How good are chickens at keeping warm in winter?
How to keep chickens warm when the temperatures drop to zero degrees C is a common worry amongst chicken keepers. So what problems does this cause for chickens? How do you keep chickens warm in the winter? The quick answer is that chickens are covered in their own feather duvets. They are well able to keep themselves warm without any additional aids or methods.
Frostbite in below freezing temperatures may be an issue for hens or cockerels with large combs on their heads. As chickens remove the warm blood from their combs as the temperature plummets, this can make the comb cooler and therefore vulnerable to frostbite. A slick of Vaseline over the fleshy parts will assist in keeping the comb protected. Keeping the coop draught free but well ventilated will also help to keep it condensation free. It is the condensation which freezes and makes the combs succumb to ice crystals generated by the condensation. You will be helping in keeping chickens warm by making sure they stay dry also.
Chickens naturally cover their tootsies by lowering their feathers as they crouch down to roost overnight. This and tucking their heads under their wings help them keep their extremities warm and toasty. The picture above from a thermal imaging camera shows where the most heat loss is for chickens. Their heads and feet are showing up brighter. Their bodies are not losing much heat at all due their feathery coverage.
The most pressing issue for chickens in this weather is to keep their water free from ice so they can actually drink. Check on their water during the day to make sure. A heat plate or heated wire introduced into the drinker can assist in regions particularly affected by the cold wintery breath of the “beast”.
A chickens’ metabolism is active all night, so you can keep chickens warm by adding a handful of mixed corn to their diet late afternoon before bedtime. This heats them up from the inside as they digest it while they roost. It is tempting to give them warm porridge or any other warm human food, however, oats has the effect of cooling them down as it happens so is counter productive. In fact any warm food is counter-productive as it cools them down faster.
What you shouldn’t do
You should not be tempted to add a heater to your coop. This will be a fire hazard. Candles and other apparatus with a naked flame are definitely risky and can cause fires or dangerous fumes. Fumes and birds are a bad combination. Dont cover the coop with anything like a duvet, carpet etc as you will block the ventilation which can cause condensation inside. Condensation freezing on the skin of the bird will make frostbite more likely. Chickens are better able to cope with the cold than the heat of summer.