Not all chicken breeds do well in winter due to their large combs freezing and getting frostbite. I’ve had some birds get frostbite and it isn’t pretty. They all healed up in spring, but it’s something that needs to be avoided as it can be fatal.
Lots of people heat their coops. Some add heaters to keep the temperature in the coop above freezing. I know some breeders that show specific breeds at poultry shows, they start incubating eggs in December (in N. America). By the end of January, they will have hatched 150+ chicks, just to get 6 birds that they can show. They have to have heat to be able to operate.
By the way, breeders of show birds are a great source for very inexpensive or even free adolescent birds. These are culls, the birds that don’t make the cut and can’t be used for showing. A cull, in this case, is a bird removed from the breeding process, although some do end up going to freezer camp.
Cons of Heating:
- Heating can be expensive.
- Warm temperatures will cause the birds to moult mid-winter.
- The birds will rely on the heat.
- Power outages will stress the birds if prolonged.
Here in Canada, we have 4 distinct seasons and winter can be brutal. In fall chickens go through a moult, replacing their “feathers” (There’s that word again). By the time the snow starts flying they have a full set of new feathers. If you have ever picked a chicken off a roost in -20°C weather, you will know how much heat they can produce. As long as they can cover their feet, they will be comfortable and snuggly warm.
Also, if you have ever picked an aggressive rooster up in -20°C weather, you will know, not only how much heat they can produce, but how much it hurts when they peck you. Just saying.
What Chickens need:
- They need to be healthy and fully feathered.
- Protection from wind and drafts, but lots of fresh air.
- A bright coop that lets in sunlight.
- Access to a covered run in winter or a large coop with 10 sq feet per bird.
- Humidity must not exceed 60%.
Humidity is the elephant in the room (coop). High humidity combined with freezing temperatures is a major cause of frostbite on combs. Keep the humidity down and you’ll have happier healthier chickens. Even in summer, if you go inside a coop and the bedding is damp, that’s high humidity. Damp bedding produces ammonia, and that’s not good for the birds or you.
A cure for the humidity is an extraction fan linked to a digital humidity control unit. It sounds technical and expensive, but it’s not, it shouldn’t cost more than $100.
Most birds can deal with cold, but can’t deal with drafts and humidity.
Should I Heat My Coop?
That’s entirely up to you, just be aware that excessive humidity isn’t good.