How to Prepare Chickens for Cold Weather

black and white chicken with a bright red comb with snow on the trees in the background

Did you know that chickens can handle cold weather better than extreme heat?

Regardless, they do appreciate some help from their owners in the wintertime. Here are a few things to consider that help your flock deal with colder weather.

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How Chickens Keep Warm

To stay comfortable, chickens have a few built-in behaviors to stay warmer in colder temperatures. Here are three of them.

  • They create air pockets to trap warm air near their bodies by puffing up their feathers.
  • They also stand on one foot and keep the other nestled in their plumage.
  • To protect their combs from frostbite, they tuck their heads beneath their wing.
Chicken puffing up his feathers to stay warm.
Photo Credit: My Pet Chicken

Since chickens have these built-in mechanisms for staving off cold, heating the coop is usually not necessary. And in some cases, heat sources can be more dangerous than the cold because they can create fires.

5 Ways To Help Your Chickens Stay Warmer in Winter

Here are some easy ways to help your chickens stay warm in the colder months without adding a heater.

1. Offer Extra Food

Chickens need extra food in the winter to keep their natural defenses in top shape. This especially applies to birds that free-range in normal weather conditions, but have to stay in a coop when it’s cold.

  • Make the food available all day long, but put it away at night to keep unwanted critters away.
  • Offer extra fat as part of a high-protein diet.
  • It’s a good idea to supplement the feed with dried insects because they offer these nutrients.

If you follow the deep-litter method, add some scratch grains into the bedding about half an hour before bedtime. These carbohydrates will help the chickens stay warm. Since the chickens scratch around to find these grains, they will also turn over their bedding.

2. Provide Edible Amusement

Everyone gets bored when cooped up, and chickens are no exception. To keep them entertained, hang up edible garlands that include chicken-friendly vegetables and fruit.

Fresh veggies including strawberries, carrots, potatoes and more.
Chickens love fresh fruits and vegetables as a treat.

These include berries, radishes, carrots, squash, beets, and cabbage. Not only do these encourage exercise they also make a fresh addition to their winter diet.

Check out this fun video on entertaining your chicken with a cabbage on a string!

3. Keep Water from Freezing

While chickens consume more water in the summer than they do in the winter, they require it all year long. That’s why you need to ensure that fresh water is available at all times and that it doesn’t freeze.

chicken pecking the snow to get to the grass

Chickens need water to generate heat, maintain their functions and grow feathers. If you don’t have electricity in the coops, check the water sources throughout the day and replace them as needed.

4. Use Proper Ventilation

Since chickens don’t sweat, they exhale lots of vapors when breathing. The resulting ammonia and humidity collect as condensation in enclosed spaces.

In cold temperatures, this can cause respiratory problems and frostbite. That’s why ventilation is important.

Ideally, vents should be situated high above the roosting platform. Cover the open parts with hardware cloth so that pests and predators can’t get in.

5. Provide Suitable Roosts

Since chickens huddle together for warmth, they need a large enough roosting area that can hold them. It needs to be big enough to allow all the chickens to sit together. Snuggling together lets them use the body heat from each other.

Five chickens hanging out together in their pen during winter.
Chickens will huddle together to stay warm in the winter months.

Once you understand how chickens deal with cold weather, you can easily help them stay comfortable. All it takes is proper coop management. Fresh water, good food, suitable ventilation, and adequate roosting space will keep them happy through cold spells.


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