During a January deep freeze many flock owners enjoy the toasty comfort of a home warmed by a furnace or woodstove but worry about their chickens out in the frigid weather. Some wonder if they should heat the coop.
Birds from tiny chickadees to plump chickens are nearly immune to cold. Their secret is feathers. No more effective insulation has ever been invented. Outdoor enthusiasts know this. Modern synthetic insulation is not as warm as goose down when sewn into a winter jacket or sleeping bag.
Birds have several types of feathers. Outer ones are generally stiff and strong to enable flight and protect them from injuries. Underneath is a layer of soft down that traps air next to the body keeping in warmth. It seems ironic that chickens, which evolved in balmy Southeast Asia, are amazingly resistant to cold, but their feathers and down keep them comfortable in cold climates.
Heating a coop is not needed and adds unnecessary expense to keeping a flock. However, there are several techniques that will keep chickens comfortable during cold spells. Here are a few:
- Select cold hardy breeds. In general, larger bodied breeds with fluffy feathers and small combs, weather frigid temperatures better than small breeds. For example, in cold places Brahmas and Orpingtons, are better choices than Leghorns
- Plug up cracks and holes. Cold drafts make chickens uncomfortable. Before winter sets in examine the coop with caulking gun in hand. Plug up cracks and holes that welcome drafts to enter.
- Allow some ventilation. A coop that’s too tightly caulked and sealed can prevent any fresh air from entering and create indoor condensation. Leave a few cracks unplugged to let some air enter.
- Keep the birds well fed. Corn or scratch contains high energy carbohydrates that help fuel body heat. A quality lay mash or pellets should be available to the chickens constantly. Add grain as a special treat on cold days.
- Take advantage of free sunshine. If possible orient the coop so its windows face south. Sunshine will provide some warmth. Dense shrubs planted outside the coop’s north side will block chilling winds.
- Insulate the coop. Insulation helps the coop retain the hen’s body heat during winter and helps it stay cool during blistering summer days.
One part of a chicken’s body is cold vulnerable. Under extreme conditions a hen’s comb can get frostbite. The best prevention is to select small comb breeds. Wyandottes, for example, have big bodies, fluffy down, and tiny combs that are less vulnerable to frostbite than those of Leghorns.
Under extreme cold it may be desirable to add some warmth to the coop. “Extreme” means way below zero. A lamp used to brood chicks will add some warmth to the coop when it is exceedingly cold. The purpose is not to make the coop warm but to raise the temperature up to zero or slightly warmer. That’s all the hens need. Be careful when using a bulb for heating. Keep it away from anything flammable and some distance from the hens.
Chickens are amazingly resistant to wintry weather. When well fed and sheltered from cold drafts they’ll thrive during weather that forces people to bundle up in down parkas or cozy up to the wood stove.
Post submitted by Winding Pathways, LLC.