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How to Care for Chickens in Cold Weather

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.

Get ready, winter is coming!

Get ready, winter is coming!

Preparing Your Chickens for the Winter and Cold Weather

Caring for chickens in cold weather requires a little planning and a few special considerations in order to keep your flock happy and healthy throughout a blustery New England winter. Chickens are naturally very hardy and their thick layers of insulating feathers help them to withstand winter's cold temperatures. However, chickens are still susceptible to chilling winds and icy rain, and they require suitable shelter and protection from the elements.

Keeping a small backyard flock of chickens is a fun and rewarding hobby, and a happy flock of hens provides a ready supply of fresh eggs. The long, cold months of winter require proper housing for protection against the weather, and additional attention to feeding and drinking water to maintain a healthy flock. Here are six ways to care for chickens in cold weather.

Chickens like the snow and cold, but not drafts in the hen house.

Chickens like the snow and cold, but not drafts in the hen house.

1. Prevent Drafts in the Henhouse

With their feathered insulation, chickens are well-suited for cold temperatures. Our urban chicken coop includes a small henhouse with a fully protected run that allows them to wander outside wherever they want. Except for the very windiest of days or during storms, the chickens spend most of their time scratching around in the outdoor run. They often roost at night on one of the outdoor perches, positioned high in the run and in an area that is usually blocked from the wind. It is quite comical to see them lined up, wing-to-wing and snuggled in for the night, even on a cold winter night in New England.

Do chickens like cold weather?

Chickens are very tolerant of cold temperatures, but they are very susceptible to drafts. Position the chicken coop out of the prevailing winds, and insulate the interior of the chicken coop to reduce chilling drafts. Our coop is insulated to help block drafts, but it is not heated. When the chickens do decide to come inside and use the coop to roost, their body heat is trapped by the insulation and helps to raise the temperature within the hen house.

Adding a thick layer of pine shavings or straw to the floor of the chicken coop will protect the chickens further from the cold. We purchase bales of shavings from the local feed and grain store for less than $8.00 per bale, and spread a thick layer of shavings over the floor and into the nesting boxes. Then, the chickens rearrange the shavings to their liking. The shavings are easy to clean, and it takes only a few minutes to shovel out the hen house and replace with a fresh layer of shavings; the old shavings go right into the compost heap.

A clear plastic roof keeps the chicken run dry!

A clear plastic roof keeps the chicken run dry!

2. Put a Roof Over the Run

The run is a fenced and secure outdoor enclosure attached to the chicken coop, and provides the chickens with access to the outdoors while protecting them from predators such as hawks, foxes and dogs. Our runs are fully enclosed on all sides by two layers of plastic-coated wire, including over the top and buried under the bottom of the run.

Should chickens go outside during winter?

Even during the coldest weather, chickens enjoy being outdoors to scratch in the dirt. Protect the flock from snow and rain by covering the top outdoor run with corrugated plastic sheathing, which is inexpensive, transparent and available at home centers. If the run is very large, cover a section near the entrance to the hen house.

Out in the run.

Out in the run.

3. Provide a Wind Block

Use a tarp or plastic sheeting to cover the sides of the run, providing the chickens with additional protection from the wind and wind-driven snow and rain. During the coldest months of our New England winter, we wrap the northeast corner of the run with a large canvas tarp.

Be sure to fasten the tarp securely. If the tarp flaps in the wind, the flapping motion seems to spook the chickens. The tarp we use has metal grommets inserted along the edges, and this makes it easy to hang the tarp from a few well-positioned screws. We then use plastic zip ties to firmly secure the tarp and prevent it from flapping in the wind.

Should I fully enclose my chicken run?

Do not fully enclose the run, which reduces ventilation. Instead, use the tarp or plastic sheeting on one or two sides of the run to help block the prevailing winds. Attach a couple of perches, as high as possible in the run, for chickens to roost and see the world around them. Your chickens may even use the perches to roost at night during all but the coldest weather.

Where's breakfast?

Where's breakfast?

4. Keep the Feed Bin Full

Chickens burn extra calories in the winter as they warm themselves against the cold weather, and they tend to eat more prepared feed to fuel their bodies and produce internal heat. This is especially true for chickens who range free in the backyard and burn extra calories as they move about in search of anything edible.

Should I feed my chickens differently during the winter?

During warm weather, they feed on seeds and bugs as they pick through the grasses and garden mulch. In winter, the chickens rely on the feed bin, so keep it full. Scatter grain or cracked corn treats around the run to give the chicken a little extra scratching and pecking activity.

Fresh eggs are the best!

Fresh eggs are the best!

5. Collect the Eggs Every Day

Fresh eggs are one of the key benefits to keeping a small backyard flock of chickens. But when the temperature drops, eggs left in the chicken coop will freeze quickly, cracking the shells and spoiling the eggs. Each time the water dish is checked and cleared of ice, check the nest box for fresh eggs.

