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How to Keep Chickens Warm In Winter Without Electricity

After a surprisingly mild October, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere are now plummeting, and it’s time to start thinking about how to keep your chickens warm in winter, ideally without electricity.

To keep chickens warm in winter without electricity, you can winterize the coop by moving it, adding insulation, lining nesting boxes, sealing up cracks, and keeping the ground covered. The deep litter method also organically heats your chicken house without risking an electrical fire.

Let’s examine how you can use these methods and several others to keep your chickens toasty this winter. I’ll also tell you how to keep other animals, such as cows, goats, and pigs, warm during the colder months so your livestock can stay cozy and happy no matter how frosty it gets outside.

Can Chickens Survive in the Winter Without Heat?

chickens rooster exercising in winter snow
Exercising is one of the best ways your chickens can stay warm in winter!

Only some breeds of chickens can survive in the winter without heat. Chickens are pretty adept at keeping themselves warm. By fluffing out their wings and huddling together, they can cope reasonably well in temperatures as low as 10℉. 

When it comes to poultry, pay attention to their conformation.

Chicken breeds with rose or small combs tend to fare better than those with tall single combs.

Feathered feet chickens do tolerate the cold well, but surprisingly enough, snow is a problem. 

The snow builds up on their feathers and forms ice and snowballs, or worse, melts when they enter their coop and refreezes directly to their legs.

Frostbite is painful and damaging for chickens, so take as many preventative steps against it as possible. 

Some breeds are more suited to cold weather than others, and those with two layers of feathers, like the Australorp and Plymouth Rock, won’t even notice the cold on a frosty morning. 

Other breeds, like the Leghorn, thrive in hot, humid conditions. They have fewer feathers which means they’ll struggle with temperatures below 40℉. 

Bantams and sex-link chickens, in particular, can freeze to death if the weather’s cold enough. 

So, if your chickens and climate don’t match, you’ll have to pay extra attention to their health and learn new ways to keep them warm in the winter.

The Dangers of Electricity and Heat Lamps in Chicken Coops

Heat lamps may seem like the most obvious way of keeping your chickens warm, but they come with various potential dangers. Every winter, heat lamps cause fires that destroy entire flocks, threatening farm infrastructure and even homes. 

With a coop full of flammable material like feathers, sawdust, and hay, adding heat to the situation is asking for trouble. Throw in unpredictable chickens, and you’re one step away from disaster. 

If you want to use a heat lamp, look at Premier 1’s carbon fiber heater. It has many safety features and provides much more warmth per watt than “standard” heat lamps.

Still, just running electricity into your coop causes a potential fire hazard. If the extension cable gets a kink in it, it could quickly generate a fire, especially if it’s running directly over the straw bedding.

While your chickens may need extra warmth in the winter, a heat lamp isn’t your best or safest option. Why not try one of these simple methods for how to keep your chickens warm in winter without electricity instead?

12 Ways to Keep Your Chickens Warm In Winter Without Electricity

Here’s how to keep your chickens warm in winter without any electricity:

  1. Move your chicken coop to a warmer, southern-facing position, sheltered from cold wind.
  2. Improve your coop’s insulation to keep the warmth and cold out.
  3. Add nesting box liners to absorb moisture and increase warmth.
  4. Block drafts with plywood or sealant.
  5. Cover the ground with straw, hay, or wood chips to keep your chickens’ feet off the cold ground.
  6. Use the Deep Litter Method to generate heat naturally.
  7. Build a sunroom or add windows to allow the sun to warm the coop.
  8. Provide extra food. Chickens burn many calories to stay warm, and digesting the food generates body heat.
  9. Get your chickens moving with stimulating coop activities like hanging cabbage or homemade treats.
  10. Provide enough roosting space off the ground so your chickens can huddle together and keep their feet warm.
  11. Allow permanent access to the run.
  12. Steer away from things like chicken sweaters

You’ll find more details and tips on all these methods for keeping chickens warm in winter without electricity below!

1. Move Your Chicken Coop to Warmer Climes 

If you’ve got a mobile chicken coop or tractor, move it to a southern-facing location, where it’s sheltered from the harsh winter winds.

