Chickens are useless when they are frozen solid…
…and it’s not like you can just set them in front of the wood stove and thaw them out like you can with your fingers. This is why a lot of people ask questions like, “Should I heat my coop?” Good question.
Simply put, you should not heat your coop. Here’s why:
I’ll start with an example. Say the weather starts turning cold. You go outside one day in your T-shirt and shiver because you are cold. You buy a sweater and put it on. A month later you go outside and you shiver even though you are wearing a sweater. So you buy a coat and put it on. Ok, now say you are a chicken. You don’t have any thumbs and it’s impossible to find a coat that is your size. This is OK since your body will provide for you. Remember how you sensed it getting colder so you put a sweater on? Well a chicken’s body senses the changing weather and starts growing extra downy feathers underneath it’s hard feathers. In this way the Fall helps trigger the chicken to get ready for the winter.
If you add supplemental heat to your coop when it starts getting cold your chickens won’t start growing their winter “coat.”
This means that they won’t prepare for winter. No problem, you say, I’ll just keep the coop heated all winter. What if, during the cold winter night some drunk guy slides off of the road by your house, hits a telephone pole, and knocks out your power? All your chickens will freeze solid because they will have never acclimated to the cold.
Another reason you shouldn’t heat your coop is because it will raise the humidity inside your coop.
If your coop is cold and dry, your chickens are much less likely to suffer from frostbite – even in subzero temperatures.
If your coop is cold and humid, your chickens will get frost bitten much quicker.
If you heat your coop with, say, a propane wall heater it will make the coop incredibly humid. Plus, all the dander and dust will likely cause a fire. You could put a radiator in your coop but this will also cause a spike in humidity. In fact, even just the presence of chickens in your coop will cause higher humidity. This is why it’s important to have a well ventilated coop. I didn’t say drafty, mind you, but well ventilated. There is a difference. A drafty coop is a coop that has wind blowing through the cracks. You don’t want that because it will make your chickens cold. What you do want is a mesh covered vent (you don’t want predators sneaking in) that is placed high in the coop such as in the eaves or in the peak. Since hot air rises, and can hold more moisture than cold air, the hot air will vent out pulling humidity with it. (Read: 8 Things to Remember While Building Your Chicken Coop This Spring) This keeps the humidity down in the coop and keeps drafts off of your flock. This helps prevent frostbite, allows your chickens to acclimate to the cold, and is a much better plan than adding a heat source to your coop.
Most any chicken will be cold hardy if cared for properly.
The most cold hardy chickens will have small combs since the most susceptible place for a chicken to get frostbite is their comb and wattles.
These act as a radiator in the summer but during the winter they have little protection from the cold. This is why chickens with large combs do well in summer (they can let off more heat faster) but are harder to care for in the winter.
Chickens that have feathers with a hard shaft and tightly laid feathers will be more “windproof” than chickens with soft shafts, fluffy feathers, and loose fitting feathers. Chickens like Silkies and Light Brahmas won’t have protection from the wind since their feathers don’t block drafts very well. It’s just like how a tight knit polyester windbreaker will protect you from the wind better than a loosely knit ugly Christmas sweater will. It’s more important for fluffy chickens to have a draft free coop.
Another thing you can do to help your chickens cold with cold weather is to install flat roosts in your coop.
It can be as easy as laying a 2×4 sideways so you have a 4″ ledge for the chicken to sit on. This way the chicken can cover up their feet with their feathers instead having to wrap them around a roost which leaves the toes exposed in cold weather.
There you have it folks. Hope it helped!
Yours in Poultry,