergency blanket somewhere in the coop. This provides a warm place for them to go, with ventilation on both sides.
Additionally, it’s not a fire hazard in any way! Just make sure it’s secure so it doesn’t fall over anyone and suffocate them. If you don’t have any emergency blankets handy, try using a thick tarp.
Heat lamps (with caution)
I hesitate to suggest using a heat lamp because it can be extremely dangerous fire hazards. With that being said, I do know that folks still use them. In addition, I occasionally use them as well.
Heat lamps provide sufficient amounts of warmth. This is why they’re so popular when raising chicks. If you do make the decision to use a heat lamp in an enclosed space, do it responsibly. Check that there is the smallest risk of fire possible.
Your heat lamp needs to be away from anything flammable and secured to a base. If you have a small, enclosed coop I do not recommend taking the risk of using a heat lamp. For more tips on heat lamp safety, read this post by Homesteading.com before making your decision.
The warmth of a heat plate is more centralized, making them a difficult option for large flocks and coops. If you have multiple heat plates, suspend them higher off the ground. This way your flock can walk underneath for heat.
I always recommend using a heat plate when raising chicks.
Crockpots for warming water
Another internet find, folks have been bringing their crockpots to the cool weather rescue. I don’t suggest leaving a crockpot plugged into overnight in the coop (fire). But during daylight hours under supervision, this is a great idea.
All you do is plug in your crockpot, add water, and turn it on! It’s best to use a low setting so your flock doesn’t hurt themselves. In a pinch, this would be a great option to help keep chickens warm in extreme weather.
Here’s a quick old-timer tip from Google (can’t say if I recommend this or not as I have never tried it out):
“According to old-timers, cayenne pepper can be added to your chickens‘ feed in the cold months to help warm up your chickens and boost egg production. … Cayenne also helps with circulation, which can prevent frostbite in the winter.”
Bring them inside in a tent
Not for the faint of heart, but for the true chicken lover. This unique approach is sure to put your chickens in warmer conditions.
Just add some bedding and a roost and you’ve got a basement coop! This option is a great option if you’re dealing with the other end of the weather spectrum – fire and smoke.
Seal off drafts very well while still assuring good ventilation
This is something that every henhouse needs, no matter the weather. Plan to seal any drafts and possible leaks in your coop before exposing your chickens in the winter or adding artificial light.
Chickens need great ventilation while minimizing or completely eliminating any drafts. Drafts can chill even the fluffiest of chickens and poor ventilation can lead to respiratory problems from ammonia fumes.
Make sure your winter chicken coop has a top vent, and sufficient pine shavings, wood shavings or wood chips. Warm air rises, so you want to make sure when the heat rises that enough of it stays in to warm the coop, but also escapes to prevent dangerous fumes.
We want ventilation, not air leaks. This is especially important if you plan to practice the deep litter method. Always add dry bedding and monitor how much moist air is being generated from the heat.
The type of material your coop is made out of is important because different materials have different amounts of thermal mass. Clear plastic will have a low thermal mass (will not absorb and store heat well) while tougher materials (think brick or concrete) will have a high thermal mass.
If you’re thinking “this was a great article until Chelsea just told me to build a brick chicken house”, please know that I AM NOT suggesting that. But I AM suggesting that you evaluate the structure of your hen house if you live in a cool climate.
For example, we have a plywood structured hen house, vented at the top, but it is raised off the ground (as seen in the picture below). Even though the roosting bars are high off the ground and we have sufficient bedding, the cold ground can still work against heat retention.
In the winter, we add a tarp to prevent wind chill and cold air coming up through the floor. Similar to why mobile/modular homes have under-pinning, and why the floor is freezing when they don’t! A hay bale or straw bales would also work placed around the bottom of your raised coop.
Deep litter composting
Another controversial topic, deep litter composting is an old tradition used by many farmers to this day. By practicing deep litter compost, you’re practicing a form of hot composting involving chicken manure.
If you do it successfully, your deep litter compost should provide natural, non-flammable heat and a warm bed in your henhouse and provide great garden material come spring. This is my favorite how-to guide for deep litter compost if by Salt in my Coffee.
