How Cold In The Coop?

After a brief January thaw we are in the midst of another arctic chill. That’s the nature of January thaws, they get you thinking that spring is around the corner, and then crush your hopes.

Yesterday morning I woke up to this.



A reading like that causes some people to panic about how cold their hens are. Don’t. My two barns aren’t insulated. They have great ventilation, which means they are not closed up tight – the Little Barn has a hole in the roof called a cupola, and the Big Barn has large screened vents at the eaves. There’s no source of heat except for the barely-warm base for the waterers, and the animals themselves. And yet, this was the temperature inside of the barn at 7 am after a very cold night.

coop temperature


Toasty. If you’re a worrier, you might get peace of mind by bringing a thermometer inside of the coop.

The chickens don’t need a thermometer, and they’re not discouraged after the January thaw, either. As far as they’re concerned we’re heading into springtime. Even the molting laggards have grown in their plumage for the new year. Do you remember how Ruby looked in December? That’s a late molt! But despite being half-naked in early winter, the cold didn’t bother her.

Dec Ruby molting


This is what she looks like today. She’s in fine form and ready to lay.



In fact, Amber, the Best Buff Orpington Ever, (due to the fact that she has never once gone broody and she lays eggs as consistently as a hybrid) has already been using the nesting box.

Nesting Box


Meanwhile, there’s been an upswing in egg production in the Little Barn, too. Twiggy, a White Leghorn, upheld her breed’s reputation for laying, and has laid eggs even on the coldest days. She’s created five to six eggs a week since she started last summer. Nancy Drew has contributed two to three eggs a week. The Americaunas stopped as daylight waned, but just this week Owly resumed laying her beautiful dusky blue egg. Beatrix is thinking about it. But Veronica? No sign at all of laying. However, she never stops chatting, and it turns out that she is a very good school visit hen.



The hens are sailing through these frigid temperatures and remain true to their optimistic natures. I’m going to follow their lead and ignore the thermometer. Spring really is around the corner. Now, if only I could convince Scooter.



  1. Terry, I love your matter-of-fact, simple, practical advice about chicken keeping. I plan on following your advice when I get a flock of my own girls. I’ve printed many of your posts, and stow them in my chicken-keeping journal. You’ve shown us all how calm awareness and common sense are our best assets when dealing with animals, whether two-legged, four-legged, feathered or furred! Thank you!

  2. Hi Terry. I can see how your hens can manage at that temp…..mine do too but when it gets to our current temps of -20 F, they just can’t. The critical temperature seems to be about -17C or +3F. That seems to be the threshold where they get frostbite….in a very well ventilated and dry coop.The heat lamp goes on as soon as we hit -15C these days. As always, thanks for your great writings, the forum for discussion and learning that you create and of course, your beautiful pics!

    • You’re in Canada, Lisa, and we all know that it’s just a vast, cold land up there :) Smart of you to know the limits of your flock and coop. I think that the big windows facing south and east in my coops make a difference.

  3. I’m going through my first winter with chickens, in the hills of southern Vermont. I’ve been so worried about the cold, but checking in here often – and finding posts like this – has been a big help and reassuring as hell. My greatest concern has been my single young bird (hatched right here on Halloween…don’t ask), who I moved out to the mini-coop during the thaw. I keep checking on these cold mornings expecting to find a frozen block, but she just stands up, fluffs, and gives me a ‘What?’ look. I stopped worrying a few days ago, after I installed a lamp in her coop in a fit of angst; when I peeked through the window at bedtime, she was far away from the lamp, tucked asleep in a cold dark spot. OK – no more angsting, and no more lamp!

    • Heat lamps have their use, but they also can cause fires. Glad you don’t need yours, but you were right, with a young bird, to be concerned.

  4. Aw, Scooter is so sweet. Curled up as tight as a cat! Do you have to collect the eggs quickly so they don’t freeze when it’s 21 in the barn?

    • Good question. Yes, eggs will freeze out in the barn. When they freeze, the liquids expand and break the shells, which makes them inedible for humans (bacteria will get in.) I feed them, cooked, to the dogs. But, I do try to collect the eggs before that happens.

      • I couldn’t make it to the coop one day last week and had 2 frozen eggs. So I have been vigilant about checking 2-3 times a day now. I just can’t believe they all started laying after their molt so quickly. Thanks for all your wisdom and advice.

