Chickens Coop Care Health Issues

Heating the Chicken Coop

heating the chicken coop
Winter 2010

Chicken owners that live in cold climates often have to make some decisions when it comes to colder Fall and Winter weather.  One such dilemma is whether you should be heating the chicken coop.  We live on Cape Cod,  where we have windy winters and temperatures that occasionally dip below zero. The Cape is a man-made island surrounded entirely by the ocean. The ocean greatly affects our weather and causes us to experience small temperature fluctuations between day and night.  Snow fall varies from year to year.  Some years we have very light snowfall and others deliver a wallop of 2 feet or more.

One decision that people need to make just as important as personalities and egg color is weather hardiness.  I will never forget hearing that Martha Stewart one year wanted to add “exotic” chickens to her Connecticut flock.  She soon realized that they were not cold hardy.  They perished early their first Winter.  My Pet Chicken has a wonderful breed selector that includes cold hardiness here.  All of our eight chickens are cold hardy, including the Silkies.  Choosing the right type of chicken for your environment is a very important factor not to be overlooked.

Chickens are birds and not mammals. Their bodies, circulatory system, respiratory system, reproductive systems are different. Therefore, we can not assume that they interpret, adapt or react the same way as our mammal bodies do in the cold.
We do not heat our chicken coop.  Knowing that we do experience occasional power outages, we did not want our flock to become accustomed to an artificially warmed coop.  Tales of flocks perishing from lack of a heated coop after an extended power outage was just something that we did not want to encounter.

Here are some tips for you to consider to help keep your coop warm without an additional heat source:

1. Consider the size of your coop.  Smaller coops heat up more quickly from the heat produced by the chickens than larger ones.  Coop size and flock size should match.

2.  Insulate around your coop with bales of straw.

3.  Keep your flock away from drafts, yet allow for adequate ventilation (usually vents in the rafters).

4.  Provide a thicker layer of pine shavings in colder weather than you do in the Summer.  Introducing, straw on the floor of the coop can also be a welcomed addition.

5.  Provide your flock with warm treats and warm water throughout the day.

6.  Feed your flock scratch 1 hour before they retire for the night.  Chickens’ metabolism is higher in the Winter as they burn more fuel keeping warm.  A full tummy of scratch helps them to generate heat and an egg if they desire.

7.  Ensure that your chickens’ roosts are wide enough and their feet are completely covered by their bodies when perched.

8.  Allow for Winter’s sunshine to warm the coop by clearing away unnecessary trees and shrubbery.

9.  Repair areas of the coop that are vulnerable to water leaks.

10.  During the coldest evenings, apply Vaseline to the flock’s combs and wattles to prevent frostbite.

11. In areas with sub-zero temperatures, consider insulating the inside of your coop.

Unexpectedly, yesterday the Northeast experienced a strong storm, a Nor’easter, with strong winds and lots of snow.  Most of our trees on the Cape are still with leaves. Still warmer than the rest of the state due to the ocean, we were spared any snow.  However, over 600,000 homes in Massachusetts are without power and many received 2 feet of snow.  A Nor’easter this early in the season is rare.  This storm was a great reminder to me that I cannot rely on the power company to keep my flock out of harm’s way.


Here is a link to more tips on Winterizing your Coop and Flock. 

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

  • All this summer we have been working toward plans to have back yard chickens again. It was years ago when our five children were school age that we had a flock. We enjoyed the individual personalities of the birds and their eggs. We are putting much more planning into having hens this time. We toured Georgia Organics Coop Tour in Atlanta recently to get ideas. So glad we took the tour! Thank you for your insight and sharing pictures of your flock. I especially found the 'My Pet Chicken' breed selector helpful. Thank you and I look forward to following Tilly's Nest.

  • This is our first winter with chickens and we've really been on the fence about heating the coop. By heating it, I mean keeping it at or just above freezing. The more I read and the more I see pictures of happy chickens in the snow, the less worried I feel. Our coop is located inside an unattached garage, insulated and has a good sized south facing window. We are kicking around the idea of wrapping the covered run in plastic to create a solarium out there. With some of your additional tips I think they will be fine.

  • Welcome Donna, I am so glad that you came and visited today. I think it is so exciting that you have decided to raise chickens again. I am sure like riding a bike, it will all come back to you. The Georgia Organic Coop Tour sounds amazing! How lucky are you to have lived close enough to partake. Hope you will come visit soon, I try to post something everyday.

    Hi Linda, after reading about your set-up I think you should have no problems at all not heating the coop. We do wrap our run in plastic as well, leaving one end open for air circulation. Home Depot has a great 6 mil thick plastic in a nice 25 foot roll. I highly recommend it. Sounds like you have done some good research on this subject! Your flock will thank you!

  • This will be our first winter with chickens…in a very long time. This time I'm a little bit more knowledgeable but am still learning. Every single time I come here to your site, I learn something new. The Vaseline on the combs sounds like a great idea.
    One thing for me is actually getting my chickens to GO INSIDE THE COOP. I think we may have built it too high up. However…I've seen 4 out of 6 chickens go inside it. They just don't seem to like it in there. I don't want them to freeze outside. There is a space underneath the coop– that has shelter on 3 sides…but is very much exposed.
    Any tips? Maybe a few throw pillows, and some curtains to brighten up the place. To me, I think the chickens should obviously love it inside…but they don't.
    I would listen to any sound advice. Thanks!

    Pat

  • I have also been thinking about heating our coop, but these are some great ideas! I also love the idea of wrapping the run with plastic – will definitely be doing this.

  • Hi Pat, I had a chance to view your lovely video. I didn't notice if there was a roost in the coop? I would recommend covering your run in plastic to keep the elements out and find a way to lure them inside. Maybe tossing some meal worms in right before dusk might get them to all retire inside. Sometimes it is so hard to know what is running through those chickens' minds. Keep us updated please. Good luck!

  • Thanks John, glad you found this post helpful. I love passing along useful tips that have helped us along the way.

  • Hi Melissa, so enjoyed coming upon your blog! I am in Ann Arbor MI and have kept backyard chickens for almost 3 years. I have the extended Alexandria version of the lovely Green Chicken Coop made here in Michigan which is see in your pics. I have a 9' run which I keep tarped during any wet weather. I just roll it back and bungie in place. This winter I did 2 new things to winterize as I was concerned about too much heat developing in the coop. I insulated the roof by installing Green Board cut to size and I put a large heated kennel mat in the area underneath the coop – which i have covered on the 3 sides with an insulated tarp I made a few years ago. When it gets very cold and if it's snowing/raining they have made great use of that area. They are allowed to free range during dry weather.

  • Hi Mary Beth. Sounds like we do the same thing with our 9 foot runs. I make a plastic tarp too. I love the insulating ideas. Thank you for sharing your tips and suggestions on how you winterized your coop. It is nice to hear what others with the same coop do 🙂

  • Nice tips

  • Anonymous

    This is our first year with chickens, our coop isn't insulated and I am afraid they would freeze so I am making them an area in the barn with fencing and planning on putting a smaller coop inside that fencing so that they will at least be out of the severe cold. I sure hope it all works because I don't know what else to do. We do get coons from time to time in the barn so I don't want them to be loose and get hurt or killed. I just hope the area is going to be large enough for them. 4 of the 6 like to be picked up and moved to new locations the other 2 try to avoid being picked up.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, we live in Duluth, MN and during winter it usually gets to be -20 to -30 for around a month. We have insulated the coop but are thinking we may need to heat it. It is a 8×12 coop with about 30 chickens. Any helpful hints? I don't think we can let them out when it is below zero at least without a heat lamp. This is our first winter with chickens and can use all the help and ideas.

    • What breeds do you keep and how big is your coop?

    • Anonymous

      We have 25 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Americanas and some mix breeds off Craigs List. 3 of our hens hatched chicks near the end of August so I don't know if them being younger will affect what we need to do. Most of the other hens were born The end of July. The older ones I got in April. It is already getting into the 30's at night, which I am not worried about. It is just when the weather gets really cold

    • It sounds like you have all cold hardy breeds. I would refer you to a friend who lives in Minnesota. Here is her blog and she is on facebook too. As we don't experience below zero temperatures, I will defer to her for advice. http://www.louises-country-closet.com/

  • Julie A Angle

    Word to the wise, use fresh straw, not old. We ended up with a really bad case of mites last winter. Took several weeks to eradicate. Mites live in the hollows of the straw.

    • Absolutely! Thanks for the reminder Jule. This is why I never use straw inside the coop and am sure to clean it out regularly during the winter time.