Chickens In Extreme Cold

We’re on the second day of a snowstorm. It’s not blizzard conditions – we can still see into the distance – but the snow is blowing and piling up.



It’s cold.



Last night that needle dropped below 0°. That’s Fahrenheit.

I was worried about Twinkydink. She’s ailing and too feeble to roost. At 9 pm I went out into the coop to check on her. She had smartly tucked herself into a nesting box. She was comfortable, as were all of the other girls. Hens have about 10,000 feathers. They fluff them up and trap warm air next to their bodies. Take a look at Veronica. She’s not feeling the cold at all.



The Gems were huddled up on their roosts. (Ignore the spots on the photo, snow had gotten onto the lens.)



Frostbite on combs can be a concern. This morning I hurried outside to check on the Ladies. Twiggy, being a Leghorn, is not a typically winter hardy breed. She’s sleek (so she doesn’t have the dense, soft undercoat of feathers) and she has a ridiculously big comb. That helps to dissipate heat in the summer, but in the winter the tips can freeze. But, she’s sailing right through this cold spell. Here she is with Nancy Drew, both of whom have healthy combs.



In fact, Twiggy was feeling so chipper that she put some thought into where to lay her daily egg.



What with the wind and the deep snow, the pop doors are staying shut and the hens are staying in. However, first thing in the morning Phoebe has to go out to do her business. Which she did. But, even for her, the weather was a bit much and she came back in and I closed them all snugly up.



For this extremely cold weather, the only change that I make in the care of the hens is to give them a few handfuls of a mixture of corn and hulled sunflower seeds, which provides the extra fat and calories that they need to replenish what they burn off to stay warm. Tossed into their bedding, this feed will also keep them busy. I also make sure that they have some greens, or a cabbage, to peck at.



I don’t hang a heat lamp. My coop isn’t even insulated. I don’t bother with feeding warm mashes and yet my hens are doing great in this cold weather! I’ve heard about many flocks which are not. Here are some reasons why my girls are doing fine:

  • • The coop has ample floor space so that the flock is not stressed from crowding.
  • • The coop has windows so that the hens wake up and eat and drink, even during dreary days. Hens won’t eat or drink if huddled in a dark coop.
  • • The coop has ample air space, so that moisture and fumes from manure moves up and out quickly, which means that the hens are breathing clean air.
  • • The coop has roosts well above the floor, so that the hens are not sleeping over their manure.
  • • The coop is clean and dry, with fresh bedding added during the storm.
  • • The coop is well-ventilated, yet there are no windy drafts.
  • • The waterer is on a heated pad, and so it never freezes. Access to fresh drinking water is essential.
  • • The feeder is full, and is indoors so that the hens can eat throughout the day. It is placed so that even the meekest hen can eat in peace.
  • • There is a tub filled with sand and cup of food-grade diatomaceous earth for dust bathing inside of the coop. That keeps them healthy and comfortable.

Here are the Ladies, who are cheerfully going about their day. They’re not even huffed up, even though the pop door is open while Phoebe is in the snow. It is 1°F.



What I’ve written above works for my flock. Some of you are much further north, and the temps are far colder. Some of you have coops that aren’t as well ventilated, or perhaps the wood floors hold moisture and so the air isn’t as dry. Perhaps your coop doesn’t have enough windows. Perhaps you’ve worried about your hens and wrapped the run in plastic, and thereby created a dangerously moist environment. Or perhaps all of your hens are old like Twinkydink. As always, pay attention to your animals. Despite the cold and your own discomfort, spend some time watching their behavior. Is everyone eating and drinking? Active? Does the coop smell right to you? Adjust your husbandry according to how the flock behaves. Don’t hang a heat lamp just because it’s cold. But do make changes if you notice an actual problem. When I finish writing this post, I’ll be going out to the barns to skip out the manure and observe my animals. The last few days I’d noticed that Beatrix was the last to get off the roost and she wasn’t looking so perky. I’ll take an extra moment to watch her.

What I won’t do is worry excessively about this cold spell. I’ve kept chickens here in New England for almost twenty winters. I’ve seen weeks of zero-degree weather and I’ve never seen a hen freeze in place! I’ve never even seen frostbite or a respiratory disease. Chilly, rainy weather, and extreme heat is far worse for your flock’s health. As long as your hens are housed and fed properly, extreme cold is more of a bother than health risk.


  1. I see you out there his morning shoveling for the goats. Seems so surreal that the east coast is experiencing a blizzard and here in California we are having a year of endless fall. Haven’t seen rain since November. Send some of that precip this way!

