Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cold Weather Chickens

The chickens seem to be tolerating the colder weather. They are as eager as ever to leave the coop in the mornings—especially if it has rained the night before. At night they huddle together on the perch sharing body heat, and puff out their feathers to create pockets of warm air and increase insulation. Last week when the temperature dropped into the 20’s their water fount froze but there was no notable difference in the hens’ behavior. Most mornings find them on the perch in the coop calling to be let out and that particular morning was no different. They didn’t seem to feel the cold at all.

The first question from visitors to the coop is often “what will you do with the chickens in the winter?” I’ve consulted a few books on the subject, the best being Fresh-Air Poultry Houses by Dr. Prince T. Woods, and, even though some authors suggest a heat lamp for the henhouse when temperatures are below freezing, the consensus seems to be that the hens can tolerate the cold pretty well, especially in a climate such as ours. Their down feathers provide great insulation, and the benefits from the fresh air outweigh the risk of exposure to the cold.

We’re actually more worried in the summer when temperature can soar into the high 90’s; chickens are much less tolerant of the heat than they are the cold. Our henhouse is very well ventilated with an open ceiling (except for the hardware cloth) and several ventilation holes on the sides. Of course, the coop is totally ventilated with only hardware cloth for walls and the hens have free access to the run everyday.

We are still getting 3-4 eggs daily from our 4 hens, so we don’t feel the need to extend their day by adding a light to the henhouse. We probably won’t install a heat lamp either as our days are rarely, if ever, below freezing, and we can always buy a heated poultry fount to keep them in fresh water.


  1. Hi Kelly,
    I bought a chicken water heater and it is the best thing ever! It doesn't kick on unless it is below 36* and there is not more worrying that they have no water to drink. My chickens were very cold this AM, they didn't like the snow, but I agree, no heater is needed...they can handle it! Mine just went back in the coop. What kind of chickens do you have?

  2. Only one of mine went out, for a few minutes, then turned around and went right back into the coop. I'll definitely check out the water heater as the heat lamp we bought isn't strong enough to keep the water from freezing.

    I have one each White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Americauna, and Buff Orpington.