What Should I Do?

Phil Williams

How to Care for Chickens in the Winter

Protecting your flock from harsh winter conditions
Friday, October 31, 2014, 5:01 PM

When I talk to people about my chickens during the winter, many people ask me if I have to bring them inside over the winter. Of course the thought of my red birds running around making a mess, roosting on my couch, scratching the floor, and the manure would be horrible! Believe it or not there are people that keep chickens inside like a dog. They use chicken diapers. I know it’s crazy. Anyway, chickens are much more cold-hardy than most people think. I think it is actually cruel to provide heat for your chickens. It doesn’t let the chickens become acclimated to the cold properly. They are definitely not meant to be inside.

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Chickens in the Snow

At what temperature do chickens start to suffer?

Mother Earth News had a nice article about precisely this subject. In the article, it stated that experts say that chickens are fine until inside their coop drops below -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is provided the chickens have been acclimated to the cold properly, and the coop is dry. Now I can’t vouch for that temperature personally, but I have seen my chickens outside in as low as 7 degrees Fahrenheit. They seemed fine, and spent the whole day outside, even though they can go into their coop anytime they want.

How to make the winter a little more bearable for chickens?

1. Make sure they have access to water that is not frozen. Heated overhead watering buckets are the best way to do this. The other option is to bring out fresh water as needed. This can be a pain if it is really cold. I forgot to tape up my extension cord the other day, and the cord got ice inside, so it popped the GFI on the outlet, rendering my bucket frozen. While I was drying out the cord, I had to use an unheated waterer. It was cold, so I had to give them warm water twice that day as it only took a few hours for the nipple to freeze.

Overhead waterer that is a heated bucket, the hens love the warm water in the winter.

2. Make sure they have a windbreak/ outside shelter that they can easily access to get out of the wind for a while. My chickens do not like to go into the coop until it’s time to go to sleep. Rain or shine, they will be outside all day. Having said that, I noticed the other day when we had 20 MPH wind gusts that they seemed to be suffering. They stood huddled together shaking. The problem was that the wind was blowing their feathers around giving them a chill. It also didn’t help that they are all molting. They are in my garden now, so there really isn’t anyplace besides the coop they can go to get out of the wind. I am planning to build some hugel beds in this part of my garden, so I made them a temporary shelter out of the wood that I am planning to use for the beds. When the weather is bad they love to use the outdoor shelter.

Temporary Chicken Shelter

3. Make sure your coop is dry and free from wind. It does not need to be heated, especially if it is relatively small. If it is small, the chicken body heat and fresh manure will keep them plenty warm.

4. The winter is very lean for the chickens as far as bugs and greenery, so to help them stay healthy, make sure to give them your kitchen scraps. They love leftovers of all kind, provided the food is soft enough for them to eat. As my 8 year old friend Trinitee from next door said, “You know they don’t have teeth, just beaks.”

Chickens enjoying their new shelter

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

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1 Comment

Phil Williams's picture
Phil Williams
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 345
Brown Egg Layers

One thing I forgot to mention is that if you live in a cold climate, large brown egg layers are the best at handling the cold. The skinnier white egg layers are better for the heat. Some good birds for the cold would be: Rhode Island Reds, Red Star, Black Star, Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Barred Rocks, Delaware White, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Partridge Rocks, among others.  

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