How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens In Canada
One of the most common questions I get asked by beginner chicken keepers is “how cold is too cold for chickens in Canada?” And let me tell you, I feel like I can give some pretty solid advice considering I live in the middle of the Prairies where Winter temps sometimes drop as low as -40ºC. And our chickens have survived several frigid Winters just fine!
So here is a breakdown of how cold chickens can tolerate and what you can do to keep your coop at an ideal temperature all Winter long.
This post covers:
- How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens In Canada
- What Is An Ideal Chicken Coop Temperature
- Do Chicken Coops Need To Be Insulated In Canada
- How To Keep Your Chicken Coop Warm Without A Heat Lamp
- How To Tell If Your Chickens Are Cold
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How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens In Canada
Ah, the golden question! Every beginner chicken keeper (myself included when I started) wants the answer to this question when they first embark with backyard chickens.
Well let me tell you — my chickens have experienced and survived outside in temperatures as cold as -30ºC (-22ºF). And while that’s not to say they should be exposed to temperatures that cold, they can certainly withstand it.
This is of course if you provide them a safe, wind-protected structure to live in and select a cold-hardy breed of chicken.
Before you read any further, if you’re just getting started with chicken keeping you should check out my full guide Keeping Chickens In A Cold Climate, Everything You NEED To Know. There I share a list of cold-tolerant breeds of chickens that do well in Canadian Winters as well as my tips for building a cold weather chicken coop.
So back to the question — how cold is too cold for chickens in Canada?
The answer is if temperatures begin to drop below -25ºC (-13ºF) inside your chicken coop consistently, it is likely too cold for your chickens.
Your chickens won’t necessarily die if exposed to temperatures this cold, but it will quickly lead to other health issues, such as frost bite and bronchitis.
If you’re noticing your chickens are experience a string of days that are this cold, you should consider adding more bedding to your coop using the deep litter method (my preferred method for keeping chickens in Canadian Winters!) and/or in extreme cases adding a heat lamp for a few hours at a time to heat up the coop.
What’s most important to know about chicken keeping in Canadian Winters is that it’s not necessarily the cold that is bad for your chickens but rather drafts and breezes in your chicken coop.
What Is An Ideal Chicken Coop Temperature
You should try and stabilize your coop temperature during the Winter to sit no colder than -15ºC (5ºF) to -20ºC (-4ºF) consistently.
Of course, anything warmer than this during the Winter is great and your chickens will be fine! Just be sure to have proper ventilation in your coop. So when Winter temps do warm up, there will be proper air flow in the coop, releasing the ammonia that can build up in chicken droppings.
Over night, you’ll likely find temperatures will drop lower than -15ºC (5ºF) to -20ºC (-4ºF) as the sun sets for the day.
Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned to keep your chicken coop warm throughout the night:
- Avoid opening the coop door or windows after 5:00pm. This helps seal the warm air in.
- Add a fresh layer of bedding to the coop for additional insulation if you see cold temps forecasted.
- Put a tarp or weather stripping around any corners that may not be fully sealed, like around the run door or windows.
Do Chicken Coops Need To Be Insulated In Canada
Not necessarily! If you keep chickens in Canadian Winters, your coop doesn’t necessarily need to be insulated, depending on the size and location of your coop.
Take our chicken coop for example.
The entire space is maybe 75-90 square feet for our 10 hens. It’s not very big, which makes it easy to keep warm using our hens body heat as well as the deep litter method throughout the Winter.
We built this coop ourselves and insulated the walls and floor. We don’t yet have the ceiling insulated and originally had plans to…but as happens with most projects, time got away from us and we’ve never actually gotten around to insulating the ceiling. I’m sure you can relate!
However, I actually find keeping the roof open works to our benefit as it offers some ventilation and allows hot air to escape from the top.
Another reason our chicken coop doesn’t need to be completely insulated is because we installed a south-facing window in it. This lets in a ton of light and can really heat up the coop even on the coldest days. It makes a huge difference!
I highly recommend installing a window in your chicken coop if you experience cold Winters. The sun offers a natural (and FREE!) heat source.
