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Chickens and Cold Weather: Caring for Chickens in Winter

Updated on October 5, 2017
Anthony Altorenna profile image

I like spending time in the garden, around the house, fishing,and in the workshop. Many of the projects in my articles are original designs.

Get Ready, Winter Is Coming!
Get Ready, Winter Is Coming! | Source

Tips for Chicken Care During the Winter Months

Chickens and Cold Weather: Caring for chickens in cold weather requires a little planning and a few special considerations in order to keep your flock happy and healthy throughout a blustery New England winter. Chickens are naturally very hardy, and their thick layers of insulating feathers helps them to withstand winter's cold temperatures. However, chickens are susceptible to chilling winds and icy rain, and they require suitable shelter and protection from the elements.

Keeping a small backyard flock of chickens is a fun and rewarding hobby, and a happy flock of hens provide a ready supply of fresh eggs. However caring for chickens in winter during the long, cold months requires proper housing for protection against the weather and additional attention to feed and drinking water to maintain a healthy flock. Here are a few tips on caring for chickens in cold weather.

Photos by the Author

Caring for Chickens in Winter

Protect Your Chickens from the Chill of Winter

Chickens in Winter
Chickens in Winter | Source

Prevent Drafts

With their feathered insulation, chickens are well suited for cold temperatures. Our urban chicken coop includes a small hen house with a fully protected run that allows them to wander outside wherever they want. Except for very windiest of days or during storms, the chickens spend most of their time scratching around in the outdoor run. They often roost at night on one of the outdoor perches, positioned high in the run and in an area that is usually blocked from the wind. It is quite comical to see them lined up, wing-to-wing and snuggled in for the night, even on a cold winter night in New England.

Chickens are very tolerant of cold temperatures, but they are very susceptible to drafts. Position the chicken coop out of the prevailing winds, and insulate the interior of the chicken coop to reduce chilling drafts. Our coop is insulated to help block drafts, but it is not heated. When the chickens do decide to come inside and use the coop to roost, their body heat is trapped by the insulation and helps to raise the temperature within the hen house.

Adding a thick layer of pine shavings or straw to the floor of the chicken coop will protect the chickens further from the cold. We purchase bales of shavings from the local feed & grain store for less than $8.00 per bale, and spread a thick layer of shavings over the floor and into the nesting boxes. Then, the chickens rearrange the shavings to their liking. The shavings are easy to clean, and it takes only a few minutes to shovel out the hen house and replace with a fresh layer shavings. And the old shavings go right into the compost heap.

A clear plastic roof keeps the Chicken Run dry!
A clear plastic roof keeps the Chicken Run dry! | Source

Put a Roof Over the Run

The run is a fenced and secure outdoor enclosure attached to the chicken coop, and provides the chickens with access to the outdoors while protecting them from predators such as hawks, foxes and dogs. Our runs are fully enclosed on all sides by two layers of plastic-coated wire, including over the top and buried under the bottom of the run.

Even during the coldest weather, chickens enjoy being outdoors to scratch in the dirt.

Protect the flock from snow and rain by covering the top outdoor run with corrugated plastic sheathing, which is inexpensive, transparent and available at home centers. If the run is very large, cover a section near the entrance to the hen house.

Out in the Run
Out in the Run | Source

Provide a Wind Block

Use a tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the sides of the run, providing the chickens with additional protection from the wind and wind-driven snow and rain. During the coldest months of our New England winter, we wrap the northeast corner of the run with a large canvas tarp.

Be sure to fasten the tarp securely. If the tarp flaps in the wind, the flapping motion seems to spook the chickens. The tarp we use has metal grommets inserted along the edges, and this makes it easy to hang the tarp from a few well-positioned screws. We then use plastic zip ties to firmly secure the tarp and prevent it from flapping in the wind.

Do not fully enclose the run, which reduces ventilation. Instead, use the tarp or plastic sheeting on one or two sides of the run to help block the prevailing winds. Attach a couple of perches, as high as possible in the run, for chickens to roost and see the world around them. Your chickens may even use the perches to roost at night during all but the coldest weather.

Where's breakfast?
Where's breakfast? | Source

Fill Up the Feed Bin

Chickens burn extra calories in the winter as they warm themselves against the cold weather, and they tend to eat more prepared feed to fuel their bodies and produce internal heat. This is especially true for chickens who free range in the backyard, and burn extra calories as they move about in search of anything edible.

During warm weather, they feed on seeds and bugs as they pick through the grasses and garden mulch.

In winter, the chickens need rely on the feed bin so keep it full. Scatter grain or a cracked corn treat around the run to give the chicken a little extra scratching and pecking activity.

