One thing many people with chickens / similar poultry worry about in the winter is how to keep them warm. Many traditional ways of keeping chickens warm such as heat lamps can also be quite dangerous in the winter. However, in Canada (specifically Alberta) you need to keep your chickens warm somehow! We have managed with good luck so far, as I write this it ‘feels like’ -50 degrees Celsius outside. Yikes. Here are some things that work for us:
- Manage Humidity
You need to be able to walk the fine line of keeping your chickens warm, but also letting some of that warm, humid air out of the coop. The space where our chickens live has a few small vents with covers for the winter. This allows air to get out, but keeps wind from blowing in. Drafts can be awful for chickens in the winter, which leads into my next tip.
2. Insulate & Block Drafts
You absolutely need to have an insulated coop/barn if you live in an area where it regularly freezes in the winters. I usually toss in some extra straw for insulation as straw can hold air well and is a great insulator. If you notice any small cracks or gaps in your coop (especially by the roosts), fill these gaps with spray foam in a pinch, or cover them with more insulated materials. Gaps are not the same as vents!
3. Keep Your Space Full
Depending on how large your area is, you might need to have quite a few chickens to keep it warm in the winter! I have my chickens in a large, unheated (for the most part) barn, and about 60 chickens fill the space nicely. They still have a large area to run around in during the winter, but there are enough birds to keep the space a bit warmer. 4-6 chickens in this large space would struggle, but in a smaller coop they might be more successful.
4. Water Supply
We use heated dog dishes to keep fresh water available for the chickens. I have had the best luck with these, as some of the larger heated waterers need to be fully tipped over and filled before being put back on the base, and this leads to extra water spilling everywhere. As you can imagine, this increases the humidity and can lead to frostbite for the chickens.
5. Add Heat – Maybe
95% of the year we have no additional heat for our chickens. I feel the fire risk posed by heat lamps (for me) is too great. However, on extremely cold days (think about -40 C before the windchill), I add one of these ‘milkhouse heaters’ to an empty pen in the barn. The key is to keep this in an area where the chickens cant touch it, knock it over, kick straw onto it, etc. This does NOT make the barn warm, it just takes the chill off a bit. Chickens thrive with consistent temperatures, and will manage better than you think. When temperatures fluctuate, or the heat lamp goes out in the night, this can shock the chickens too much and you might lose some. Other safer products I have used in smaller coops are also pictured below.
Milk House Heater
Cheap, safe, easy to use, and consistent. Does not make your coop hot, but will make it a bit more comfortable for your chickens.
Cozy Coop Heater
These are great for smaller spaces, the chickens can warm up near the heater, but it does not raise the temperature of your whole coop. I also like to use them to keep baby chicks warmer.
Heated Pet Bowls
I LOVE these in the winter. Chickens do not drink quite as much water in the winter, as they do not usually produce as many eggs without an added light source. However, just providing them with snow is not effective. They need fresh water to help regulate their body temperature and these dishes work great for us. We have several and haven’t had any issues with them icing over.
The most important part of raising chickens is to have a plan for winter BEFORE winter. We have this heater sitting in our garage and it is easy to plug in when needed. Make sure you are prepared and your coop is insulated and dry, and you should be able to manage with just a small additional heat source.