So no — chicken coops do NOT need to be insulated in Canadian Winters.
Of course, be mindful of the size of your coop, whether it gets direct sunlight and how many hens are in your space. If you were keeping chickens in a large barn or shed, I would definitely recommend insulting your entire chicken coop.
But again, it all depends on your exact coop and how cold your Winters get.
How To Keep Your Chicken Coop Warm Without A Heat Lamp
I’ve already mentioned a few ideas throughout this post on how you can keep your chicken coop warm without a heat lamp, but here’s a few more!
First though, you might be thinking “why shouldn’t I use a heat lamp to heat my chicken coop?” And this is a great question!
The main reason why I rarely use a heat lamp in my chicken coop is because of the fire risk. With all the bedding in our coop during the Winter, it is far too risky to run a heat lamp full time especially considering I’m not monitoring the coop 24/7.
If we’re having a real cold snap in Manitoba, I will add in a heat lamp for say 3-4 hours a day maximum in the early morning. This helps heat up the space a bit before the sun comes out. I’ll let the coop heat up by 5-7ºC (41-44ºF) and then remove it. But I really do try to avoid it if possible.
The other reason you shouldn’t have a heat lamp in your chicken coop even in Canadian Winters is because the temperature fluctuations can really throw off how your hens self-regulate their body heat. It’s much better for your chicken’s health to keep temperatures consistent, even if cold, rather than heating the coop and then having it drop low again over night.
Now here’s 5 ways how you can keep your chicken coop warm in Canadian Winters without a heat lamp:
1. Practice The Deep Litter Method: I truly believe this is the best approach to keeping your coop warm in the Winter without needing a heat lamp. I have a detailed blog covering how to do the deep litter method in your chicken coop.
2. Pile Snow Around The Exterior Base Of Your Coop For Additional Insulation: This works especially well during Winters with lots of snow. In Manitoba, this is often for us! So what we do is snow blow snow from around the yard up against the base of our coop. It acts as an insulated barrier from the wind and cold. It actually works really, really well and won’t cost you a thing.
3. Provide Your Chickens A Roost To Cuddle: In the Winter, our hens spend most of their day and all night long huddle on the roost. They’ll cuddle up close to one another for extra warmth. A roost also allows your chickens to protect their feet from frost bite as they will sit on top of them.
4. Add Windows To Your Coop For Natural Heat From The Sun: As I’ve already mentioned, installing 1-2 windows in your coop offers a free source of heat. It really does make a big difference on those cold days when the sun is still strong.
5. Give Your Hens Lots Of Extra Food & Treats: Our hens eat double in the Winter months to stay warm. I often refill their food twice throughout the day, which I’m happy to do as I know it helps keep them warm. Treats like cracked corn and meal worms are high in protein and fat and will help them stay warmer longer. You can also supplement their food with scratch and fermented grains.
How To Tell If Your Chickens Are Cold
A tell tale sign your chickens are cold is if they are sitting with their feathers ruffled and puffed out. It will be pretty obvious just from looking at your chicken that she is cold.
You can also tell if your chickens are cold by the colour of their combs and wattles. A healthy, happy chicken will have a bright coloured comb/wattle. If your chickens are cold or not feeling well, you’ll notice the colouring will be paler than usual.
Another indicator of a cold chicken is if you see her holding up her feet or tucking them away. This isn’t a huge issue and can usually be solved by providing a roost for your birds to sit on and cover their feet. However, it is good to look out for and can indicate you need to increase the coop temperature.
Signs of happy chickens include:
- Moving around the coop
- Making cheerful clucking noises
- Flapping their wings
- Cleaning themselves
And my final piece of Winter chicken keeping advice….
Put a wireless weather gauge in your chicken coop to easily monitor the temperature at all times.
We use the AcuRite Wireless Weather Station. The digital screen is on my window sill in the kitchen and the small wireless, bluetooth monitor hangs on the inside wall of our chicken coop. The digital screen measures the temperature and humidity in the coop. It is so, so helpful and saves me time from always having to go outside to check on my hens.
And there you have it!
Now you know how cold is too cold for chickens in Canadian Winters.
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