The days are getting shorter, the sun is getting weaker, and it’s time to bundle up for fall and winter. Your backyard flock feels the same way.
You’ll notice decreased egg production as we head into colder months, but the good news is that chickens can handle winter quite well.
Here’s how to make sure they do well in the cold weather and are ready for spring.
Key takeaways: Give your flock plenty of water, food, and treats. Make sure their coop is well-ventilated. For most of the winter, you’ll find that they don’t need any special treatment and they’ll do just fine.
Table of contents
- 🐓 1. You don’t need a heater…but adequate ventilation is essential
- ☀️ 2 Try to keep your birds as dry as possible
- ❄️ 3. Winterize your coop
- 🌽 4. Give them extra food for warmth
- 💦 5. Don’t forget about water
- 6. Use deep litter to insulate the coop
- 7. You might need supplemental light to keep them laying
- 8. Feed Them Corn in the Evening to Keep Them Warm All Night
- 9. Keep them moving around
- 10. But they likely won’t go out in the snow
- 11. Petroleum Jelly on Combs and Wattles Protects from Frostbite
- 12. But You Can Still Give Them the Option to Free-Range
- 13. Choose Cold Weather Breeds
- 14. Make the Nest Boxes Cozy
- 15. Provide Warm Water
- Related reading:
🐓 1. You don’t need a heater…but adequate ventilation is essential
Chickens don’t need heat lamps or a heater for warmth–they get cozy by huddling together. A backyard chicken’s “favorite” temperature is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so they actually like it much cooler than humans.
But if there is no air circulation, the coop will become hot and moist, which can cause illness or death.
Make sure there’s airflow on at least two sides of the coop: You can cut small “windows” in the side of the coop and cover them with metal hardware cloth (chicken wire is not strong enough to deter predators).
☀️ 2 Try to keep your birds as dry as possible
Wet feathers mean cold chickens. When it rains or snows, put a tarp over the run so your chickens can still get some fresh air without getting soaked.
❄️ 3. Winterize your coop
Keep the bedding clean and fluffed (remember: moisture is not helpful!), seal any cracks along the bottom, and make sure the roof is sturdy and secure.
You do not want the coop totally sealed. It has to have plenty of ventilation. But try to keep the airflow up high, above the chickens’ heads, so they aren’t being directly hit with a cold wind.
🌽 4. Give them extra food for warmth
Chickens burn more calories to stay warm in the winter, so they need about 20 percent more food during the colder months. They will especially appreciate table scraps and treats this time of year.
💦 5. Don’t forget about water
Chickens need just as much water in the winter as they do in the summer (about a pint per chicken per day). But their water will freeze more quickly in the winter, so you’ll need to check it several times a day and break the ice as necessary.
If you’re gone for long periods during the day (or don’t feel like constantly breaking ice!), an electric heated waterer is a great option.
6. Use deep litter to insulate the coop
Deep litter is a layer of bedding material (usually straw, leaves, or wood shavings) that’s allowed to build up over time. This can provide extra insulation in the coop and also. As the bedding material decomposes, it produces heat that helps keep the coop warm.
It’s important to remember that you will need to regularly clean and stir up the pile so that it doesn’t get too wet and start rotting. But if you can keep on top of things, this is a great way to help your flock stay cozy during those cold months
7. You might need supplemental light to keep them laying
When the days get shorter and the weather starts to cool down, many people wonder if they need to provide supplemental light for their chickens in order to keep them laying eggs. The answer is yes–chickens at least 11 hours of light a day in order to lay eggs. They reach their full laying potential closer to 16 hours per day. If they don’t have enough light, they will stop laying eggs altogether.
If you’re not able to provide supplemental light for your chickens, don’t worry! It is normal and natural to let them take a break from laying. You’ll still get the occasional egg, even on short days.
8. Feed Them Corn in the Evening to Keep Them Warm All Night
Chickens need plenty of food to stay warm during winter, and feeding them cracked corn in the evening will help keep them cozy all night. Chickens that are allowed to roam free will also need a little extra help with their food during the colder months, so it’s important to change how you feed them during this time of year.
Feeding chickens at dusk helps them maintain their body heat as the temperature starts to drop at night. You can also give your chickens treats to stimulate their appetite if they’re not eating as much as they should.
All chickens love cracked corn or a blend of scratch grains.
9. Keep them moving around
Even though you might have to provide some extra warmth for your chickens in the cold winter months, you can still give them the option to free-range. This will allow them to get some fresh air and exercise, as well as search for food on their own. Just make sure that they always have a warm place to go back to if they need it.
On very cold or windy days, you might choose to confine them to the coop to protect against frostbite.
10. But they likely won’t go out in the snow
The first few times your birds see snow, they won’t want to walk on it. Some will get used to it over time and walk in it, but some won’t. You can shovel a path for them to walk on, or just let them stay in the coop until it melts.
11. Petroleum Jelly on Combs and Wattles Protects from Frostbite
If you live in a very cold climate, frostbite can be a concern, but it’s actually uncommon and usually not dangerous.
If your chicken does get frostbite, it is usually the tips of the combs that are affected. Petroleum jelly is a good way to prevent frostbite from occurring in the first place, so make sure you use it during the coldest months or during freak weather events.
We live in a relatively mild climate and have only experienced this once. It healed on its own and no treatment was needed.
For more on frostbite and chickens, read this article.
12. But You Can Still Give Them the Option to Free-Range
Even though you might have to provide some extra warmth for your chickens in the cold winter months, you can still give them the option to free-range. This will allow them to get some fresh air and exercise, as well as search for food on their own. Just make sure that they always have a warm place to go back to if they need it!
13. Choose Cold Weather Breeds
If you’re in a cold area, choose a breed that does well where you live.
Here are four different breeds of chicken that are good for cold weather:
- Red Stars – These chickens come from Russia and have very thick feathers which keep them warm in cold weather.
- Silkies – Although they don’t do well in cold, damp climates, Silkies have downy feathers which help keep them cozy.
- Australorps – This breed is originally from Australia and is known for being able to tolerate colder temperatures than most other chickens.
- Brahmas – Brahmas hail from the United States and are one of the largest breeds of chicken; they’re also bred for colder climates.
If you’re not sure what breed of chicken is best suited for your climate, be sure to check with your local feed store or poultry expert. Hatcheries are very helpful at helping you choose the right breed as well.
14. Make the Nest Boxes Cozy
Your chickens will need a warm and cozy place to lay, even if they’re doing less of it.. One way to do this is by adding extra bedding to the nest boxes. This will help keep eggs warm and prevent them from freezing.
15. Provide Warm Water
Chickens can easily become dehydrated in the winter months, so it is important to make sure they have access to clean water. The best way to keep chickens hydrated is by giving them warm water twice a day, at dawn and dusk. You can also place a heated bowl of water in their coop for them to drink from.
They fluff up their feathers to trap warm air near their bodies, and they huddle together with their friends
Thousands of people have successfully overwintered flocks in Alaska without heat. For most people, it won’t ever get too cold for your chickens. But if you live in an extreme climate, you’ll need to ask someone local.
Nope. Whatever you feed them normally is fine, as long as you provide plenty of it. We also offer scratch during the winter so they eat a little more and bulk up.
There are a number of things you can do to help keep your chickens warm in the winter. One is to make sure their coop has good ventilation and insulation. You can also add extra bedding material to the nest boxes, provide them with food twice a day, and give them access to clean water at all times. Additionally, you can hang