Chickens and Cold Temperatures

We’re due for some VERY cold temps here in Chicago (in the negative degrees F, and windchills even lower), and a number of questions have come up about chickens and cold temps.

Here’s a list of ideas I’ve compiled. If you have suggestions, feel free to post.


  • Keep bedding loose and dry. Deep bedding helps trap heat.
  • Clear snow from bedding.



  • Cover the coop and wire-covered areas (such as the run) on three sides with a plastic tarp, heavy plastic, or plywood.
  • Fill in cracks and crevices in the coop with newspaper or cardboard.
  • The coop should not be completely airtight; allow some air circulation to prevent frostbite.


  • Make sure roosts are in the least drafty place in the coop.
  • Use wide roosts for toe coverage (2-4 inches in width)

 Supplemental heat

  • If you have cold-hardy birds, they should be ok if the temperatures drop slowly.
  • Any source of heat is a fire hazard.
  • If ceiling is higher than 2 feet above the chickens, you may want to install a heat lamp above the roost that will turn on when the temp is in the single digits.
  • Be sure that the lamp cannot be damaged by a flying bird.
  • If you choose to heat, I’d suggest doing so only if the temperatures are in the single digits or below zero for several days raising the temperature by no more than 10 degrees higher than the outside temperature.
  • If you bring the birds indoors, make a gradual transition to warmer temps – e.g., from 0 degrees to 20 degrees to 45 degrees, NOT from 0 degrees directly to 45 degrees.
  • Note that providing too much can lead to obese birds. It also can be difficult for them to adjust to drastic changes in temperature.


  • Watch toes and combs/wattles for signs of frostbite. A little petroleum jelly on combs and wattles can prevent frostbite *however* be careful not to overapply – petroleum products can coat the feathers, reducing their insulating properties.
  • Do not allow them to be out in the snow for extended periods of time to avoid freezing their toes.
  • Clear snow out of sections of the run so they don’t have to walk in it.
  • If chickens do get frostbite, treat with aloe vera, can use aspirin solution for pain (three 325 mg tabs per 1 gal water), don’t massage, don’t heat up rapidly. Allow tissue to die/fall off naturally.

Food and Water


  • Check water several times a day to be sure it’s not frozen.
  • Feed mash mixed with warm milk or water.
  • Provide a few handfuls of scratch grains in the evening before the hens go to roost. Can also feed a handful or two of scratch in the AM.


  • Extreme temperatures can stress the birds and cause hens to go out of lay.
  • Collect eggs so they do not freeze and lead to egg eating.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bella54330 on January 4, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks for the timely info! It’s a great help. I just wanted to ask if you’ve any advice regarding a Heaton pad in a small coop? Our actual “hen house” is 2’x2′. Far too small for any heating device, but I’ve seen suggestion of placing a heating pad on low underneath some of the straw on the coop floor. Have you ever heard of this? If so, what is your opinion? 3 of my 4 hens sleep on the floor of the coop as it is, so it’d be sure to keep them a bit warmer. Any advice is appreciated!


    • I’ve heard the suggestion of placing seedling warming mats under water dishes. It seems there is a lot of risk of fire with a heating pad – I’d steer clear of it (just my personal opinion). It would be ideal if it 1) had a thermostat and a safety shut-off if it got too hot 2) was waterproof. All the dry bedding and a wood coop seem like invitation for a fire. )-: Do you have a garage or basement you can move them into temporarily?


  2. Posted by Peter on January 5, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    We use a rabbit heater. it doesn’t get too hot and it’s durable plastic, and reasonably water tight. It also works well to keep water from freezing.


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