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Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter and During Cold Weather

When people start keeping chickens, whether or not they’re warm enough can be a worry especially in the winter months or if it snows.

This is something which we worried about when we got our first flock, especially because we live in rural Wales at high altitude. But it turns out we didn’t have to worry too much.

To keep chickens warm in winter, provide a well-insulated and draft-free coop, ensuring adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup. Adding extra bedding like straw helps retain heat. Offering high-energy feed and ensuring access to unfrozen water are crucial. Heaters can be used, but with caution to avoid fire hazards.

There are many things which you can do to make your chickens more comfortable in the winter months if you experience periods of extreme cold, read on to find out more!

Ways to keep chickens warmer in winter

1. Insulate the coop or invest in a plastic one

Providing some extra insulation around the coop can help to keep things a little warmer during the winter months and at night time while the chickens roost.

A good way to insulate the coop is by covering over the roof with something warm such as a heavy rug, carpet or with some insulating sheets which are used in building.

You can get as inventive as you like as long as the chickens still have ventilation so that bad air can get out and good air can get in.

Another good way to keep your chickens warmer in winter is by investing in a plastic coop such as the Omlet Eglu coop or the Eglu Cube (depending on how many chickens you have in your flock).

These coops are designed to keep chickens warm in winter and cool in summer due to the insulated walls and allow them to snuggle up and stay cosy while they sleep.

2. Cover the run floor with straw in snow

If your chickens spend time closed in the run during the day and the ground is covered in snow or completely frozen it’s a good idea to cover the ground with a covering so the chickens don’t get frostbite on their feet.

The best and easiest way to do this is with a straw which will allow chickens to scratch around without freezing their feet.

If you have a large run area splitting a bale of straw is a cheap and quick way to produce a covering.

You might also want to throw in a handful of corn so they can still do a bit of foraging to maintain natural chicken behaviour.

3. Allow chickens to roost together

It’s good to provide one roosting bar which is long enough for all your chickens to roost and snuggle together as they sleep.

Chickens use each others body heat to stay warm at night time when the temperature is lowest.

In some cases, chickens may choose to sleep in nest boxes instead of on the roosting bars.

Not all chicken keepers allow this to happen and will block off the nest boxes at night time to avoid a mess in the nests.

Living in a cold place, we allow our hens to sleep in the nest boxes because they’re comfortable there, some do roost on bars but they’ve all found their favourite sleeping position.

If the nests are messy in the morning we just skim off the top layer of straw and replace with a handful of fresh bedding. It only takes a minute and it allows our hens to stay warm and cosy as they sleep.

Image of roosting chickens

4. Let them free-range

If you usually let your chickens free-range during all or part of the day carry on doing this whatever the weather. This will give the chickens the option to go where they feel most comfortable and allow them to find shelter if they need to.

Allowing them the space to keep moving will also help to keep their bodies warmer than it would if they’re stood still.

5. Consider a shelter

If you live in a windy area or you get a lot of rain it’s good to give your chickens the option for a sheltered area outside of the coop.

Many coops come with a sheltered run and covers can also be bought to form a shelter while still allowing the chickens to be outside.

Chickens will also find a natural shelter, such as under a tree or bush where the rain doesn’t reach.

If you’re any good with woodwork or know someone who is, then you can easily put together a simple shelter for your chickens for little or no cost.

Getting the chickens to use the shelter is a different story – if they’re anything like mine they’ll just carry on scratching in the pouring rain until they look like drowned rats!

6. Move the coop to a sheltered area

When you’re considering where to position your coop, think about how the wind blows through that spot and how exposed it is to the elements.

Moving the coop to a more sheltered area can make a big difference in the winter months especially if the rain is coming in sideways.

Having a moveable coop and run also allows you to move the coop to fresh ground and to allow the previous space to recover. This is a good idea if you prefer to keep your coop on grass.

7. Make use of empty greenhouses and sheds

If you have a greenhouse or large polytunnel which you use in the summer months but not in winter, this can be a great shelter for cold chickens, especially when the sun is shining.

Its important to remember to keep the door open to maintain ventilation and to allow the chickens to come and go.

This article was first published on October 28, 2020 by Pentagon-Pets.

Another option is allowing them to use an unused shed or outhouse as a shelter in the winter months.

Image of chickens in a poly tunnel

8. Give them warming feed

Providing chickens with warming feed in the evening is a good way to help to keep them warmer for longer as they go in to roost. This can be done by either:

  • Giving them corn before they go into roost – the corn will slowly digest as the chicken sleeps which helps to raise the body temperature, or;
  • Soak pellets feed in hot water and feed the chickens the warm (not hot) mix as their final feed of the day.

9. Protect against frostbite

It’s possible for chickens to get frostbite in extreme cold or in prolonged contact with snow or extreme frost.

If chickens do get frostbite, the main areas this can occur is the comb, wattles (the dangly bits under the chin) and toes.

The best way to prevent frostbite in chickens is by generously spreading some petroleum jelly into these areas before they go out to graze.

Have a large tub ready for the winter months (especially if you have a large flock).

10. Increase bedding inside the coop and nest boxes

As well as insulating the coop roof and maybe walls, it’s also a good idea to provide more straw in the nest boxes and coving the coop floor with a layer of animal-friendly wood shavings along with a good layer of straw.

Some chicken keepers also adopt a ‘deep litter’ method, which means that you build up all of the muck along with any straw etc during the year which creates a compost like substance.

If you’ve ever disturbed the centre of a compost pile, you’ll know that it produces its own warmth and the deep litter process works in the same way over the winter months.

Important information on keeping chickens in winter

As well as taking steps to keep chickens warmer in extreme weather there are some important things to consider which could have an impact on their general health, these include:

Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article that was first published on October 28, 2020.

  • Regularly checking drinkers to make sure the water hasn’t frozen and defrost with hot water it has (making sure the chickens don’t get to the water while it’s hot).
  • Free-range chickens won’t find much natural food in snow or frozen ground so they might need additional feed.
  • Don’t be tempted to cover up ventilation holes when it’s cold – ventilation in the coop is just as important in the winter months as the summer, no matter how cold it is.

Keeping chickens warm in winter FAQ’s

Can chicken wear jumpers or sweaters

Chickens shouldn’t wear an item of clothing which can restrict their movements or get snagged on their feathers (which wool will). Chickens like to regularly stretch their wings and will not feel happy being restricted in any way. Working on ways to create a warming living environment is better than placing chickens in clothes.

Can you put a heater in a chicken coop?

Placing a heater into a chicken coop can create a risk of fire along with the potential of chickens getting burned or overheating. It is safer to use alternative methods such as insulating the coop or using the deep litter method.

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I hope this post has helped you to find some useful tips on keeping your chickens warm in winter, you might also find the following post helpful:

Do chickens need grass in their run?

Why do chickens squat when you pick them up or stroke them?

Should chickens be out in the rain?

How far will chickens roam or wander from the coop?

Do ex-battery hens lay eggs?

Our recommended coop

Chicken coop for different flock sizes and different weather.

Click here to find out more about our recommended coop.

This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on October 28, 2020.