Anyone who has ever raised chickens knows they are pretty hardy birds, and also knows how incredibly delicate they are when they are newborn chicks.
From incubating and hatching to dietary requirements, these little things are pretty needy! And another factor that is imperative to their survival is temperature.
Compared to adult birds, chicks are quite sensitive to cold, and low temperatures can harm or even kill them easily. So, what temperature is too cold for chickens and chicks?
Adult chickens do well down to about 20° Fahrenheit, where temperatures below 95° Fahrenheit are dangerous for chicks until they grow up. Chicks that are too cold will be sicklier, may not develop properly, or could even die.
If you are raising chicks naturally or in an incubator it is imperative that they stay very warm at all times until they are a little bit older. Even a short but sharp dip in temps might be enough to kill a chick.
Adult chickens tolerate cold far better than chicks, but they are not invincible. Learn more about protecting your flock from cold here.
What Temperature Range do Adult Chickens Need?
Adult chickens of all species generally prefer warmer, but mild, weather of between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
They do pretty well in hotter weather, but it might reduce their appetite, stop hens from laying and cause other problems.
Adult chickens are also quite cold hardy, though again they do not prefer very cold temperatures.
Generally speaking, most breeds of chicken do pretty well all the way down to 20 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit depending on how much insulation their feathers offer them.
So long as they have a dry coop to retreat to and a good place to perch up off of the ground, they should be fine.
Keep in mind that chickens generally need more food to maintain their metabolism in cold weather, and you must always be on guard against their water freezing over.
Additionally, chickens that get wet will be quite vulnerable to frostbite, so take pains to keep them and their environment dry during cold weather.
What Temperature Range Do Chicks Need?
Chicks need to stay in a pretty specific temp range for optimum health, between 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week of their lives.
After that, you can slowly lower the temperature by 5 degrees or a little less each week until they are fully feathered out and can better regulate their body temperature on their own, which is around 6 weeks old.
Once a chick is two weeks old, it can withstand slightly cooler temps of 90 degrees. At three weeks old they can handle 85 degree temps and are even a little cooler for short periods.
Now is the time when chicks can start exploring outside the brooder box or coop if the weather is warm and nice.
At four weeks old chicks can handle mild 80 degree weather and can start to spend even more time outside as they head into adolescence.
Six weeks old and they are nearly done growing in their feathers, and are capable of handling 70 degree temps.
After six weeks, and once all of their feathers come in they can handle true cold as well as adults.
Chicks are Extremely Vulnerable to Cold
It is no exaggeration to say that chicks are incredibly vulnerable to cold. Their tiny bodies are not yet able to generate enough heat to keep them warm, so they rely on their environment to provide the warmth they need.
Normally this is mom’s backside in a nice warm nest. If you are raising the chicks yourself that will be an incubator or a warmed brooder box for them.
When chicks are too cold, their immune system is weakened and they become more susceptible to disease. They may also have difficulty digesting their food properly and can suffer from malnutrition accordingly.
In extreme cases the cold can straight-up kill the poor little thing; chicks start getting into the danger zone around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer they stay in that temp or the lower it goes the more severe the effects will be.
What Temperature is Too Cold for an Incubating Egg?
Every seasoned flock owner knows that correct and stable atmospherics are imperative for a successful hatching. Too warm or too cold will quickly halt development.
One of the most common causes of losing an entire brood is heater failure from power outage or otherwise. Once the temp dips too low for too long it is all over.
Eggs must be maintained at a consistent 99.5-100.5 degrees Fahrenheit to hatch properly.
A sudden drop in temperature can kill a developing chick quite easily, so if you are using an incubator make sure it has a reliable backup heat source.
Don’t Forget to Monitor Humidity!
Another factor that is crucial for incubating eggs, and one related to but separate from temperature, is humidity.
Incubating eggs need a humidity level of around 45-50% for the first 18 days, and then upped to 65-75% for the remaining days until hatching.
A too-dry incubator will cause the eggshells to become brittle or result in chicks being shrink-wrapped.
A too-humid one will make it difficult for the chicks to hatch and may even result in failure from “sticky chick syndrome”.
What Temperature is Too Cold for Newly Hatched Chicks?
As soon as a chick hatches it will need constant warmth to survive. A newly hatched chick cannot yet generate enough body heat to keep warm and must be kept at 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit as described above.
After they are stabilized post-hatching you can move them to a brooder, which is a heated box where they will live until they are fully feathered and can regulate their own body temp.
How About Chicks Entering Adolescence?
As chickens grow they will continue to develop and before long their feather starts to come in properly, replacing their fuzzy but meager down.
As this occurs, they become more tolerant of colder temps since they can better regulate their body heat and also keep that heat in thanks to superior insulation.
Once they are fully feathered young chickens out they can be moved outside with the rest of the flock assuming the weather is not too bad and they have a coop to sleep in.
Remember this rule of thumb: if it’s too cold for you to stand being outside for very long, it’s probably too cold for your chickens. Adult chickens are pretty cold hardy, but far from invincible.
They should have access to a warm, dry place to sleep at night and during particularly cold snaps. Coops in very cold climates may well need a heating system.
How Can You Tell if Your Chicks Are Too Cold?
Chicks that are too cold will exhibit symptoms that you can notice. If you do, take action immediately!
Some common signs that chicks are too cold are huddling together, shivering/trembling, lethargy, weakness, standing on one leg, loss of appetite, and drooping wings.
If you notice any of these signs in your chicks, take steps to warm them up immediately.
What Should You Do if Chicks Get Cold?
If your chicks get cold, the best thing you can do is to warm them up gradually. Put them in a warmed box set to 95 degrees and make sure they have plenty of dry bedding to snuggle into.
Do not put them directly under a heat lamp set to high or any other such drastic measures, as this could cause shock or burns.
If possible, increase the temperature in gradual increments. Warm them up quickly, but gently and gradually. If their appetite and activity level returns they are good to go.
How Can You Ensure a Proper Temperature Range for Chicks?
Keeping chicks in an ideal temperature range is mostly a matter of having the right equipment set up correctly and performing regular checks to make sure everything is within spec.
If you are using an incubator, make sure it is set to the correct temperature and monitored regularly.
The same goes for brooders – set them up according to the manufacturer’s instructions and check on your chicks frequently to make sure they are not too cold or too hot.
You can use a simple thermometer to check the temperature in both the incubator and brooder, and make adjustments as necessary.
A nice digital thermometer reduced errors and is easier to read at a glance, but is not strictly necessary.
You might also consider installing an alarm or backup system to ensure continuity of climate control in the event of power failure or malfunction. Either might make the difference in saving lives.
Keeping your chicks at the right temperature is vital to their health and development. If they get too cold you risk serious problems.
When in doubt on the specific temp, err on it being a tad too warm and provide them a little extra warmth versus being too cold.
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.
Find out more about the team here.