How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter Without Electricity

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 Wondering how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity? Should you insulate your coop or not? What do you feed chickens in winter?

keeping chickens warm in winter

Here are some quick and easy changes to keep your chickens healthy in the winter with and without electricity.

Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter

While a lot of what I’ve read says chickens will be fine in the cold, I’ve learned that precautions are necessary in brutally cold temperatures. It is a challenge to keep your chickens safe, warm, and healthy in the winter.

This is the fourth winter we’ve raised chickens in Eastern Iowa. The first winter was brutally cold. The next two winters were much milder, but this winter is shaping up to be another brutally cold winter. My poor chickens need all the help they can get.

I’ve learned from trial and error how to keep my chickens warm in their winter coop. Warm chickens equal happy and healthy chickens.

Unprotected chicken coop vulnerable to brutal winds with deep snow all around
Our unprotected chicken coop vulnerable to brutal winds.

Our Winter Chicken Coop

My husband drug a seriously drafty old two stall hog shed onto our homestead when we first got chickens. I love the way it looks, but it’s not very practical during the winter.

It’s not insulated and it’s full of holes that the prairie wind just whips right through. The result is frostbitten chickens or worse – dead chickens.

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I’ve found it’s a fine balance to ventilate the coop effectively, but also protect the chickens from the winter wind. It’s horrible to find backyard chickens frozen to death inside their chicken coop!

Keeping chickens warm in winter became a huge priority this year with our brutally cold temperatures. Whether you have electricity in your coop or not, here are several ways you can keep chickens warm in winter.

black and white chicken stepping gingerly in the snow

Keep Chickens Warm Without Electricity in Your Coop

This winter we have also found a few additional ways for heating a chicken coop without electricity. Here are a few of the things we did to help. Whether you have electricity or not, these quick changes will protect your flock of chickens.

Choose a Protected Winter Location for the Coop

The location of your chicken coop impacts how warm the chickens stay in the winter. The greatest threat here in Iowa is the high winds in winter.

We moved our coop to a more protected area to keep those bitter northwest winds from slicing right through it. Move your coop to a more protected location or behind a windbreak of some kind if you’re able to do so.

chickens inside coop with litter on ground to keep them warm in winter

Deep Litter Keeps Chickens Warmer

Just as we humans like curling up with a warm blanket, chickens love their litter. Deep litter acts as a blanket for them and provides insulation to the coop.

A deep, loose litter will be better insulation for your chickens than a compact litter. A deep litter keeps them warmer. Start with a 3- to 4-inch layer of clean litter, such as dry grass clippings, leaves, straw, or wood shavings. Then, add fresh litter each week.

Add a few scratch grains in the coop every day. The chickens will scratch and peck and help the layers decompose. In early spring, clean the majority of the litter out for a great fertilizer in your organic garden!

Make the Coop Smaller

It’s easier to heat a small space than a larger space. One of the first things we did when cold weather set in was to make the coop smaller. We closed off a portion of it with boards.

You know heat rises, right? Ideally, the ceiling will be within two feet of the roosting bars. Chickens roost together to help keep each other warm.

We wanted to make sure that the chickens still had enough roosting bars inside the smaller space so had to move them. Keeping the roosting bars close to the ceiling helps them get even more heat.

chickens roosting in coop hiding their feet to keep warm

Double Check Roosting Bars

Chickens cover their feet with their bodies to protect them from frostbite during winter. Double check that your roosting bars are wide enough.

A 2×4 board is the ideal roosting bar because it allows the chickens to sleep flat-footed with their feet covered. Make sure the 4” side of the board is up so they can protect their feet.

Keep the Nest Boxes Cozy

Hang curtains in front of the nesting boxes to make them a little cozier. I’ve always questioned the reason for chicken curtains, but they do help keep warm air in the boxes.

If your chickens are still laying eggs, warmer boxes also keep those fresh eggs from freezing – important to us chicken keepers in cold climates. Fill the box with a little extra bedding for extra coziness and comfort.

drafty wooden chicken coop with tarps, blankets, and foam insulation to keep coop warmer without electricity in winter

To Insulate or Not Insulate the Chicken Coop – That is the Question

Your coop needs to have good ventilation to keep the chickens’ combs and wattles from getting frostbite, but it also needs insulation to keep it stay warm. Another easy way to keep chickens warm in winter is to add extra insulation.

After we closed off a portion of the smaller winter chicken coop, we covered the boards (the outside of the boards)  with a bunch of moving blankets, tarps, and extra insulation foam boards we had on hand. 

If you don’t have any tarps or blankets to donate to the cause, you can always find some at Goodwill or other second hand shop. Just make sure your coop still has fresh air! It’s vitally important that your coop always has fresh air.

