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How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens

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How cold is too cold for chickens? It might surprise you that this question comes with lots of answers. How your chickens handle the cold depends on their age, health, and breed. So what might be the perfect weather for one chicken is too cold for another. Most adult chickens can handle temperatures below freezing, but 70-75 is the most comfortable. But let’s take a look at all of the exceptions and rules to chickens in cold weather. 

Adult Chicken Temperatures

How cold is too cold for chickens? Adult chickens of most breeds can withstand temperatures well into the teens. It might even surprise you to see chickens trying to forage in the snow. So what makes these chickens so well adapted to winter weather? The body type is everything here. 

The body type of your chicken tells you just how adapted they will be to cold weather. The first being large bodies that retain heat well. The larger chicken you have, the better they can withstand the harsh colds. Smaller chickens usually have a tougher time generating enough body heat to stay warm, but not always. There are a few bantam breeds out there that do just fine in fridged temperatures. 

Another part of the body to pay attention to is the combs. Chickens with large combs lose a lot of body heat through them and make them prone to frostbite. Cold weather chicken usually has rose combs or pea combs. These names come from the shape of the comb itself. Pea combs are small bumps on top of the head that are about the size of a pea. Rose combs are often a little larger and flatter to the head, but both of them are perfect for preventing frostbite. 

And finally, the feather style is fundamental to keeping warm. Chickens in cold weather need down feathers underneath their primary feathers. Down feathers are the small fluffy fine ones that are close to the body. The down traps warm air close to the body under primary feathers to keep the chickens warm. 

Most chickens have down feathers under the primary, but a few breeds only have the fluffy down. For instance, Silkies are cute fluffy birds. But they are impossible to keep warm in cold weather. This is because Silkies can’t trap that warm air under primary feathers as insulation. So you don’t want to get fluffier breeds if you live in freezing temperatures. 

If your chickens have all of these aspects, your chickens could withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t be cold, so more on that later. 

Baby Chick Temperatures

Chicks are fragile creatures that need warmer temperatures until they fully develop. Day-old chicks in a brooder need a cozy 95 degrees for their first week of life. Each week after, you will drop the temperature by 5 degrees until they are about six weeks old. If the outside temperatures are no lower than 65 degrees, your chicks can move to the outdoor coop at six weeks. 

However, if it gets colder than 65 at night, you should probably wait until the chicks are slightly older. Most chicks are fully capable of regulating their body temperatures between 11-12 weeks old. At this age, they can withstand temperatures as low as 50 degrees. But if there is snow outside, it’s best to keep the chicks in the brooder a little longer. 

As you can see, these first few weeks are crucial if you are hatching your eggs. But if your chickens breed naturally, you won’t have anything to worry about. Chickens mate at the perfect time of the year that isn’t too hot or too cold. Your hens will always make sure that their clutches are at the ideal temperature. 

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The Sick And The Elderly

Sick and elderly chickens have a hard time maintaining their body temperature. They spend most of their energy trying to recoup. Sick chickens trying to keep warm might get worse because they can’t rest. And older chickens might get sick if they can’t retain heat like they used to.

You should bring sick and older chickens indoors during the winter months. Or at least in the garage where they have more insulation, and you can add heat lamps. Even a cold weather chicken might need a little TLC in these times of need. 

How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens To Be Outside? 

So we know that you are probably watching the temperatures outside like a hawk during winter. But what temperature will kill chickens? If your chickens are old enough and in good health, they can go out in temperatures as low as 15 degrees. Anything lower than this could lead to distress and inability to keep warm. 

Can Chickens Stay Outside In The Winter? 

So how cold is too cold for chickens? If your chickens go outside willingly, you have nothing to worry about. Your hens are smart and won’t go outside if it’s too cold for them. Some chickens don’t even mind hanging out in the snow. But nighttime is a different story. 

Temperatures quickly drop into the negatives with windchills. And without protection, your flock won’t make it through the night. All of your chickens should always make their way back to the coop in the winter months. Though, we don’t think this is an issue for most chickens. Even cold weather chickens happily go into the coop after dark. But if you have a straggler, you might want to entice them with a corn or oatmeal treat. The treat will keep them warm and give them an incentive to roost. 

How Can You Tell If Chickens Are Too Cold? 

Don’t be surprised if your chickens stick around in the coop if it’s chilly out. As long as your flock isn’t showing signs of being too cold, they will be fine. But how can you tell if your chickens are getting too cool? 

Huddling

The first sign of your chickens in distress is huddling. Your flock will huddle together to share their warmth. Now gathering together is expected at night when the temperatures drop. But if you notice that they stay huddled all day and night without moving much, your flock is getting too cold. 

Standing On One Leg

Another sign that your hens are getting cold is standing on one leg. Your chickens will do this when the ground is too cold for them to bear. Holding one leg up close to the body will keep it warm and prevent frostbite. Once that foot is warmed, they will switch. If you see your chickens doing this, you might want to keep the coop closed for a while. 

Comb And Wattle Discoloration

Combs tells you a lot about the health of your chickens. If your chickens are getting uncomfortable, their combs and wattles will turn very pale and ashen. In extreme cases, they will start to turn a bluish-black as a sign of frostbite. Keep an eye out on the color of your flock’s combs and wattles as a quick sign that they are in distress. 

Prolonged Fluffiness 

Chickens will puff out their feathers to help trap warm air into their down. But if you see a chicken that doesn’t stop being fluffy, they might be having trouble coping. Chickens in cold weather will also become lethargic and have a hard time leaving the coop. 

How Do You Winterize A Chicken Coop?

Can chickens freeze to death? Without proper precautions, it is possible. That is why we recommend weather-proofing your coop to keep your chickens warm. If your coop is appropriately taken care of, then the temperatures could stay well above freezing, even in cold weather. So what should you do?

  1. Check the coop for drafts in the walls and through the floors. Even a slight breeze is the line between survival and death. 
  2. Another vital thing to do is make sure that the coop stays dry. How do you do this? Cleaning regularly and adding dry bedding, like wood shavings, really help. But the game-changer here is proper ventilation. Vents placed around the top of your coop keeps it dry and draft-free. 
  3. Double-paned windows can also add a little warmth to your coop by creating a greenhouse. Windows that face the sun trap warmth from the sun and shutters at night keep it warm longer. 

Should You Insulate A Chicken Coop? 

The last thing you can do is insulate the chicken coop for winter. But this topic has a few pros and cons. Insulating your coop could keep drafts out and keep it warmer longer. That is why we think that if done correctly, insulation is excellent to have. But there is another side. 

In summer, insulation could keep your coop too warm. You will need to make sure that your coop has lots of low ventilation for a breeze. To solve this seasonal problem, a lot of people use removable insulation. Hay bales around the coop are perfect cheap insulation throughout winter. You could also add styrofoam to the inside of the coop for temporary insulation that you can reuse every year. Some people are even innovative enough to create insulated paneling that they can remove in spring. 

Some Last Words

How cold is too cold for chickens? Your cold-weather chicken breeds might surprise you. They are tougher than you think. But we want them to have some level of comfortability. After all, you aren’t going to get quality eggs from a suffering chicken. 

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!

How cold is too cold for chickens?

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