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Do Chickens Need Heat in the Wintertime?

Last Updated: 22.04.24


When making the shopping list for the colder seasons, you might want to add a heat lamp for chicks. While chickens can keep themselves warm and survive a cold winter without any problems, it is better to keep the coop warm. During winter your chickens may lay fewer eggs as they consume the energy for life-critical purposes. Also, eggs could crack due to lower temperatures, exposing them to dangerous bacteria.


How chickens can survive the winter

Despite their appearance, chickens are pretty resistant animals and can get through some harsh conditions. Even if they don’t have a heat source, they can keep themselves warm in cold habitats. When chickens get ready for a cold night, they puff the feathers which creates a layer of air between the feathers and skin. Even if it looks amusing, this allows them to maintain the normal body temperature because the air gap acts as an insulating layer.

To keep their legs and feet warm, chickens generally expand their feathers enough to cover the lower parts of the body. Also, they put their head under one wing to protect it from cold. If the coop is well built and not a lot of heat escapes from it, the birds can keep each other warm by sleeping close to one another.


Why the coop should be heated

Just like humans, chickens are ruled by their survival instinct when facing tough conditions. So they prioritize the activities to increase the chances of surviving. On top of the list are critical functions such as circulating blood, breathing, getting food and other activities like laying eggs are on the bottom of the list. 

This is why farmers try to fulfill the chickens’ needs by keeping a comfortable temperature inside the coop using heat lamps and even heated chicken waterers so the water doesn’t freeze. If the birds don’t have access to a water source, they will stop eating since they need moisture to eat. 

Not only the chickens will stop laying eggs, but their feathers will start to molt if they don’t have enough heat, light, and nutrients. Getting the birds back on their feet will require a lot of money and effort and it will take at least a month. The recovery period might take even longer because of the cold weather. 



How to keep the eggs from freezing

After an egg is laid, it is protected by its shell and bloom against bacteria and other organisms. This way, the eggs are safe to consume, but if the coop is very cold, the inside of the egg will freeze and the shell might crack. A damaged egg gets contaminated so it becomes inedible. 

There is no point in wasting perfectly good eggs so keep the coop’s temperature above freezing. You could place an infrared lamp above the egg nest to have a warmer place for your chickens to lay eggs.


How to protect the birds against frostbite

Frostbite is a consequence of exposure to low temperatures for an excessive period of time. It usually affects wattles, combs, and toes. Keep in mind that the pain caused by frostbite is intense and it lingers. So no chicken with frostbite will continue to lay eggs. 

During the cold seasons, some chicken breeds could be affected by frostbite. Birds with large combs and wattles need more attention from poultry raisers. To protect them, some farmers use petroleum jelly to create a protective layer on their combs and wattle. 

If the wattle or comb has any black zones, the bird may be already suffering from frostbite. Reapply the protective layer as needed. If the bird’s skin feels dry, it is time to put on a new layer. If it feels a little greasy there is no need for reapplying petroleum jelly. Pay attention not to get it into the chicken’s eyes.

Also, cold temperatures are really taking a toll on an old or sick bird. If the chicken consumes a lot of energy to keep itself warm, all the other problems tend to get bigger and the recovering period is longer when it has to fight the cold.


Try to reduce draft

Try to minimize the draft as it can take away some of the heat the chickens have generated to keep themselves warm. As the temperatures start to drop, you should check if the coop has any big air leaks. If the coop has just been built, there should be no problems but if it is a bit old, a regular check is mandatory since some parts of it could rot or get damaged through time. 

The fastest and easiest way to repair any big hole in your coops’ walls is to screw in a piece of plywood. After making sure the temperature will not drop too rapidly by covering all the gaps, take the time to check the ventilating system.


Make sure the coop is well ventilated

It is of great importance to allow some airflow as it will prevent serious issues like ammonia build-up. To protect your birds against health problems, you should install a suitable ventilation system. The fresh cold air should not be directed straight to the birds so the vents could be oriented toward the superior part of the coop. 

By replacing the warm air that’s also full of moisture with fresh, dry air you will control the humidity and block the mold from growing inside the coop. Experienced farmers recommend building in a hatch so you can efficiently ventilate the coop during warmer hours and close it up when it gets colder, or during rainy seasons.



The deep litter method

If the method is properly made, the litter will start to form a layer of compost that allows good microbes to develop. These microbes will consume the dangerous bacteria present in chickens’ waste. To create this useful insulation layer, put on the floor a coating of pine shaving or other similar organic matter. 

While using the deep litter method, there is no need to remove or replace the waste from your chicken coop. Instead, stir up the layer with a rake and let the movement of the birds to complete the job. Don’t forget to regular top it with a new fresh layer of pine shavings. 

Take note that cedar shaving is not a good fit since it can be toxic to birds. In addition to keeping the flock warm, the layer will reduce the chances for your chicks to get infested with lice or mites. Furthermore, it makes waste managing easier.


Take advantage of the sunlight

Even if the days get shorter during the winter, you can still use the sunlight to keep the coop warmer for a longer time during dark hours. You can use as sun traps, properly insulated windows especially if the floor is made of dark-colored slab or dirt, or if you use the deep litter method.


Don’t forget about the thermal mass

Thermal mass is a measure of how much heat an object absorbs and how much it releases when the surrounding temperature lowers. Having more thermal mass inside your coop will cause it to retain heat for a longer period. To increase the amount of thermal mass you can use stone, concrete or have a floor made of compost. These materials will release at night the accumulated heat during the day.


Build a sunroom

You can build a wood frame and cover it in clear plastic to create a sunroom for your chickens to use during the day. This way, the birds will be protected from rain, snow, and wind while having plenty of fresh air and some space to move around. 


Make a space for them to roost

The roost should be approximately two feet high so they easily get on it and keep them out of contact with the cold floor. Naturally, chickens will roost together to keep each other warm and feel more secure. During cold days, it is important that all of your chickens have space to roost. 

You can check on them in the evening by using a flashlight. If some of them are sleeping on the floor, you should expand the roost to fit them all.


Don’t overheat the coop

If you are heating the coop excessively, this will affect the birds’ ability to face cold temperatures during the winter so this should be avoided at all times. Also, do not use electrical heating without having a generator. Sudden temperature drops will seriously alter the flock’s health.


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