The Omlet Blog

How cold can chickens tolerate?

Boy sat in snow with chickens and Omlet Eglu enclosure

How cold is too cold for chickens? Chickens can tolerate cold weather, however, baby chicks are less likely to do so. The primary concern in cold temperatures is whether your chickens are becoming wet. If they are and cannot dry off, this can be cause for concern.

Our guide walks you through the optimum temperatures for chickens, how to care for your hens in winter, and which breeds are the most hardy.

How cold is too cold for chickens?

Chickens will regulate their temperature and behavior accordingly, so wherever humans can live, chickens can thrive too. Chickens can tolerate cold even under freezing temperatures. This makes caring for chickens in winter relatively simple, as only a few adjustments to your usual routine will need to be made. It is the combination of cold and wet that can prove fatal, so it’s vital to ensure your hens have a dry chicken coop. Any of your birds that become soaked should be toweled dry. Applying Vaseline to their combs will prevent frostbite and help them tolerate the cold.

Ideal temperatures for adult chickens

While chickens can tolerate the cold, their preferred weather is in the 70 degrees Fahrenheit range. You’ll find that your adult chickens can survive cold temperatures into the teens. However, we recommend keeping a thermometer in your coop to track its temperature. You should find that the insulation of your coop and the warmth created by the chickens themselves is enough to help them tolerate the cold.

Ideal temperatures for baby chicks

Baby chicks are far more sensitive to cold temperatures and are not able to tolerate them as well as full-grown hens. This is both due to their smaller size and the fact their feathers are not yet fully developed to keep them warm. When your chicks first hatch you should keep them at around 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. After this you can reduce the temperature they’re kept at around 5 degrees a week until you get into the 70 – 75 Fahrenheit range.

Keep your chickens’ coop warm & cozy

The type of coop you have makes a big difference in how cold your chickens will tolerate. In really cold winters, a wooden coop with a drafty coop door can soon become damp and semi-frozen – not to mention very drafty. This dampness combined with the cold weather will make winter more difficult for be more tricky for your flock to tolerate.

On the other hand, a more robust state-of-the-art chicken coop such as the Eglu will keep out the cold and damp – enabling chickens to tolerate the cold weather after a busy day in their run. You’ll find that an Eglu will stay much warmer during the winter than a wooden coop. The temperature in the Eglu will remain moderate when all the hens are tucked in at night. Our Eglus are insulated by design, but if the winter becomes colder than usual you can easily add extreme weather protection to further insulate your coop.  

You can help your backyard chickens keep warm in the frost and help them weather the cold by making sure the coop is clean and dry. Clear out any snow dragged in on the hens’ feet and keep an insulating layer of straw on the floor. Doing this will help your chickens to tolerate the colder weather. If you also insulate your chicken runs, there should still be some ventilation, to allow the gasses released from the birds’ droppings to escape.

An automatic door will help keep the living quarters cozy, too. It’s not advised to install a coop heater – even those rated for hen houses.  Hens may get used to being overly warm all the time, which could be disastrous if the heater fails. Heat-pampered poultry can die of shock when introduced to lower temperatures, as they will not have become acclimated to tolerating the cold.

4 signs your chicken is too cold

When ensuring your chickens will tolerate the cold, it’s important to know the signs for when the weather may have made them uncomfortable. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Ruffled feathers
  • Perched off the ground
  • One leg tucked up
  • Wattles and combs are paler than usual

These are not signs of distress, and as long as the chicken is only having a brief rest, rather than staying hunkered up for the whole day, you don’t have to worry. If hens go off their feed, appear to be in shock, or have discolored (blue or black) combs, wattles or feet, it’s time to bring them inside to warm up slowly. 

Keeping chickens dry in cold temperatures

While chickens can tolerate the cold, they should not be allowed to remain soaking wet. This is more dangerous than the outdoor temperature or the falling snow – and in extreme cases will result in hypothermia. Any affected hens will be stiff and cold to the touch, with their eyes wide and unblinking, or closed. If you find one of your chickens in this state, take them indoors and wrap them in a warm towel. When they recover, put them in a bedding-lined box in a warm spot for a few hours.

What happens if a chick gets too cold?

Chicks are less tolerant of the cold and are more susceptible to lower temperatures than adult chickens. If a young chicken has its full coat of feathers, it will be as tolerant of the cold as the older birds. Chicks, however, will need protection from the cold, and should be kept under an appropriate heat lamp. Any chick left to fend for itself in cold weather will die.

Chickens roaming in the Omlet Eglu Pro Chicken Coop

Tips for cold weather chicken care

Chickens can usually tolerate adapting to colder climates, but how can you tell when your flock needs a bit of help keeping warm? The following tips will help you keep happy, healthy chickens this winter:

  • Prevent water from freezing – Check it at least twice a day to keep it clear of ice. If a freeze is forecast, bring the chicken waterers indoors at night. If possible, buy a water heater designed for the job of preventing freezing. Ping-pong balls in the water can also prevent freezing.
  • Chickens usually return to the coop at dusk, but in the winter, you may find your birds trying to get more pecking time from the short days. If your hens tend to wander in the dark, a high visibility hen coat will help you locate them. The coats also keep the birds cozy, so it’s a double blessing in the Winter to help chickens tolerate the cold.
  • Providing weather-proof shelter in the chicken run will give the hens some respite while tolerating the cold. You can use chicken run covers to do this.
  • Some extra corn offered as a chicken treat before the hen’s bedtime will stoke their internal heater as the chickens digest it overnight. In general, hens will eat more food in the cold months to tolerate the cold, as more of their energy is spent keeping warm.
  • Protect combs and wattles from frostbite with petroleum jelly or Vaseline.
  • Specially made coop heaters or brooder plates can be placed in enclosed spaces such as barns or garages for hens that are struggling in the cold, but should be used sparingly. And, these should only be used for a short amount of time, and only if someone will be home to avoid a potential fire-hazard. 
  • If you do not have a cozy Eglu, a wooden coop can be insulated with bubble-wrap, cardboard or old carpets or blankets.
  • Extra bedding on the floor of the coop will help the chickens tolerate the cold, too.
  • Some owners like to supplement their chickens’ diets with extra protein or a little suet, to increase their fat levels for the Winter. Fat retains heat, and the whole bird benefits from the added nutrition.