  5. Vast cold land indeed! :) and while the great passive solar design (that I too, have in my coop as well as in my toasty straw bale house), while great during the day, lets a fair bit of cold in at night…though so do the plywood walls! I wonder if some good healthy roxul insulation might be a good idea for a renovation this summer. Of course, covered with some nice wood inside! I wonder if anyone should be out in the -33C cold….we’ve now had 4 such nights!

    • What I’ve heard from people way up in the freezer that is Canada, is that insulation helps to make all cozy (or at least cozier.) Keep that good ventilation, and enjoy the building the upgrades this summer.

  6. Scooter looks like a cinnamon bun! My Americaunas are the BEST birds ever. The lay no matter what and they are the friendliest birds! They squish down and let me pick them up every time I come into the coop. When my stock dwindles, I am just getting Americaunas, Delawares, and Orpingtons. But you cannot beat a RI Red once in a while!

  7. BTW..I am SICK of the 80 degree weather here. The never ending summer….BLAH!

  8. Chanteclers are an all Canadian bird….bred by a Monk in Oka Quebec….good hardy birds…pea combs…will be getting two such day old chicks this spring…as well as Blue Ameracauna and Plymouth Barred Rock. My Buff Orpington has also fared very well in this extreme Canadian cold!

  9. Spring can’t get here soon enough for me. This is coldest/snowiest winter we have had since 1976 and I don’t like it!!
    When I went out to the coop last night (around 5 pm) all the windows had frost on them. First time all winter. I have vents on either end of he coop and actually had one of the south windows open half way. I did not open the pop door yesterday as with snow on the ground, high temps of the mid teens and a 20 mph wind I knew the chickens wouldn’t come out anyway.
    So with temps as low a zero pending I went ahead and opened both south windows all the way.
    This morning frost remaining was just a trace and the hens gladly jumped from the roost and ate up their scratch grain they get in these frigid temps.

  10. ours will be white but there is also a local breeder from whom we can get the partidge Chantecler…also extremely beautiful.


    • Lisa Webb do you live anywhere near Campobello Island, New Brunswick ? Because a guy I follow online named Dale Calder is looking to start breeding white chantecler and he hatched out four pullets and one very nice looking white cockerel with a very friendly personality who he is trying to rehome come spring. He is also looking for some more eggs to hatch to expand his flock to entirely chantecler, and to have a non related cockerel to the four white girls he hatched this year. The cockerel seem to have a nice personality and while non patridge seems to treat the older three year girls he lives with in a mix flock of bantams and standard breeds. He even lets Prince Leah the black silkie rooster he lives with and was helped raised by be the head rooster.

  11. Phoebe should be loving the cold too. They do sooo much better in cold then heat. :)

      • Thanks for having a word with Phoebe about staying in camera range. I have caught her at dawn, dusk and many times at midday. She is all puffed out under the nesting boxes and looking great! Love to see her.

  12. I’m admiring your RIR. I think their color is so beautiful. It turns out I can’t have a favorite breed or a favorite chicken because I think their all just gorgeous and have unique individual personalities. I love my smart BR as much as my ditsy BO. Same with my gentle Austrolorp(to people, dominant on the other chickens) to my big fluffy Delaware. Doc and me have found that the chicken world is wonderful indeed. Our chickens didn’t stop laying this winter. We have seven hens and have six eggs 5 times a week and seven 2 times a week. We don’t know why, but we’re enjoying them. Reminds me of the story in the Bible of the woman whose oil vessel never poured dry. Very cold here. Chooks are doing great. No frost on windows. PJ going on each nite it gets below zero. Hencam has kept me entertained and informed all winter. Thanks Little Pond.

  13. Good morning, .. I have been worried to death about our cold temps here in NC.. its been in the teens.. I have only 1 hen here at my house have several in the country. I need answers to a Very important question. My Sweet Hen Honey is alone she does have a house with a roof and a entrance hole no door and has a very small window //slit with screen at the top right side of her house.. and we have shavings in there.. I have been bringing her in at night keeping her in my dog kennel in our spare bedroom.Then taking her back outside in AM to lay eggs, nibble around, do some landscaping for me.. Haha ! I read on your website to NOT move them from one exsteam temp to another. My bedroom she stays in at night is NOT blowing hot hot air, I have vents closed up in that room… Is it safe for her for me to be ding this? She is a Rhode Island red.. We were going to bring one of our Hens in the country ..A Buff here for her to have as a partner.. But not as of yet.. And when we do I hope and pray they like each other.. ..Waiting patiently for a response on this matter… Who would have thought I would be In-Love with a chicken..haha.. She is so darling I love love love her.. And want to do what is best for her and for her to be safe.. Thx Felicia Wilmington North Carolina

    • Hi Felicia, It’s good that you’re looking to do the right thing! First of all, I believe in having a secure coop at night, an open pop-door means no protection from predators. Secondly, I hope that your coop has a roost. She needs to be up off of the ground at night. All coops are different. The temps you have down there are not at all challenging to a chicken. However, a damp, sunless coop might pose problems. That said, bringing her in at night is not a good long-term solution.
      As far as introducing another hen. That’s a good idea, but I can assure you that they won’t immediately be friends. Read my FAQ about adding new hens to the flock.

