Tips for Raising Chickens in Cold Weather

If you expect to keep chickens through the colder months of the year, you should plan their housing carefully so as to keep them reasonably warm. If possible, provide them with an insulated coop tight enough to exclude drafts and that does not have a high roof. (Since warm air always rises, you want to keep that air as near the floor as possible.) When you wire the structure for electricity, arrange to install one or two small fans near the peak of the roof. These will help direct warm air to lower levels. Make sure to leave very little room between the fans’ blades and the roof; chickens have an instinct to fly up and roost as high off the ground as circumstances permit.

Chickens, as other birds, wild or domestic, generally function quite well in cold weather*. However, a downward reflective heat lamp suspended from the roof’s peak about midway into the room will help warm the coop’s interior on really cold nights. Feed the rope holding the lamp through a pully so you can adjust its height off the floor. Normally, it will swing about five or six feet in the air. You may only need to activate the lamp occasionally; body heat from the chickens often will prove enough to keep them comfortable while they sleep on their roosts.

Give some attention to the number and positioning of the crosspieces of the roosting framework, which should extend from five to a dozen feet across the coop. The number of chickens you plan to keep will dictate the number of crosspieces: two or three for up to 10 chickens, five or six for up to 25. Remember that chickens like to roost as high as possible. You need to build the framework wide enough and with a sufficient number of crosspieces to prevent crowding. The chickens will roost together on the two or three topmost crosspieces. Their close proximity to each other will help keep them warm.

Cover the floor space with a four-inch layer of loose straw. The straw will increase the insulating factor of the floor area. If the coop will have a dirt floor, twice that amount of straw should cover the floor. Besides acting as a barrier against cold from below, the straw will make it easier to clean messier areas of the coop, an especially important task in wintertime.

Chickens cannot “drink” from a water fountain choked with ice. You need to use heated water dispensers or carry warm water into the coop for them. Another option, depending on individual circumstances: bring the water pan or container inside your home or heated barn during the night. In any case, chickens, especially in winter, need adequate water to remain hydrated and healthy. Rinse out the container frequently to reduce or illiminate impurities in the water.

A note on egg production: Chickens normally lay fewer eggs in winter months than during the rest of the year. *Besides keeping their coop warm so they don’t spend all their energy staving off the cold, their egg-laying depends a lot on the amount of daylight available to them. To encourage egg-laying in winter, provide artificial light in the form of a 75-watt bulb on a timer that activates the fixture from about two a.m. until noon the following day.