10 ways to keep backyard chickens healthy and warm in the winter months

November 15, 2012

It’s been terribly serious around here lately. So let’s talk about something that makes me feel peaceful! My three rad chickens, of course…

One would maybe think it’s cruel to raise backyard chickens in Minnesota. I wasn’t sure how that would work at first either. I mean, it does get to be well below zero in these parts! But thankfully, backyard chickens are still a possibility for those of us in the coldest climates. I’m here to give you some helpful hints for keeping your chickens safe and warm in the winter months, even though they do stay outside.

Check out the snow on the cute little beak…

First of all, one must keep in mind that it’s important to choose cold weather breeds from the start. That is, if you live in a cold weather region, of course. Learning more about breeds is as easy as googling, but to save you time, I’ll link to my favorite site where you can fill in check boxes with your climate and needs to find the right breed for you.

This will be our first winter with chickens. I’ve asked a few locals what they do with their chickens in the winter and the answer has been, for the most part, nothing. They remind me that chickens generate a lot of heat on their own and that they snuggle up together in the hay. Still, I was not satisfied. If you’ve been around here since we got the chickens, you know I’m a wee bit in love with them. So I did some digging by way of chicken magazines and online sites with chicken owning forums, etc. Here’s what I learned:

  • feed your chickens cracked corn in the cold months because it ends up making their body heat increase as they digest it.
  • if you’d like, add a heat lamp in the coop, above where the chickens generally roost. (We did this by simply using a garage lamp, like the kind you put in the hood of a car if working at night. The bulb is only 40 watts and still does the trick of creating enough heat to benefit the already heat-generating chickens.)
  • make sure the chickens have a sufficient amount of straw or other nesting and roosting material such as wood shavings, like sawdust (you can buy large bags at farm stores).
  • many people keep their chickens cooped more in the winter months to be sure they aren’t exposed to the elements too much. It has already snowed here once and on the very blustery below freezing days, the chickens did spend more time in the coop. BUT, on a sunny day, the chickens love to remain free range birds, pecking around in the snow and taking frequent warm up breaks in the coop.
  • be sure your coop is spacious and comfortable enough for those increased coop hours.
  • just as in the warmer months, when sunburn is possible for chicken feet and combs, wind burn and frost bite are possible. Be sure to pay close attention to exposure and temps and shelter the birds if needed.
  • increase the amount of food the chickens are receiving as their bodies are burning through it faster.
  • make sure the chickens water is not frozen. There are excellent heated water servers on the market for this reason. We don’t have one yet, so for now, we go check on the water in the morning and the evening to be sure there is plenty of fresh non-frozen water. Chickens still need a lot of water in the winter.
  • I noticed in a forum that someone who lives in a very cold climate, like ours, does have a caged area in his basement for the nights that will be extremely cold (like, way below zero cold). He stated that he rarely has to bring the chickens in, but does occasionally. For a short period of time, the chickens can be kept in something like a large dog kennel with straw in it.
  • don’t forget to clean the coop just as often as in the warmer months. Bugs are not much of a problem, but there is obviously still potential for the transferring of harmful germs in the winter months.
Our chickens are still making us smile every day. We love having them and continue to enjoy their bounty of eggs each day. It is common for chickens to stop laying eggs as frequently or all-together in the winter months, especially with daylight savings time and being in the coop more frequently. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal!
I’m tempted to bring our chickens blankets, hats and boots, but I probably won’t. Unlike another chicken lover who I found on Pinterest. She keeps her chickens cozy:

 photo credit 

If you own chickens or would like to, I hope this chicken winterizing post did right by you. Thank you for reading, and if you’re a chicken expert, be sure to share your expertise in the comments! BAWK!


Kimberly Speranza (Sperk*) November 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Shared this with a friend who has chickens. Great info. Thanks!
Kimberly Speranza (Sperk*) recently posted..Wednesday’s Woman: A Proverbs 31 Kind of Friend

rebecca @ altared spaces November 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

All my neighbors have chickens. I do not. I’m spoiled that I just get to walk nearby and not clean poop. Home grown chicken eggs are THE BEST.

Handsfull November 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm

We have 4 chooks (New Zealand-speak for chickens), and have just hatched out our first ever batch of chickens! Don’t be alarmed, it’s almost summer on our side of the world. And we didn’t personally hatch them out, that honour went to Matilda, mother hen extrordinaire. They’re 2 days old today, and we have 8 little bundles of fluff and cuteness cheeping around the chook-run :)
It does get cold here in winter, but not your kind of cold, so we don’t have to do anything special for our girls over winter. They only really go into the coop to lay eggs – they roost at night in a hedge!

Heather November 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Hi there!

Thank you for sharing about your chooks. (You know I’m going to start using that word, right?) :)

I love that your chickens roost at night in a hedge. I wish ours could, but we’re on the edge of town where foxes come up sniffing and trying to get in the coop. So, our chooks are cooped after dark and seem quite happy with it…the dark makes them nervous :)

maria January 1, 2014 at 12:17 am

Our 7 chickens are roosting OUTSIDE and it is negative 20 degrees! we have a heat lamp in their coop but they won’t go in. anyone else observe this behavior? should we take the outdoor roosts down?
oh, and please send us 7 of those knitted hats. powder horn.

krystina May 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

We haVe 6 week old pullets and they’re calling for frost tonight I have a heat lamp in the coop and I wrapped the outside with class tarp is this going to be good enough

krystina May 17, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Please help asap its getting dark and I’m scared for them

Heather May 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

It should be fine. The heat lamp creates good heat and they huddle. You can call a vetbfor professional advice vim not a professional bit livedbin MN with mine and they were fine.

chelsea September 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Thank you for the info. This is our 2nd winter. 1st winter clancy and viola made it praise the lord! They have a new coope this year, last year was half of our old metal shed. Worked great! But was a little unsure if they could stay worm in there new coope. Now if we do a couple things from ur tips I know they will do good. Thanks

Jacquie November 17, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Every article I have come across said do NOT use a heat lamp. Chickens can overheat, burn their feathers or catch the coop on fire. This article had some great tips.http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2013/11/surviving-winter-with-chickens.html?m=1

They also mention specific types of bedding to avoid to prevent moisture build up which causes frostbite.

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