Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 4: Heating your chicken coop.

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This is the last in a four-part series on getting your chickens and coop ready for the winter.

Should I heat my chicken coop in the winter?Once you’ve done everything else, you may find that you still want to provide extra warmth in your coop. We don’t heat the chicken coops in our yard, but many backyard chicken keepers in steady sub-freezing conditions have need for and success with artificial (electric) heat, through lamps, radiant heaters, and heated waterers.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered from customers and others who have used electric heat effectively (and be sure to read the comments section for more tips, cautions, and advice, particularly if you keep males as well as females):

  • You don’t need much. For a small henhouse the 250W “brooder” bulbs may be too much. A 100W bulb should do. Radiant panel heaters with a thermostat are also available. See our online Buyer’s Guide for ideas.
  • Don’t place the heat source directly over the roost. Your hens need to be able to get away from it to regulate their temperature.
  • Chickens get used to the heat. Basically, they get spoiled, so plan to stick with it if you start it. Have a backup plan in case the power goes out. And plan to wean them on and off of the heat gradually.
  • Be careful. Makeshift wiring can cause fire, as can the heat lamps themselves. Coop fires are a real problem. Consult a professional electrician. Keep lamps away from bedding, plastic, and other flammable materials. Use ceramic bulbs and fixtures. And make sure the bulb can’t accidentally swing into anything and break.
  • A heated waterer may offer the most benefit, providing warm water for your hens and reducing the need for you to trek out to the coop as often.
  • Both visible spectrum lights and heat lamps give off some light, which may increase egg production in the winter. In fact, some people use lights on a timer specifically for this purpose, extending the day by a few hours in the morning and evening, but the merits of this practice are outside of the scope of this post.

The most important thing, of course, is to have fun this winter. Enjoy caring for your flock and watching all the amazing ways they adapt to the season.

Do you heat your coop in the winter? How? And why or why not? Help make this post an even better resource by sharing your perspective in the comments below.

That’s it for our series on Winter Chicken Coop Care (if you missed the other posts, here’s a link back to the start). If you’ve found these tips helpful, subscribe to Coop Thoughts! Get tips on coop construction and chicken keeping, and see the cool coops people are building with our DIY chicken coop plans. We’ll email you the latest posts as they happen. It’s free, ad-free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to add your name to the list. Thanks!

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31 Responses to “Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 4: Heating your chicken coop.”

  1. Kathleen says:

    This site has been the most helpful of all the websites I have visited trying to learn about wintering chickens. We have 18 hens heading into their first winter. Thanks to everyone for all the great tips.

  2. leon says:

    Do not heat your chicken coops, no matter how cold it is. If you heat your coop you are making your chickens weak, and they will be less cold hardy. Don’t change nature. Some chickens breeds not meant to live in cold climates.

  3. Tom Fiorill says:

    Be careful using heat lamps. A neighbor just lost all his checks to a coop fire. A 100 watt bulb or an electric oil filled radiator would probably have been enough. We don’t know how the fire started but it could have been a feather floating up to the heater, catching fire and falling into the straw. Take care of your girls.

  4. Lauren J says:

    We live in Tennessee, and have Brahmas, Wyandottes and Dominics. Our girls are free range and only closed up at night. Our hen house is in a portion of our barn, without electrical hook ups. I am wondering if anyone has experience keeping free range hens warm without electricity readily available? I do have a very small solar unit usually used to run an electrical fence, which could possibly be converted. I saw that someone above mentioned using an oil heater, which I will research. I want to make sure our girls stay warm, but I do not want to risk a fire either. I also would like to avoid them talking over the garage if possible.

    Thank you for your very helpful articles on this subject!

    • Lauren, I’m not sure how long of a deep freeze you typically get, but you might read Walt’s comment below this post. It’s a good reminder of what chickens need (and don’t) to survive cold nights. Thank you for posting your question, and I’m glad you’ve found these posts and comments helpful!

  5. Ginger Haddock says:

    I have three cold hardy girls (wyondotte, Orpington, and a blk astrolorp) in Wyoming where it snows quite a bit and gets into the teens and single digits more than 100 days each year. This will be our first winter and I want them to be ok. We have built a garden ark so it is pretty small. Will body heat be enough for them at night? I was planning to cover the open air roof above their henhouse portion of the coop but that means they won’t have ventilation at night. And I’m hoping to free range them in the winter when there is no snow. I figure they would rather stay in the coop if there is snow. Does that sound reasonable. I am going to get a heated waterer but wasn’t planning on getting a light. There is limited space in the coop. Should I wrap the ark with plastic too? If it is clear and leave the top open above the run? I don’t want their toes or waddles or combs to freeze! Thanks for any help!

