The last step in getting your coop ready for the winter months is to create a plan to deal with extreme weather conditions. You have probably heard that you should not provide supplemental heat for your flock during the winter, which is true. However, under certain conditions it may be necessary. Chickens can handle cold weather extremely well when given the time to adjust to the colder temperatures, such as what usually happens naturally in the fall as the temperatures slowly get colder.
It’s when the temperature makes a drastic change or stays extremely severe for a length of time that it will start to take a toll on your flock. Drastic weather changes and long periods of extreme temperatures causes cold stress.
Cold stress suppresses the immune system, uses up extra body resources, and negatively affects the metabolism so that the chicken can’t produce enough energy to keep all its bodily functions working properly. This is when you should provide some supplemental heat.
Providing supplemental heat during times of extreme cold stress will help keep your flock healthy throughout the winter. It will give the chicken’s body a little boost and allow it to stay both warm and functioning through the extreme weather spell. Supplemental heat can be provided under these conditions:
- The temperatures stay below freezing for a prolonged period of time (e.g. several days and nights).
- The temperatures take a sudden jump from being mild to being cold, this sometimes happens in the fall before your flock has adjusted to the winter temperatures.
- The temperatures are in the negatives.
Don’t think of supplemental heat as creating a sauna for your chickens. That will not help at all! The supplemental heat should be supplied free-choice or used to keep the coop temperature around 32°F until the outside temperatures warm up to above freezing. Free-choice heat is the most ideal since it allows the chickens to choose whether they want extra heat or not.
There are several safe options for providing supplemental heat:
- Heat pads- small animal heating pads are a great free-choice heat source that your chickens can utilize if they want
- Poultry heating panels- just like with the pads, your flock can choose to stand near the heat panel if they want to get warm
- Enclosed space heaters- these can be used if you have an area in your coop that the chickens can’t access, such as a storage area
- Heat boxes- heat boxes can be created to provide a small space for one or two chickens to enter and get warm whenever they want
Never use a heat lamp if you use straw as your coop litter. Straw is highly flammable and heat lamps are a fire hazard in the coop. Also, provide the supplemental heat for no longer than is necessary. Your flock should not need supplemental heat all winter long.
Also, keep in mind that if the electricity goes out, the heat source will stop working. If your flock is relying on the heat, this can cause stress in the flock and do more harm than good. So, if there is a great chance of the power going out, you are better off not providing supplemental heat at all and instead do other things to help your flock stay warm, such as providing a healthy snack before roosting time and using the deep litter method in the coop. Supplemental heat should be used only if it will help your flock stay warm and healthy this winter!