The ideal location is not only sheltered but also enjoys plenty of sunlight. 

2. Improve Your Coop Insulation

beautiful chicken coop with outdoor run and insulated coop
This beautiful chicken coop has three walled-in sides to keep the cold winds out and permanent access to the coop.

Adding an extra layer of insulation is a critical part of learning how to keep your chickens – and other animals – warm in winter. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as there are many affordable ways to winterize your chicken coop.

Styrofoam and other types of foam insulation are excellent at keeping the cold out, but many chickens find them irresistible and will peck them to pieces.

Not only will this reduce their ability to keep the heat in, but eating a ton of foam can’t be good for anyone. Some types of foam insulation are potentially toxic and could cause blockages in your chickens’ digestive systems. 

Cardboard is a safer alternative, but chickens are likely to feast on that as well. It could also get wet, increasing the coop’s humidity.

Fabric in the form of old curtains or blankets and tarps are more effective and can be draped over the coop, providing much-needed insulation while keeping the coop ventilated.

3. Use Nesting Box Liners

Poultry pads and nest box liners are inexpensive and provide a cleaner, warmer environment for your hens.

Made of wood shavings, they also absorb moisture, stopping the coop’s humidity from getting too high. 

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4. Block the Drafts

A howling gale blowing through the coop will interfere with your chickens’ natural insulation – their feathers.

Fluffing up the feathers creates a pocket of warm air between the feathers and the skin. A stiff breeze can easily disrupt this, leaving your chickens shivering.

So, to keep your chickens warm in winter without electricity, block off any gaps in your coop using plywood or sealant, depending on their size.

Remember that your chicken enclosure needs some ventilation to prevent it from becoming damp and unhygienic. You can install a vent near the top of the coop to get the airflow without the draft.

5. Provide Ground Cover

keep chicken feet warm with hay or straw on the ground
Keep your chickens’ feet warm with a cover of hay, straw, or wood shavings.

Chickens may be unwilling to venture out when there’s snow or frost on the ground. Not only is it cold on their bare feet, but it’s also wet.

Covering any walkways between the coop and the run with straw, hay, or wood can protect your chickens against the cold ground and encourage them to warm up with some outdoor exercise.

6. Use the Deep Litter Method

deep litter method in chicken coop with heat lamps
The Deep Litter Method is excellent for natural warmth in winter.

The Deep Litter Method is called lazy by some and genius by others. 

Throughout the winter, we use deep-litter bedding to insulate our flock against the cold ground and give them somewhere cozy to huddle up. I also use it for barns with dirt floors and skip it for the barns with stall mats.

The Built-Up Litter System is very similar to garden composting.

You toss a carbon-based material over your animals’ existing manure rather than scraping the waste and replacing it with bedding.

This practice generates a lot of heat and insulation for the floor of your animal’s buildings, which can do a lot to help keep them warm during the winter. 

Throughout the winter, you make a not-so-delicious lasagna of manure and bedding materials. When the first signs of spring come around, you remove all the layers and clean your coop. Then you can slowly start the process over again. 

The carbon in the bedding mixes with the manure’s nitrogen, which generates heat while making compost. And wonderfully enough, the compost will be ready just in time for your spring garden

For henhouses, the Deep Litter Method is incredibly beneficial. Your hens will keep turning over and aerating the litter, making it healthy and effective.

The droppings decompose, generating heat as they do so, while the new layer of bedding keeps the coop dry and ventilated. Inside the waste, decompositional microbes will create vitamin B12 and vitamin K, which your hens will ingest as they scratch through the bedding. 

How To Use the Deep Litter Method To Keep Chickens Warm in Winter Without Electricity

With the deep litter approach, you turn the soiled bedding instead of removing it. Then you add a fresh layer of bedding on top.

Continue adding layers daily until the bedding’s total depth is around 12″. Turn the bedding over daily to allow air in and ammonia out. 

