If winter is coming and you know it’s going to be a cold one, you’re right to question if your chickens are at risk of freezing to death.
They may be covered in nice warm feathers, but there’s a huge difference between being tucked up in a warm bed and sleeping in a coop outside!
Here is everything you need to know about how well chickens handle the extreme cold, and what you can do to ensure they’re staying safe and warm out in their coop.
Can Chickens Freeze to Death in Cold Weather?
Yes, chickens can freeze to death if they are exposed to temperatures colder than they can handle for a prolonged period.
It’s not common though, especially if you are providing all the basic things your backyard flock needs to keep them safe from the elements.
More often than not, a chicken will freeze to death due to being unwell, weak, or because their coop isn’t up to standard to keep the harsh elements at bay.
Even people raising chickens in Alaska and some eastern European countries that hit the double digits minus figures in the winter don’t use any heating for their flock in the winter.
It’s all about being prepared and giving your chickens somewhere safe and secure to sleep overnight. Sure, heating doesn’t go a miss if you want to pamper them as I’ll explain later, but it’s usually not needed.
What Temperature Is Too Cold for Chickens?
I couldn’t find a definitive answer to this question as there are so many factors to consider.
As a general rule of thumb, when temperatures are reaching the -15 to -20 degrees range, I think you need to step in and take a close look at how they’re holding up.
Chickens are very adept at dealing with the cold weather, much more so than extreme heat. They are also natural survivors, so they will find a way to raise their core temperature if possible.
As long as you’re providing them a coop that doesn’t allow any cold breezes or damp in, they’ll huddle up and make the most of their warmth.
Whether or not you should heat a coop is a much-debated topic. I’ve read cases for both sides, and I’ll admit it will obviously make your flock more comfortable.
But, I’ve literally never heard of a backyard chicken owner saying they’ve had a chicken die due to extreme cold.
I think the best answer is for you to keep an eye on your flock as the temperatures drop to see how they’re handling it. There isn’t a flat answer that will suit everyone.
Related content - How to tell if I chicken has frostbite.
Can Chickens Stay Outside in the Winter?
Yes, chickens can stay outside during the winter. Obviously it depends on what breeds you have, as certain breeds are better at dealing with the cold than others. As well as how cold it is, where they can go for shelter, and so on.
Something to be aware of is that chickens actually have two layers of feathers to keep warm. They have their outer layer that you can see, as well as a fluffy layer called down feathers designed to keep them warm.
They will also eat more during the winter and you’ll notice their coats fluffing out. All things that chickens naturally do that make a huge difference to their core body temperature.
Can Chickens Sleep Outside in the Cold?
If you mean sleep outside of their coop, then you can make this an option and they will sleep outside if they want to.
Most chickens like being out in the cold. A little frost or snow isn’t enough to put them off foraging for food and doing their social activities.
The worst thing you can do is lock them up in their coop because you think it’s too cold for them. Let them decide if they want to go outside, sleep outside, and whatever else they want to do.
How to Tell If a Chicken Is Too Cold
As I already mentioned, it’s spotting the signs early that your chickens are getting too cold that’s important. Here are some of the ways you can tell they’re struggling with the sub-zero temperatures:
Excessive huddling - While it’s cute seeing chickens huddling up together sharing warmth, it’s a sign of desperation more than affection.
If they are grouped together sharing warmth when they’d usually be active, you need to do something about it. It’s usually more so due to breezes in their coop rather than the actual temperature unless it is really, really cold.
Lethargic behavior - You know your chickens well. Seeing anything less than normal foraging and active behavior is cause for concern.
Standing on one leg - Some birds, famously flamingos, sleep on one leg. Chickens, on the other hand, tend to stand on one leg so they can tuck the other in to keep it warm.
It could also mean they have bumblefoot or some other injury. But it’s really cold out, the likely explanation is that they’re trying to keep a little extra warmth in.
Puffed up appearance - Like a lot of animals with fur or feathers, in the cold weather chickens will puff themselves up to keep more warmth in.
It’s fine if they do this on a chilly day here and there, but if they’re walking around puffed up all the time you should take some steps to help them out.
Comb changing color - A chicken's comb is a good indication of how healthy they are. A pale comb is usually a sign that they're unwell. Black or white bits on the tips of their comb might be an early sign of frostbite.
Related content - Has your chicken's comb flopped over? Here's my story.
Should I Warm up My Chickens or Their Coop?
As I already discussed, as long as you have a secure coop that isn’t letting any draughts in, it’s not necessary to warm it. Unless that is you’re experiencing some seriously sub-zero temperatures.
For most people, their chickens will be fine. They’re designed to handle the cold. We do love our flock though, so I understand when someone wants to provide the best care and warm their coop.
You could go for a heater that’s safe to use in a coop. Something like this coop heater on Amazon is better and safer than a lamp.
Personally, I prefer heat pads like these ones on Amazon. They are economical, safe, and provide a nice warmth your chickens can come into contact with.
I hope this article has helped put your worries at ease. Chickens are very good at handling the cold weather, so not many reading this living in most countries in the world should have much to worry about.
If you live somewhere that experiences extremely cold temperatures, then it makes sense that you might have to step in and help your flock keep cozy out in the yard.