How Cold is Too Cold for Backyard Chickens

too-cold-for-chickensHow cold is too cold for backyard chickens? Below freezing, below zero, when it feels too cold for me, are all answers I have heard mentioned. New chicken owners experiencing their first winter with chickens in a back yard coop can become concerned when the real winter weather arrives. I live in a fairly moderate area where winter is normally not too severe. We do get some winters that are colder than average and this often will bring questions about how to keep the chickens comfortable and thriving. I don’t get too worried about my healthy flock members, during the winter. Chickens are much more cold hardy than heat tolerant. Yes, changes in weather can have an affect on the flock. But, if they are healthy and cared for properly, you should not have chickens dying from cold.

Signs of Cold Weather Stress

A chicken that is feeling stressed from the cold will look cold. It may be huddled and not moving around much. The feathers may be fluffed up considerably and the chicken may stand on one leg, keeping the other tucked up in the belly feathers, for warmth. This is past the time to take action. Chickens are designed to self regulate body temperature with their downy undercoat and increased food intake during cold weather. But there comes a point where they will need some shelter even during the day. Heavy snow, wind, and below freezing temperatures will require a few modifications in order to keep the flock healthy and happy. Don’t wait too long, wondering how cold is too cold for chickens.How cold is too cold for Backyard chickens




A Well Designed Coop

A coop designed for your area’s weather patterns  is the most important step you can take to prepare for keeping chickens in cold weather. The coop can be insulated during construction or insulation can be added after. Wrapping the coop in Tyvek homewrap   or even attaching tarps to the outside to break the wind, will help. The trick is to keep cold wind and rain out of the coop but allowing water vapor to ventilate. Ventilation is so important. Do not make the coop air tight. Allowing for good ventilation while still providing insulation is key and will keep the chickens comfortable while in the coop during extremely cold weather.

Keeping  the interior dry also prevents frost bite on combs, wattles and feet. Applying a salve such as Waxlene, on the combs and wattles will keep frostbite from forming. Ammonia build up will be controlled by keeping the coop dry, too. Clean up any spills promptly. Imagine being in the coop during a storm with ammonia odor build up! Not very pleasant for any living being.

how cold is too cold for backyard chickens

Should You Insulate the Coop?

A good coop structure will provide shelter from the wind, wet weather and drafts. Insulation can be added to the inside or outside of the coop. Hay bales are often used for insulation, and can be stacked on the inside or outside of the coop against the walls. Pay particular attention to the north and west sides of the building. 

how cold is too cold for backyard chickens

Building insulation can also be added during coop construction. Building a double layer wall, which traps air between the layer, is one method. Another is to use conventional insulation covered by plywood to keep the chickens from pecking at the filling.

I am not in favor of adding electrical heating appliances and heat lamps to the coop. Keep in mind that there are risks associated with using a heat lamp in a structure full of  straw. If you insist on doing so, secure the lamp 18″ away from any flammable material. Don’t hang the lamp by the cord, and check the lamp frequently. I hesitate to even discuss it because each year many farm families lose their entire flock and coop to a fire started by hanging a heat lamp in the coop. We have a regular light bulb in our coop as a convenience for counting chickens before lock up at night.

How cold is too Cold for backyard chickens

What About Sick or Injured Chickens and the Cold Weather?

It might be the best idea to transfer the weak members of the flock to a warmer area for the duration of a cold snap. Weakened birds need TLC to maintain their strength and start to heal. Using a crate in a laundry area or garage might be warmer and keep the chicken from using so much energy to keep warm. I have brought a sick bird home during a cold snap to keep an eye on it. I am sure many others have done the same. When transferring the chicken back to the coop, once it is well, do so on a warmer day. Getting acclimated to the change in temperature will be easier if the day is warmer.

Keeping the Drinking Water from Freezing

This is an issue for many of us during the winter. If you aren’t home enough to bring thawed water to the flock during the day, they won’t be able to get a drink once the water freezes up. There are a couple of tricks you can try to use.

Using a small utility bucket, bury it at least half way with straw and sawdust. This will act as an insulating barrier and will keep the water from freezing for a longer time. Placing the bucket or rubber feed tub into an old tire will also insulate the water. 

During the day, use a heated dog water bowl if you have electricity available near the coop. Empty it out and unplug at night so the bowl can be refilled easily in the morning. For outside water containers, putting ping pong balls in the water will help the breeze keep the water from freezing the water solid. The movement of the ping pong balls will prevent the ice from forming. 

How Cold is Too Cold for Backyard Chickens?