If you want a step-by-step guide for using the deep litter method to keep your chickens warm in winter without electricity, here you go:

  1. Start with six inches of finely chopped pine bedding. While you can use hay, straw, leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, or other carbon-based bedding materials, sawdust is the best option. Sawdust is small, easily workable, absorbent, and seems to break down at the perfect speed.
  2. Turn the bedding. Every day when you go out to feed and water your animals, take a pitchfork (Truper’s manure pitchfork is fantastic!) or a shovel and turn the bedding over. You want the fresh manure underneath the carbon bedding. 
  3. Enlist help from your chickens. As the winter progresses, sprinkle in more bedding, and keep turning the mixture over. If you’re deep littering your henhouse, toss some scratch grains on the floor, and your ladies will be happy to help you with the turnover. 
  4. Remove and reuse the bedding in spring. I toss the dirty bedding out into the most commonly walked areas, especially the chicken run, to combat mud during the summer. The deep litter method produces far too much heat for the warm months. 

7. Capture the Sun To Keep Your Chickens Warm In Winter

poly plastic tunnel shelter for chickens in winter
This is a simple homemade example of a sunroom for your chickens!

Windows allow the sun in without letting the heat out, naturally warming your coop.

You could even build a sunroom using clear plastic by creating a greenhouse-style addition to your enclosure. Even a simple tunnel like the one below does the job!

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8. Increase Food Intake

Chickens burn calories to stay warm, which means they need more food during the colder winter months.

Eating and digesting also generate body heat. So, an extra portion of grain or corn in the evenings will help keep them warm overnight.

9. Provide Entertainment

Exercise is a great way to get your chickens to warm up naturally. Even if they can’t go outside, you can provide stimulating activities for them in the coop. 

A hanging cabbage head can keep them entertained for hours and give them a few extra nutrients along the way. 

If it’s warm enough for them to go outside, scatter a few homemade treats around the run to keep them active. If you want to learn more about how to make your own nutritious chicken treats, you might find our other article, 9 Homemade Treats for Chickens, helpful.

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10. Boost Your Roosts

Like humans, chickens like to keep their feet warm at night and prefer roosting off the ground, especially when it’s cold.

Ideally, you should provide enough roosting space for your whole flock to get off the ground and huddle together for warmth. 

You should raise your roosts two to three feet off the ground, and they should be large enough that your chickens can cover their feet with their feathers.

If your chickens prefer to huddle together on the ground, make sure the floor of your coop is well-insulated by using the deep litter bedding approach described above.

11. Allow Them Permanent Access to the Run

Chickens can be surprisingly stubborn, and forcing them to stay in the coop because you think it’s too cold outside will only frustrate them – and you! 

We open up our coop every day regardless of the weather, allowing our chickens to decide for themselves when it’s time to retreat from inclement weather conditions.

Admittedly, we lock them away at night for safety reasons, but this also helps them retain more body heat.

12. Don’t Sweat It With Sweaters

chicken in a blue winter sweater
Chicken sweaters are best left for picture day, as they can make your chickens and roosters even colder.

Dressing your chickens in chicken sweaters may be cute, but it doesn’t help them keep warm.

A chicken sweater will stop your hen from performing her normal cold-weather feather-fluffing routine, leaving her even colder than she was without it.

How to Keep Goats, Cows, and Pigs Warm In Winter – 10 Tips

goats chickens in shelter

If you’re anything like me, that first chilly breeze in September will send you flashbacks of slipping on ice, busting out water buckets, and trekking hay through the deep snow.

While there are ways to make wintertime more enjoyable (skijoring anyone?), the cold can be downright miserable for farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, and critters alike. 

Wondering how to keep cattle warm in winter? Or how to keep goats and pigs warm in winter? You’ve come to the right place. 

Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned while homesteading in the Salish Mountains of Northwestern Montana:

  1. Choose the right breed of farm animal (some breeds tolerate cold better than others).
  2. Build a shelter or improve your existing farm animal shelter.
  3. Add additional insulation with a layer of plywood or metal.
  4. Curtain your windows and doors with plexiglass, plastic sheeting, or a shower curtain.
  5. Add heat bricks or use the hot-water-bucket method
  6. Add a heat lamp with caution.
  7. Give your animals extra feed and up the protein content.
  8. Buy yourself a heated water bucket.
  9. Eliminate mud inside your animal shelters, runs, and paddocks.
  10. Bring the smaller animals indoors.