    • Ginger, body heat should keep them warm as long as they are fully feathered (not in the middle of a molt) and get some extra scratch and exercise. To support this, you should put a partial cover over the henhouse to block updrafts, concentrating on the spot above the inside roost, but not blocking more than 75% of that opening. You can wrap the sides of the outer run as well, if you’d like. There, you mainly want to block the wind — which may come from all directions in Wyo. — but if you can keep one side open for viewing in, that would be good for both you and them. A heated waterer is a nice idea. And if you find that you need to add heat for them inside the henhouse, a flat-panel heater would be the way to go in the ark. As for the daytime space, you might consider building an additional external run, wrap it in plastic to keep the snow out, and dock it to your ark to increase their daytime space if you foresee not being able to let them out much. Here’s an example (http://www.thegardencoop.com/blog/2010/08/03/make-it-your-own-marys-garden-ark-atlanta-georgia/). Hope this helps.

  6. sharon says:

    I have 20 girls in a 12×12 coop. It’s insulated and has a timer for light. What kind of heat do I need so eggs don’t freeze in Canada (Toronto)?

  7. Knicki says:

    We have 3 hens in a coop that is about 7 feet by 5 feet. It’s actually part of our shed. The shed is old so we don’t have any problem with ventilation. The girls were doing well until the temp went below 10 for several days last week. My New England Red seems to have frostbite now on her comb. Since I only have 3 hens I think their huddle may not be enough for them to maintain their heat on their combs. The won’t go into the box that’s in there which would definitely keep them warmer. Their feet seem ok. I’m thinking of putting a heat lamp in there this weekend to keep the heat up until the frostbite is healed. Am I over thinking this? They seem happy otherwise. They free range when I am home (1-8) hours a day. This is our first winter with chickens. We are in Eastern PA so for the most part winter is 20ish and up. The other week was rare. I’m getting conflicting ideas on the Internet.

    • Knicki, I think some supplemental heat above the roosting area is a good idea. Make sure it’s not too close to the chickens, because you don’t want them to overheat. If you can bring the temp up to somewhere between 35 and 50 degrees, that’d be good for the one suffering from frostbite. A couple other things: Humidity in the coop contributes to frostbite, so reduce moisture as much as possible by removing any damp litter, standing snow, etc. Make sure that their roost is not in a drafty part of the shed/coop. Finally, you can rub petroleum jelly over wattles and combs to protect them from moisture in the air that can freeze and cause frostbite. Some say this works, others disagree. If you’re willing to give it a try, at least it can’t hurt.

  8. Steve Tone says:

    We have found that most of the wisdom on wintering chickens assumes that you are not keeping males with large single combs in below freezing conditions.

    The standard “no drafts, low humidity, well ventilated” advice does little if you are keeping non-winter hardy males in a climate that they are not intended to be in. This goes double if you want to ensure that their combs remain in “show quality” condition.

    It is our experience that most single-comb males do not tuck their heads under their wings when sleeping, nor do they “huddle” well. Thus, their combs are at risk of being exposed to below freezing temperatures at night.

    Keeping Dutch Bantam males in Wisconsin, we recently learned the hard way to keep a radiant heater on in the coop when experiencing below freezing temperatures. We attempt to keep the temperature between 35 and 40 degrees throughout the coop at all times.

    We are using a cheap oil-filled radiant heater, in a chicken wire-enclosed nook within the coop, carefully keeping it away from bedding and droppings. Heat lamps did not work for us, as the bird’s movement between the warmth under the lamps to the cold space away from the lamps, and back again, seemed to actually increase the occurrence of frostbite.

    BTW, our winter-hardy breeds receive no such spoiling :)

    • Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to add your perspective. I’ve edited the original post to clarify a bit and to direct readers who keep male birds to read through the comments as well.

  9. Mark says:

    We live in NJ and have 5 silver leghorn chickens, 2 roosters, and 3 hens. My son raised them through his HS AG class. The roosters are beautiful and have huge combs and waddles. During our last temp plunge into the teens, the roosters suffered frost bite on their combs and waddles. We are so disappointed as these birds were ready for show. In our prep for winter we saw much of the same comments here that they were good down to zero, but the frostbite occured at 23 degrees — nowhere near zero — and NJ has not seen temps that low this year. What I am saying is that some of the advice is breed-specific, and we will work to keep the coup above 30 degrees to prevent this in the future.

  10. shannon says:

    My two hens are experiencing their first winter (in Nebraska); one of my hens looks as if she has recently started molting and she has quit laying in the last week, although she seems to be eating alright (both hens have decreased intake from summer, which seems odd to me, but it’s my first year with them, so maybe that is normal?)

    Wondering if they are not getting enough light (they are not “hanging out” in the run much, just to say “hi” and otherwise stay in the coop/covered run area. do they need some artificial light?

    • Shannon, you will notice decreased food consumption in the winter because there are fewer hours of sunlight. Chickens have very poor night vision, so when it’s dark, they can’t see to eat. This drop in food intake, plus the fact that more of their energy goes towards staying warm (or feathering out if they have recently molted) accounts for why they don’t lay as frequently in the winter. If you extend the day with a couple extra hours of light, they will eat more and possibly lay more.

      As it has been explained to me by a farmer friend who has kept chickens much longer than I have, if they lay more in the winter, they will lay less in the spring, summer, and fall. That is, there are a certain number of eggs a hen will lay each year. You can even this out with artificial light in the winter or let it be lopsided with the variances in natural light. As far as I know, neither is better than the other for the bird — it’s more a matter of your preference. Also note that your hen that began molting might still prefer to stay in the henhouse to stay warm as she loses her feathers.

      I hope this helps.

  11. susan says:

    I am looking for a thermal jacket/blanket to go over the top of my coop, a small A style one. Then I was going to put a water proof sheet over the top. Have searched the web but can’t find what I want. Does anyone know a UK supplier?

  12. Barbara J. says:

    I live in Lake Elsinore, CA (SO CA). It may only get as low as 45-50* at night (rare 35*). Would my (Wyandotte) chicken still need a heat lamp at night? Or would tarping at night to keep the wind out be enough?

    • Barbara, I do not see a need for a heat lamp at those temperatures. You might make an exception if you only have one chicken and temps dip into the 30s, because there would be no flock for it to huddle with for added warmth. I’m not sure from your post whether you have just the one chicken or if you meant to type the plural.

  13. Marianne says:

    We have owned chickens for several years now, and work closely with our wonderful avian vet Dr. Susan Orosz. She encourages us to allow them several weeks off from egg laying as the days get shorter. We have found that our chickens do not like to walk in the snow. Chickens originated in Asia. We keep our heated water and the feed inside the coop, to make sure they will eat and drink and not have to go outside in the snow if they do not want to. We use heat lamps in the sleeping areas, and when the temps dip in to the teens they definitely sleep near the bulbs. Chickens that have the larger combs are more susceptible to frostbite, so many who live in colder regions raise the breeds with peacombs. Our first batch of hens, which we got when they were 4 yrs old, slept in a chicken pile. Who knew chickens would sleep in a pile?? We will be purchasing some type of panel heater, so they may congregate near there if they wish. Our inside coop is sand, and they are able to bathe all winter since there is no moisture and the sand never freezes. It sounds like our routine is similar to Connie’s above!

  14. JENNEY says:

    This is my first winter with my hens. I have 3 black australorps and 2 golden comets – recently lost one comet to egg binding ;( I noticed as the days have grown shorter that the girls just don’t seem ready to settle down for bedtime. I’d go out to close up their house after dark and they’d jump off their roost and eat and drink. I hooked up a heat lamp on a timer so it comes on for about 2 hours once it gets dark. This way they can get their final meal and have light (and a little heat) to get back up on their roost for bedtime. Then I go out and close them up once the light goes out. Seems to work ok. I also wrapped the north end of their run with plastic sheeting and stacked bales of straw to block the wind from blowing under the coop and up the one side wall. I also have a heated stand for the water can. We’ll see how it goes! I’m hoping the extra 2 hours of light does not force them to continue laying all winter. I think they’ve earned a little rest!

    • Jenney, sounds like a nice routine. I wouldn’t worry if your hens do lay more through the winter because of the light. It’s not a stress. The light just gives them the opportunity to eat more (since they can’t see in the dark), which in turn makes it possible for them to direct those extra calories and nutrients toward egg production.

  15. Kate says:

    I live in Anchorage Alaska and have had 4 hens in a small portable A-frame coop for the past two winters. They may get cold, but they have been fine and we had temperature down to -20F for a weeks. I use an electric water bowl, but otherwise no heat or light. They stop laying between late October and early Feb due to light. I am in the process of building the garden coop and would like to add a light to help stimulate winter egg production but am not concerned with heat per se. I am too worried about them getting acclimated to heat and having the power go out. I have Plymouth Rocks and Golden Comets, although I have just ordered Amerauncas and Silver Laced Wyandottes to add when the bigger coop is constructed. If you have cold hardy breeds, you don’t really need to worry about low winter temps. As long as they are dry. If they get wet and cold, that may be another story. I make sure to give them alot of greens and scraps from kitchen all winter too.

