As pet owners, whether it’s a dog, cat, or a flock of chickens, we want the best for them. And we certainly don’t want them to get too cold during the winter.
Dogs and cats can easily be brought inside. However, chickens stay outside all year round as they have the comfort of their coop. But how do you keep them warm? Especially if you live in an area with frigid temperatures, like New England. Should you provide a heat lamp in the winter?
Believe it or not, chickens do not need a heat lamp in the winter. Heat lamps can do more damage than good. They are a fire hazard, and they also interfere with your chickens getting acclimated to the cold naturally.
This article will help you understand how the cold affects chickens, the dangers of heat lamps, and what you can do to provide a warm environment during the winter.
How Does the Cold Affect Backyard Chickens?
For the most part, chickens are very cold-hardy and are usually not affected much by the frigid weather. But, of course, it’s not to say that they love it, but they prefer it to the blustering heat!
How Do Chickens Stay Warm in the Cold Months?
Chickens are happiest when the temperature is between 65 and 75 degrees (so am I!), but they are also just fine if temps dip below freezing and even below zero. However, they have some pretty ingenious ways of staying warm.
- They Stand on One Foot
- They Fluff up Their Plumage
- They Tuck Their Heads
- They Snuggle Up
They Stand on One Foot
Because most breeds of chickens have no feathers on their feet, they can lose heat quite rapidly. And you have probably noticed that they tend to stand on one foot during the winter to warm up one foot at a time.
They tuck their foot into their warm belly feathers and then switch to the other.
They Fluff Up Their Plumage
When temperatures dip, chickens will fluff up their feathers to help keep warm. You have probably noticed that birds in the wild do that too! The scientific term for this is called piloerection.
The down feathers of birds trap pockets of air next to their bodies. By fluffing their feathers, chickens can warm those tiny pockets with their body heat, and in turn, the warm air stays close to their skin, protecting it from the cold.
Think of it almost as a kind of insulation.
When chickens molt each year, they produce new, extra warm feathers for the upcoming winter.
They Tuck Their Heads
When chickens tuck their heads under their wings, it’s not only adorable but there is a reason for it. The behavior keeps them warm and protects their combs and wattles from frostbite.
A chicken’s comb is where heat escapes their bodies, which is great in the hot summer, but it can be detrimental in the cold.
They Snuggle Up
Another adorable thing is seeing your flock snuggle up together for warmth. They tuck in side by side when they roost to keep their bodies warm.
Hens have an internal body temp of 104 degrees. Did you know that a group of ten chickens put out as much heat as a 100-watt light bulb!?
Chickens Do Not Need a Heat Lamp in the Winter?
We know that chickens do a pretty good job of keeping themselves warm in the winter, but we sometimes think we need to add supplemental heat.
But chickens do not need a heat lamp in the winter, and there are two main reasons why one should be avoided at all costs.
A Fire Hazard
At least once a year, I hear a story about a chicken coop catching fire, and it’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately, most of these fires are started by heat lamps, and there is nothing more devastating than losing your entire flock in such a painful way.
Chicken coops are notoriously dry and full of dust, usually from the bedding. As a result, fires can start quickly in coops if a heat lamp gets knocked over by a hen. The lamp’s heat is more than hot enough to ignite a fire in minutes.
The plywood in coops is also very flammable, and often the walls and nesting boxes are made of it. A heat lamp in a chicken coop can ignite a fire, and the entire structure can become a tinder box.
Dependence on Heat Lamps
Another reason I am not crazy about heat lamps is that chickens can get used to them. If artificial heat is introduced, it can affect a chicken’s molting cycle, preventing them from building up a tolerance to the cold.
Chickens need to be able to keep themselves warm naturally. If they rely on artificial heat, they won’t be prepared in the event of a power outage. It can be very dangerous for them and cause them to go into shock.
What Can I Do to Help My Chickens Stay Warm?
You can do several safe things to help your girls stay warm through the winter.
Adjust Their Diet
When animals digest food, they generate heat. So by offering a hearty snack before bedtime, you can help them keep warm. Cracked or whole grains are harder to digest and, in turn, cause the chicken to produce more body heat overnight.
Chickens will automatically eat more in the winter, so by putting out a high-calorie and high fat treat, you can help them stay warm. In addition, fatty treats like corn or suet will help them grow a layer of subcutaneous fat.
Winterize The Coop
By keeping your coop properly winterized, you can keep your girls happy throughout the cold winter months. Here are some things you can do.
- Plenty of Bedding
- Deep Litter Method
- Proper Roosts
- Wind Blocks
By adding fresh straw or shavings to the floor and nesting boxes of your coop, you are automatically adding insulation. Focus on the coop entrance and into the run too.
This will cut down on the amount of snow and mud that gets tracked in. The straw will also keep their feet warmer.
Deep Litter Method
By using what is called, the deep litter method, you can help keep the coop warm. The deep litter method allows the bedding material and poop to build up in the enclosure through the spring, summer and fall will give you roughly a foot of material.
This material will compost and naturally give off heat to warm up the coop.
Roosts should be about three feet above the ground and should be able to seat your flock comfortably. If you see any chickens roosting on the ground, it means there is not enough room for everyone.
Ensure you have adequate ventilation to help moisture escape, as too much moisture can cause frostbite.
With an extra layer of plywood or thick tarps, you can create a wind block around the coop. This was always a big problem for me in the winter as the wind is awful on my property.
By wrapping the coop in a tarp, I was able to deflect the wind somewhat.
Chickens are surprisingly hardy and will do just fine in the winter, and adding a heat lamp will only put them at risk. There are many other safe alternatives for adding more heat to your coop during the frigid winter months.
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