Homegrown Chicken Eggs are the best!
Homegrown Chicken Eggs are the best! | Source

Collect the Eggs Every Day

Fresh eggs are one of the key benefits to keeping a small backyard flock of chickens. But when the temperature drops, eggs left in the chicken coop will freeze quickly, cracking the shells and spoiling the eggs.

Each time the water dish is checked and cleared of ice, check the nest box for fresh eggs.

Egg production usually decreases as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, but the number of eggs will pick up again as Spring approaches and the days begin to get longer again.

Some backyard chicken farmers install lights in their coops to increase the hours of light for the chickens, hoping to increase egg production during winter's shorter days. Our urban chicken coop and hen house is not lit and though egg production drops off in the winter, our hens still supply us with enough eggs for our use. And we often have extras to give away!

Don't Let the Water Freeze!

Drinking water freezes quickly in cold weather. Electric Water Heaters are safe, energy-efficient and keep the water from turning to ice.

Chickens need fresh water daily, and small water bowls will freeze quickly when temperature drops.

Specially designed water heaters for poultry and livestock are inexpensive and work well, but requires electricity and maintenance.

For a low tech approach, use rubber feed bowls. These bowls are flexible and make it easy to remove ice whenever the drinking water freezes. After a cold night, the water bowl may be covered in ice or even frozen solid. A strong tap against a tree or rock dislodges the ice easily, and the rubber feed bowl is ready for a refill of clean water.

Use Premium Heated Water Bowls

In very cold weather, it may be necessary to check the water bowls twice each day, first in the morning and then again in the early afternoon.

We use these heated water bowls in our chicken coops and in our goat pen. The bowls stay free from ice all winter, and we never have to worry about our animals going thirsty.

Chickens in the Snow

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The Rumor is True!

Cute Baby Chicks Grow Up to Become Chickens!

We were cute little chicks once....
We were cute little chicks once.... | Source

Since moving to "the country", we always wanted to have a small flock of backyard chickens. One of our friendly neighbors has a small flock, and she showed her chicken coop and run. We then purchased several chicken care books (highly recommended) and researched more information online.

We started our little flock with six little fluffy chicks as a surprise for our kids on Easter morning. Snuggled together in the corner of their indoor pen, it was hard to picture that these cute, adorable littles guys (well, actually gals) would quickly grow up to become awkward teenage polts before blooming into beautifully plumaged and full grown hens. But we enjoyed every stage of their growth, and we add more chicks each year to our growing flock of backyard chickens.

As the flock continues to grow, we had to expand the chicken coop and increase the size of the protected run!

A Few More Photos of Our Chickens and Chicken Coop

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Around the Web: Backyard Chickens

Chickens in Winter
Chickens in Winter | Source

Ah, Spring Is Finally Here!

Our Urban Chicken Coop
Our Urban Chicken Coop | Source

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Backyard Chickens

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      Definitely chilly weather now. I can imagine that it looks gorgeous in the country where you live. Our back yard is beautiful with the snow draped on the trees. Have a wonderful week.

    • steadytracker lm profile image

      steadytracker lm 4 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this lens. We actually have two chickens, one rooster and a hen. Luckily we live in the tropics so the cold is not as big of an issue, but the information you have shared is definitely helpful for anyone who takes care of chickens.

    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 4 years ago

      Thank you for a great chicken lens!

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 4 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi great advice for taking care of chicken in the cold month of winter. Blessed by Squid Angel flinnie.

    • AstroGremlin profile image

      AstroGremlin 4 years ago

      You clearly care for your chickens very well. Great items to help the backyard chickeneer.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      A lot of this advice can apply to caring for other animals besides chickens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I think I saw your chickens actually smiling because they are so well cared for in cold weather!

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 4 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I have been using a heater for the water as you suggest. Your chickens are beautiful. My new flock just started laying and haven't stopped yet, even tho' it's so cold--I expect that'll change in the next few weeks.

    • vineliner57 profile image

      Hal Gall 4 years ago from Bloomington, IN

      Water freezing is definitely an issue where I live. Chickens can break through a thin layer of ice with their beaks, but when it gets too thick we have a problem.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 4 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      We have 11 hens who are giving us from 8 to 11 eggs a day. I told my mom that we really don't need to feed them laying mash since we cannot keep up with them. We eat a lot of eggs too. Almost all of our friends and family have hens so we can't give any eggs to them. What a dilemma! Good thing I love eggs.TonyB

    • profile image

      moonlitta 4 years ago

      Our hens are free and happy:) Yours don't look bad, either!