  2. A few days ago I saw Twinkydink standing hunched in the melting snow. She stood there motionless for minutes, while one of the goats was staring at her for some time and left again. She then turned around and started eating melting snow. She looked so pale. After some time she turned around and stood hunched again. So sad. Then Misty or Nancy stepped outside and looked at Twinkydink attentively. The other animals must know death is near for her.
    I heard about the blizzards and hope this extreme weather doesn’t cause serious problems in your country.

    • Twinkydink has aged gracefully, but her time is near and it’s obvious. It is sad, but expected. As far as the snow – we’re used to it!

  3. My experience is that in these extreme cold roosters suffer the most. 1. They don’t put on the fat that a hen does and two their wattles and combs suffer from frostbite easier due to their size.
    The wattles of the rooster are more susceptible because when they drink they get them wet. I have tried putting the Vaseline on the wattles to shed the water but never really had much success as it rubs off quickly.

    Great advice Terry and yes the weather is more of a pain in the rump for me than it is for my chickens and two ducks.
    This Saturday and Sunday 6-10 inches of snow expected and then bitter cold, minus 5 (Fahrenheit) Monday and Tuesday night and a high of only 5 degrees Tuesday. JOY!!!
    Coldest in almost 20 years here in mid eastern Missouri. Bears have the right idea.

    • I think it is wet combined with cold that causes the problems. Yet another reason I don’t keep roos- putting vaseline on them! :)

    • Ken with your two ducks have you had trouble with them and extreme cold and lack of common sense that chickens seem to have over ducks ? I am following a guy online just this year starting his breeding of 88 ducks of Pekin, Rounen and Muscovy ancestory. And while I understand that the ducks don’t feel the cold as chickens do, they if allowed to stay outside willl lay down and stay in one place with their feet tucked up and warm. Snow will then melt around their feet and then refreeze over their water proof feathers. Then when the duck sits up or moves the feathers are frozed to the grown and get pulled out. They do this over and over again. And his Muscovy are even less smart about the cold and he is in Canada with -25 F right know. I know with two of his Muscovy females having gotten frost bite on their feet for only going out for a short time, that for the rest of the winter in such cold extremes that he will be keeping all 16 of his Muscovy inside their barn, and allowing only the Pekins and Rounen out in the lesser cold weather. I know his are Pekin and Rounen are hardy little buggers begging him to turn the hose on in -10 degree weather.

  4. I have 4 hens. ( they will be 2yrs. in April) One hen decided it was time to molt…she has medium amount of feathers through her back but lost all her tail feathers and her chest is bare down to the skin. I’m in CT and it’s cold here ( 9 degrees F) and I’m worried she will get chilled. Our coop where they roost at night, is insulated and fairly warm but they have access downstairs to an outdoor but enclosed small run. Should I be worried? Will she know to go find warmth if shes cold? Anyone have any ideas?

    • She’s fine. She’ll let you know by her behavior if she can’t handle the cold. I bet she tucks herself between her friends when roosting at night. Live feather blankets :)

  5. Good information Terry! And pretty chickens…
    I sometimes think about the wild birds, most of whom don’t even have overhead shelter. If they can make it through cold spells, a well kept flock of hens can too!

  6. Thank you for taking the time to give us newer chicken keepers valuable information. I will confess to you here that while I do have a good coop and all the essentials you mention, I also hang a red flood light in a heat lamp fixture, which gives off less heat than a Heat bulb, per se, but more than just a light would. It just makes me feel better doing so, I guess and I have had three years of success with this method.

    • Chickens prefer to sleep in the dark, and do need their shut-eye. Do your hens stay active at night because of the lamp or do they sleep through?

  7. Great pictures and article, Terry! The top photo looks so beautiful (until you have to start shoveling!). And Veronica looks like she’s saying “I’m cozy, and I’m not moving!”
    Hope the worst is over for now.

  8. Thanks for helping assuage my fears. This is my first winter (I’m in Ohio) and it is one thing to say how winter will go and quite another to do it! I have also encountered a fair amount of judginess from other keepers about not heating my tiny (4’x4′) coop or totally enclosing the covered run. I was starting to doubt myself in this frigid weather, but the chickens (black australorps) are actually choosing to stay in the run and don’t seem to be bothered by the cold at all.
    It takes a lot of strength to do the right thing, I’m learning!

    • Last year I heard from a reader who enclosed the run in plastic and all of the chickens got respiratory diseases from the humidity. Fresh air, sunshine and exercise is the best!

  9. Hi Terry: The Cape is going to be in the single digits tonight and my 3 Buff Orps (thanks to Buffy, r.i.p.) are 7 years old. Their fluffy butts are going to spend the night in wood shavings in our basement, whether they like it or not.

    • It is harder for 3 to stay warm than a larger flock. The one who wiggles her way into the middle would be fine… You’re doing something right to have such elderly hens :)

  10. Thanks Terry. They owe their good health to you and your video & instructions on the Spa Bath which I used during the few times they had weird crops or crusty butts.
    Yesterday I couldn’t believe the Hencam temp readout – 7 degrees! Yipes, but your girls did look very comfortable.

