Jessica is an experienced pet mom with dogs, cats, rats, fish, axolotls, a gecko, chickens, and ducks.
As a chicken keeper, it can be very worrying when the weather starts getting colder in the winter. When it starts snowing and the weather dips below freezing we wonder if our flock is going to be ok in the cold.
We start to winterize our chicken coops and usually, one question comes to mind: Do I need a heat lamp? These have been a staple for a lot of chicken coops in cold climates, but in most cases, they are just not necessary.
Below is a list of reasons why many people choose not to use heat lamps, and information on ways to prepare your coop for winter.
They Are a Huge Fire Hazard
Every year there are stories of people losing their chicken coops, their precious chickens, and even their homes in chicken coop fires. Most of these fires are started by heat lamps.
Chicken coops are dusty and dry, and there is usually some type of bedding such as straw or sawdust. Most fires are started by heat lamps getting knocked down into the bedding somehow, and the bulb of the heat lamp is hot enough to ignite the bedding within minutes. Something as simple as a young hen flying near the heat lamp and knocking it down could start a fire within minutes.
Heat lamps are especially dangerous in smaller coops because plywood is very flammable. 24 inches is the minimum recommended distance between the heat lamp and the walls, nesting boxes, and basically anything else the lamp could touch. This is pretty much impossible in the type of small coops that many people keep in their backyards.
Frayed or damaged extension cords can also put your flock at risk. Before putting any type of supplemental heat in your coop, you should be sure that the extension cord is not damaged. If the cord is damaged, both it and the heat lamp could become fire hazards.
Chickens Are Pretty Good at Keeping Themselves Warm
During the winter, you will still notice your chickens out and about, even with snow on the ground. Chickens have a naturally high body temperature (around 105 to 107 degrees F), and they can keep themselves warm by puffing out their feathers to keep warm air close to their bodies.
When they start getting cold they will tuck their feet under their bodies, and if they get really cold, they will tuck their heads in too. They also keep themselves warm in the winter by eating more food because digestion helps to warm their bodies up. You may have also seen your chickens cuddled up on their roost at night. They do this naturally to keep warm, it is both adorable and practical!
Despite chickens keeping themselves warm, there are still some things that you should do to keep them comfortable and to prevent them from getting frostbite on sensitive areas like their combs or legs.
- Make sure that they have plenty of clean dry bedding. Moisture inside the coop can cause frostbite, and they will use the dry bedding to keep warm. You can also scatter straw around the coop in the chicken run to keep the outside area dry.
- Your coop should be well insulated, but there should be ventilation near the top. Your coop should protect your chickens from cold winter winds so you want the walls to be solid and well insulated, but ventilation is still important for keeping out moisture.
- Make sure you have wide enough roosts. The roosts should be wide enough for multiple chickens to huddle together and puff out their feathers comfortably.
- Always have food available. They will be eating a lot more at this time to keep themselves warm so make sure you are feeding them extra. It is a good idea to check on them throughout the day to make sure they still have plenty of food.
- Put a tarp over your chicken run. If you have a chicken run this is very helpful for keeping the straw in your run dry. This will help keep your chickens from tracking in a lot of mud and moisture.
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These are all things that would need to be done anyway to prepare the coop for winter, and they will make it so that your chickens are able to keep themselves warm. If your coop is ready for winter, then there should be no need for a heat lamp.
They Can Become Dependent on Heat Lamps
Chickens can get used to the heat that they get from heat lamps. If the heat lamp is introduced early, it can stop them from molting correctly, and it can prevent them from building up a tolerance to the cold.
It is important for chickens to be able to keep themselves warm in case of a power outage. If your chickens have been relying on a heat lamp for a long time and the power goes out on a cold night it could be very dangerous for them. For this reason, many chicken keepers choose to go without a heat lamp so that their birds will not be shocked by the cold if they lose power.
In Most Cases, Supplemental Heat Is Not Worth the Risk
Unless you have sickly chickens, or there are frequent extreme weather conditions where you are, a heat lamp is not necessary. Heat lamps are useful for brooders and young chicks, but a flock of healthy chickens will be just fine without supplemental heat. Chickens are great at keeping themselves warm, and the risk of a fire that could be dangerous to your flock is not worth it.
If you still feel like your chickens need some extra heat, please do your research and be careful! There are heat mats specifically made for chicken coops that only raise the temperature to above freezing. I have used these safely during rough winters. If you choose this route, it is very important to check your extension cords to make sure that they won't be a fire hazard.
Know that your chickens are made to withstand cold temperatures. As long as your coop is dry and well insulated they will be ok!
- 4 Safety Tips for Chicken Heat Lamps
- 6 Tips and Tricks for Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter
- Heat Lamps are an Unnecessary Fire Risk in Chicken Coops
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jess H
Jess H (author) from Oregon on December 08, 2020:
Thank you for commenting, Peggy! I'm glad you liked the article!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 08, 2020:
I do not raise chickens, but I still found this interesting to read. Thanks!