All domestic chickens need a coop to call home. The coop serves as the resting area and safe haven for the flock when the sun goes down.
It is also an important shelter during rain and cold weather. And it is this latter issue that generates plenty of debate among chicken keepers.
Some people think that a coop should be heated to help chickens better withstand cold temps and stay comfortable.
Others cite the fact that chickens do just fine even in very cold weather and that typical heaters are a fire risk. Which camp is correct on this issue? Do chicken coops really need heating?
Yes, chicken coops in climates that regularly get down to or below freezing should be heated by various means to keep chickens happy and healthy. Coops that are too cold might make chickens sick, or subject them to frostbite.
Some people heat chicken coops that don’t really need it, and others don’t heat ones that need it desperately.
The problem is one of being aware of the usual temperatures in your area at various times of year and also knowing what else your chickens need to beat the cold.
In this article, we will tell you more about coop heating solutions and other things you can do to keep your chickens warm and happy when cold weather arrives.
Chickens are Quite Tolerant of Cold Weather
How much cold can chickens tolerate? Quite a bit…
Chickens are animals that can tolerate cold very well, with most breeds being more or less comfortable all the way down to just above freezing so long as they stay dry or even a bit below that for short periods of time.
Chickens are well-equipped to handle the cold. Their feathers are extraordinary insulators, serving double duty as wind blockers and insulators that help keep the warmth generated by their bodies from escaping.
In addition, they have a special oil gland near the base of their tail that they use to preen their feathers and keep them in good condition.
This oil helps make their plumage waterproof so that they can better withstand humidity, rain and snow.
As a result of these natural adaptations, chickens are very good at regulating their own body temperature and can stay warm enough, if not truly comfortable, even when the mercury dips quite low.
Your Chickens Might Keep Their Coop Toasty on Their Own!
If you aren’t experiencing truly cold temps in your area, your coop might not need extra heat at all; the chickens themselves may be generating enough body heat to keep their coop warm.
To test this, go out to the coop on a cold day and stick your head inside. If it feels noticeably warmer than the temperature outside, then your birds are probably doing just fine and don’t need any supplemental heat.
However, if the coop feels the same as the outdoors, then it’s time to start thinking about how to best heat your chicken coop.
Chicken Coop Heat Lamps
Heat lamps are a tried and true method for heating a chicken coop, and one that seasoned keepers are likely already familiar with. These are simple lights, usually red or clear, that give off lots of heat when turned on.
Chickens will naturally congregate around the heat lamps to warm up, and as long as the area around the lamp is clear of any combustible materials, they are generally considered safe to use.
One downside to using heat lamps is that they must be used carefully to avoid overheating the coop. In addition, heat lamps can be a bit of a fire hazard if not used properly. More on that in a moment.
Safe Chicken Coop Heaters
Another popular option for coop heating is the use of safe chicken coop heaters. These are devices that have been specifically designed to heat chicken coops and other small spaces, and as such are much safer to use than things like traditional space heaters or heat lamps.
There are a few different types of chicken coop heaters on the market, but one of the most popular is the low-wattage infrared heater.
These heaters work by emitting infrared radiation, which is then absorbed by the objects in the space, including your chickens!
Solar Coop Heater
One of the best options for keepers who want to reduce electricity use and also reduce fire hazards is the solar coop heater. These devices capture sunlight and convert it to heat, which is then radiated into the coop.
While they are more expensive than heat lamps, over time the cost of operating them will be lower as you’re using free solar power rather than paying for electricity. However, they don’t work so well in areas with a low solar index.
Heater and Heat Lamp Safety
Caution: Heat lamps and space heaters are major fire hazards, especially in a coop!
Your average chicken coop will be made of wood and packed full of dry bedding material like straw, hay, or wood chips along with plenty of feathers, all of which are highly flammable.
In contact with a heater or heat lamp, these materials can combust, starting a fire that will kill your birds, destroy the coop, and could potentially spread to your house or other structures.
Take all the necessary precautions like making sure the cords are protected and not damaged in any way, and that the appliances are properly secured and placed far away from anything flammable.
Heat lamps should be securely mounted above your chickens so they cannot reach them or otherwise contact bedding materials.
Non-coop specific space heaters should be designed with tip-over protection circuits and mounted in a cage or mantle that will prevent them from touching bedding. Both must have cords secured in peck-proof conduit and stapled down securely.
And also consider adding a smoke alarm with remote notification to the coop, and testing it regularly: it might be the only chance your chickens have of avoiding a horrible death by burning if the worst should occur.
Use a Temperature Control To Regulate the Temperature
Lastly, a temperature regulator is another mandatory inclusion if you’re using heat lamps or space heaters.
In essence, it will turn the appliance on and off automatically to maintain a consistent temperature in the coop, which should be around 75 Fahrenheit (21 Celsius).
A coop that gets too hot can likewise threaten your flock!
Heating Won’t Help Your Chickens When They’re Wet
Chickens are quite cold tolerant, but there are some things that can make cold weather more difficult for chickens and impact their ability to withstand frigid temperatures.
One is being wet, as feathers lose nearly all of their insulating properties when they are soaked through. Another is cold, hard surfaces.
Chickens don’t do well sitting or sleeping on freezing cold surfaces as they will struggle to keep warm and will become ever more vulnerable to frostbite on their feet as temps drop.
Always provide your chickens with elevated roosts, ladders, perches, and so forth that they can always access, preferably without jumping.
Covering cold surfaces and lowering humidity is a great way to help keep the coop agreeably warm for your chickens, whatever heat source you are using.
Do Chicken Coops Need to be Insulated?
Yes, if the weather warrants it. Colder climates or ones with long winters or particularly harsh storms generally require it.
If you insulate your house you should consider insulating your coop to a similar standard. This is a great way to keep the coop warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
Just make sure any insulation you use is safe for poultry and won’t off-gas or otherwise harm your birds.
Also, make it a point to seal up the coop properly. Drafts are the enemy of all warm spaces, and the best insulation job in the world won’t matter if cold air is getting in from everywhere.
Even a small leak in your coop could cause the interior to be much colder and damper than it would be otherwise.
Proper construction and maintenance along with weather stripping, caulking, and sealing where appropriate can bust drafts and insulate your coop.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.