  11. Hello, I have a question for you. I’ve read that a lot of rabbits that are housed with chickens eventually will kill a chicken or two if hungry. Do you believe otherwise? Or what is your reason for keeping a rabbit with the hens? I’m just curious, as I do not know much about rabbits. Thanks!

    • Rabbits are not predators and they don’t eat meat, so I have no idea where that idea came from. However, they can be territorial, and might chase off a chicken that they don’t like. I have a FAQ about keeping chickens with rabbits. Take a look at that (click on the FAQ icon on the top of this page to find it.)

  12. When I went to the henhouses this morning, the wind caused the 6 degree temperature to seem far less. I was anxious to see how the chickens fared during the night. Yesterday’s snowstorm could have been worse but temps are to continue to drop over the next two days. The only chicken outside of the three henhouses was “Uno.” This 8 1/2 yr. old leghorn hen is one of the oldest in the Son of Barn henhouse which houses our varied flock of egg producers. A smile was on my face. Uno was perched on an outside roost waiting for fresh (unfrozen) water and scratch treat that she knew would show up soon. She calmly waited through shoveling and the water jug transfer; this foul weather didn’t ruffle this fowl’s feathers. Another winter is here and she, once again, shows she’s a tough old bird, unafraid of the white stuff. In decent weather, some hens sleep on roosts outside of their henhouses. It seems they are now appreciative of the snuggy protection of the henhouses and will share inside roosts over the next few days. My best to all of you as we learn and understand care of our domestic flocks in all kinds of situations. Terry, thanks for sharing your daily routine and knowledge. Your site is most enjoyable.

    • One of the joys of old animals is getting to know them so well. So pleased to hear that your smart old hen is a Leghorn. I adore Twiggy, my Leghorn.

  13. As always thanks for the tips. I can’t believe with this crazy cold weather 1 of my hens has started up her egg production. They all finished molting a few weeks ago. This is my third day with an egg.

  14. Thanks Terry for easing my nerves a bit regarding the cold.

    All 10 of my girls are grumpy and feather picking. My SS has lost a ring of neck feathers and my barred rock has a naked bum… I am doing all I can to entertain them…cabbage, plastic ball with a bit of scratch in it to chase, fresh water, food, a beautiful bed made of Koop Clean(sp?) …Is it spring yet?

    I may try a radio this weekend, is there any truth to the idea that the radio is relaxing for them? I also just realized that their Christmas tree outside their window has lights on it and is probably having a night light effect inside the coop. Maybe they are lacking a good nights sleep? Could that be making them irritable?

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge Terry, it truly means so much!

    • Studies do show that chickens grow better and lay more when they have a good night’s sleep (the study was done for the industrial farms to see if light on 24/7 improved production. It did the opposite.) But, I’ve no idea how a lighted tree affects your hens (no study on that!) I’ve also no idea what music your hens would like. I once had a parrot that loved rock but hated jazz… no correlation to a backyard flock, but interesting :) Unusual noise will be stressful, not peaceful, so you’ll have to judge. But, it might distract them from the pecking.

  15. Love the roosting photos! I’m surprised no one gets up next to Pearl with all her fluffy feathers!

    • She’s a solitary hen, by choice, and roosts lower than the others. Roosting position says all about status in the flock!

  16. Terry, with temps at 0 and below how do I keep the eggs? I have been keeping them at room temp, but now with it so cold do I need to put them in the fridge or can I put them on the counter like always? Thanks so much.

  17. Can someone please put that poor ailing hen inside out of the elements! She can’t get up the ramp! I feel so bad for her!

    • I had to be away from home all day. I gave Twinkydink the option of a cozy spot indoors, and she chose to go out. I expected her to die peacefully while napping in the sun today, but it looks like she’ll go this evening. She’s a very old hen and she’s simply petering out. But she’s doing it on her terms.

  18. Thanks for posting this on cold weather. I live in Minnesota and it is going to be far below zero for the next few days. This is my first winter and I don’t mind saying I’m just little nervous for my girls. But I feel better having read this and will keep my eye on my remote thermometer/humidity gauge.

    thanks again! :-)

  19. We are suppose to get -40°F To -50 with the
    Windchill. I have a small coop 3 chickens and a rooster. Plenty of hay to cover the bottom and plexiglass to block the wind from the door.a heater for the water so it doesn’t freeze. Will it be a problem to Leave them in the coop for that nasty temperature?

    • I honestly don’t know. If the water never freezes, it sounds warm enough, but a small coop, only a few chickens, and those temps… I’d hang a heat lamp.