A fairly common concern for people interested in keeping hens is, “do they get cold especially in the winter time”. The simple answer to this question is not really, chickens are tough birds that can become accustomed to colder temperatures, as long as they are kept in the right environment, snow, rain or ice will not impact them. Our hens used to in fact enjoy playing and foraging through the snow, however when colder temperatures do hit there are a few precautions we recommend taking.
In this article we are going to go through; whether chickens get cold, how cold does the temperature has to be in order to affect them and some simple and easy methods to make sure your hens are ready for winter.
Hens don’t really get cold especially if you’ve provided them with the basics they need, these tough and versatile birds have no problem walking through snow, spending time in the rain and basking in the hot summer sun. Their biology allows them to survive in most environments be it hot or cold. With this being said some breeds are defiantly more prone to developing illnesses and not being as strong when it comes to withstanding the cold, we found birds such as the Rhode Island red and white Sussex were very good at coping with a harsh winter. If your climate is very harsh in the winter then saying away from a breed such as a basin white leghorn may be advisable. Here’s an image of a white Sussex perfectly fine trudging through snow.
In a previous flock, we had 3 leghorn hens, 2 of which unfortunately didn’t make it to the end of their first winter, the climate at the time in England was significantly below freezing. However, all our other girls were absolutely fine, this shows if you stick with tough breeds, there’s nothing to worry about even in extreme conditions.
How cold does the temperature have to be in order to affect them
If your hens are exposed to continuous harsh weather it can lead to them getting very ill and sometimes unfortunately dying. After your hens have been walking around in the snow all day it’s crucial they have a warm coop to rest up for the night, in fact if your hens are left to roam free in the run continuously there’s the danger of frostbite. However it’s very unusual for your hens to not be in the coop at night so this isn’t a really a serious issue, we recommend always locking up your hens for the night, this will ensure there’s no chance of this ever happening.
Once the birds are in the coop, there’s nothing to worry about, the enclosed area will remain above freezing due to the combined body heat of the birds, you may have seen or heard about heaters for chicken coops however we believe these are unnecessary unless raising chicks. Bearing all this in mind it’s important to remember chickens are not delicate creatures, their all round toughness generally means they’ll be alright.
However, you may still be wondering ‘should I change anything in the coop and run in harsh weather conditions’?
Some worth while changes to consider when the whether gets really bad:
- Add some extra insulation to the coop, we use hay and wood chippings.
- Make sure your hens have a dry coop to sleep in, if the contents of the coop are soaking wet then replace them
- If the snow is really thick in the run, then it’s a good idea to clean some out and make the hens and easy pathway
- If a hen gets ill then other precautions may need to be taken, this is very rare however knowing what to do in a situation like this will make all the difference.
What do I do if a hen gets sick
If you notice that an individual bird is being negatively affected by the harsh weather there are a few different things you may want to try in order to restore it back to its happy, healthy self.
We noticed that when a hen becomes ill whether that be because of a disease or due to harsh weather, they usually show similar symptoms.
Look out for things like; a particular hen not eating, being picked on by other hens, spending all day in the coop, loosing significant weight and a loss of feathers. When one or more of these symptoms becomes clear then you may want to think about what has caused this unusual behaviour.
However it can be confusing to diagnose the cause, hens sometimes enter a broody state which results in them spending all day in the coop, this however, doesn’t mean the hen in necessarily ill. If you want to know more about this subject then check out one of our other articles on how to stop my hen from being broody.
A sign which we generally go off is the behaviour of the hen, if the hen is out of character or loosing weight and feathers at a rapid rate then it’s more than likely it’s become ill.
Having to unfortunately, deal with this problem we also concluded that hens impacted by the cold shivering constantly, even inside the coop. Seeing all this isn’t a nice experience and won’t happen regularly however we’re here to tell you the exact truth of what we’ve experienced, understanding this should hopefully ensure you never have to deal with this problem.
Typically the best thing to do with an ill bird to give it everything it needs, now you may be thinking “I already give my hens everything”. Your probably right however when it comes to dealing with a sick bird, making sure they have food and water before the other hens may be the only factor that will allow for a speedy recovery.
In cold weather, if one of your hens does take a turn for the worst then providing it with some extra hay, treats and food will be giving it the best chance of survival.
If a sick hen is being picked on, then isolating that bird can be a good way to ensure their survival. When hens notice strange behaviour in the flock they often peck and bite at the sick hen due to their natural inquisitive personalities.
Isolation allows the hen to rest and feed freely for a couple of weeks. Over the years we’ve done this with a fair number of birds, they often recover just fine and are reunited with the rest of the flock. We found that a rabbit cage was a perfect isolation chamber, packing it with plenty of hay, food, and water should ensure the hen stays warm as well as properly fed. Typically a hen will start to feel better within a week or so, when your sure of this letting it back in with the rest of the flock is your next course of action.
All in all if your worried about your hens being affected by cold we can assure you there’s no need for concern, providing a warm coop, bedding, chicken feed, and water are all these robust birds need to survive even in the harshest of conditions. You’ll find they actually enjoy playing in different wether conditions whether be it rain, snow or sun.
So there you have it a quick insight into how the cold weather actually affects chickens, if you found this article useful then feel free to check out some of our others @easyhens.com
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.