    • montanatravel52 profile image

      montanatravel52 5 years ago

      My grandfather also always had chickens growing up, thanks for the memories... and I live in MT, where it is easy to raise your own chickens, but love your ideas about the cold!

    • elyria profile image

      elyria 5 years ago

      My grandfather used to have lots of chickens when I was growing up and I remember how much he loved them and cared for them.

    • Isabellas-cabin profile image

      Isabellas-cabin 5 years ago

      Thank you for the information on the wind break. I never would have thought about that before!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      Even though I do not have chickens, I found this fascinating. So much of the advice would be applicable to a lot of outdoor animals. Most excellent!

    • BackyardChickenK profile image

      BackyardChickenK 5 years ago

      Nice lens and great tips! I like your video showing the chickens in the snow. I've had a lot of people wonder "well what do you do with the chickens in winter?". People don't realize with a little planning and preparation, chickens can do just fine in the winter.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I love all your original chicken pictures and it is indeed that time of year to insure that your chickens will be warm over the cold winter months. Best of wishes for a wonderful holiday season. With the cold it is not far to follow.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Our neighbors have chickens, I would have them except I have a border collie. I thought the Chinatown news link was hilarious - about the tic-tac-toe chickens.

    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 5 years ago

      This is really cool. A neighbor of ours has chickens in the city, and sometimes they get out of the pen. it is so cute to watch them wander around the yard pecking for food.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      Loved the pictures of your chickens busily pecking in both summer and winter. You sure create some great wood projects, your coops are gorgeous, and that really does take some skill.

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      Nice lens and helpful. Love (Rumour is true).

    • ProfessionalSol profile image

      ProfessionalSol 5 years ago

      This article was very helpful. I have a friend that has recently got a small flock of chickens, so I will share this great information with him! I love chickens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Your chickens sound like they are the happiest ones to be found with all the care you take for their special needs for cold weather comfort.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've always wondered how people get the eggs without being flogged by the chickens. That's one big reason why I haven't took the leap and got some (bad flogging experience as a kid).

    • laporter79 lm profile image

      laporter79 lm 5 years ago

      winter is great in florida. Other than turning on the heat lamp a few nights a year, chickens do great here! Thanks for a great article!

    • kimbesa2 profile image

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      Our chickens won't go out if there's snow, and we have a tarp over their run. Funny chickens!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 5 years ago

      We have 8 chickens right now, but one of them is sitting on 8 eggs so we should have more soon. We live in the country so we're able to just let them run free. When we built their coop, we had the hot summer temperatures in mind. So the entire thing was pretty much just wire. When that first cold snap came, we were in a frenzy to insulate! lol. They seem to be doing okay though. I'm glad I read this lens. Mine have been eating more and I never knew it was because of the cold. Thanks!

    • profile image

      LazyKat 5 years ago

      Great info! We're thinking about getting chickens again this year, and all the information in this is exactly how we had to care for them. We also put up plastic sheeting on two of the coop walls as wind blocks, and put a heating lamp on the ceiling. This lens makes me miss our chickies, I can't wait to have more!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great idea...to have your own chicken coop.

    • Shana rios Chavez profile image

      Shana rios Chavez 5 years ago

      fresh is the way i was raised with chickens and fresh eggs i want to do the same with my son but right now a coop just isn't an option for us but we can always hope for the future. Great lens

    • katiecolette profile image

      katiecolette 5 years ago

      I watched "Food Inc." the other day and was shocked at how the "non-organic" chickens are being raised - so much cruelty to keep chickens in the dark buildings for their entire life, letting them stand in their feces, and there are so many of them, they can't even take a step... It just makes me want to get a couple chickens of my own, although I do have a feeling I would treat them as pets and would only eat their eggs... My mother-in-law keeps around 100 free-range chickens, and it is so neat how they like to hang out on tree branches.

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      Wow... I have always wanted to raise my own chickens.. and this is GREAT!!! Thanks! Blessed!

    • skefflingecho profile image

      skefflingecho 5 years ago from Tobermory Ontario

      This is an excellent lens, very good solid tips for winter chicken care. As you can see from my avatar I do that same as you on Ontario. Blessed.

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 5 years ago

      I used a ceramic heat emitter bulb for my chickens when I was living where it snowed. It worked very well.

    • profile image

      ScrollSawChuck 5 years ago

      I appreciate the lens, reminds me of the days way back yonder when we ordered our chicks from Montgomery Ward. Nice job.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      They'd be warm in a cooking pot! ha! Just kidding. Nicely done lens! Squid Angel blessed!