The most important thing to keep in mind with the deep litter method is the ratio of carbon versus nitrogen. Whenever you add nitrogen (green materials), add at least 3-4x that amount in carbon (brown materials). This way you don’t end up with a soupy, stinking mess on the ground (or rodents).
Create a sunroom to trap heat
Another pre-winter project, but still a great suggestion. Consider adding a sunning room off the side of your coop to trap heat!
If you pursue this adventure, keep in mind you still must maintain good ventilation to prevent ammonia buildup. Fresh air is crucial for the health of your chooks. Depending on the side of your flock, consider building a room with a glass or sturdy plastic ceiling.
You can insulate the walls and add a small door for easing comings and goings. If constructed well, this room will be able to hold some amount of heat. Providing warmth for your flock.
Provide sufficient bedding
Bedding is another form of insulation in a coop, and it’s not very easy to add too much. Most northern folk in the winter add a little extra cushion, regardless of the forecast.
Adding extra bedding to the coop is an affordable, simple thing to do to keep chickens warm in winter weather.
Insulate nesting boxes
If on the off-chance you have a broody winter hen, you can consider insulating their nesting box. By using materials you probably already have, you can provide extra warmth for mama and her eggs – for free.
Use cardboard, newspaper, and even extra straw in the nesting boxes for extra warmth.
Your chickens still need sunlight in the winter. In fact, some folks supplement light during the shortest days of the year. The jury is still out on whether that is 100% healthy or not. The best thing to do is do what’s best for your flock.
Either way, your chickens should have the option to get outside during the lighter hours of the day. Providing them a windbreaker means they can seek shelter from strong winds while still having access to fresh air. The walls of your coop will work well depending on which way the wind is blowing.
You can stack bales of straw on top of each other or put up a tarp. Whichever method you choose, make sure the strawbales are secure and the tarp is, as well.
If your chickens are reluctant to go outside the hen house, try putting bedding on the snow outside. Chickens have snow blindness and sometimes need a little “push”.
It’s recommended to shovel an area first, and then put bedding down. This gives you peace of mind protecting their feet. It also gives them something to scratch at to generate body heat!
Provide adequate roosting
All chickens need to be able to roost. You should teach your chickens to roost when they’re still in their brooder. Depending on the roost setup, roosting builds strong leg muscles and a pecking order.
Additionally, when chickens roost in the evening, it allows them to get close to each other. By roosting closely to one another, they’re able to generate and share heat.
When providing roosts, you want to use the most beneficial shape. By choosing a flat-surfaced perch, your chickens can sit down completely and cover their lefts and feet with their fresh downy feathers.
Put petroleum jelly on their combs and wattles
If you’re worried about serious frostbite, adding a thin layer of petroleum jelly to your flocks combs and wattles might help. Depending on who you talk to, chickens are either very prone to frostbite or very cold hardy.
Either way, it’s best to be informed about frostbitten chickens. Be sure you educate yourself on frostbite in backyard chickens and what to do about it.
Get more chickens
When all else fails, just buy more chickens! More chickens mean more body heat, right? 5 chickens roosting will generate more warmth than 3, so why not have 15 chickens? We all know chicken math is real.
BUT SERIOUSLY. A few chickens huddle together will produce a lot of body heat. If you have only a few chickens and have been interested and can afford more, then this would be a great reason to do it.
If you only want, or can only have, a few chickens and you live in a very cold climate, then you may have to utilize more than one of these tips to keep your flock warm enough in the winter.
Are you worried about how to keep chickens warm in winter weather?
It’s always great to have information and tools in your toolbox during extreme weather. From frostbite to preventing eggs from freezing, the winter months can bring quite the challenge and it’s crucial to keep our flocks happy and healthy.
Make it a habit to check chickens’ combs, chickens’ feet and the light bulb you might have added under their water reservoir (or anywhere else in the coop). Even chickens with large combs and feathered feet can become victim to frost bite and should be inspected.
Stay informed and stay aware, friends. How do you keep your flock warm in the winter?