Hens in the Bitter Cold

This morning when I woke up and looked at the thermometer, it was 5 degrees below 0. That’s cold. The hens live in uninsulated coops with concrete floors padded in pine shavings. The bedding is not the “deep litter” system that (when done right, but only if done right) generates heat like an active compost pile. The only tiny bit of man-made heat in the barns comes from the electric water heaters, which, if you touch them, don’t feel warm at all when it’s in the single digits. Still, they do keep the water from freezing.

Despite this deep freeze, the girls were fine. Just fine! They did not turn into chicken popsicles overnight. In the morning, Grand Dame Buffy claimed the spot in the sun. That’s quite a feather coat that she has fluffed up.

Buffy in sun

I gave the old girls an extra handful of scratch corn and hulled sunflower seeds. They could do with the added calories on such a cold day. Greens are always a boost, so yesterday I gave them some fresh kale.

The Gems, in their sunny, dry, well-ventilated, clean, barn didn’t show any signs that the temperature had dipped so low. They didn’t require special care, but they lucked out;  I forgetfully left my stash of butternut squash in the garage, where it froze, which ruined it for cooking –  but not for the hens who were happy for something to do as the ground is frozen solid and no good for scratching in.


The goats, with their thick fur, don’t mind this weather, although somehow they managed to convince me that extra hay in their bellies would keep them even more comfy. It’s hard to say no to the boys.


So, for those of you who are skeptical when I tell you that hens do fine in bitter cold temperatures, without electric heaters, this is proof.

Eggs, though, do freeze and burst, so I’ll be going out to check for them a few times during the day. Winter eggs are too precious to let them crack (and become inedible to all but the dogs.) I’ll have to bundle up, coat, gloves, and insulated boots. I don’t do half as well in the cold as the chickens do.

For more about winter care of chickens, read my FAQ.


  1. I have been thinking about your girls when I saw the temps. Each morning my four year old wants me to log onto Hencam so she can see the chickens. Even though we have our own in the back but she does enjoy seeing what they are up to. Seems they do not want to venture out. Mine are splashing in the rain today.

  2. That picture of the hens with Buffy soaking up the sun, looks like an old painting done by one of the masters. In any case it is beautiful. It is also good to see through your girls, that they really are tough old or young birds, our hens. It is very mild here today and not raining so our gang are out foraging with lots of happy chatter happening.

  3. Well. Call me “impressed.”
    How often have I fretted over our crew, because
    of a rare dip into the 30s? They have rain cover, food,
    water, and shelter from wind, and still I would worry.
    Today, when I visit my chicas, I will regale them with
    news from their East Coast cousins, and _real_ weather!

  4. Thank you for addressing this! I lay awake at night checking my phone for the outdoor temperature, watching the numbers get smaller and smaller and thinking I will find a chicken popsicle in the morning. So far, though, they seem to bound out of the run with just as much gusto as if it were 60 degrees. They tend to stand like flamingos, switching from foot to foot after the snow seems to get too cold, but other than that, they are happy fluffed-up chicken balls. This has been an unnerving first chicken winter for me, but you are right, as always, in that that they will be just fine! Thank you!

  5. We are in a ‘deep freeze’ up here in Canada. It gets to -30C (-22F) at night. Our insulated coop with its water heater base gets to -14C (6.8F) at night. By the weekend temperatures will moderate. We are adding more heat to the coop during the day by changing our 25W bulb to 40 W and then to 60W as the cold intensifies. The light goes off for the night and comes on again in the early morning. Our Buff Orpingtons and one Buff Rock are content, laying well, getting their greens, sunflower seeds and sprouts every day. They tend to spend more time inside but come out to enjoy the sun for brief periods. This is our first flock, so we are feeling our way along and hoping that we are doing enough. It’s beautiful to see Buffy enjoying the sun!

  6. I’m glad Buffy and all the other hens have their down jackets on!

  7. It was -10 here this morning and everyone was fine here, too. The inside of the chicken coop was about 33 today once the sun hit it for a while. The ducks were cold and they fluffed up their feathers and sat down most of the day, although they were happy to jump into their water bucket if I put warm water in it. The goats are showing no sign of cold at all. They are very fluffy and furry and they are happy to eat and do their normal routine. My goat friend blankets her goats with fleece “coats” but I feel like this will just cause them to not grow the fabulous furry coat that mine have and will also flatten down their fur and make them colder. What do you think, Terry? My friend’s goats shiver (same temperature, she lives near me). I don’t know if they are as fluffy as mine are because I haven’t seen them in a while. I don’t feel like my goats need coats at all, especially since they are adults with a good coat and some extra chub. :)

    • I’m not a goat expert… but I think, like what Donna said below, that if you don’t blanket, they’ll grow in a very thick coat. Of course, there are exceptions. Who knows, maybe those Nubians need extra warmth? :) Also, remember that the act of digestion and fermentation in the goat bellies radiates heat from the inside out. I’ve yet to see my (too well fed) boys look the least bit cold. They’re bored, but not cold!

  8. I think goat fur may be like horses…I don’t blanket my horses and they have the thickest coats..but I have friends that keep them in the barn and blanket them all the time and they shiver…I think this is a good example of letting nature do it’s job..if it is a hard cold rain however I do put them in the barn. I can’t stand the thought of them standing out in that weather. Love the picture of puffed up Buffy!

  9. I’ve been worried about my girls in the cold, but the Wyandottes seem to be fine. I did notice this afternoon that Sadie the Americana made a slightly raspy sound when she was eating spinach. Never heard that before. Should I bring her inside and keep her warm? Is a raspy sound always mycoplasma? She’s otherwise active and healthy. No signs of drippy eyes or any other symptoms and wouldn’t have thought more about it until I started reading the cold weather post!

    • Respiratory disease has more symptoms than just a rasp. Check my FAQs, I have one about diagnosing an ill chicken, and another about respiratory disease. Sometimes, like us, they get a dry throat and sound funny. If it were Mycoplasma, you’d know it! Everyone would be very ill.

  10. Are any of your chickens “semi-tame”? They look like they’d like a nice head scratch!!

  11. I brought my 4 girls into the garage. Long story but could not get water out to them and that was what made me very concerned. The water problem has been fixed and will put the girls back in their coop over the weekend. I have been so worried about “my girls” and the dipping temps.

  12. tell me about it!!! My chickens are fin when it is 19 F. that is crazy but also amazing. How did god make chickens keep them selves warm pretty cool to think about huh!?!

  13. It went down to -18 in my area of Vermont for two nights in a row. Yesterday never got above 0 degrees. I was very worried about my hens, particularly Goldie who went into a molt after her prolapse episode. Poor thing is pretty bare and I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to maintain enough heat to be safe. But when I went out in the morning on Tuesday and Wednesday, she and the others were hopping around the coop waiting for their morning treat of cooked oats and a little bird seed. Amazing!

  14. this real cold always makes me worry about the chickens. They seem to do well,and in the am when i open the coop they run to the barn to hang out with the sheep and llamas.The sheep do well when the temps drop but i do give them a little extra grain, the llamas well @ 3 below chose to sleep outside under the pine tree go figure. I guess all the critters are just tougher then we are.

  15. Thanks for all of your comments! Especially the ones that told of temps even colder than here. It all confirms that your hens are FINE in cold weather. Just keep them dry, and a sunny spot with shelter from the wind.

  16. I was nervous about the cold too being my first winter with the girls. I put extra hay and shavings in their “hutch” and plugged up cracks with more hay then I wrapped the whole thing in some of my dog blankets (was more worried about drafts than actual temp) closed them up tight for the night and prayed. Well they came bounding out at daybreak hungry and happy. They do spend more time in the shed, but thats ok, keeps them out of the wind. Giving them extra food to keep them warm too. When I open their door in the morn I can feel how warm it is inside, need to put a thermometer in, but they are fine. Gonna snow tonight and they dont like that. Happy winter everyone, I love it!

  17. Another great post! I’ve been wondering though if it’s better to bring a hen inside on a cold night if she has a minor cut.

    Every once in awhile we’ll have a squabble in the yard and a hen will end up with a bloody comb. I like to bring her in, take a look, and put Blu-Kote antiseptic on the cut if it’s been bleeding or looks raw. On the 2 occasions that this has happened in cold weather, the actual cut has been very minor but I’ve kept the hen inside for the night in a cool storage room and put her back out in the morning. My logic has been that if the wound is still a little moist, there would be a risk of freezing. Am I being overly cautious?

    • Slather on some Vaseline and put her right back out. Every time you remove a chicken from the group you risk more pecking order issues when she is returned. But, the blu-kote is the right thing to do :)

  18. Thanks Terry! I’ll do that next time. From what I could tell, one of the Barred Rocks that was near the bottom of the pecking order has been trying improve her standing over the last couple of days and this BO ended up with a cut. Interestingly enough though, I think the BO must have “won the battle” because when I put her back outside, she postured to the offending Rock and the Rock backed off. I think it’s fascinating to observe flock dynamics.

  19. Brrrr. My girls got warm oatmeal this morning. Little princesses. :) I’m glad Buffy got her spot in the sun. <3

  20. That Pip is so cute. Look at all that hay on him. Silly Goat. Buffy has no visible neck. It’s great they can stay warm by fluffing up their feathers.