Full details of each method and our recommendation for heat lamps and heated water buckets are below!

1. Choose the Correct Breed of Farm Animal

Please take this advice seriously if you’re still in the research stage and don’t have livestock yet. 

The breeds that you buy matter a lot. 

Choose breeds that were developed for your specific climate. If you live in a hot, tropical area, find animals bred to tolerate heat, thick humidity, and high moisture levels.

If you’re in a cold, mountainous, and snowy place, find a breed that originated from a similar environment. 

In my little corner of the world, the temperatures can drop into the negative 30s (as in, -34°F). Most local ranchers opt for cold-hardy cattle breeds that tend to tolerate the cold and accumulative snow better than others.

Dexters and Scottish Highlanders are common in my area, though I see Angus and Herefords too.

Do Cows Get Cold? Do Cows Need Shelter in the Winter?

scottish highland cow in the winter snow
Scottish Highland cattle are one of the best breeds for cold climates.

Cows get cold in the winter and usually need shelter, though some ranchers can provide adequate alternate means of protection, such as improved feed and wind-walls, rather than full barns. 

Cows usually only need a full-scale shelter in the winter if the breed and your climate don’t match up. So, when getting cows, be sure to find a breed suitable for your weather conditions year-round.

Otherwise, you may need to construct more shelter, and even then, the cattle might get sick – or at the very least become uncomfortable – during certain seasons.

Do Goats Need Heat In the Winter?

Goats do not need heat in the winter, as heat can affect their thermoregulation abilities. However, to keep goats warm in the winter, you should provide them with an insulated shelter.

Some breeds of goats are more cold-tolerant than others and may be able to stay happy and healthy without a fully winterized shelter. However, as a general rule, dairy goats need plenty of protection from dampness and cold, and meat goats will also appreciate an enclosed, warm space.

If you’re raising goats, check out these great portable goat shelter ideas.

2. Create and Improve Shelters to Keep Farm Animals Warm

livestock winter shelter with sheep
A winter farm animal shelter can be as simple as three sides with a roof.

A thoughtfully crafted shelter is one of the best ways to make winter more tolerable for you and your winter livestock. 

At the bare minimum, the shelter should have three sides and a roof, with one of those sides shielding the animals from prevailing winds.

Are you ready to add chickens to your property, or do you want some winterizing ideas? Here are some DIY coop plans just for you. 

3. Insulate Your Animals’ Shelter

If you can, add a layer of insulation and then plywood or metal on the inside of your animal barns.

The insulation keeps the shelter warmer, and the plywood or metal protects the insulation from your animals.

A winter goat shelter and a winter cattle shelter are typically larger and need more insulation than smaller structures such as henhouses, but the price and effort are worth the outcome and heat saved. 

How To Keep a Barn Warm In Winter

Unlike smaller shelters, barns have plenty of space, which means there’s more air to warm. That extra room can be difficult to negotiate when trying to keep animals warm in the winter.

To keep a barn warm in winter, compartmentalize the space with insulation such as tarps and boards, seal up gaps and windows, and add plenty of bedding to the floors.

My favorite tip for keeping a barn warm is dividing it into lots of little spaces. By creating “hot spots” for your animals, you can focus on heating a smaller area rather than the entire barn.

As I mentioned above, you should also seal up gaps between the walls using plywood and insulation. Old feedbags, tarps, and shower curtains work in a pinch, as well.

Then, consider using the deep litter method to generate extra heat from the floor and eliminate moisture.

4. Curtain Doorways and Windows

adding curtains to keep chickens warm in winter without electricity
Curtaining off some areas and sealing up windows can help keep your animals warm in the winter without electricity.

While closing the barn door overnight does help retain heat, your animals still need exercise and access to their run during the day.

Hang an animal insulation sheet, also known as a livestock strip curtain, from the doorway to hold heat for your animals. A shower curtain is a surprisingly good solution if you can’t find an official door draft stopper. 

If you have open-air windows, consider covering them with plexiglass or even glass windows. If neither of those options is available to you, plastic sheeting or another shower curtain is a good alternative. 