Do chickens produce eggs in winter?

Egg production usually decreases as the temperature drops and the days get shorter, but the number of eggs will pick up again as spring approaches and the days begin to get longer again.

Some backyard chicken farmers install lights in their coops to increase the hours of light for the chickens, hoping to increase egg production during winter's shorter days. Our urban chicken coop and hen house is not lit and though egg production drops off in the winter, our hens still supply us with enough eggs for our use. And we often have extras to give away!

6. Don't Let the Water Freeze

Chickens need clean, fresh water every day. When the temperature drops below the freezing point, the chicken's water bowls quickly become tiny frozen ponds. In very cold weather, it may be necessary to check the water bowls twice each day, first in the morning and then again in the early afternoon.

How to prevent their water from freezing?

Rubber feed bowls offer an easy, low tech approach to dealing with the ice. These bowls are flexible, making it easy to remove the ice whenever the water bowl freezes. After a cold night, the water bowl may be covered in ice or even frozen solid. A strong tap on the frozen ground or against a tree or rock is enough to break away the ice, and the rubber feed bowl is ready for a refill of clean water.

Specially designed water heaters for poultry and livestock are inexpensive and work well, but require electricity and maintenance. After using the rubber bowls for several winters and breaking away lots of ice, we decided to run an electrical circuit out to the chicken coop and purchase a couple of heated water bowls. The consistent supply of drinking water was worth the bit of effort and cost. The bowls stay free from ice all winter, and we never have to worry about our animals going thirsty.

Chickens in the snow.

Chickens in the snow.

Our Story

Since moving to "the country," we always wanted to have a small flock of backyard chickens. One of our friendly neighbors has a small flock, and she showed her chicken coop and run. We then purchased several chicken care books (highly recommended) and researched more information online.

We started our little flock with six little fluffy chicks as a surprise for our kids on Easter morning. Snuggled together in the corner of their indoor pen, it was hard to picture that these cute, adorable little guys (well, actually gals) would quickly grow up to become awkward teenage polts before blooming into beautifully plumaged and full grown hens. But we enjoyed every stage of their growth, and we add more chicks each year to our growing flock of backyard chickens.

As the flock continues to grow, we had to expand the chicken coop and increase the size of the protected run!

We were cute little chicks once....

We were cute little chicks once....

Resources for Backyard Chicken Ownership

  • The Coop
    The Coop is dedicated to all the folks around the world that raise, breed or show poultry, waterfowl, gamebirds and related species. Our purpose is to share information, provide resources, create connections, and share our fascination in aviculture w
  • FeatherSite - The Poultry Page
    An on-line zoological garden of domestic poultry, including photos, video and information about various breeds of fowl, such as chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, peafowl, pigeons, and turkeys. Various wildfowl are also included.
  • Murry McMurry Hatchery
    For over 95 years, Murray McMurray Hatchery has been supplying the small farmer, rural egg producer and chicken enthusiast with a wide variety of day-old baby chicks, pullets, ducklings and much more. If you have been thinking that it might be fun to
  • Poultry One
    Raising Backyard Chickens: the online guide to raising chickens
  • Poultry Breeds
    This page is sponsored by the Department of Animal Science - Oklahoma State University
Our urban chicken coop in the spring.

Our urban chicken coop in the spring.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About Your Backyard Chickens

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 17, 2013:

Definitely chilly weather now. I can imagine that it looks gorgeous in the country where you live. Our back yard is beautiful with the snow draped on the trees. Have a wonderful week.

steadytracker lm on August 15, 2013:

Thank you for sharing this lens. We actually have two chickens, one rooster and a hen. Luckily we live in the tropics so the cold is not as big of an issue, but the information you have shared is definitely helpful for anyone who takes care of chickens.

AstroGremlin on January 21, 2013:

You clearly care for your chickens very well. Great items to help the backyard chickeneer.

TanoCalvenoa on January 08, 2013:

A lot of this advice can apply to caring for other animals besides chickens.

anonymous on January 07, 2013:

I think I saw your chickens actually smiling because they are so well cared for in cold weather!

Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 18, 2012:

I have been using a heater for the water as you suggest. Your chickens are beautiful. My new flock just started laying and haven't stopped yet, even tho' it's so cold--I expect that'll change in the next few weeks.

Hal Gall from Bloomington, IN on December 17, 2012:

Water freezing is definitely an issue where I live. Chickens can break through a thin layer of ice with their beaks, but when it gets too thick we have a problem.

Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on November 30, 2012:

We have 11 hens who are giving us from 8 to 11 eggs a day. I told my mom that we really don't need to feed them laying mash since we cannot keep up with them. We eat a lot of eggs too. Almost all of our friends and family have hens so we can't give any eggs to them. What a dilemma! Good thing I love eggs.TonyB

moonlitta on November 27, 2012:

Our hens are free and happy:) Yours don't look bad, either!

montanatravel52 on November 10, 2012:

My grandfather also always had chickens growing up, thanks for the memories... and I live in MT, where it is easy to raise your own chickens, but love your ideas about the cold!

elyria on November 04, 2012:

My grandfather used to have lots of chickens when I was growing up and I remember how much he loved them and cared for them.

Isabellas-cabin on October 25, 2012:

Thank you for the information on the wind break. I never would have thought about that before!

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on October 18, 2012:

Even though I do not have chickens, I found this fascinating. So much of the advice would be applicable to a lot of outdoor animals. Most excellent!

BackyardChickenK on October 12, 2012:

Nice lens and great tips! I like your video showing the chickens in the snow. I've had a lot of people wonder "well what do you do with the chickens in winter?". People don't realize with a little planning and preparation, chickens can do just fine in the winter.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 12, 2012:

I love all your original chicken pictures and it is indeed that time of year to insure that your chickens will be warm over the cold winter months. Best of wishes for a wonderful holiday season. With the cold it is not far to follow.

Rose Jones on June 11, 2012:

Our neighbors have chickens, I would have them except I have a border collie. I thought the Chinatown news link was hilarious - about the tic-tac-toe chickens.

randomthings lm on June 10, 2012:

This is really cool. A neighbor of ours has chickens in the city, and sometimes they get out of the pen. it is so cute to watch them wander around the yard pecking for food.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on May 01, 2012:

Loved the pictures of your chickens busily pecking in both summer and winter. You sure create some great wood projects, your coops are gorgeous, and that really does take some skill.

ProfessionalSol on February 28, 2012:

This article was very helpful. I have a friend that has recently got a small flock of chickens, so I will share this great information with him! I love chickens.

anonymous on February 25, 2012:

Your chickens sound like they are the happiest ones to be found with all the care you take for their special needs for cold weather comfort.

anonymous on February 22, 2012:

I've always wondered how people get the eggs without being flogged by the chickens. That's one big reason why I haven't took the leap and got some (bad flogging experience as a kid).

laporter79 lm on February 15, 2012:

winter is great in florida. Other than turning on the heat lamp a few nights a year, chickens do great here! Thanks for a great article!

kimbesa from USA on February 11, 2012:

Our chickens won't go out if there's snow, and we have a tarp over their run. Funny chickens!

Othercatt on February 10, 2012:

We have 8 chickens right now, but one of them is sitting on 8 eggs so we should have more soon. We live in the country so we're able to just let them run free. When we built their coop, we had the hot summer temperatures in mind. So the entire thing was pretty much just wire. When that first cold snap came, we were in a frenzy to insulate! lol. They seem to be doing okay though. I'm glad I read this lens. Mine have been eating more and I never knew it was because of the cold. Thanks!

LazyKat on February 10, 2012:

Great info! We're thinking about getting chickens again this year, and all the information in this is exactly how we had to care for them. We also put up plastic sheeting on two of the coop walls as wind blocks, and put a heating lamp on the ceiling. This lens makes me miss our chickies, I can't wait to have more!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 10, 2012:

What a great have your own chicken coop.

Shana rios Chavez on February 09, 2012:

fresh is the way i was raised with chickens and fresh eggs i want to do the same with my son but right now a coop just isn't an option for us but we can always hope for the future. Great lens

katiecolette on February 09, 2012:

I watched "Food Inc." the other day and was shocked at how the "non-organic" chickens are being raised - so much cruelty to keep chickens in the dark buildings for their entire life, letting them stand in their feces, and there are so many of them, they can't even take a step... It just makes me want to get a couple chickens of my own, although I do have a feeling I would treat them as pets and would only eat their eggs... My mother-in-law keeps around 100 free-range chickens, and it is so neat how they like to hang out on tree branches.

miaponzo on February 08, 2012:

Wow... I have always wanted to raise my own chickens.. and this is GREAT!!! Thanks! Blessed!

skefflingecho from Tobermory Ontario on February 08, 2012:

This is an excellent lens, very good solid tips for winter chicken care. As you can see from my avatar I do that same as you on Ontario. Blessed.

Tom Maybrier on February 08, 2012:

I used a ceramic heat emitter bulb for my chickens when I was living where it snowed. It worked very well.

ScrollSawChuck on February 07, 2012:

I appreciate the lens, reminds me of the days way back yonder when we ordered our chicks from Montgomery Ward. Nice job.

Teri Villars from Phoenix, Arizona on February 07, 2012:

They'd be warm in a cooking pot! ha! Just kidding. Nicely done lens! Squid Angel blessed!

Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on February 06, 2012:

We had a chicken as a backyard pet. She ate the bad bugs out of our garden, shared feeding time with a squirrel and gave us the best brown eggs. She was with us for over 5 years. Enjoyed your lens.