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      We had a chicken as a backyard pet. She ate the bad bugs out of our garden, shared feeding time with a squirrel and gave us the best brown eggs. She was with us for over 5 years. Enjoyed your lens.

    • profile image

      Mainelyhappy 5 years ago

      I have a flock of a dozen chickens here in Maine, and they survive winter far better than I ever could have imagined. They do appreciate some hand outs from the kitchen this time of year! Left over oatmeal, salad greens, pasta or just about anything else I bring to them. And they turn all those leftovers into delicious eggs. Winter, spring, summer or fall, my family knows they can often find me sitting on a log in the hen yard, just watching the biddies do their thing! Nice job on your lens!

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      Chickens are so much fun! Glad to see there is another chicken-lover here besides me! A lot of good information here, as well as reference books.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image
      Author

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      @sockii: Good points, and thank you for visiting! We do not have any roosters, but even the combs on hens can suffer in from severe cold. We have about 15 different varieties of chickens and so far, all have done well through several New England winters.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Excellent lens on an important subject! I will note that if you have roosters that in really cold weather it's important to check on their combs for frostbite, and some varieties of chickens are better suited for the cold climates than others.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations on front page honors for keeping your chickens warm and caring for them in cold weather!

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I have a flock of backyard chickens. They seem to enjoy the cold weather and want to free range regardless of rain or snow. Sometimes they will go into a shelter, but they do not seem to mind precipitation of any kind. Their first encounter with snow was pretty humorous as they tried to figure out what it was. I love my chickens!

    • MJsConsignments profile image

      Michelle 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      We raised turkeys last year in our suburban garage for a 4H project. They're much more susceptible to heat and cold. This year, we're thinking chickens! Thanks for a very informative lens.

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 5 years ago

      Great advice! I wish I had chickens so that I could try out your suggestions :)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I really appreciate this very practical information about caring for chickens. It gets pretty cold here, so I need to ensure that I have all of the bases covered before hatching my first chicks. Thanks for the resources. I plan to build my own chicken coop.

    • ViJuvenate profile image

      ViJuvenate 5 years ago

      I try to have chickens as much as possible. Right now we are moving so I have no flock. I sure miss the eggs. Much more nutrition and flavor!

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      My grandmother used to raise chickens in a fenced in coop outdoors. Would you recommend putting a space heater when taking them indoors to keep them warm?

    • beckyf profile image

      beckyf 6 years ago

      I grew up on a farm, and we always had chickens there. They are very entertaining ladies, and those fresh eggs can't be beat. Enjoyed reading your lens!

    • betta addict profile image

      betta addict 6 years ago

      Great lens! And by the way, chicken is my favorite dish...and there was never a time that i ate breakfast without fried eggs! LOL!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Sure, chicks need good care and warmth in winter too.

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 6 years ago from Ohio

      Good article. another tip is to choose breeds that are more hardy- like the Rhode Island Red

    • LadyCharlie profile image

      LadyCharlie 6 years ago

      I love chickens and fresh eggs and do plan to put some on my property. This lens is and will be a big help...thanks for the great information!

    • ajtyne profile image

      AJ 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Very helpful! I've been wanting to get backyard chickens, and this was one of my biggest concerns, although I live in NC -- not too cold. I've read that chickens are pretty hardy in hot or cold temps, but no one ever spelled it out like this so I could feel more sure,

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Always such practical advice from you. I love your idea for checking for eggs each time you check and clear the water of ice. You must have the happiest chickens ever!

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image
      Author

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      @OhMe: Hi OhMe,Thank you for visiting! Chickens can overheat in hot weather. Our coop has an overhang to create a protected area underneath, and is located under several large trees. The coop is also shaded by a shed built in front of the coop (the shed also blocks the prevailing winter winds). Always make sure the chickens have clean, fresh water and shady areas to get out of the hot sun.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image
      Author

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      @evelynsaenz1: Hi Evelyn,Thank you for visiting! Chickens need room to move around, and crowding the birds can cause the dominate hens to pick on their smaller and weaker room mates. Our combination of coop plus outdoor is over 200 square feet -- plenty of room for our small flock of 15 hens.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Great information about Caring for Chickens in Cold Weather. Do chickens get too hot in hot weather?

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

      I live in Vermont where temperatures can get down to 20 below or so each winter. I have a chicken house built around 1900. It is quite large, about the size of a car or small garage. It has windows facing south. It is made of wood and has a tight roof. Do you have any estimate as to how many chickens I would need to have to keep them warm enough through the winter?Great lens! Blessed by a Squid Angel!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great job! Can't wait till I can start a flock of my own.