Winter with Chickens: To Heat or Not Heat the Coop

| 10/11/2012 8:56:27 AM

Tags: heating the coop, winter chicken keeping, snow, cold hardy flocks, winterizing, Melissa Caughey,

Happy chickens in the snow 

Chicken owners that live in cold climates often have to make some decisions when it comes to colder fall and winter weather.  One such dilemma is whether or not to heat your coop.  We live on Cape Cod, where we have windy winters and temperatures that occasionally dip below zero. The Cape is a man-made island surrounded entirely by the ocean. The ocean greatly affects our weather and causes us to experience small temperature fluctuations between day and night.  Snow fall varies from year to year.  Some years we have very light snowfall and others deliver a wallop of 2 feet or more.

One decision that people need to make just as important as personalities and egg color is weather hardiness.  I will never forget hearing that Martha Stewart one year wanted to add "exotic" chickens to her Connecticut flock.  She soon realized that they were not cold hardy.  They perished early their first winter.  All of our eight chickens are cold hardy, including the Silkies.  Choosing the right type of chicken for your environment is a very important factor not to be overlooked.

Chickens are birds and not mammals.  Their bodies, circulatory system, respiratory system, reproductive systems are different.  Therefore, we cannot assume that they interpret, adapt or react the same way as our mammal bodies do in the cold.

We do not heat our chicken coop.  Knowing that we do experience occasional power outages, we did not want our flock to become accustomed to an artificially warmed coop.  Tales of flocks perishing from lack of a heated coop after an extended power outage was just something that we did not want to encounter.

Here are some tips for you to consider to help keep your coop warm without an additional heat source:

11/16/2015 9:45:13 AM

I do not heat my coops but do have a heater for water. Here it can get -25°easily in January and this year my one coop has a covered run as the snow fall averages runs around 220" which is around twenty five feet so no they do not want to come out. Also this is a very rural area with power outages. Have a generator but will not run it for chickens as I would need it more for running the heat for my house.

9/8/2015 5:14:41 AM

How the hell are you supposed to get vaseline on combs ?.. every night.. some struggle.. mine are not that tame. :D I noticed that frostbite on combs heals quickly once weather gets warmer.Chickens dont act like they actually suffer. Few races very prone to it having large combs. Like most Italian and Spanish races. Get your rooster off a breed with small comb. Silkies are not really weak with low temperatures but their "hairy" feathers are really bad with snow clogging up in them. Best of all races are home bred mixtures which over the years adapt to climate. I´m in a windy zone 4. Im letting my chicklens run about outside during winters days they have even learned to peck holes into thin ice. I once in the morning and once in the afternoon break ice on pond with icepick. They open the hole for themselves whenever needed..(while geese are to stupid..they come to momma and complain badly about the water going hard ;)

11/24/2014 5:40:21 PM

When I built my coop, I built it with winter in mind. The walls are 6 inches thick & heavily insulated; the floor is 12 inches & heavily insulated; the roof has its 6 inch rafters & heavily insulated... I have a wind generator that I made from the alternator of a semi truck, which powers a bank of batteries that gives the coop its electricity. The heater that I have for my "babies", runs off this bank of batteries, so I never have to worry about the storms knocking out the power. Are my chickens spoiled? I would venture to sayy yes they are... With the winter feed, the heated coop & the non stop water supply, my birds are as happy as a kitten chasing a leaky cow. In the last 8 years, we have had some really terribly cold winters, had power knocked out for a week at one point, and I never lost 1 bird in all that time & weather. My cop maybe overkill for what I need, but to see the birds thriving like they do, makes it all worth it to me. BTW, at last count, I had 125 chickens.

Robin Lambert
11/5/2013 9:14:06 AM

I have 3 smaller coops for just this purpose, We get the extreme heat in the summertime as well. We use last yrs hay ( grass) and pile it on like the old timers did, It generates heat from the poo mixed in with the hay and is the best compost for the garden next spring.

11/4/2013 10:49:15 PM

The chicken/goose house is really 3, 8x10', partitions. The doors face the south. There is a little door between the two main chicken rooms, while the goose room is not. In the winter, I stuff grocery bags between the roofs and the walls to keep the wind from breezing through from the north. I keep heat lamps in there all the time. In the summer, they are just lightbulbs, but in the winter, they are clear heatlamps. I have found that the birds beat up on each other when I use the red ones. In fact, it is a dangerous thing for anyone to go into the chicken yard with red pants on, because the rooster will spur you, thinking you are another rooster. Last year, I put shavings on the floor. Straw is really good too. Usually, I let them out early in the morning in the spring/summer since our temps get up into the 100's in the summer. In the winter, I leave them in until about 10-11 am since it is cold outside. If it is snowing, I won't let them out at all, but will feed/water them inside. I keep water in old milk jugs/soda bottles at room temperature so that I can give them water in the winter when everything is frozen. They are accustomed to having a light inside 24/7. It is safer for all concerned. Younger chickens can get away from older birds and they can all see any danger before it gets them. I also don't relish reaching in and feeling a snake in a nest. creepy.

11/4/2013 7:56:03 PM

does anyone know if my guineas need heat// Would a heat lamp like i use for baby chicks be enough???

11/4/2013 7:43:05 AM

Here in Colo. Springs our winters are cold. My flock is hardy breeds (Barred Rocks, Silver Laced and White Wyandottes and one Red Comet). I don't heat the coop, but do have a heated waterer (for my convenience!). My coop is roomy, but only about 4' tall and has about a foot of shavings in it now at the end of fall. The hens will nest in the bedding rather than sitting on the perch when its really cold. I'm going to try Judi's idea of plastic on the side of the run to cut down on drifting snow and maybe I won't have to clean off a place for them to go out this year!

12/7/2012 6:47:15 PM

Thanks for this good information, Melissa. I only have 3 hens (1 Partridge Plymouth Rock and 2 Buff Orpingtons), in a 4 x4 coop but I put a 40 watt light bulb in it to warm it up during the daytime and turn it off at night. I also have a heated waterer & I put lots of pine bedding in the coop, (5-6 inches deep) and wheat straw in the covered run. We wrapped heavy fiber around one side of the covered run and clear plastic around the west side to keep the wind down. They also have an fenced open run they can access from the covered run during the day. Winters here in east TN are generally mild, so we hope to collect eggs all winter. I collect grass for them a couple times a day as well as give them treats of canned corn & cooked long grain brown rice as well as scratch. They're spoiled girls but we think they're great.

LouElla Menefee
12/7/2012 2:37:56 PM

Here in Alabama duiring the winter our flock removes their sun glasses and set back dreaming of the spring that is comming in the next 90days. Roll Tide LOL

10/13/2012 1:32:44 PM

Melissa, you are very wise to acclimate your chickens to the expected weather patterns of your area. We, when growing up, never had chickens for egg production so our coops were empty in the winter. Our winters in Nebraska are similar to yours. The snow fall can be allot or not so much. The temperatures can be mild or -20. It's one of reasons that I don't have chickens. The temperature fluctuates from the below zero in the winter to a sweltering 100+ in the summers. Then there's the issue of the higher food chain. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, and many other wild life animals and birds high up the food chain just love fresh chicken. Well, and the city ordinance only allows three chickens which is hardly worth the effort. You have some very good points to keep chickens alive and well during those blackouts. Have a great day in the coop.

10/13/2012 12:14:35 AM

Good info. Thanks so much.

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