We’ve also used thick black plastic, empty feed bags, leftover foam insulation pieces, and spray foam to help insulate the coop.

straw bales insulating the winter chicken coop

As the temperature kept decreasing, we also added a lot of straw insulation to the outside of our drafty old coop to provide even more insulation. It’s just another barrier between our brutal winds and the chicken coop and an effective way to help keep as much heat as possible inside the coop.

Heating the Coop with Electricity

While many chicken owners strive to heat the chicken coop without electricity, sometimes we just have to add heat for our chickens. Chickens seem to suffer less in winter unless their coops are damp or drafty, but they still get cold. You can see by their behavior that they get cold! I’m a firm believer that no animal should be left to freeze if I can do things to help. 

When our temperatures drop under about 10 degrees and wind chills kick up to negative (-10 and colder), we turn on an electric heater. If you use an electric heat source, you do want to be careful as a shattered light bulb can cause a coop fire or harm a chicken. Consider a chicken heater or an infrared bulb instead of a glass heat lamp.

chicken huddled on straw bale to stay warm

Take Care of Chickens in Winter 

Another crucial element to keeping chickens warm in winter has to do with their general winter care. You’ll probably need to change the way you feed and water your chickens in the winter compared to how you tackle this chore in the summer.

Give Chickens More Food in Winter

While my free-range backyard chickens usually find plenty of food during warmer months, they need extra help with food in the winter when everything’s frozen or gone. Not too many insects make it through an Iowa winter! 

Make sure to feed your chickens a good quality chicken food a few times throughout the day and also at dusk to help them increase their body warmth at night. Cracked corn is a great winter supplement and source of energy, but it must not be all you feed your chickens. It’s not a complete source of nutrition.

Some chicken keepers really pamper their chickens in the winter by bringing them a warm mush to eat. It’s a great way to stimulate their appetites if it appears that they aren’t eating well. They really enjoy it!

Related: What to Feed Chickens in Winter

chickens huddled around a feeder of cracked corn

Provide Warm Water

Just as it’s important to keep chickens hydrated in the summer, it’s equally important in the winter. It’s actually easy for chickens to get dehydrated in the winter when the water freezes. To keep them hydrated, bring your chickens warm water twice a day if you don’t have a heated waterer to keep the water thawed. 

They’re most likely to drink at dawn and dusk. I’ve used a number of heated waterers, and by far my favorite is this plug in bucket. It does take electricity, but it’s so much easier to fill and clean than the bell type waterers.

straw bales next to drafty chicken coop to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity. chickens in yard scratching for food

Liked this information on how to keep chickens warm in winter? Here’s more:

I’d love to hear your tips for how keeping chickens warm in winter without electricity. What has worked for you?

Wondering how to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity? These easy tips on keeping chickens warm in winter are a must read. Quick and easy changes to the winter chicken coop are helpful with or without electricity.

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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5 Comments

  1. i also had a drafty shed as a coop…i saved all my feed bags from dogs/cats/chickens and stapled them onto inside of boards, covering it all, then added flattened cardboard boxes and then another layer of feed bags. i get a bale of fresh straw often and load up all the areas so they have warmer ground to walk on and in the nesting boxes and spaces. i do feed them about 3 times a day and give them any and all veg scraps, etc…they love bananas! i bring out a bucket of hot water to add to frozen water in the morning and then another in the late afternoon with dinner. i love my chickens and ducks! we’ve had a pretty brutal start to winter this year and so far not one single loss AND still getting half a dozen eggs a day!

    1. Hi Desi, I love the idea of stapling empty feedbags up in the coop! Several people mentioned that on facebook as well and it’s a really great way to reduce, reuse, recycle!

  2. A flat 2 x 4 can be hard on large heavy chickens, if they curl their feet around the flat edge it causes their feet to break down over time. helps to have rounded edges

    1. flat roost bars that are wide enough for their whole foot to be flat down not only are best because they are able to cover their feet completely, but small round roosts lead to too roost sores on the keelbone, and less restful sleep. heavier birds are even better off on a larger wider roosting space. a small squared roost bar is going to be bad for the birds feet as well, yes. but the flat and wide method is the best by far for your chickens overall health

  3. Starting to winterize and coming up with good ideas from this site. My concern is that my girl is fat, old and alone this winter. The coop is 4×4 made with 1/2 inch (maybe 3/4 inch, I don’t remember) plywood and has worked great over the years with the exception of a couple of lightly frostbit combs that ended up with Vaseline and healing. My question/concern is this…. How do I ventilate while at the same time, insulating the outside of the coop? She no longer lays so I have filled all the nesting boxes with straw and put a four inch layer on the floor and up the walls a little. I’m thinking about changing out her fave roost with a 2×4 but I’m not sure how steady she’d be if the lays flat footed rather than being able to grip. I’m thinking of covering the outside with blankets and quilt, covered with tarp, but the only opening is the little entrance at the bottom. Is that enough ventilation or what do I need to do? I’d hate to lose her to a freeze after she’s survived fly strike twice this summer!! Thx much!