  14. Thx for your quick response.. Her coop nothing can get her it is a solid roof.. and the coop is inside a heavy duty very large outside dog kennel ..that is also covered on top and have the bottom which we dug and made it so nothing can dig under the big kennel she is very safe. Yes her coop has a roost as well as inside of big pen. She only gets in her coop when laying a egg or sleeping.. she always snuggles into her shavings she seems to never roost inside her coop.. And her coop is way off the ground. she likes to eat all over back years.. as of right now her Gate to Big Kennel door is wide open..she is in the sun walking around the yard/. It has been unusually very cold this last week.. ’12 degrees at night… I really need to know is it safe to be bring her into the house at night.?? Tis is not long term.. and we are going to get the Buff hen here to be with her…

    • I think that you are bringing her into the house because you like her there, not because she needs to go in :)
      I’ve known of weasels to squeeze into dog pens (they can fit through the gap where the door is.) Personally, I wouldn’t take the risk.

  15. And the roof on the Huge kennel where her coop is.. is Chick wire so light all day

  16. HaHa ! well of coarse I want her in not freezing her Chick Butt… Well we have heavy duty screen where door is on Kennel… BUT hmm I do think we will have to do some more adjustments with even that … I know when a weasel or anything for that matter wants to get in somewhere they will find a way… Thx so much for your expertise on Chicks.. Im going to check out your info on intro another chick..into the house..

    • Read here long enough and you will know that I do NOT believe that house chickens are a good thing. (Do a blog archive search for “Tori Spelling.”) So – leave your hen outside!

  17. Curiosity got the cat and I went checking to see how ‘long’ our days are now compared to Dec. 21st. Your day is now 9 hrs and 44 min. long. An increase of 40 whole minutes! :) I was surprised to find that mine down here in PA is 9 hrs. 54 min. long. I figured with you farther east, you would have the longer day. It has to do with the tilt of the Earth apparently. (This is -not- my area of expertise!) BUT! We only have an increase of 37 minutes. Go figure!

      • My egg production has gone from 3, 4, 5 eggs a day just last week to 10, 11, 12 eggs a day this week. This from 26 hens (I think). I have probably 6 hens that have not laid an egg in years and several that may lay one or two a week in April, May June.
        It is a amazing how just a few minutes of extra light sends the hens into overdrive.

  18. Reporting from Central Ontario, Canada. We are in a deep freeze that goes on and on. The coop is -12C (10F) when I get up at 6:30 am (it has been as low as -18C). No frostbite showing. At 4 pm, all four hens are huffed up, settled in the run, feet protected. It’s -11C. They’re happy and, I must add, laying eggs. The coop is a Canadian design called Ready Coop (see website). It is insulated and, these days, there is a 25W light on from 8 am to 4 pm. The pine bedding is dry and there is ventilation from the add-on brooder area and above the roost. This vent can be controlled with a sliding cover or even an insulated plug on the worst nights. We haven’t had any trouble yet. The temperature is carefully monitored. My hens are so cheerful and chatty when I visit, I’m sure that spring will come. Really enjoying your blogs, Terry..I know nothing about horses, but have learned more about how horses ‘are’ from you than I’ve been able to learn my whole life..really fun. Tonka is just a superb looking fellow.

    • Goodness, it’s warmer up north in the morning than it is here! Isn’t it lovely to hear chatty hens during this deep freeze?

      • It’s been between -28C and -32C overnight here in SE Ontario over several days this past week (-38C with the wind chill on some nights). There were a couple of “milder” days where the daytime high reached -18C), and today is part one of our two day mini-break from the deep freeze – it went up to -5C here., but windy and snowing.

  19. The chicken pellets I feed, contain alfalfa meal. It is made locally in Taunton, Mass, Ventura Grain.

    I also do as a treat spread around alfalfa in the shed/coop and add more to their pellets.

    Does anyone add DE to their hens’ feed or put said where the hens dust bath? Experience here with over 40 hens is it deters flies, last summer I did not hang fly catchers, as it is not processed along with their food and deters flies.

    • I’ve written at length about DE on my blogs. If you write “diatomaceous earth” in the box to the left of the “search” button at the top of this page, and click “search”, you’ll be able to find those posts. I caution everyone to make sure that they are purchasing food-grade DE. The agricultural DE is microscopically very sharp, and it can actually kill your birds if they inhale or ingest it.

  20. Looking at Scooter makes me want to take a nap. He looks like a fine snuggle partner.

  21. I was interested that you are getting eggs with nine hour days, and I am not getting eggs, although my days are 11hours long. my four hens began to molt in October. only one is done and is now laying eggs. The others are still messy looking, and seem to be taking forever. they have a large grassy yard, a coop with lots of light, and free range all day in temperatures that range from the 50s to the 80s. they are getting organic layer pellets as well as greens from the garden. last January I was getting three or four eggs a day from the same hens. they are the same age as your gems. they get scraps from the kitchen, too, but not a huge amount. I would value your suggestions!

    • The Gems are only just coming into lay, and I’m getting only 1 egg a day from them, so your hens are not that different. It’s my young flock that didn’t molt that are laying 2 to 3 eggs a day, and that’s only started in the last 2 weeks. Make sure that your hens get poultry grit (I’ve discovered that even in granite-strewn New England I have to provide it) and free-choice ground oyster shell.

      • oh good – that makes sense. they have oyster shell but I will add grit – I thought they didn’t need it because they are out all day on a varied terrain, but maybe it wasn’t enough!
        My apologies that there are no capital letters in what I’ve been writing. It has to do with my iPad’s dictation function, which I am experimenting with.
        thank you for your blog and for your help!

  22. Hi Terry
    I just found your blog and I am so happy I did! I have seven hens here in Kennett Square Pa- it’s usually pretty mild here most of the time but with this cold spell I have been worrying abt my girls. I feel much better after reading these posts. Thanks!

    • Welcome! I used to live and ride horses near Chadds Ford. Love your part of the country. Such beautiful stone houses and gorgeous rolling landscape.

  23. Looks like Betsy Ross has found a ‘safe’ place next to Phoebe under the nesting boxes! Seems I’ve seen her under there next to the bunny every day! Terry, do the school children seem to enjoy a hen that ‘talks’ more than a hen that is quiet?

    • The children think it’s hilarious when the chicken is so loud that I have to stop talking. I couldn’t use Marge for a visit hen, she was too noisy. But Veronica makes continuous low happy chuckles, and so it suits me and the students.

  24. Betsy Ross and Phoebe having a little snooze together on this chilly winter morning..

    • Yes. Phoebe is a sweet and non-confrontational rabbit. It’s not a case of friendship, but rather of Betsy recognizing a safe, quiet place, and Phoebe putting up with her presence. Candy would never have allowed Betsy to use her space.

  25. I am feeling sorry for Betsy. Does she get to go outside without being pecked. I just saw someone push her off the roasting place. Why are they being so mean to her?

    • This is what chickens do. They are not being mean to her, they are being chickens – a bullying flock would draw blood and possibly kill. Betsy is able to eat, drink and get treats along with everyone else. No, they don’t like her in the top position, but she is allowed to roost. There’s always a hen in Betsy’s situation. Because she’s little, white and adorable, we notice her.

  26. Terry, I can’t imagine living in those cold temps for weeks at a time. We can’t handle when the temps dip to 32 or lower sometimes at night but then highs go up to the 50s or 60s during the day….70 tomorrow. Sounds good to you I’m sure. I know if your hens are fine in your temps, then mine will be fine in ours….lol! I was concerned that cold snaps would interrupt their laying but they are going strong and the days are getting longer…slowly! Spring is just around the corner =) Your Ruby looks beautiful after her molt! Is she laying yet? I have a Rosie (a red Ameraucana) that lays a pretty BROWN egg. Wasn’t expecting that. I always thought it would be green or blue. My other 2 Ameraucanas do lay green and blue :)

  27. Terry,

    We have 7 birds in a non-insulated shed. Without a heater our inside temp is only a couple degrees above the outside temp at best. From what materials are your barns constructed? Do you think the difference is the number of birds?

    • There are many variables. Does your coop have large windows facing east and/or south? Is there a windbreak? What is the floor? Is cold rising or is it blocked by the flooring and a layer of dry bedding? One of my coops is constructed of plywood with shingles for siding. The other is pine. Certainly the more hens, the more heat created, but also more damp.