How cold is too cold for chickens?

by Bobbie
(Langley, WA)

Question
How cold is too cold for chickens? I have a chicken coop that has an enclosed nesting area with a door.

The nesting boxes are off the ground and have enough room for 10 chickens to nest/roost on them. I have six chickens.

Recently, the weather has been between 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit during the both day and night.

The chickens seem to be doing fine when I check on them. They are not shivering or huddled together and do not appear to be stressed in any way.

I know that feathers are an excellent insulator, but do I need to put a heat lamp in the enclosed area when the temperature drops below freezing?

Answer
It sounds like your coop is a good shelter for your chickens. There are differing thoughts about keeping chickens warm with added heat.

I believe as long as they are healthy there is no need to supplement heat. Wild birds, if healthy, survive temperatures well below zero, as do chickens, by sheltering themselves from wind, when necessary. You are correct that feathers are a great insulator from cold.

Generally, as the seasons change, the temperatures change gradually. This will trigger a molt as the nights get cooler and the day light hours shorten.

Healthy chickens will produce new down and hard feathers in time for the coldest temps and chickens will huddle together to conserve body warmth, when needed.



The most important thing is to make sure their water supply doesn’t freeze, which can be accomplished with heat sources designed to keep waterers thawed or bringing fresh water when needed.

It’s not a bad idea to enhance the protein content of your feed during the molt and cold months.

You may have noticed that during the molt your hens either stop laying or don’t lay as much. Yearling hens will generally not drop tail feathers, as these feathers are new, but older hens will experience a “heavy molt” replacing most feathers, and look rather shabby until the molt is done.

An article I read on line recommended black oil sunflower seeds as a good molt and winter supplement food. I’ve been feeding it, with layer feed and scratch grains all Fall and Winter.

The extra protein and fat helps with feather and skin quality. Fats and oils are a good source of energy. Combined they give good nutritional support during cold months.

Breeder feeds can have a higher protein percentage than layer feed. It’s a good idea to give extra vitamins, too, as your chickens may spend a lot of time inside and sunny days can be few and far between.

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