Heat lamps are a big buzzword for the new chicken owner and most will purchase several when starting out. Other than using them to keep your baby chicks warm I would keep them locked away.
I tried heat lamps for the first few years we had chickens and let me just say it did more harm than good. When you have a heated coop, even if only at night, your hens become dependent on that heat and that means never really get the durability they need to withstand the frigid wind chills that come with really cold winters.
When a local fire in our area was started by one of these heat lamps destroyed a barn and, I am so sad to say, most of the animals inside I stopped using heat lamps in my chicken coop and never looked back.
The funny thing was that once I removed those lamps I noticed something pretty shocking. My hens were actually HEALTHIER without the heat. In order for them to adapt to the cold, they grew thicker downy feathers, their combs were a deep rich red, and they laid eggs like nobody’s business. The trifecta of a healthy and happy chicken.
Let’s chat about downy feathers for a bit because they are the key to keeping your chickens warm throughout the cold of winter. Those feathers help to lock the heat in and when they do, they provide a protective layer from the elements. The chickens will fluff up their feathers to keep warm and whenever you see this you can relax knowing they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. If you are a person that puts chicken sweaters on your hens to help them keep warm, I would suggest you stop as these sweaters can flatten down those downy feathers and your chickens will lose that ability to warm up naturally.
Remember to not make a change in the middle of winter. It is best to allow your hens to adapt to the cold naturally and this takes time. If you are reading this in January-March you may want to hold off on these tips until next fall.
With all of that being said, there are still quite a few things you can do to help your hens stay warm even in the coldest of temperatures, and yes, even if you do not have electricity in your chicken coop.
How To Keep Chickens Warm In Winter Without Electricity
Inspect your chicken coop.
If you clean out your chicken coop each fall before the winter hits, that is the perfect time to do a chicken coop inspection. Check for any holes in the walls or floors that may let in drafts, rain, or snow. Another reason to inspect for holes is to deter predators from gaining access to your coop.
Seal those cracks up and help to keep the frigid air out on those cold winter nights. You can do this by nailing on a scrap piece of wood, metal, or other material.
No matter what time of year it is now is the best time to ensure you have a good winter coop design that will keep your hens warm and safe during those long cold months. We house our hens in an old shed that we converted into a chicken coop. Our shed has it’s own flooring and that means it keeps the hens off of the cold ground. Our shed also has a ventilation window at the peak that allows for air flow throughout the winter.
Yes, there is a difference between airflow and drafts. Drafts are bad whereas ventilation is good. Drafts are cold and piercing and can do harm to your flock. Ventilation is filtered so it enters the coop slowly and steadily and keeps the coop filled with fresh clean air while venting out stale air. Most air vents are found up high in the coop away from your hens so it is not blowing on them.
The final work on this is: you do not want drafts but you do want ventilation.
Lay down sufficient bedding.
Before winter hits you will want to lay down a really good layer of bedding for your hens. Wood chips, sawdust, and straw are all great to use. I suggest laying down a good foot deep of bedding, especially if you live in a really cold climate and even more if your chicken coop does not have a separate floor to the ground. When looking to purchase wood chips you will want to go local as it will be much more cost-effective to do so. Tractor Supply or your local feed mill are great options to consider.
Why do you need bedding on the floor of a chicken coop?
Chickens do not have feathers on their legs or feet so standing on the constant frigid ground can be incredibly harmful. By providing them with a good thick layer of ground cover you will keep them warmer and in turn, healthier.
SLCG PRO TIP: Chickens do not have feathers on their feet and frostbite can happen if we are not careful. By providing them a place to stand in the cold you will help to keep their feet healthy and strong. Ample bedding or a few straw bales will work well along with a good and sturdy roost.
Set up a barrier.
I like to put a few bales of straw inside of the coop (do not use hay) that I place in front of the doors. This gives the chickens a sort of cocoon that they can eat and drink within a bit more comfortably. They also like to roost on the bales and this will help them to stay off of the cold ground if your coop does not have a floor.
As the winter progresses those bales tend to get a bit beat up but don’t worry. If you used straw and not hay you can add those partially composted bales right to your garden come spring.
Not sure of the difference? Let’s go over it quickly.
What is a straw bale?
A straw bale is made of up stalks which is the waste product of wheat and is used as bedding for livestock. It contains no seed heads or seeds so it can be safely used in gardens as mulch or as a winter cover.
What is a hay bale?
A hay bale is cut grass or alfalfa and used to feed livestock. It contains every part of the plant including the seeds. If you use this in your garden beds you will be adding a load of seeds to your beds including weed seeds as well. Trust me on this, I have done the legwork. Hay in a garden is a no-no and will only cause you to have to weed more than you ever imagined.
The final word to remember is this: you always want to make sure you are using straw when growing anything and hay when feeding anything.
Feeding chickens in the winter.
I find that when the mornings are really cold, my chicken’s water is usually frozen solid. To fix this I bring out a jug of hot water to start the day off. This will usually stay liquid until I gather eggs around 1 pm when I give them a fresh batch. Then finally once again at the evening feed.
SLCG PRO TIP: If you live in a cold climate I would not suggest a chicken waterer like this one. They tend to not withstand the elements and the abuse repeated frozen water can make. Instead, try these rubber feed bowls. They are durable, inexpensive, and can be used for feed, water, or mash.
I know this sounds like a lot of work but really it isn’t. All you need is a cleaned-out empty milk jug and each time you are going out to the chicken coop, bring a fresh batch of warm along with you. If you are going out anyhow, it is really no extra effort on your part and your hens will love you for it!
Another bonus of frequent daily water runs is you can monitor your flock more often and, in turn, catch anyone that is not adapting well to any weather changes. Knowing your birds and how they each act is incredibly beneficial because you will more easily see when they are not acting normally. If you see a bird acting “off” this will be your first sign that something is off.
I also like to give warm mash in the morning too. To make warm mash for your chickens, pour some hot water into a feed bowl and add their feed to it. (do not do this with pellet feed). I love these rubber feed bowls and use them all over the homestead and they work perfectly for making warm chicken mash. Again, be sure not to do this with pelleted feed since it does not react well to water.
Even better is, that you will not need to mix it up. The hens will do it as they are eating it. Usually, when I make mash for them I find they are eating before I finish adding the feed to the water, they love it that much.
How to keep chickens warm at night.
I think the worry we have about our chickens staying warm throughout the night can bring us the most stress. Please remember as long as you allow your hens to acclimate to the cooler temperatures naturally you will only need two things to keep your hens warm at night.
First a good sturdy coop with little to no drafts. As I talked about above, you will want to inspect things in the fall so you have time to button up the hatches before winter.
Second a good sturdy roost that allows for plenty of room for your entire flock to get up off the ground at night while they are sleeping. When we first started out with chickens I was under the impression that they needed a rod of sorts to roost on. I believed that chickens wrapped their feet around a roost to sleep just like a bird does.
It wasn’t until years later I found out that I was wrong. Hens actually prefer to be flat-footed when they sleep and even more so in the cold season. When they are sitting flat-footed they can sit down completely which will allow them to cover their unprotected legs and feet with those warm downy feathers.
A good rule of thumb is to build a roost that is at least 2 inches wide. After many attempts at different styles of roosts, Hubby and I found a design that we absolutely love and is perfect for anyone that has a smaller coop and needs to conserve space.
Offer continuous feed.
Just like goats, chickens warm up when they are digesting their food. For that reason, when looking to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity, it is better to have a continuous feeder going at all times. I have a metal feeder like this one and it has lasted for years and works amazingly well.
Not sure about using a continuous feeder?
Lisa, from Fresh Eggs Daily, suggests using a continuous feeder all winter long to keep our chickens warm saying, “They will eat more in the winter because they burn more calories trying to stay warm and there’s no grass or bugs to eat to supplement their diet.”
Sure, you are spending a bit more on feed doing things this way but our job is to give the best care to our animals and a healthy chicken is worth the money of the additional feed especially if you want eggs all winter long. You can also sprinkle a little scratch before closing them up for the night. Scratch takes a bit longer to digest and will help to keep them warm while they sleep.
Wall-mounted chicken coop heater.
If you live in a dangerously cold climate such as Northern Canada or Alaska then you may need a little extra help to keep your chickens safe.
This wall-mounted chicken coop heater is not one I have tried myself, but the reviews say it does work and may be something you want to look into further. Please know that these heaters are not meant to heat the entire coop but instead offer a warm spot in the coop for your chickens to enjoy.
Keep chickens warm in the snow
No matter what the weather is doing, you may find your chickens still wanting to be outside. This means you will want to do a few things to ensure your hens are not at risk of frostbite on their feet. The best way to help your chickens to deal with the cold of the snow is to create a covered walkway of sorts for them while they are outside. This can be done either by scattering wood chips or straw onto the ground, placing logs for them to perch on, or sprinkling sawdust in a few areas.
To set up a safe space outside for your chickens, begin by shoveling an area in your coop that is free of snow. Lay some straw or other material down onto the ground for a safe place for them to walk on. If you find your hens staying at the door and not coming out, you can also sprinkle some scratch onto the straw to encourage them.
Why do you want your chickens and ducks to come outside in the winter?
Fresh air can be so good for hens as it will clean out their lungs. Also, a chicken coop no matter how well it is kept is still a dusty environment. By giving your chickens a safe place outdoors you will allow them to stretch out and clean out their feathers.
Once your hens are used to a pathway outdoors they will use it more and more. Getting your hens used to the winter weather will get them out of the coop and in the fresh air which is huge for promoting overall good health and weather durability.
With that being said, if you have a chicken that is acting off, coughing, has loose stools, or is not eating/drinking do not encourage them to go outside. Instead, take them to a warm area and do a health check to ensure they are okay.
How to keep eggs from freezing in the winter.
If you are new to chickens, this might just be a bit surprising to hear. Yes, eggs can and will freeze if it is cold enough outside. And a frozen egg is probably not an edible egg. To prevent this from happening make sure to collect eggs several times throughout the day. You can also add extra straw to your nesting boxes to help keep the eggs warm until you collect them.
Can I eat a frozen egg?
Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. I know, not what you were hoping to hear? No worries…let’s go over things a bit to clear it up.
- If the egg is frozen and not cracked then you can place it in the refrigerator so it will thaw slowly. Once thawed it should be just fine to eat, but inspect it thoroughly for any cracks to be sure.
- If the egg is frozen and just cracked (meaning nothing is oozing out) then thaw again in the fridge and be sure to use it right away. If you notice the membrane is dirty, you may want to be safe and toss it.
- If the egg is frozen, cracked, and oozing then to be safe I would toss it. If you have pigs you can always give the eggs to them. Yes, pigs LOVE raw eggs!
Finally, can chickens stay outside in the winter?
As long as you have a warm secure and dry coop for them to get away from the elements, then, by all means, yes they can. Chickens can be very hardy if given the chance to adapt to weather changes gradually. Allow them to have continuous daily access to the outdoors year-round so they can adapt to any weather changes slowly. This will hardy them up as well and acclimate them so they can withstand the frigid nights of winter. As the weather changers so will their feathers and it’s those feathers that will help them the most.
I hope you found the help you need to encourage your hens to better handle the colder temps. What tips do you have on how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity?