When you look at a chicken, the words hardy and durable may not be what comes to mind. And for that reason, we tend to go a bit overboard when it comes to their care. Even if you live in the blistering cold of the north, keeping chickens is easy. More often than not, chickens can tolerate the cold pretty well, but with a few tips, I can show you how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity. The biggest benefits of backyard chickens is eggs, so keep them coming all winter long!
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
Most, if not all, of these tips, have been tested by me in our own winter coop. The good news is we have never lost a hen to the cold or even had one get sick. We have had 1-2 bouts of frostbite over the years and because of that, I am super vigilant about checking my flock several times a day. Please watch your animals for signs they need your assistance and you will have a healthy flock all winter long.
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 its 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 airflow 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 purchase them locally 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 not only cold but can risk frostbite. 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 the coop (do not use hay) around the perimeter to help keep that cold wind from getting inside. This gives the chickens a nice cocoon and really does warm things up. It helps them to eat and drink more comfortably as well.
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 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. 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.
Do chickens lay eggs in winter?
Yes, chickens will lay eggs in the winter, but the frequency will slow. This is due to the shortened days and the cooler temperatures.
There are a few hens that will stop laying eggs during the winter months, but many will simply slow down egg production. It is essential to know that eggs can freeze in the winter, so you will want to check for fresh eggs a few times a day so you do not lose any to the cold temperatures. If you do get frozen eggs, don’t throw them out, you can still use them to feed other livestock on your homestead.
Yes, you can feed eggs to your chickens. I know that may sound gruesome but actually they are a great source of protein which can be super helpful at times of stress.
Feeding chickens in the winter.
When the mornings are really cold, my chicken’s water is usually frozen solid. To fix this, I bring out a hot water jug 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.
Do not give the hot water to your flock to drink, leave the house with it hot and when you give it to them it should be warm enough for them to start drinking.
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 go 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 not adapting well to any weather changes.
Knowing your birds and how they each act is incredibly beneficial because you will more readily see when they are not acting normally. If you know a bird acting “off”, this will be your first sign that something is wrong.
I also like to give warm mash on those particularly cold mornings. This not only encourages my hens to eat but also gets more water into them as well.
To make a warm mash for your chickens, pour some hot water into a feed bowl and add a scoop or two of leftover veggies or vegetable ends and peelings. I love to use rubber feed bowls and use them all over the homestead. They work perfectly for making warm chicken mash and are super easy for the chickens to eat from.
The best part about warm mash is there is no need for mixing. 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.
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. Then you will only need two things to keep your hens warm at night.
First, a good sturdy chicken 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 is a common misconception. Hens 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.
What is a good size for a chicken roost?
A good rule of thumb is to build a roost that is at least 2 inches wide. This will allow your hens to perch flat-footed and cover their legs and feet with their warm feathers.
After many attempts at different styles of roosts, Hubby and I found a design that we 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 digest 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.”
You can also use a plastic feeder if you are on a tighter budget. These are less expensive and will work well but they may not last as long as a metal feeder will.
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 chicken 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, 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 maybe 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 on 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, 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 fine to eat, but inspect it thoroughly for any cracks.
- If the egg is frozen and just cracked (meaning nothing is oozing out), then thaw it 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.
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 help hardy them up as well and acclimate them so they can withstand the frigid nights of winter. As the weather changes 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. Be sure that you always check your flock every day so you can more quickly catch when things are off.
It’s those little cues that will help you to raise and healthy flock all year long.
What tips do you have on how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity?