Depending on the winter temperatures you get according to where you live, you may be wondering how to keep your chickens warm without the cost of electricity.
This may also be interesting to you if you live off grid, or if you live on an acreage where your coop is too far to run power out to.
This is also a great article for you to read if you are wondering how to get a chicken coop ready for winter or if you want to have a winter chicken coop (whether you bought the coop or have a handmade chicken coop).
We have a lot to say on how to keep a winter chicken coop and keep your chickens warm and this is because we used to live in the sub arctic; both in the Northwest Territories and in Whitehorse, Yukon and kept chickens in both locations.
There is a lot to consider when thinking about how to keep your chickens warm in winter, especially if you have free range chickens.
We are going to cover points from breeds of chickens, flooring materials, free range options for cold temperatures, coop insulation and more.
Let's get into it.
How To Keep Chicken Warm In The Winter Without Electricity
When we lived in the north, we knew that the temperatures would get to -50C in the winter (-58F). And yes, it literally did get that cold. I would say that would be the coldest it got, but we did keep chickens and found many ways to keep chickens warm in winter, and we never lost one to the cold weather.
We applied all of the below tricks to our winter chicken coop for keeping chickens warm and they all helped.
We also did a ton of research alongside our own experience, and looked for specific chicken breeds that could withstand cold temperatures.
1. Choose Chicken Breeds For Cold Weather If You Can
Some of the main areas of a chicken's body where they experience temperature problems with the cold air, is in their comb and their wattle. So we started by researching raising chickens who didn't have a comb or wattle, or who had very small combs and wattles.
The reason these areas of the chicken are so susceptible in the cold is due to the risk of frostbite. Chickens are naturally protected by their insulating feathers, but those exposed areas are just like delicate skin in the cold.
Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds
The breed we really wanted to get was a Canadian heritage breed of chicken called the Chantecler Chicken.
According to Wikipedia, the Chantecler chicken "[...] was developed in the early 20th century, at the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac in Ola, Quebec. It is extremely cold-resistant, and is suitable for both egg and meat production".
Unfortunately, it was too difficult for us to get hatching eggs for raising chickens in time with shipments that far north, as people who were mail delivering hatching eggs had to have them arrive in a certain amount of time.
So we simply looked around for local breeders who had chickens with smaller exposed waddles and combs, and we did pretty well in finding some cold hardy chicken breeds for the north, despite not being able to get the breed we wanted for raising chickens in the cold northern winters.
2. Protect The Chickens' Waddle And Comb
If you have a breed of chicken who have larger waddles and combs and are worried about them getting frostbite in the winter, you can protect their waddles and combs with Vaseline.
Now, this may be impractical if you have a lot of chickens and don't want to go out in the cold temperatures and put Vaseline on them every night, but I personally have a tub of Vaseline dedicated to my chickens for those really cold temperatures.
I also use Vaseline on my chicken's legs if I see sign of scaly leg mites, and on the perches of my coop so red mites can't get to my chickens at night, but those are other stories for another time.
Keeping a dedicated jar of Vaseline just for chicken use is a really good idea. Especially if you live somewhere where you only get 5-10 days of very cold weather where you are concerned about frostbite. We get a big tub of Petroleum Jelly on Amazon because we have found it is the best price for the size on there, and just write "chickens" on it so we don't accidently use it on anything else.
3. Choose The Best Chicken Coop Flooring Material For Cold Weather
The next thing you can do to keep chickens warm, is covering your entire coop floor with an insulating floor material. The right chicken coop flooring will absolutely contribute to how well your chickens stay warm in the cold.
The material you use on your chicken coop floor should be one that won't absorb water and get too wet, because as soon as it gets wet, it will freeze and chickens standing on ice is another frostbite risk.
The Best Chicken Coop Flooring For Winter
The best flooring material for a chicken coop in the winter is wood chips. Wood chips will be best to keep those chickens warm. We normally recommend wood shavings for a chicken coop as well as recommend it as the best chicken coop bedding material, but for a chicken coop floor in the winter, we opt for wood chips as wood shavings are more susceptible to absorbing water which will freeze.
Why Use Wood Chips In Winter For A Chicken Coop
We recommend wood chips for a coop floor in the winter as they will not absorb water and become cold little chunks of ice. Rather, if they do get wet for any reason, the water will roll off and around them and land on the floor underneath.
Granted, in very cold winters, any water that does collect on the wood chips will freeze, but it will not pool into an area of ice. That will happen below the wood chips on the cold ground, and the chickens will be walking on the top of them.
4. Lay Chicken Coop Flooring Deep
When choosing how deep to fill your chicken coop floor with wood chips to keep chickens warm and create some insulation and a barrier between the cold coop floor and your chickens feet to help keep them warm, we recommend going deep.
This will help insulate your coop floor from the cold ground below it and will allow any water spilled to collect and likely freeze at the bottom of the pile, but not have the opportunity to make contact with your chicken's feet.
5. Use The Deep Litter Method (Only If You Know What You Are Doing)
The deep litter method for chicken coops, also known as the built-up litter system, is a tried and true method preferred by many chicken keepers which involves not cleaning out the coop floor, but rather, letting it decompose in there and adding fresh coop material on top of it for chickens to walk on.
This method will help keep chickens warm in the winter, but be warned, this is a method that will not allow you to sit back and just let it go. There is maintenance that needs to be done, and this method needs to be well-researched and understood before taking the deep dive.
Why The Deep Litter Method Helps Keep Chickens Warm
Because the chicken coop material is composting below the fresh material on top, this will allow it to warm up as composting elements are naturally warm.
Why does composting material heat up? Well, according to Cornell Composting Science and Engineering, compost heat is produced:
[...] by-product of the microbial breakdown of organic material. The heat production depends on the size of the pile, its moisture content, aeration, and C/N ratio. Additionally, ambient (indoor or outdoor) temperature affects compost temperatures.
It would be best to begin a deep litter method before the temperatures get too cold, so this process can properly work.
6. Put Perches In Your Chicken Run So Chickens Can Get Off The Ground
Chickens are best at knowing what they need, but obviously can't communicate that with you. So it is good to anticipate helping them, especially in cold winter by providing ways for them to warm up.
Chickens will go outside if they are able to in the warm or cold. If you are allowing your chickens to be able to go into a chicken run that is outdoors, you can help them by putting up some perches that are low to the ground, simply so they can get up there if their feet are cold and need to get off of the snow or ice.
You can make you own chicken perch with a 2 x 4 or you can buy a simple sawhorse style winter perch system that you can easily drop into your run during the winter months and remove it for the summer months. This is the easiest method.
7. Make A Warm Standing Zone In Your Chicken Run
You can also provide an area in your chicken run that is covered in straw from straw bales. Make sure this area is located somewhere that won't get snowed on, that won't get wet from a chicken waterer, or get food in it from a chicken feeder (they will just scratch the hay away negating its purpose).
Read about the best automatic chicken feeders here
It's always good to have a few straw bales on hand for this purpose (and there are many other reasons why you would want to keep straw on hand when you are a chicken keeper). Straw can also be a good backup for your nesting boxes and will help keep chickens warm.
8. Inspect Your Coop For Cracks Near Where They Roost
When wind is able to blow through your chicken coop, it is one of the easiest ways for chickens to get frostbite. Have a good look at your coop for any big cracks that will allow for a breeze to blow through and mitigate it right away.
If you are not sure if there are any big cracks that allow for cold air to blow through, here is what you can do: a chicken coop inspection for areas where heat escapes and cold air can blow in.
Once it is dark, go into your coop with a bright light, like a flashlight or lantern. Leave it on, and walk around the outside perimeter of your coop. Do you see light coming through anywhere? If the light can get through, so can that cold winter wind, and you might want to seal them up if it is going to blow directly on your birds.
You may consider patching those specific areas up with some wood, or even some insulating foam spray that will fill any crevices and that will help keep your chickens warm.
Keep in mind that it is very important to have a well ventilated coop at the same time for fresh air so any moisture can escape as well as any ammonia or natural gasses that occur. Having small fresh air coop ventilation at the top of your coop is good for this purpose.
This is why we like to inspect our chicken house for big cracks that would allow that cold air to blow on our flock directly, like where they roost at night. We will seal those babies up, but may choose to let other cracks stay jut for ventilation purposes.
Note that if you have vents up high in your coop, the cold air won't blow directly on your birds. Also, remember that heat rises and will get out through there as well, but so will the moisture, so this is why we recommend *small* vents up high.
9. Make A Snow-Free Grazing Area For Free Ranging Birds
Making an area for your birds to graze on the grass and get in the dirt a bit for a dust bath is a fantastic and easy way to help them in the cold.
It can be as simple as an old table with a tarp on it so they can go and scratch at the grass, and it is not all snowy or frozen. The tarp can hang over it and prevent wind from getting at your birds, keeping the chickens warm.
What we do here for our free ranging girls is we park our big flat deck out by the coop for the winter. It gives them a big area so they can scratch at the grass, and it also allows them to do so safely since most of our birds are red and brown, and would look like very easy prey to hawks in the white snow.
Another alternative if you want a more permanent, safe structure for your birds is buy a small protective grazer with a roof. They are affordable, can be kept up year round and look really good. You may even consider getting a chicken tractor on wheels for this purpose, and then you can use it around your yard in various places through the summer too!
10. Feed Chickens With High Energy Food
Giving your chickens some high energy food will help them from the inside by helping them put on some more weight and helping them to grow those down feathers. Just increasing their weight alone will help keep chickens warm in winter and stay warm throughout the season.
So alongside their regular chicken feed, you can also give them a bit of corn and black oil sunflower seeds. As chicken keepers, it is always nice to be able to give them treats that are so beneficial for them as it makes them so happy as well.
Just keep in mind, you can go overboard with the treats, and this can go beyond gaining a bit of weight and get into an obese chicken. Throwing them some feed during the day or in the evening is perfectly fine. Just don't leave open treats out for them to gorge on, because they will do just that.
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
These Sunflower seeds are different from the black and white shelled seeds you and I like to enjoy. Black Oil Sunflower seeds are grown specifically for oil purposes, which is perfect for poultry to eat in the winter.
Black Oil Sunflower seeds contain 15% crude protein, 25% crude fat and 40% crude fiber as well as some very healthy fats including Omega 6, Zinc, vitamin B and more. Plus, with these specific sunflower seeds, they can eat the hull and all as it is easy for them to eat and the hull actually has some of those great benefits in it as well.
Higher in carbohydrates than fat, corn is not as nutritionally good for chickens as Black Oil Sunflower seeds, but still offers them a yummy treat that will help them put on some weight to keep warm in winter without electricity.
When it comes to calories and nutritional value of cracked corn, in a 31g portion, there are 0g of fat and 24g of carbohydrates.
Make sure you feed them corn in moderation because they love it so much, they will just continue to eat it despite being full, which, I get it, it's delicious and you don't want to stop. But we don't need overweight and unhealthy chickens.
You could also feed your chickens scratch grain, or as we like to call, chicken treats, but they won't have quite as much nutrition. You could use it though to get your chickens out of the coop if you sprinkle it under your safe, covered grassy area to encourage them to get out an scratch a little.
11. Keep Many Chickens
I know that there are a lot of chicken keepers who decide to cull their older chickens in the late fall before going into winter to keep the cost of feed down for low-producing, older hens.
This is not something that we personally do; our chickens are also our little backyard pets. But another reason for keeping these chickens around, is for body heat.
I guess it is a matter of finding a balance between a good amount of birds for body heat, and not too many birds that you are flying through the feed!
When chickens roost together at night, you may notice that they will get nice and close to one another. According to the University of Kentucky Department of Animal and Food Sciences, chicken body heat "[...] is between 105°F and 107°F (40.6° and 41.7°C)". That is a good amount of body heat for a little chicken!
Not only will having more chickens maintain the temperature better for them cozying up to each other in the coop at night just from their body warmth, but it will also help the ambient temperature in the winter chicken coop.
Keeping many chickens around all winter long will help keep the flock warm by proving a little bit of extra insulation in winter or cold climate.
12. Climatize Chickens To Cold Temperatures
There is also so much to be said about climatizing your chickens to the weather. Chickens prefer colder temperatures as opposed to those hot summer temperatures, and while it is important to keep your chicken coop above freezing, you don't necessarily have to keep the coop warm.
This is another reason why keeping your coop warm in winter without electricity is important; if you maintain a warm temperature in the coop with heat lamps, ambient heaters and whatnot, if the power ever goes out, your chickens will not be climatized enough to withstand the cold temperature drop and could shock them.
It is good to allow your chickens to slowly climatize to colder temperatures as nature intended with the shoulder seasons.
Give them good food to get their bodies a little fatter before winter, provide a good coop flooring material for them, give them perches in their chicken run to escape cold feet, watch their waddles and combs for any sign of freezing and follow all of our other advice to have happy winter chickens!
13. Get An Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener
Our absolute favorite item in our chicken coop. Ok, yes, this point is great for both you as the chicken keeper and for the chickens as well.
We installed an automatic chicken coop door opener on our coop and it has totally changed our lives.
It does not need electricity, rather, we chose a coop door opener that is battery-operated and it has a photo sensor so when the sun is up, the door opens a little bit after sunrise, and it closes a little while after the sunsets, about 20 minutes after for both.
(You can program it on a cell phone to open and close at certain times if you prefer).
The specific coop door opener I bought (that's me in the above photo installing it) is battery operated and the batteries are supposed to last for 1 year as long as you use a higher end brand like Duracell.
It is also great for any climate including rain or harsh, cold winters, which is just one of the reasons I chose this specific door.
I love our chicken coop door opener because my chickens are let in and out automatically meaning I don't have to go out first thing in the morning or late at night. I can check them a bit later, which is really nice in the cold because my coop is at the back of my property and in the mornings I am busy getting kids ready for school...etc. So it is just plain nice to have.
I actually reviewed it here if you are interested in learning more:
And lastly, if you want to have an option if the temperatures get so cold that the coop's water supply is at risk of freezing, we highly suggest having a SAFE, flat panel chicken coop heater on hand. Yes, this option is electrically run, however, it is good to have one on hand with a long extension cord for those very cold days.
ARTICLE: Safe Chicken Coop Heater | READ HERE
Here are some other questions about keeping chickens in the cold weather:
Will Chicken Eggs Freeze In The Winter?
According to a paper on eggs freezing by the Research Institute for Milk and Eggs, The freezing point of egg white is -0.45°C, and that of yolk is -0.58°C. In the shell, the egg contents may be cooled to a temperature of — 3°C. without becoming frozen. Eggs, evaporated to an extent of 2-3 percent, are recommended in published reports for preservation at a temperature of —3° to — 5°C.
Depending on your coop style (whether your chicken nesting boxes are on the outside of the wall with access from the inside, or if they are inside your coop) your eggs may freeze.
Fresh eggs should be collected daily in cool temperatures, and the coop should be checked a few times a day in cold temperatures to prevent eggs from freezing in nest boxes.
Will Hot Water Bottles Help Keep Eggs From Freezing?
Despite what many chicken owners say, a hot water bottle will not help prevent fresh eggs from freezing, not will it help keep eggs warm for long in cold winter months. It will generate heat for a short period of time (and possible too much heat) and the temperature will again drop.
We simply recommend a bit of extra insulation in the nesting boxes, and checking for eggs regularly. And if you do find an egg that has frozen, it will likely have a crack in it if it has frozen solid.
How To Tell If An Egg Is Frozen
A frozen egg will spin on a flat surface where an egg that is not frozen, will not spin. Check this right away though because once a frozen egg thaws, you won't be able to tell if it has previously been frozen or not. The spin test must be done right when the egg comes in from the coop.
What Else Do I Need To Know About A Winter Chicken Coop?
If you are going to do anything with electricity for your chicken coop, we would recommend having a heated chicken waterer or winter chicken waterer if your temperatures drop below freezing to a point where you are concerned that the chicken waterer will freeze.
Chickens need constant access to water, and this is a super important point to consider. Also, if you keep your chicken waterer inside the coop as opposed to outside, and with all of the above listed methods for keeping your coop warm to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity, then it will be more difficult for the water to freeze.
If The Temperature In The Coop Is Just Too Cold...
Another point, if your chicken waterer is inside the coop and you have provided them with enough resources to make the coop warmer in the winter and your chicken water still freezes, you may want to also consider a heated light bulb in the coop.
You would simply replace your current light bulb with a heated one. (And hopefully you do have a light bulb in there at night if you are wanting a better egg production in the dark winters - chickens lay eggs more when there is more light). Because if the water is inside the coop and it is freezing, it may just be too darn cold to keep chickens warm.
If you don't have any power in the coop at all and you live somewhere where you are worried about your little chickens freezing, you could always look for a solar powered coop heater.
We hope you found this article super helpful and useful for not only preparing your coop for the winter, but in learning how to keep a coop warm in winter without electricity.
You don't necessarily need a heat lamp for your chickens to survive, there are several other things you can try first and if you have a good coop thermometer, you can monitor it and then supplement your natural heating remedies with a heat lamp if necessary.
Again, a healthy chicken should be able to climatize to the cold temperatures if you can keep them dry and keep their feet warm, eliminate any cold breezes in the coop, put a barrier between them and concrete floors or cold floors and give them ample opportunity for roost bars in their chicken run.
I know we, as chicken owners, want to keep those chickens happy and retain heat in the colder winter months, but don't forget that those chickens don't need a warm coop, they just need a coop that won't freeze or allow cold air to blow on them.
Here are some other chicken-related articles you may be interested in:
Did you like this article?
❤️ Here's how you can support our blog:
My name is Linnea and I am a backyard gardening enthusiast! Along with my husband and our two kids (and chickens, ducks and our little dog Izzy). Our hobby - growing our own food and making our meals from scratch. My blog, The Farmers Cupboard, is the website that blossomed from that passion. I love every second I spend sharing our hobby with likeminded backyard growers.
It's easy to support my blog, and it is so appreciated. Please SHARE an article somewhere, pin a photo to your Pinterest board, follow on any of our social medias or sign up for our newsletter! That's it!
These little things help our blog grow and allow us to continue doing what we love: growing good food and sharing what we learn.
PINTEREST PASSIONATE? We're opening up our cupboard to you!
Click on the pin below made just for you. It will bring you right to my little Pinterest community, where I would love for you to FOLLOW The Farmers Cupboard and see all of our gardening and backyard dream ideas!
Let's grow good things together!