Winter with Chickens: To Heat or Not Heat the Coop

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Photo by Pixabay/gwscott

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.

Photo by Melissa Caughey

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

  • Consider the size of your coop.  Smaller coops heat up more quickly from the heat produced by the chickens than larger ones.  Coop size and flock size should match.
  • Insulate around your coop with bales of straw.
  • Keep your flock away from drafts, yet allow for adequate ventilation.
  • Provide a thicker layer of pine shavings in colder weather than you do in the summer.  Introducing, straw on the floor of the coop can also be a welcomed addition.
  • Provide your flock with warm treats and warm water throughout the day.
  • Feed your flock scratch 1 hour before they retire for the night.  Chickens’ metabolism is higher in the winter as they burn more fuel keeping warm.  A full tummy of scratch helps them to generate heat and an egg if they desire.
  • Ensure that your chickens’ roosts are wide enough and their feet are completely covered by their bodies when perched.
  • Allow for winter’s sunshine to warm the coop by clearing away unnecessary trees and shrubbery.
  • Repair areas of the coop that are vulnerable to water leaks.
  • During the coldest evenings, apply Vaseline to the flock’s combs and wattles to prevent frostbite.

The Northeast can experience huge storms called Nor’easters, with strong winds and lots of snow.  Storms like this can cause extended power outages for long periods of time.  In the winter of 2010, such a storm blew across Cape Cod. Not only were many affected by the loss of power, but many folks lost their entire flocks from their inability to acclimate to cold.  They were accustomed to a warm, cozy, heated coop.