Do My Chickens Need a Winter Heat Lamp?

February 9, 2021

The battle of the heat lamp has been a long-disputed topic for chicken enthusiasts. Some claim having a winter heat lamp in the coop not only keeps hens warm, but also increases egg production. Others deem heat lamps unnecessary and dangerous.

There is no doubt about it, heat lamps can be very dangerous. It doesn’t take much for a chicken to accidentally fly up and bump the lamp, or a tiny speck of shavings or dust to quickly ignite. Every year, there are horror stories of heat lamps causing coops to go up in flames, leaving no survivors.

PROS:

  • Warmer, drier coop and chickens
  • Prevents eggs in nest boxes from freezing
  • May slightly increase egg production

CONS:

  • HIGHLY DANGEROUS
  • Chicken will become less hardy, disrupting natural internal rhythms and changes.
  • Fire, fire, fire!

Backyard chicken owners love their birds, and only want the best for their comfort and safety. The mistake we make is forgetting chickens have different comfort levels then humans. Chickens are extremely resilient, hardy creatures that tolerate cold temperatures much better than us. A chicken’s natural body temperature rests around 106 degrees F. When roosting, they sit on their feet, covering their toes with warm feathers, and fluffing up to encapsulate their body heat.

If you do these three things, you will feel less inclined to use a winter heat lamp.

1. Choose your chicken breeds wisely.

When selecting a new breed of chicken for your homestead, you should read up on their hardiness. Hoover’s includes a description of each breed and whether it is cold hardy or heat tolerant. Cold hardy breeds will fair much better in cold, northern states. They often have been bred with more insulating feathers and a more rotund body build. Chickens molt during the fall, then grow new feathers in preparation for winter. These new feathers are designed to keep them as warm as possible.

2.Ensure your coop is well insulated. (but not stuffy)

A heat lamp will never be necessary if your coop is well insulated and kept free from drafts. A little ventilation is good, but not full blown wind getting inside the coop. When chickens breathe, they release moisture into the coop. When temperatures get below freezing, it is actually the frozen moisture that causes frostbite on combs and feet.

A coop needs to have clean, dry bedding and roosting perches off the ground. This is where the chickens will sleep and huddle together on cold nights. The best bedding is pine shavings. Try to build up bedding around the perimeter of the floor to block drafty holes. Avoid using hay as it can grow mold in moist, wet winters. If your coop is in good order, chickens will be fine without a lamp. Even if it is snowing and blowing outside, your chickens will be cozy inside. They should be able to get out at any time if they choose to do so.

If you have a window in your coop, make sure it stays only partly open to allow for ventilation, decreasing moisture.

3. Provide extra calories.

Giving your chickens extra treats high in protein and healthy fats boosts their metabolism, helping them stay warmer longer. Some such “extras” include black sunflower seeds, whole corn, crimped oats, and small amounts of canned tuna. Try giving these beneficial foods a couple hours before their bedtime to get their bodies producing extra heat for the cold nights.

A winter heat lamp is a risk you should probably avoid.

Chickens are well adapted to surviving and thriving in the cold, and most concerns during winter can be remedied by having cold hardy breeds, having an insulated coop, and adding calories to their diet. 

I live in Alabama, so I have never used a heat lamp. In fact, some nights, my girls decide to sleep on the roost in the run instead of the coop! It’s up to you to make the best decision for your flock!

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