Howdy backyard chicken enthusiasts! While we know winter seems a long way off, unfortunately, it's not for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere ❄️. All home decorating shops have their fall and Halloween décor on display. We even spotted a bunch of Christmas decorations too, but no ugly sweaters just yet. If you’re new to having urban hens, do they need scarves and hats to keep warm in winter? Should you heat your chicken coop? We’re going to help you decide.
Back in the old days, few farmers worried about such things. Multiple species lived in a barn and snuggled with each other. They also nestled in the barn hay. Chickens are actually built to be cold-resistant and instinct tells them to fluff their feathers to trap warm air next to their bodies. Heat is actually much harder on hens than cold. Their preferred temperatures are 45-65oF/7-18o C.
Small Pet Select customers have a completely different outlook as we spoil our animals. However, before you decide if you should heat your chicken coop, think about these things first:
Humans have all kinds of opinions on what "cold" is. Concerning poultry, we need to adjust our mindset and know at what temperature your coop should be. If your temperatures regularly drop below freezing (32o F/0o C), it is considered cold for chickens. Also, if any of your chickens are very young, ill, or special needs, keeping them at the correct temperature is super important.
Coop and Flock Size
Chickens stay the warmest with larger flocks and smaller coops, relatively speaking. At a minimum, each hen needs an average of four to five square feet. However, if you're going to let them forage outside, two to three square feet is sufficient for the indoor portion. Conversely, if your flock stays inside most of the time, five to ten square feet per chicken is best. If you're unsure if your coop setup is right, check out our blog on Coop Necessities.
Similar to other species, some chicken breeds are just better acclimated to colder climates. These chickens have lots of feathers and small combs and wattles. As an example, Brahmas, Cochins, Dominiques, Orpingtons, and Wyandottes do well in cold weather.
You've Decided You Should Heat Your Chicken Coop. What Shouldn't You Use?
Why shouldn't you use them? They're cheap and easy to set up. However, many items in your coop catch fire quickly... think hay and bedding. Here's a story about a chicken coop right around the corner from us that ended up burning their neighbors' house, too.
Another dangerous reason to not use heat lamps is they burn out without notice. Such drastic changes in coop temperature is a massive shock to your hens' systems and may even cause death.
The best and safest type of heaters do not heat the entire coop. These energy-efficient heaters are radiant panel or convection heaters. You can also use poultry-specific heating pads. Chickens will snuggle up next to these heat sources and each other.
Please keep in mind you want a stable power source in and near your coop to minimize flock and property danger. Also, rodents are prone to chewing on electrical cords, which can cause a spark and short in the system. Take the time to make all the cables are chew-proof and protected from power surges.
Other Ways to Keep Your Flock Warm
Radiant panel and convective heaters aren’t the only way to keep your flock warm. Here are some other great tips for maintaining hen-friendly temperatures in the coop.
Ventilation seems an odd suggestion when you’re trying to keep your hens warm. However, if you think about getting stuck in a blizzard, the first safe way to stay warm in your vehicle is to make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow. This prevents carbon monoxide buildup in the car. The same mindset works for chickens. If the coop is ventilated, it keeps mold and mildew from building up.
Additionally, urine causes an ammonia smell that is dangerous to breathe. Next, all vents need to be as close to the top of the coop as possible. The warm and moist air is released outside. This keeps the fresher, cooler, and drier air where the chickens are. Obviously, you'll want to fill any gaps in the seams, but airflow is vital for the flock's health. Lack of ventilation can cause ammonia to build up and mildew. Vents should be installed towards the coop's roof to release warm, moisture-ridden air and introduce cooler, drier air. This will prevent mold from excess humidity and allow fresh air to circulate. Finally, any gaps in the coop that aren’t supposed to be there should be sealed.
Insulation is multi-purpose. It keeps buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Make sure you choose chicken-friendly insulation that won't damage your flock's sensitive respiratory system. For many of us, Mother Nature provides a ton of natural insulation in the winter… snow! You can push excess snow up against the coop to turn it into an igloo of sorts. Just be sure not to pile it too high to keep the vents clear.
Roosts appeal to the chickens for a variety of reasons. Not only does it get them off the floor, but it allows them to socialize and snuggle. Chickens are very social animals, so make their roosts attractive to them.
If you give your hens scratch grains right before bed, it has multiple ways of keeping your flock warm. First of all, it gets them moving around as they have to “scratch" for it. Secondly, scratch grains provide energy, which generates internal heat. If you want to know more about scratch grains, go here!
Heated Waterer Systems
Like most animals, poultry needs fresh water at all times. As the heating systems don't heat the whole coop, be sure to have a plan to keep their water from freezing. (You'll want to check several times a day to make sure it's still liquid."
We're sure we've given you lots to think about to prep your flock for winter. So should you heat your chicken coop? It really depends, as you've read above. Do you have any other tips or tricks to keep your hens warm? Please comment on our socials or email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.