Chickens For Cold Climates


When raising backyard chickens, one of the most critical considerations is researching the breeds best for your location. If you live in a hot climate, you need a heat-tolerant breed, but a cold, hardy chicken is best in the colder, northern climates. If you choose the wrong breed for your climate, you will likely have sickly chickens or suffer losses in your flock. Some people who choose the wrong breed make a temporary shelter where the climate is more conducive to raising healthy chickens. To avoid extra work and disappointment, picking the best chickens for cold climates is essential. In this guide we will give you our best tips for choosing chickens for cold climates.

Adaptations that help chickens thrive in colder temperatures

Once you select a cold-hardy chicken breed, some adaptations will help your chickens thrive in a colder climate. Your priority is ensuring the coop and run are large enough to accommodate your flock. Chickens will seek shelter simultaneously, so you need adequate space to house them simultaneously, with perches for each chicken. Also, add perches to the run and yard area for chickens wandering outside. Use simple items like straw or hay bales, thick tree branches, tree stumps, or anything chickens can safely roost on up off the ground.

Here are other steps to keep your chickens happy and healthy during the winter.

  • Winterize the coop, fix any leaks and holes that cause drafts, and add windbreaks to the run.
  • Ventilate the coop with a cross-coop airflow to release the humidity and fumes caused by feces, leading to respiratory illness.
  • Ensure adequate light for 10-14 hours daily to keep hens laying eggs through the winter. Keep snow away from windows and add artificial light, using a timer if needed.
  • Add extra bedding, like an additional thick layer of wood shavings. To keep the coop smelling fresh, I use Nesting Herbs. This is a special blend of fresh-smelling herbs to sprinkle on the coop floor and nesting boxes for a better-smelling coop.
  • Frequently check the water supply or use a water heater to keep the ice away. Dehydration is a leading cause of egg-laying productivity and kidney disease. Chickens always need plenty of water available, and water must be clean and free from contamination. Find one of my favorite heated waters here.
  • When the weather turns cold, keep a thin layer of Vaseline on your chicken’s combs and wattles since these areas are susceptible to frostbite.

Our Advice

Do not install heating in the chicken coop. While many people think this helps protect their backyard flock during the cold winter months, it is quite the opposite and can harm your birds. Heaters can increase the fire risk, and chickens may get burned or overheated when they get too close to the heat source.

Chickens develop a natural resilience to cold temperatures when allowed the time to acclimate to the colder weather. Using an outside heat source doesn’t allow for this natural adjustment. Plus, if the power were to fail, your birds would suddenly be exposed to an extreme temperature drop, which can cause death or illness. Only in the coldest far northern regions should using an alternate heat source be considered. This content area describes feature 1 descriptions or details.

Common Health Concerns for Chickens in Cold Climates

Chickens are hardier than most people think, and many breeds acclimate to colder climates. No set temperature is considered too cold for chickens, and most can survive frigid temperatures as long as you take winterizing precautions. However, there are some illnesses or injuries chickens are more susceptible to during the cold winter months.

Chickens are hardier than most people think, and many breeds acclimate to colder climates. No set temperature is considered too cold for chickens, and most can survive frigid temperatures as long as you take winterizing precautions. However, there are some illnesses or injuries chickens are more susceptible to during the cold winter months.

  • Cold stress: Rapid loss of energy reserves, leading to disease and no energy for daily needs. Maintain good coop airflow, increase dietary protein if there is no sign of intestinal tract infection, keep chickens dry, and provide lukewarm drinking water instead of cold water.
  • Frostbite to feet, combs, and wattles: Cell death causing color and texture change. Use Vetricyn for the affected areas. If on the feet, bandage the toes individually.
  • Respiratory infections: Breathing illness usually caused by excess ammonia in a closed coop with inadequate ventilation. Birds may discharge from beak holes and make a rattling sound, sneeze, and shake their heads. For treatment, contact a veterinarian.
  • Dehydration: In hot and cold climates, dehydration can cause panting, diarrhea, lethargy, and death. Keep water thawed with a heater for the chicken waterer.
  • Mites and lice: Causes decreased egg production, feather damage, lethargy, and irritation. You must treat the coop, run, and all chickens to remedy this. To treat, sprinkle food grade Diatomaceous Earth (on Amazon) in the coop, pen, and on chickens—target pests and not foliage.

Top Hardy Chicken Breeds for Winter Weather

Not all chickens are built for cold climates, but certain breeds can handle the harsh, northern winters better. Even some of these breeds do well in the warmer climate of the southern states. There are a few characteristics that these breeds have that let you know they can handle the cold. Chickens made for cold climates will have a larger body for holding in the heat, extra layers of dense, plush feathers, small wattles, and combs for a lesser risk of frostbite.

My pick for top chicken breeds for cold climates:

  1. Buff Orpington: My favorite chicken of all. This is your chicken if you want a gentle giant with beautiful, fluffy plumage and chickens that are prolific layers through the winter.
  2. Rhode Island Red: This dual-purpose chicken is a generous layer through the winter months. The Rhode Island Red, initially developed in the cold northeast climates of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, produces 280 large brown eggs per year, but laying usually slows down or stops after three years. These chickens are relatively docile but sometimes aggressive around other birds.
  3. Brahmas: Another large dual-purpose breed, the Brahmas are beautiful to look at, have a sweet temperament, and make great pets. These chickens do well in cold climates but can be raised in almost any area.
  4. Speckled Sussex: This cold, hardy chicken is an excellent layer throughout the winter and year-round. The whole body helps it withstand cold climates, making it an excellent dual-purpose bird.
  5. Wyandottes: This heritage chicken breed first appeared in the late 1870s and was one of the original dual-purpose breeds. This cold, hardy bird lays up to 200 eggs yearly with hens that may go broody.

Choosing the Right Breed Based on Environment and Care Needs

The first thing to consider before starting your chicken flock is what you want to gain from keeping chickens. Do you want chickens for meat, for eggs, or as pets? Each breed has a primary use that should steer your decision to what breed to pick. Next, consider your environment and the care involved in keeping the breed you select. Besides the climate, feed supply sources, room to care for the flock, noise levels, and area restrictions figure in choosing the perfect breed of chicken.

Winterizing Your Coop: Care Tips for Keeping Your Chickens Warm and Safe

  • Some key features of a cold climate chicken coop are:
    • Walls, floors, and roof well insulated
    • Adequate ventilation to keep the air circulated
    • Protection from predators features for both the coop and run
    • Easy to clean and maintain
  • A coop needs to be well insulated to keep drafts from entering, yet simultaneously; you want a ventilation system to move out humid and stale air. Insulation blocks air drafts from entering the coop through cracks and crevices. Ventilation slots are purposely placed at the top edge of your coop, where the walls and roof meet, drawing fresh air in.
  • If you live in a cold climate, there are several benefits to using heated water dispensers and other warming accessories. Heaters help prevent water from freezing, helping reduce cold stress in your chickens. They are easy to install and are more affordable than you might think.
  • Regular health check-ups: Preventive care during the winter months includes access to defrosted fresh water several times each day, additional protein intake for maintaining body temperature, a place for fresh air and exercise, special treats every day to encourage pecking, coop ventilation, and look out for frostbite.
  • Activity and diet adjustments for chickens in colder seasons are essential. Accomplish this by increasing feed rations, adding carbohydrates to their diet by placing grains outside where they can scratch and get fresh air and sunshine, and adding grit and calcium.

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