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Chilly Chickens

“Chilly Chickens” was the title of a recent post on a chicken forum. For those of us not used to drastic weather changes, it is difficult to know how our chickens will fare in extreme cold.  In general, chickens, depending on the breed, do better in more severe cold over intense heat. Here’s a simple survival checklist to consider for the cold for full-grown or full-feathered chickens:

Shelter

Shelter should have protection from north winds. It is good to have ventilation but not drafts, as drafts can pull heat away from the body and potentially contribute to frost bite on combs.

Your coop should also have a good roof without leaks.  If your birds get wet or chilled, they can become susceptible to the elements. An easy way to insulate an open aired coop is to have straw or hay bales on the outer perimeter of the coop. You can use the hay or straw as flooring as well as a wind breaker when needed.

You can add a heat lamp near the roost for additional warmth, but the additional warmth should not bring the coop temperature up much above freezing.

Heated Water Bowl

A heated waterer will prevent frozen water.

Food and Water

Make sure your birds have plenty of food, as they will eat more as fuel to keep warm. The water should be fresh, clean and not frozen.  Take appropriate precautions to prevent freezing on any auto-waterers and spilling/leakage on any waterer in use. You can buy heated waterers if you will have extended freezing temperatures.

Litter/Flooring

Some type of layered flooring, such as hay, leaves, or other materials will add insulation. Would you rather be on a rug with bare feet in the cold or on a plus carpet? The deep litter method gives off heat and can be another form of insulation and warmth.

Other Considerations

Birds with larger combs, such as Mediterranean breeds, or with less feathers, such as Naked Necks, may require extra considerations. Larger combs are more susceptible to frostbite, which can be a serious condition if untreated.  Some say using Vaseline or oil on the combs will help prevent frostbite, although there is debate on this topic. Keep in mind, frostbite can affect extremities, including toes, so watch for discoloration and monitor the symptoms. Prevention is the best treatment, but frostbitten areas can often turn black and fall off without issue. Make sure to treat symptoms accordingly if infection begins. The addition of a heat lamp, as mentioned above, may help. Breeds like Naked Necks definitely should have protection from drafts and other areas. They have half the feather insulation of many other breeds.

Minorca rooster with large comb and wattles

This Minorca rooster's large comb and wattles are more susceptible to frostbite.

Naked Neck Hen

WIth 50% less feathers than most breeds, the Naked Neck is not cold hardy.

Young chicks that have not fully feathered require extra attention and should be in a more sheltered and heated area.

And if things go awry…

Chickens are hardy critters. If you find a nearly frozen chicken, don’t put her in your freezer; heat her up…and not on the stove, either! A heat lamp or hair dryer can often revive a nearly departed chicken. Give it a try if needed.

Unexpected weather happens, but chickens are generally hardy and resilient. You can be prepared with some easy tips.

We hope you will share your favorite cold weather tips for your flock?

See just how exciting and intricate the world of chickens can be?

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