It’s Cold In The Coop But…

It was 17 degrees F this morning when I went outside to do the barn chores. That’s cold. And yet, the hens happily foraged around on the snowy crust. Even Twiggy, with her big floppy red comb, showed no sign of minding the chill – or of frostbite. It takes more than cold temps to cause frostbite.



On frigid days like this, the hens spend most of their time indoors. My coops aren’t insulated. They’re not heated. But, the girls are comfortable. I can tell because of their behavior. Notice how they’re evenly spread apart and active. (For those of you wondering where Buffy is during the day, there she is in her favorite corner, which is just out of HenCam viewing range.)



You don’t need a tight, cozy coop to keep your flock comfortable in cold weather. The Big Barn is spacious and airy. The goat’s stall door is open, so there’s cold air moving through it. And yet, look at how at ease the Gems are. They’re preening and scratching for tidbits in the bedding.



What does matter is that the air is dry. One way to judge air quality is by looking at the windows. The Big Barn windows are clear of frost.



Despite the cupola and vents, the Little Barn holds more moisture in the air. I know this because I see ice crystals on the windowpanes.



The humidity comes from both respiration and manure. It’s the combination of wet and severe cold that causes frostbite, and humid air can also lead to respiratory disease. I’m careful to manage it. Although there’s little smell in the winter, and the poop is frozen, I muck out more frequently to keep the coop as dry as possible. I can still see out of those windows, so I know that I have it under control.

We’re expecting a major snowstorm tomorrow night, so this morning I’ve cleaned the coops and topped off the feeders and waterers. I’ll keep the pop-doors closed while the snow is blowing. After the storm passes, I’ll shovel out the run so they can get back outside (hens won’t walk in deep snow.) What I won’t do is worry if they’re warm enough. They’re dry. They’re clean. They’re out of the wind. 17 degrees is nothing to them.

Meanwhile, Phoebe says, Bring on the snow!



For more about cold weather care for hens, see my FAQ.

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  1. I see a difference in your hens with this new bedding. They are always busy inside! Are you still happy with it?
    My new girls are experiencing this cold for the first time and although they haven’t been a fan of the white stuff, they seem to be getting used to it. A little slower to come out in the morning…but aren’t we all in the winter? :)

    • They are still very much engaged with the bedding. I keep the manure as picked up as I can, and I add more bedding (by large handfuls) every few days. They do like when it’s freshened up. I think it’s much better for them in the winter, as it keeps them active indoors.

  2. As always Terry excellent information.
    It hit 7 degrees here Wednesday night and someone here at work asked me what I did for my chickens in this cold weather. My answer, nothing. (I practice as you do) and I told them as I do anyone that asks me about chickens and the cold. “I’ve never lost a chicken to the cold but you can bet I’ll lose at least one to the 100 degree with humidity to match day”

  3. Good to see Buffy! Thank you for the good advice on cold weather care. My girls are still preferring to stay outside on their run roost even though our nights are getting into the 30s. I usually put them in their coop after dark just in case it gets windy. I’ve been trying to analyze what it is about the coop that they do not like. I put in a nice big window this summer (in addition to the existing 3 windows) but that didn’t help. Now I think the coop roost might have too small a diameter. Are hens particular about their roosts? Good thing it doesn’t snow here near San Francisco but I don’t want them to be out when it is cold and rainy.

    • Our roost is a 2×4 cut in half longways. They also have a branch. We had to have a light on in the coop at first to entice them in at night.

    • I live in a temperate climate as well and 5 of my hens only recently decided to leave their outside run roost for the coop. The temp was down to -4 celsius or so for almost a week and windy and yet my other 2 birds remained up in the rafters of the outside run to sleep at night as they have done from the start. It is covered by a proper roof, so dry, and is predator proof My conclusion is they will roost where they are most comfortable for what-ever reason.

      • I should add that we do not usually experience low temps like that. Most of my hens are also moulting as well and are no worse for wear.

  4. I just purchased two bags of Koop Clean bedding and put it down in anticipation of the storm on Saturday. My girls were leary, intrigued and then delighted with the change. I’m happy to have an alternative to shavings, and they do seem to enjoy scratching around in it. Thanks for the tip Terry!

  5. At 8 pm, it is -4 F outside and 14 F in the coop. Our hens are in an insulated coop, but I do add fresh pine shavings often to keep humidity down. Our 4 girls have full plumage after the molt and come out into the run encouraged by salad plates and alfalfa additions, but they are fluffed up to the max to keep warm. Your blog today gives us much encouragement – these temperatures are tough to deal with – not much heat from the sun today!

    • Now that’s cold! But the fact that it’s warmer in your coop says you’re doing something right. I started with alfalfa last winter, and I do think that it was good for them.

  6. Thank you for the timely post. I was listening to the radio on the way home from work tonight, thinking about the storm & single digit temps predicted for this weekend, when the warning to bring pets inside came on. So thanks for reassuring me!

  7. Yes great advice. My girls have come out and in, on and off the last few days. They will go from the coop into a lean to shelter and back and forth. But they aren’t really venturing into the run to walk on the snow covered crust in my run. Stay warm and dry and enjoy the weekend.

  8. Holy Crap!!! Get a little snow overnight!? Fortunately ours turned to rain for most of the day yesterday. Hope you guys are warm and snug!

  9. Thank you for sharing information on your chickens in this snow covered weather and the extreme cold weather.We view your hen cam daily to see how your chickens and goats are doing on a daily bases. Glade to see you got your horse also.Thank you to all the people who post there comments and information and insite on your web site to see how other people are taking care there animals.

  10. Yes so fun to watch phoebe in the Snow. She is so adorable. I have no experience with rabbits but my sister has one.. A lions head. So nice.

  11. My hens last year were perfectly fine in the cold temps, hardly ever saw a shiver. This year I have two that recently got over a respiratory infection and are not seriously molting. I have seen both of them shivering a lot. Should I be concerned and do anything for them? They have a very well ventilated non-insulated coop that has served them very well in the past, but being half naked seems to have changed things a little? Seeing as it’s getting down to 0 tonight, I want to make sure they are ok.

      • Hens should not shiver. Be worried. Is there a draft anywhere? If old Buffy goes outside in the wind, she shivers – which is why she’s been inside for awhile. It wouldn’t hurt to put in a heat lamp in until they fully recover.

  12. These two aren’t as clever as Buffy, apparently. they insist on standing out in the run with their friends. the sides are covered in plastic, but the wind inevitably gets in there. i think they’ll be coming into the basement until it warms up on Friday just in case. don’t want them getting sick again, or freezing. thanks, terry!