It’s Winter — Should You Start Heating The Chicken Coop?
It’s that time of year again. Winter. The time of year that everyone starts questioning: Should I start heating the chicken coop? Well, this is one thing about raising chickens that I am emphatic about — the answer is NO.
I know a lot of chicken owners are constantly worried about their chickens. But here’s the thing — chickens, in one way or another, have been around for millions of years. However, they have only been domesticated for the last 8,000 years. So chickens are very hardy animals, and they are capable of surviving without much help from us.
If you are more of a “my chickens are my pets” mindset, I can understand your concern. But I have a list of reasons why you should NOT consider heating the chicken coop, even if your birds are your pets. Let’s go over those reasons today!
Heating the chicken coop can be a fire hazard
Heating the chicken coop can be a huge fire hazard. I’ve heard too many horror stories about chicken coops burning down due to heating the chicken coop.
There is too much flammable material in the chicken coop to safely heat it. Think about the materials you put in the coop. The whole coop (with the exception of the chicken wire) is probably wood. The roosting bars are also probably wood. Then you put wood shavings or straw down for deep litter.
Everything about a chicken coop adds up to amazing fire starting material. One small spark and the whole thing can easily go up in flames.
Heat lamps can be knocked down, causing the hot metal and glass to come in direct contact with the highly flammable litter, a wooden wall, or some exposed insulation.
Heat lamp bulbs can break, sending sparks and shards of hot glass all over the chicken coop. If one of these sparks lands in the litter and smolders, you will have a fire in the coop in no time at all.
Heat plates are safer, but I still don’t recommend them, as there are other things that can go wrong with heating the chicken coop.
Heating the chicken coop weakens your birds
If you heat your chicken coop, your birds won’t develop as much down, which is their insulation. This leaves them more vulnerable to drastic temperature changes.
An unexpected power outage can cause you to lose chickens due to the shock of being too cold all of a sudden. Or if your chickens get locked out of the coop by accident one night, they may die.
Chickens are naturally resilient to temperature changes if they aren’t too sudden. Their down keeps them warm. After their fall molt, they will regrow their down feathers in order to keep them well insulated for the coming cold months.
If chickens aren’t exposed to cold early in the season, they may be unprepared for the bitter cold months ahead.
Heating the chicken coop can cause excess moisture
Another issue with heating the chicken coop is that the heat can cause excess moisture to stay in the coop. If you’ve ever been in a camper when it’s cold out, you will notice a lot of condensation on the windows. The same thing happens in a heated coop.
This excess moisture causes a lot of problems in the coop. It can cause mold to form on and in the wood. It can also make your chickens susceptible to frostbite. And last but not least, it can make the litter too wet, which makes it stay cold.
Chickens normally don’t need a heated coop
The last reason is that chickens normally don’t need a heated coop. Heating the chicken coop is usually an expense of its own, that is really not necessary.
Chickens fluff up their feathers when they are cold. This traps warm air between their skin and their outer feathers. They will also tuck their feet underneath them, where their feathers can also help keep their feet warm.
Chickens naturally cluster together on their roosting bars. Their body heat helps keep each other warm.
Most chickens do better in cooler weather than in hot weather. Chickens are most comfortable at about 45–65 degrees Fahrenheit.
What to do instead of heating the chicken coop
If you agree that the chicken coop shouldn’t be heated, there are still a few things that you can do to help your chickens do well in the winter.
Provide a well-insulated coop
If you build your own chicken coop, consider putting insulation in it. This will go a long ways in keeping your chickens warm.
If you have a pre-fabricated chicken coop, or if insulation isn’t an option, you can line the outside of the coop with bales of straw. Straw is a good insulator, so it will help keep some of the cold out.
Make sure the coop has enough ventilation
You need to make sure the coop has enough ventilation so that moisture doesn’t build up inside. The ventilation should be near the top of the coop, above the chickens’ heads while they are roosting. Proper ventilation will help ensure that the bedding doesn’t get too wet and cold.
Use deep litter in the coop
The deep litter method is one of the best ways to have a stink-free, warm coop. The process of the litter decomposing helps warm the coop a little bit. As long as it stays fairly dry, this is one of the best ways to keep your chickens cozy and warm.
Make sure they have water all the time
Chickens need to have water all the time. Staying hydrated is key to keeping your birds warm. You will need to make sure that you can keep water available to them, even when it’s freezing out. Heated pet bowls are a good option. Just don’t keep them in the coop, as that can contribute to excess moisture.
Give the chickens scratch
Chicken scratch is great to help keep chickens warm in the winter. It takes more time and energy for them to digest corn and scratch. Scratch will actually make their body temperature rise in order to digest it. I usually give my chickens scratch with their evening meal, to help them stay warmer throughout the night.
For more winter tips, I have posts on caring for chickens in the winter and how to keep your chickens laying in winter.
A few caveats about heating the chicken coop
So even though I recommend NOT heating the chicken coop, there are a few instances when you may need to.
- If you have chicks or young chickens that aren’t fully feathered, you may need to heat the coop.
- If you have chickens that aren’t cold-hardy, you may need to heat the coop. Some chickens that aren’t cold-hardy are silkies, polish, or frizzles.
- If you have injured or sick chickens, it may be a good idea to heat the coop.
- If the weather where you live is going to drop suddenly, like a 20 degree drop over normal temperatures.
Please consider your birds’ safety when choosing to heat the coop. Use a safe heating method, such as the Sweeter Heater.
Please don’t heat the chicken coop unless you need to!
I hope I have given you a lot to think about on heating the chicken coop. It really is more natural and better for your chickens to NOT heat the coop. So unless you absolutely have to, don’t. Just don’t.
If you do have to heat the coop, just play it smart, and be super diligent and careful about it.
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