From the moment that you first bring home the newly hatched chicks, the question of how to keep chickens warm will become important. Unless the chicks are hatched under a broody hen, it is your responsibility to keep chickens warm. Surprisingly, this is a short term concern. Once your chicks are mostly full grown, and feathered out, they will do quite well keeping themselves warm. Take a look at the different scenarios involved in keeping them warm throughout the seasons and their life.
Keep Chickens Warm as Babies
When you have baby chicks, warmth is the most important factor. Chicks require a brooder kept at 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first couple of weeks. Then the temperature can gradually be reduced as the chicks become able to regulate their body temperature. Feather growth will start and that will give them the insulation needed to stay warm.
There are various products on the market to help keep chickens warm during this phase of life. Using traditional heat lamps hung over the brooder, is the most common method. The heat can be regulated by raising or lowering the lamp over the pen. Newer plate style brooder warmers mimic a broody hen by allowing the chicks to hide underneath the heated plate to keep warm. The plate style warmers are safer than the exposed heat bulb of traditional heat lamps. When using the traditional electric heat bulbs be sure to pay close attention to safety and secure the lamp because these are a fires risk.
Feathers Do a Wonderful Job of Insulating
As your chickens grow, no additional heat will be necessary as they grow to maturity. Mature chickens are well equipped to stay warm. They have more trouble staying cool in a heat wave, than staying warm in a blizzard. During extreme cold weather chickens fluff up their feathers creating air pockets that trap body heat. They roost close together , sharing body warmth. Putting sweaters and other clothing on the chickens to keep them warm is a mistake because it prevents the chickens from naturally fluffing to insulate themselves. The sweaters actually make the chickens more susceptible to chilling.
How to Use the Coop to Keep Chickens Warm
Providing a well built coop for your chickens will help them stay warm. At night, close the coop to keep predators out and trap warmth inside the building. Most pre-built chicken coops have a small door, called a pop door. Using this during the day in cold weather allows you to keep the bigger door closed. The chickens can still access the inside of the coop, while keeping the air inside the coop warmer.
In the chicken coop you can make adjustments that can be made to keep chickens warm during the cold season. Straw is a wonderful insulator. Spread liberally on the coop floor and in the nest boxes help insulate the building. If the temperatures are extreme, lining the walls with straw bales will add insulation to the coop.
Drafts Should be Eliminated
Tightening up the coop from drafts will also help keep chickens warm. The roost bar should not be in the path of a draft. While roof ventilation is still important and necessary, drafts are bad and need to be repaired. A thrifty way to cut down drafts is to line the walls with tarps or empty feed bags. And of course you can insulate the coop walls as you would your own home, with insulation covered by plywood. Never use insulation without covering it to keep the chickens from pecking at it.
In the Chicken Run
The chicken run can have some adjustments made to help keep chickens warm. Making a fully covered or partially covered run will help keep wet weather from getting their feathers wet. Chickens with wet feathers are likely to chill in cold weather. If you find a chicken sitting in the run with wet feathers, dry it off quickly before returning the chicken to the coop.
Keeping the chickens inside during an extreme cold spell will also keep them warm. The heat that is generated by their bodies is significant.
Feeding scratch grains will help the chickens stay warmer. The grains help provide extra body heat while being digested. Giving a small amount of scratch before the chickens go into the coop at night, helps them stay warmer.
Allowing the natural abilities of the chicken to help stay warm is a great starting place. Adjust the coop set up as necessary and try not to worry. Chickens are extremely cold hardy. You should be able to keep chickens warm without too much trouble.
Janet Garman is a farmer and author, and shares homestead information from her property, Timber Creek Farm. They raise sheep for fiber, chickens, goats, and more! Follow their journey online at www.timbercreekfarmer.com