Mainelyhappy on February 06, 2012:

I have a flock of a dozen chickens here in Maine, and they survive winter far better than I ever could have imagined. They do appreciate some hand outs from the kitchen this time of year! Left over oatmeal, salad greens, pasta or just about anything else I bring to them. And they turn all those leftovers into delicious eggs. Winter, spring, summer or fall, my family knows they can often find me sitting on a log in the hen yard, just watching the biddies do their thing! Nice job on your lens!

Country Sunshine from Texas on February 06, 2012:

Chickens are so much fun! Glad to see there is another chicken-lover here besides me! A lot of good information here, as well as reference books.

Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on February 06, 2012:

@sockii: Good points, and thank you for visiting! We do not have any roosters, but even the combs on hens can suffer in from severe cold. We have about 15 different varieties of chickens and so far, all have done well through several New England winters.

Nicole Pellegrini from New Jersey on February 06, 2012:

Excellent lens on an important subject! I will note that if you have roosters that in really cold weather it's important to check on their combs for frostbite, and some varieties of chickens are better suited for the cold climates than others.

anonymous on February 06, 2012:

Congratulations on front page honors for keeping your chickens warm and caring for them in cold weather!

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on February 06, 2012:

I have a flock of backyard chickens. They seem to enjoy the cold weather and want to free range regardless of rain or snow. Sometimes they will go into a shelter, but they do not seem to mind precipitation of any kind. Their first encounter with snow was pretty humorous as they tried to figure out what it was. I love my chickens!

Michelle from Central Ohio, USA on February 06, 2012:

We raised turkeys last year in our suburban garage for a 4H project. They're much more susceptible to heat and cold. This year, we're thinking chickens! Thanks for a very informative lens.

emmaklarkins on December 26, 2011:

Great advice! I wish I had chickens so that I could try out your suggestions :)

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on December 22, 2011:

I really appreciate this very practical information about caring for chickens. It gets pretty cold here, so I need to ensure that I have all of the bases covered before hatching my first chicks. Thanks for the resources. I plan to build my own chicken coop.

ViJuvenate on December 12, 2011:

I try to have chickens as much as possible. Right now we are moving so I have no flock. I sure miss the eggs. Much more nutrition and flavor!

jimmyworldstar on December 02, 2011:

My grandmother used to raise chickens in a fenced in coop outdoors. Would you recommend putting a space heater when taking them indoors to keep them warm?

beckyf on November 17, 2011:

I grew up on a farm, and we always had chickens there. They are very entertaining ladies, and those fresh eggs can't be beat. Enjoyed reading your lens!

betta addict on September 21, 2011:

Great lens! And by the way, chicken is my favorite dish...and there was never a time that i ate breakfast without fried eggs! LOL!

anonymous on September 03, 2011:

Sure, chicks need good care and warmth in winter too.

Ilona E from Ohio on August 27, 2011:

Good article. another tip is to choose breeds that are more hardy- like the Rhode Island Red

LadyCharlie on August 27, 2011:

I love chickens and fresh eggs and do plan to put some on my property. This lens is and will be a big help...thanks for the great information!

AJ from North Carolina on August 07, 2011:

Very helpful! I've been wanting to get backyard chickens, and this was one of my biggest concerns, although I live in NC -- not too cold. I've read that chickens are pretty hardy in hot or cold temps, but no one ever spelled it out like this so I could feel more sure,

anonymous on August 04, 2011:

Always such practical advice from you. I love your idea for checking for eggs each time you check and clear the water of ice. You must have the happiest chickens ever!

Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on August 02, 2011:

@OhMe: Hi OhMe,Thank you for visiting! Chickens can overheat in hot weather. Our coop has an overhang to create a protected area underneath, and is located under several large trees. The coop is also shaded by a shed built in front of the coop (the shed also blocks the prevailing winter winds). Always make sure the chickens have clean, fresh water and shady areas to get out of the hot sun.

Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on August 02, 2011:

@evelynsaenz1: Hi Evelyn,Thank you for visiting! Chickens need room to move around, and crowding the birds can cause the dominate hens to pick on their smaller and weaker room mates. Our combination of coop plus outdoor is over 200 square feet -- plenty of room for our small flock of 15 hens.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 02, 2011:

Great information about Caring for Chickens in Cold Weather. Do chickens get too hot in hot weather?

Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on August 02, 2011:

I live in Vermont where temperatures can get down to 20 below or so each winter. I have a chicken house built around 1900. It is quite large, about the size of a car or small garage. It has windows facing south. It is made of wood and has a tight roof. Do you have any estimate as to how many chickens I would need to have to keep them warm enough through the winter?Great lens! Blessed by a Squid Angel!

anonymous on July 06, 2011:

Great job! Can't wait till I can start a flock of my own.