Chickens and Cold Temperatures


We’re due for some VERY cold temps here in Chicago (in the negative degrees F, and windchills even lower), and a number of questions have come up about chickens and cold temps.

Here’s a list of ideas I’ve compiled. If you have suggestions, feel free to post.

Bedding

  • Keep bedding loose and dry. Deep bedding helps trap heat.
  • Clear snow from bedding.

 Coop

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  • Cover the coop and wire-covered areas (such as the run) with a plastic tarp, greenhouse plastic, dropcloth, or plywood.
  • Fill in cracks and crevices in the coop with newspaper or cardboard.
  • The coop should not be completely airtight; allow some air circulation to prevent frostbite.
  • Stack strawbales around the sides, esp on the sides with northern/western exposure to act as insulation.

Roosts

  • Make sure roosts are in the least drafty place in the coop.
  • Use wide roosts for toe coverage (2-4 inches in width)

 Supplemental heat

  • If ceiling is higher than 2 feet above the chickens, you may want to install a heat lamp above the roost that will turn on when the temp is below 35 degrees.
  • Be sure that the lamp cannot be damaged by a flying bird and that it is not a fire hazard.
  • If you bring the birds indoors, make a gradual transition to warmer temps – e.g., from 0 degrees to 20 degrees to 45 degrees, NOT from 0 degrees directly to 45 degrees.
  • Note that overheating can lead to obese birds. If you supplement heat, set the thermostat to just above freezing.

Frostbite

  • Watch toes and combs/wattles for signs of frostbite. A little petroleum jelly on combs and wattles can prevent frostbite *however* be careful not to overapply – petroleum products can coat the feathers, reducing their insulating properties.
  • Do not allow them to be out in the snow for extended periods of time to avoid freezing their toes.
  • Clear snow out of sections of the run so they don’t have to walk in it.
  • If chickens do get frostbite, treat with aloe vera, can use aspirin solution for pain (three 325 mg tabs per 1 gal water), don’t massage, don’t heat up rapidly. Allow tissue to die/fall off naturally.

Food and Water

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  • Check water several times a day to be sure it’s not frozen.
  • Feed mash mixed with warm milk or water. Some folks feed warm oatmeal. Make sure it is not hot, so the birds don’t burn themselves.
  • Provide a few handfuls of scratch grains in the evening before the hens go to roost. Can also feed a handful or two of scratch in the AM.

Laying

  • Extreme temperatures can stress the birds and cause hens to go out of lay.
  • Collect eggs so they do not freeze and lead to egg eating.
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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bella54330 on January 4, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks for the timely info! It’s a great help. I just wanted to ask if you’ve any advice regarding a Heaton pad in a small coop? Our actual “hen house” is 2’x2′. Far too small for any heating device, but I’ve seen suggestion of placing a heating pad on low underneath some of the straw on the coop floor. Have you ever heard of this? If so, what is your opinion? 3 of my 4 hens sleep on the floor of the coop as it is, so it’d be sure to keep them a bit warmer. Any advice is appreciated!

    Reply

    • I’ve heard the suggestion of placing seedling warming mats under water dishes. It seems there is a lot of risk of fire with a heating pad – I’d steer clear of it (just my personal opinion). It would be ideal if it 1) had a thermostat and a safety shut-off if it got too hot 2) was waterproof. All the dry bedding and a wood coop seem like invitation for a fire. )-: Do you have a garage or basement you can move them into temporarily?

      Reply

  2. Posted by Peter on January 5, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    We use a rabbit heater. it doesn’t get too hot and it’s durable plastic, and reasonably water tight. It also works well to keep water from freezing.

    http://www.amazon.com/Heated-Resting-Small-Animals-Inches/dp/B000NVC7DO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1388976241&sr=8-1&keywords=rabbit+heater

    Reply

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