We have been raising different chicken breeds here in Rhode Island for over twenty years. Most chicken breeds can tolerate cold temperatures without compromising their well-being and health.
So, how cold can chickens tolerate? Chickens are hardy birds and can survive temperatures below freezing point, but they prefer warm climates. The ideal temperature for raising chickens is about 70-75oF (21-24oC).
Many beginners and season chicken keepers find it challenging to keep their flocks warm during the winter. We recommend certain precautions to ensure chickens are comfortable despite the cold weather.
This article provides detailed insight into what temperature is too cold for chickens and how to keep chickens warm without electricity. Take the time to read through the steps to prepare your flocks for winter.
How Cold Can Chickens Tolerate? (Chicks & Adults)
Most chicken breeds can withstand cold temperatures below freezing point. But the ideal temperature for raising healthy chickens is about 70-75oF (21-240C). Besides that, keep the chicken coops warm and dry throughout winter to prevent diseases.
Laying adult hens can also produce eggs when the temperature is below freezing. High temperatures usually impact egg quality and reduce egg production and appetite. (Source: University of Florida).
Baby chickens are more sensitive to cold temperatures than adults. The small size and immature feathers make them vulnerable to illness due to cold. We recommend an environmental temperature range of 90-95oF (32-35oC) for 1-10days chicks.
Maintain the climate temperature to about 70-75oF (21-23oC) when the chicks are five weeks old. These baby chickens will have developed some fluffy feathers to keep them warm throughout the cold weather.
If you live in cold weather regions, we recommend raising chicken breeds that can tolerate cold temperatures. Be sure not to leave your chickens outside in temperatures that are below zero.
Chicken breeds with less dense plumage can thrive and survive in warm weather climates. My golden rule is to invest in chicken breeds that are the hardest for your vicinity (region) climate.
How to Prepare Chicken Coops for Winter
Extreme cold weather might affect the chicken’s well-being and health. Here are quick tips to prepare chicken coops for winter to keep your flocks warm and comfortable:
Inspect the coop floor, walls, and rooftop for any holes that might allow water inside it during winter. Repair the coop by sealing the holes to prevent wetting the chickens and their beddings.
Chickens thrive in a warm and dry coop since it is free from diseases. A chicken coop with adequate ventilation is dry and free from the ammonia smell since it exits through the ventilation. Besides that, an airtight coop is not safe for chickens.
Inspect the chicken coop for air sources that blow air directly to the chickens. The main causes are the windowsills and doorway space. Cover these openings to control the amount of moving air through the coop and stop the cold draft.
Chickens can suffer from diseases when exposed to extreme cold weather. Insulating the chicken coop wall will help protect the chickens from cold. The coop will retain as much heat as possible during the winter.
Freeze-Proof Water Source
Chickens can drink water despite the cold weather. Use a built-in heater container to prevent water solidification during winter. Freezing weather can solidify the water to inhibit the chickens from drinking.
How Do Chickens Keep Warm In Cold Weather?
The ideal temperature for chickens is 65-75oF (18-24oC). But these backyard birds can also tolerate temperatures down to 40-45oF (4-7oC). Here are ways how chickens keep warm in the cold weather:
All living things generate heat through the digestion of food. So, we recommend feeding your chickens with whole grains and dry corn since they are harder to digest.
The chickens’ bodies will produce more heat overnight to allow them to keep warm throughout the cold weather. Chickens burn more calories in winter to stay warm.
Lift Leg Up
Chickens lose heat through the legs and feet since they are thin and featherless. Chickens tuck one foot at a time into their abdomen feathers to stay warm. We recommend roosting the chickens on a wide board to enable them to stand on one foot.
The Head Tuck
Most chickens tuck their heads under a wing while sleeping to protect the comb and wattle from winter frostbite. The comb is the main source of heat loss among chickens in cold weather.
Cold-tolerance chickens have a small or non-existent comb, while heat-hardy breeds have large combs to encourage heat loss from the body. So, chickens cold their body temperature in summer by losing heat via combs.
All chicken breeds fluff feathers during cold weather conditions to trap tiny air pockets close to the body. These tiny air pockets hold warm air close to the body and prevent cold air from reaching the body.
More trapped air close to the body will insulate the chicken from cold. The behavior forces the chickens to molt every fall to encourage new feather growth come winter for protection against cold.
Roosting Side By Side
Chickens usually snuggle together at night to keep themselves warm. Roosting side by side help reduces the surface area of the body exposed to the cold air. You might notice your flock fighting at night since nobody wants to be on the end.
A hen can generate about 10 watts of energy; twenty chickens can produce about 200 watts. We recommend breeding a dozen of chickens to help keep warm during the cold weather conditions.
My Final Thoughts
Winter can be a scary season for new chicken owners, but chickens can tolerate temperatures below 40-45oF since they are hardy birds. Besides that, they have tricks and adaptations of keeping warm in the cold weather.
We recommend winterizing the chicken coops before winter to help your flock conquer the cold weather without becoming sick. Be sure to offer them whole or crack grains to increase digestion time and generate more heat.
If you have read up to this point, I can guess you are a beginner in chicken breeding. We hope this information will help you keep your flock warm throughout the cold weather conditions. Feel free to share the article with your family and other new chicken owners.
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