It is tough to know exactly how cold is too cold for backyard chickens. I believe it has much to do with the combination of proper housing, and the overall health and fitness of your flock. There are people who raise chickens in extreme cold without using electrical forms of heat. I am surprised at the amount of heat inside the coop on cold days just from the chickens being inside.

For those of you who have extreme winter weather for months at a time, follow these simple methods to keep your flock healthy and content. Be vigilant and watch your flock members carefully, checking for frostbite and signs of cold weather stress.

how cold is too cold for backyard chickens



Read more on keeping chickens through the winter in The Winter Chicken Coop.





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What Kind of Chicken Coop Design is Best?

chicken coop design

Choosing a chicken coop design is an important decision. This structure will house your beloved egg producers and needs to look good in your yard. What factors do you need to check off the list when deciding on a chicken coop design? After a few weeks of keeping the chicks in a brooder you will want to begin moving them to the chicken coop. Having a chicken coop design that accommodates your flocks needs and your personal style will make this an enjoyable part of your homesteading life.

There are a few features that need to be included in any chicken coop design.

Security – A sturdy structure that cannot be breached by predators. Built at least 6 inches off the ground to prohibit rodents from chewing into the coop from below. Use of  half inch hardware cloth wire instead of chicken wire for covering any openings. A solid door that can be closed and latched at night is important for your flock’s safety.

Ventilation– Windows that can open, and a roof ridge vent are commonly used to provide ventilation. Good ventilation ensures that toxic ammonia fumes do not build up in the coop.

Nesting Boxes–  Enough nesting boxes in a ratio of 1 for each 3 or 4 hens

Perch/ Roost Bar – Using a 2 x 4 board installed so that the chickens are sitting on the 4 inch side. Also, a thick sturdy tree branch, or other sturdy, non-slippery roost bar. Chickens that have to perch on the edge of wire often develop foot injuries such as bumble foot or crooked toes.

How Big Does the Coop Need to Be?

Now that we have the important details out of the way, what kind of chicken coop design will work best for you? With many different types and styles to choose from, it can be a big decision. Chicken Tractors, small hutches, large free standing coops, commercially built coop, or converted garden shed, are some options to consider. Also, please remember the chicken math factor that you will hear many chicken owners mention. This is a well known fact that if you can accommodate more chickens, you eventually will. The flock seems to grow without reason. No idea how this phenomenon occurs. The short answer to how big the coop needs to be is 3 to 4 square foot per bird. This is the guideline when the birds also have an enclosed run for daytime chicken behavior. If your chickens need to be confined for much longer periods of time, then the suggested space in the coop is 7 to 8 square foot per chicken.

chicken coop design

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to raise chickens so that they can free range on grass and bugs, and yet have some safety from danger, is the chicken tractor. These structures sit on the ground and may have small wheels on one end to facilitate moving it to a new spot each day. The benefits of the tractor setup include being able to free range the chickens, and not have one spot in the yard decimated by scratching and digging. The downside is many of the chicken tractors do not afford a certain level of security against some aggressive predators. In a fenced in back yard situation, the predator problem may not exist and could be the answer in many places. Some larger chicken tractors are heavier, and include a small coop at one end that can be closed off at night.

Starter Coops and Small Flock Housing 

chicken coop design

Small coops are a good start and many are available, pre-built or as a ready to assemble kit. Many people will start with one of these chicken coops for the first 3 or 4 chickens they acquire. After you add more chickens to the flock and the coop is no longer big enough, keep the smaller structure around. The smaller coop can be used for a sick bay/isolation coop. Or it can be used for a broody hen and her chicks, a chicken with a sore foot, or a time out coop for a bully chicken. We bought our small coop originally for a pet rabbit. After we moved her into our house, the coop has had plenty of use as a bantam chicken coop, a grow out coop for pullets and an isolation place for injured birds. And maybe you will have extreme self control or keep your flock small due to neighborhood restrictions. In that case, choose a beautiful sturdy coop design or build your own. The coop should last you many years.

Larger chicken coop design

chicken coop design

As you consider moving up to a larger chicken coop design there are options to choose from. You want to give the chickens 3-4 cubic feet of space inside the coop, with the understanding that they will also have an attached run or be able to free range in an enclosed area during the day. Using this type of structure you can still find coops in many sizes. Purchasing a coop will give you a chance to look for one that compliments your home and neighborhood. If you are handy with tools, building your own coop is always an option. Make sure you leave an access door for humans to enter to clean the coop, collect eggs or check on any sick or injured chickens which may hide inside. Many people also add a pop door, a small door that allows the chickens access directly into the run.

chicken coop design

Look at the new coop that the folks at Harper Hollow built. It was designed to house up to 24 chickens and comes equipped with a self watering system and a feeder system. I love when folks think ahead about what will make life with chickens even better. Nice job Harper Hollow. 

