Top 10 Tips for Keeping Chickens in Winter

Chickens walking out of their coop into the snow.
Johner Images / Getty Images

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.

  • 01 of 10

    Chickens Don't Need a Heater

    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

    Use Deep Litter to Keep Them Warm

    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

    They May Not Lay Unless You Supplement Light

    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

    Feed Them Corn in the Evening to Keep Them Warm All Night

    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.

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  • 05 of 10

    Hang a Head of Cabbage for a Chicken Play Toy

    Just like humans, chickens can get a little bored and stir-crazy 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

    Make Them a Nice Sunroom

    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

    Petroleum Jelly on Combs and Wattles Protects from Frostbite

    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

    Chickens Don't Like Snow

    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.

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  • 09 of 10

    Chickens Don’t Have to Be Put Inside in Bad Weather

    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

    Roosts Are Key

    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.

Hopefully, these tips will put your mind at ease, and keep your chickens happy and entertained during the coldest months. If you haven't built your coop yet, be sure to visit others in your area during winter to see firsthand how the birds take to cooler temperatures.