Chickens are kept in almost every country in the World and can survive in some very cold environments with just a little care from us.
A common question I hear from chicken keepers in the UK is “Can Chickens Handle the Cold Weather?” Or “Will my Chickens Survive in the Cold Weather?”
The first thing I usually say to people is that Chickens are being kept successfully in Canada at temperatures below -20 degrees and that they can actually handle the cold weather very well, it is usually the heat that causes them problems.
Welsummer Chickens in Freezing Conditions.
Chickens, like wild birds, trap air in between their feathers which insulates them and keeps them warm during cold weather. Pullets and hens will tuck their head underneath their wing whilst sleeping which also helps them to retain heat that is lost through the comb.
Cocks with large combs can suffer from Frostbite to the Comb. This only occurs under certain weather conditions though but if you keep a male bird who has a large comb, you may need to consider taking precautions with him during freezing weather.
Should I insulate the chicken coop?
This is a very common question and my answer is always ‘No’ unless you live where the temperature drops regularly to -10 degrees and lower. Chickens need good ventilation in the coop to remove the ammonia that builds up from droppings so there is very little point in insulating the sides of the coop. Insulating the floor with a thick layer of wood shavings is about as far as I would go with ‘insulation’. During the summer months red mite can also be a real problem, so it is necessary to avoid providing places for red mite to hide.
How to protect chickens in cold weather.
The biggest priority is to ensure your chickens are not getting wet and are out of drafts whilst roosting in their house. Ventilation at low and high levels usually works well and the warm / moist air containing ammonia from droppings will rise from the floor and exit through the vent.
If there is an opening on the side of your coop at the same height as perches, use a shutter or cover to control the amount of ventilation there is into the coop. If the wind is blowing in through this then close it up.
I have some large ventilation openings built into my coops and I point these to the North so that most of the year they are open at night-time (our prevailing winds here in the UK are south-westerly) but I clip in boards to reduce the size of these openings if there is a North wind blowing which can sometimes happen and is always very cold as it is Arctic air and can bring snow as well.
Chickens will usually huddle together on a perch to keep warm.
Chickens and freezing weather or snow.
Chickens don’t take well to changes and snow can cause them to become stressed. Stressed chickens are more likely to become ill / pick up a passing disease. Imagine this from their point of view: as a chicken, you wake up one morning and step outside the coop to find the grass has gone and someone has changed the ground colour to white and you sink into this as you walk along with rather cold feet. As you can imagine, this must be pretty strange!
If there is snow fall, clear a small area from around the coop so your birds can stand out of the snow. Hens should be able to reach their food and water without having to walk through the snow. I find a wide plastic snow shovel allows you to clear the area of snow quickly.
Mixed corn should normally be fed to chickens sparingly (read our Feeding Chickens FAQ for further information) however during the cold, chickens require more energy from their feed to keep warm and mixed corn contains split maize which provides this.
I keep a small water container hanging inside the hen-house when it’s cold so that it doesn’t freeze as quickly but I also keep my chickens normal water container close to the hen-house pop hole in the area I have cleared of snow so that they don’t have to walk through the snow to get to it.
Food grade Glycerine, also known as Glycerol or Glycerin (simply different names for the same thing) as found in the home baking section of your supermarket or on-line can be added to water to stop the water from freezing. Experiment with the quantity – A few drops usually protects a 6 litre container below freezing but if the temperature falls further, you may need to add an extra drop or two.
If snow falls, you may find water containers get covered, even if the water isn’t frozen thanks to the Glycerine you’ve added.
Remember what normally takes you 10 minutes in the morning can take 20 if water is frozen or if there is snow on the ground so do allow yourself enough time to care for your birds first thing.