How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter

chicken roaming in the snow

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

For new chicken owners, winter can be a scary time. You may be wondering if your chickens will be warm enough or if they will still keep laying eggs. Don't worry—these tips will keep your hens happy and healthy in even the coldest months.

Tips to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter

  • 01 of 10

    Don't Add a Heater

    chickens in the coop will huddle for warmth

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Don't put a heater in your chicken coop for winter warmth. Think of all that bedding—you're asking for a fire. Plus, chickens don't need it. They huddle together for warmth. And don't seal up the coop completely.

    Ventilation is key to prevent moisture buildup.

  • 02 of 10

    Provide Deep Litter to Help Keep Them Warm

    the deep litter method allows compost to build up on the coop floor

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    The deep litter method is a way of allowing bedding material and chicken poop to build up in the coop over the spring, summer, and fall so that by winter you have roughly a foot of composting material on the floor of the coop. This composting poop and bedding will give off heat, warming the coop naturally.

  • 03 of 10

    Provide Supplemental Light for Laying

    hen in a laying box

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Some birds are great layers right through the winter. Buff Orpingtons seem to lay no matter how short the days. But in general, supplemental light is required if you want to keep your family or customers in eggs all winter long. However, there are some downsides to supplementing light—it stresses the birds and can shorten their laying life. So consider both pros and cons.

  • 04 of 10

    Give Them Evening Corn to Keep Them Warm All Night

    feeding chickens cracked corn before bed

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Giving your chickens a nice feeding of cracked corn before bed gives them something to digest during the night, keeping them warmer. It's their favorite food, and they'll be happier with full bellies.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Hang Cabbage for Exercise and Entertainment

    hanging a head of cabbage in the coop

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Just like humans, chickens can get a little bored and restless in the winter. They sure seem to enjoy a head of cabbage on a string in the coop. They go wild pecking at it while it bobs around. Give this simple trick a try to keep your hens happy.

  • 06 of 10

    Offer Passive Warmth With a Sunroom

    chicken sun room

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    If you’re worried about your girls not having enough space in the coop, you can build a kind of cold frame or greenhouse-style addition to your structure, covering it in clear plastic. They will wander out into it and have a bit more space on nice days, and you can rest easy knowing they aren’t too cramped and are getting some fresh air.

  • 07 of 10

    Use Petroleum Jelly on Combs and Wattles to Fend Off Frostbite

    chicken with frost on its facial features

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    In the coldest winter climates, you may find that breeds with large combs and wattles are prone to frostbite. To protect them, you can smear their combs and wattles with petroleum jelly. However, if your chickens do get frostbite, it is usually nothing serious as just the tips of the combs are affected—but it can look a little icky.

  • 08 of 10

    Scatter Hay or Straw

    chicken walking on snow with straw

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Generally speaking, once temperatures are in the 20 degrees Fahrenheit range, chickens won’t walk out into the snow. You can scatter hay or straw on the ground and this will make it more palatable for them. When the temperature is a little higher in the low 30s, they don’t seem to mind walking on the snow as much.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Don't Force Them Indoors

    allowing chickens to roam freely in bad weather

    Johner Images / Getty Images

    If chickens don’t want to be outdoors, they'll head into the coop. Just let them do what they want. They're hardier than you might think and aren’t as averse to cold as people often assume.

    Don’t waste your time and energy trying to shoo them indoors during rain or snow.

  • 10 of 10

    Allow Plenty of Space for Roosting

    chicken on a roost

    The Spruce / Steven Merkel

    Chickens will roost together and fluff themselves out. This is what keeps them warm. It also keeps them off the cold ground—roost should be raised at least 2 or 3 feet above the earth. So make sure you have plenty of space for all your chickens to comfortably roost. Check on them in the evening with a flashlight—if a bird is on the ground, there’s not enough space.

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  1. “Establishing a Backyard Poultry Flock.” Small Farm Sustainability, Iowa State University