Permission to use photo granted by Harper Hollow.
Permission to use photo granted by Harper Hollow.

You can use an existing building for a coop 

A lot of chicken owners choose to adapt an already existing building on the property. Converting a garden shed into a chicken coop is fairly easy to do. Other options  include converting a portion of the garage, or enclosing a stall in the barn. Remember to include the list of “must haves” from the beginning of this article in your renovation design.

Adding the Bling!

What extras would you want in the coop if you could have anything you wanted? What would help you care for the flock the best way? You could think about adding electricity, a water source such as a farm pump, and a fan to aid in ventilation and cooling. I think a ceiling fan would look nice but the chickens would probably try to roost on the blades when it wasn’t in use! No matter what coop you decide is right for your chickens, keeping it clean, well ventilated, serving healthy nutritious food and fresh water will get you a four star rating on your chicken palace.

chicken coop design

Thanks to the following chicken raising friends for supplying photos of their chicken palaces for this article.

104 Homestead   Urban Overalls   The Frugal Chicken   The Farmer’s Lamp    

Livin,Lovin,Farmin    Sunny Simple Life   Harper Hollow

Chicken Advice for Chicken Care Issues

Chicken Care and Chicken Advice 

chicken adviceChicken advice is everywhere lately. So many books, blogs and newsletters specialize in the care and feeding of chickens. Chicken advice has become big business. Equipment, coops, chicken tractors, brooders, and incubators are big sellers, too. The small homestead is just not complete without a flock of beautiful egg layers. I enjoy writing about chickens, and although my blog is across the board on many homesteading topics,  I love sharing information with other chicken lovers. This post is a gathering of the best from my blog, to help you raise your chickens successfully. 

Best Chicken Advice Posts

Number 11

I don’t remember a time that we didn’t have a rooster. We have had some roosters who had to find new homes though. Having a rooster to protect the flock, warn of danger and other benefits is a comfort. If you can legally keep a rooster in your coop without upsetting the neighbors, you may want to give it a try.

Why Keep the Rooster

Chicken Advice


Number 10

Is it economical to raise egg laying hens? How much food do they eat? I broke it all down in this post, explaining how to figure out the cost per chicken and how much money it takes.

How Much Food Does A Chicken Need          


Number 9

There is always more to be learned and even those of us who write about chickens frequently find something new to enrich our chickens’ lives.

6 Things I Didn’t Know About Chickens  from May of 2015

Chicken advice

Number 8

Bumblefoot – Single Caretaker Treatment Strategy 

Originally written in 2013, I revised the post in 2014 and in 2015 it still led the list of most read chicken posts on my site.

Number 7

Five best backyard chicken breeds are discussed in this post. Read about my top five picks and why I think they should be on your list, too. 

Best Chicken Breeds

Best Backyard CHickens


Number 6

My book! The next item on the list is the information about the book I released in early 2015. Chickens From Scratch is available on this website, through Amazon, or Barnes and Noble  

Chickens From Scratch

Christmas Gift books


Number 5

This question comes up repeatedly, often after a predator attack. Chicken wire does not keep out critters intent on eating your chickens. Learn more and make the changes needed  before you have a tragedy. 

Chicken Wire or Hardware Cloth for Coops

chicken advice


Number 4

Don’t let the crazy drama of mixing the old chickens with the new, or the bully of the chicken yard get you down. Try these tried and proven methods to reduce the squabbling in your chicken run.

5 Tips for Pecking Order Drama

chicken advice



Number 3

In terms of feeding your hens economically, you can’t beat the cost savings from feeding natural probiotic rich fermented feed. It is so simple to do that you can start at any time with whatever feed you already have on hand. I prefer to ferment a mixture of layer feed and scratch grains. Stand back because your chickens are going to rush the feed bowl!

Natural Probiotics for Your Chickens

chicken advice


Number 2

I was surprised that this post on Lash Eggs was so widely read. The phenomenon is misunderstood and the reaction and resulting response often mishandled. Metabolic and infection related syndromes in layer hens are often met with swift culling of the flock member or suspected members. I felt this was not necessary in most cases and took the stand against culling hens that lay a lash egg.

What is a Lash Egg

chicken advice


Number 1 post of Chicken Advice!

The number one most popular post for the last three years has been a list of easy steps to take to keep your chicken coop smelling fresh. The chickens will love you for reading this post! 

Keeping Your Chicken Coop Smelling Fresh

chicken advice



chicken advice