  16. connie says:

    I live in Colorado and winter temperatures vary from 60 to -25. The hens have a 8×10 house with a door to their run which I close at night. When the winter comes the infrared light comes on at night and stays on until spring arrives (it is set on a dusk to dawn timer). It is hung from the ceiling in the middle of the hen house. They also have a heated water bucket that is kept in their house along with food. Animal should always have access to water. They are bedded down with wood shavings and straw to help keep them warm. If their combs start to darken they have frostbite.

  17. Paul says:

    We have a fairly built-as-planned Garden Coop with rigid foam insulation in the walls of two sides of the house, and last winter we did nothing special, figuring our 5 girls had their own down coats. They made it through Seattle’s week of sub-freezing temps without a problem.

    This year, though, they were in the process of molting when we got sub-freezing temps and high winds over Thanksgiving, so I took pity and set up a 100w ceramic mushroom-shaped heat emitter that they sell for lizard cages. It’s well away from their roost, out of the way above the top of the nesting boxes. Along with slipping a sheet of rigid insulation into the space above the ceiling, it kept the space a balmy 40-45 degrees during the worst of the wind and cold. I also had a heated bowl outside the house, to make sure they could get water all day. I used a “thermo-cube” electrical outlet tap that turns on when the temp drops below 35 and shuts off again after it gets up to 45.

    Now that the weather is no longer below freezing, and they’ve fledged out more, I’ve transitioned them back to no heater at all. I’ve removed the foam board from above the house, and unplugged the heater.

    Their run has a windbreak of clear plastic sheet attached with zip-ties half-way up the two sides that face the prevailing wind. This goes on when the weather here changes in the Fall, and comes off in Spring.

  18. Ariel, if your coop is dry, mostly draft free, and you keep moisture down by cleaning out the poop regularly, fully-feathered and otherwise healthy hens should be fine with nighttime temperatures down to around 0ºF. They’ll huddle together in their down coats. Added heat is not necessary and can actually cause condensation/frostbite on toes and combs. If your temps do dip below 0ºF, a smaller wattage bulb (40-100W) should be more than enough for your 4×4 space.

    They will leave the coop for food and water during the day as long as the run is cleared of deep snow, so you don’t have to put that inside the henhouse.

  19. Ariel Swan says:

    We have 7 hens in a 4×4 (roughly – maybe a little larger) coop – with an attached run that is chicken wire and framing – plus – we wrapped three sides of it for the winter in plastic sheeting. The coop itself is not insulated – but is well constructed.

    We have a 250 watt infrared bulb inside the coop – which we have been using sparingly. We live in rural Massachusetts and already the temperatures are in the teens and single digets. We are not intersted in stimulating egg production – but we want them to be warm enough for survival. We know they are cold hardy – but what is the limit? We have Ericaunas, Bard Rocks, and a Rhode Island Red. We have been putting on the lamp for a few hours after dark to heat up the coop. They don’t like it. I think its too warm – but the temp reading is only in the 40s inside.

    Are food and water needed inside the house if the light is on? We have food and water outside in the run – which they have access to all day – but once they go in – the space is very small – but we have their chick water and food containers in there that provide something at least. Are we better with a lower watt bulb? What is too cold – when they are inside the coop? What is too hot? I have been scouring the web and nothing seems to answer these questions. Can anyone help?

    • karey says:

      We live in Colorado. We have 6 chickens in the Garden Coop. We just purchased a 5 gallon waterer with a heated base for the winter. The heater turns on when the temperature is 35 degrees or lower. The instructions for the heated base tell us that it needs to be placed in a covered, dry place. Is it OK to put it inside the hen house at the top of the ramp?

      • Karey, it’s fine to put the waterer in the henhouse. If the feeder is in the run, they’ll get some extra exercise moving between the two at dinnertime. The only concerns that come to mind for me are the weight of it (if you’re trying to lift it when full) and the possibility of your hens perching on top of it. If you address these, you should be good to go.

  20. debbie says:

    I’m getting lots of tips from your posts and a few others around the web. Did all the pre-cold weather prep and cleaning, insulated the whole coop with a painters cloth (plastic lined paper type) and lined the walls with blankets around the henhouse as well as adding lots of extra straw. When we hit the teens in the past few days, though, I did fall back on the heat lamp. I was wondering if they’d come to rely on it, and now see that I should be weaning them from it slowly. Thanks for all the great advice!

  21. dale says:

    I have a low wattage flat panel heater on the back wall of the hutch. It is set on a day/night sensor and goes on at night. I also have a heater light set on a timer for an hour in the morning and at night to kinda call them in. ; p

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