How do chickens naturally keep warm in the winter?

The chicken’s secret to tolerating the cold is natural insulation. Their feathers help them retain body heat and warm the air trapped beneath their downy base feathers. When they’re at rest, a hen’s body temperature is 104–107F, with their heart rate of around 400 beats per minute – evidence of a high metabolism that sets up the birds very well for winter weather.

Watching hens scratch at the frozen ground or strut through the snow, you might wonder how chickens manage to keep their feet and legs warm. After all, this is one part of their body with no feathers to keep it cozy (unless you happen to have a feathery-legged breed such as the Cochin, Brahma or Silkie). The answer lies in the chicken’s leg scales, which retain heat to a certain extent. The average chicken will always be on the move, not keeping all its toes on the ground for too long.

Does perching help chickens tolerate the cold?

Like many other birds, chickens often adopt the ‘one leg’ pose in the winter, tucking one of their limbs up into the warmth of their bellies. This reduces overall heat loss and stops feet and toes from freezing on the icy ground. Like all birds, chickens are warm-blooded, and their own body heat soon works its magic to help them tolerate the cold.

Perching is the most effective way for a chicken to retain body heat and tolerate the cold. Hens hunker down when roosting, with their feathers fluffed up and their legs tucked into her warm body. If space allows, install a flat perch in your coop or run. This will enable the hens to roost without having to curl their toes around the roosting bar, which will prevent their toes from freezing in very cold weather. An upturned pot, a log, pallet or other slightly elevated space will give the birds a flat surface to perch on, to escape the ice and snow.

Can chickens freeze to death?

Chickens can usually tolerate cold conditions and will not die, as long as they have a warm coop to retreat into when the weather becomes extreme. Cold hens may be more susceptible than usual to illness and parasites, though, and their egg production will fall. But, most chickens will simply hunker down on chicken perches and in nesting boxes, with their feathers fluffed out to weather the winter.

The best chicken breeds for cold weather

While most chickens can tolerate the cold, there are some chicken breeds that are more suited to cold climates than others. Here are the top 5 for cold temperatures:

Introducing Omlet pet care

Omlet can help you care for your chickens and ensure they’re enjoying each season to the fullest. From chicken pens to run around in, to toys such as chicken swings to keep them entertained, you’re sure to find everything you need to keep your flock healthy and happy all year round!

four chickens sat together on a perch inside a run

This entry was posted in Chickens

8 replies on “How cold can chickens tolerate?”

Micheal Hall says:

Should i be putting hay or something in roost area of my cube?

Jose A. Valdez says:

If the coop is big enough to hold some straw, that will help also.

Lidia Tobar says:

I live in the PNW in Washington state where it rains 8months out of the year. My hens are about 9 months old and laying. Due to our weather my chickens feathers get really wet. They do huddle in bushes when it’s pouring and then they are out again roaming. I do turn on the heat lamp once in awhile for them to dry but I get so nervous leaving it on overnight. Am I doing too much by leaving the heat lamp on or should I just let them dry their feathers on their own when the rally in to their coop?

Rex Jones Upstate S.C. says:

The mention of suet for chickens during cold weather, (It is now getting into the 20’s at night) is a great idea. Thank you

Ramona Tyler says:

I live in the PNW on the other side of the mountains on the much dryer area.. injust wanted to comment that everything discussed above on (how to know if your girls are cold) I already did prior to this article. I don’t use petroleum jelly products( it holds in moisture). They have straw on the floor of the run and some i the eglu. I give my girls extra black sun seeds, micro greens, oats and they are still giving me eggs.

Michael Winslow says:

It’s going down to 9 Degress tomorrow, should I be worried?

Kim Scholten says:

It’s a really REALLY bad idea to put Vaseline on combs and wattles to prevent freezing. It actually increases the chance and speed of ( potential ) frostbite on these tender areas due to the fact it traps moisture under the Vaseline. Chicken respiration creates a lot of moisture. The best practice is to keep chickens out of the wind, provide them with ample sustenance, warm water to drink, extra protein treats and a raised flat platform to perch on so they can tuck in their toes. Keeping the coop extremely clean and providing something soft like straw ( mite free straw ) is very beneficial. Chickens also need company to be happy and warm- more than two is ideal.

Kim Scholten says:

Corn is another wonderful treat. When chickens digest corn, it raises their body temp. Our Chickens like bran mashes and i also put nesting herbs with them at night. It keeps boredom down and the mites away. i do bring my hens inside when it drops into frigid temps with windchills below -10* I do not like heat lamps. When my flock was larger I wasn’t concerned- they kept their coop at around 40* even in the bitter cold ( well below zero ). but now our flock is very small, so I bring the girls into our laundry room . We have a makeshift inside coop for them. They have gotten so used to it, we even get eggs now in the morning. LOL. I do spoil them tough and talk to them all the time. they are marvelous creatures!

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