5. Add Heat Bricks

For smaller animals, throw a brick or stone paver in your oven or near your woodstove or fireplace to heat it up. Set the hot rock inside your shelter, and it will radiate heat for several hours

You can also pour boiling or near-boiling water into a five-gallon bucket with a lid and set it in the middle of your building. The hot water bucket produces more heat for longer.

Still, if you’re clumsy or have icy terrain to cover between you and your animals, I would suggest the rock method over water. 

If you use the hot rock method for your henhouse, be sure to cover the rocks with boards or plastic wrap. Your hens will want to sit on the rocks and poop all over them.

I can assure you that while “hot chicken poop” is authentically “farmhouse,” it’s not a scent I foresee Bath and Body Works picking up anytime soon. 

6. Use Heat Lamps to Keep Farm Animals Warm In Winter

lambs keeping warm in winter under a heat lamp
While heat lamps can keep young ones from suffering from a chill, using them has risks.

Heat lamps are an option, though a risky one at that. It’s best to avoid heat lamps altogether, but I understand that isn’t feasible for everyone.

Still, consider moving your calving, lambing, hatching, and kidding season to when additional heat sources aren’t needed. 

While there are no true safe heat lamps for barns, some products are better than others. 

The $10-20 heat lamps you can find in your local hardware or ranch supply store are usually poorly made.

I opt for the Prima Heat Lamp from Premier1. Yes, it is a more expensive piece of equipment, but I figure if it can save my animals’ lives or my barns, it’s well worth the investment. 

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7. Up the Protein and Forage To Keep The Animals Warm

All animals need more feed during the cold months. While forage is better than grain, grain and other supplements have their applications too. You should supplement low-quality forage with a protein-dense grain or supplement for optimal health

Ruminant animals, cattle, goats, and sheep, create heat and energy by processing their forage.

So, give them more forage to take their mind off the cold and warm their bodies slightly. Also, feed them more protein to fuel the fantastic little rumen microbes that help them digest that forage.

The microbes use a form of fermentation to digest the forage, and this fermentation produces a considerable amount of heat for the animal as a result. 

Be sure to increase how much hay or other roughage you feed during the cold spells, especially during cold snaps and overnight.

If you feed twice a day as I do, make the evening feeding more significant. Feed as much as you can without having leftovers or waste. 

Overnight and early morning is likely the coldest part of the day, so your animals will appreciate the food during this time. 

I’m a firm believer in free access, but I know how wasteful animals can be, especially my goats, which is why I use creep feeders (Tractor Supply and Amazon have excellent options).  

8. Water, Water, Water

multiple buckets of water for farm animals prevent frozen water
A heated water bucket is going to make your life a lot easier!

You should always provide clean, fresh, thawed water to your animals at all times. 

I used to have a horse pasture that didn’t have electricity or running water, and winter was absolutely miserable. Every two hours, I would check on my horses, knock the ice out of the water, and add more water I trucked in as needed.

Now I have heated water buckets and feel that I’m living a life of luxury.

But before that, I’ve kept duplicates of every water bucket on the farm; I swapped out the frozen buckets out for thawed ones, letting the frozen ones sit in the mudroom until the ice melted. 

If you have buckets, find rubber ones you can throw down on the ground to bust the ice out. Otherwise, you’ll need to carry buckets inside your house to melt as I did. 

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9. Eliminate the Mud 

If you’re like me and live in a cold enough climate where the ground freezes solid and stays that way until spring, you’ve got it made.

If not, you have to fight the mud one way or another. Mud is detrimental to animal health, mobility, and overall cleanliness. Here is a handy article that shows you how to combat the mud

Even if you don’t have mud during the winter, take the time to clean your animals up before the cold hits. Matted, muddy hair is not an effective insulator and can even create sore spots on your critters.

If you have a warm room to wash your animal in, use it. If not, a brush and some elbow grease will work just fine. 

Does Straw Keep Animals Warm?

Straw keeps animals warm, but only to a certain extent. Straw makes an excellent insulator, but it is also absorbent. Thus, it may freeze and make animals colder if it gets wet.

While straw can be a great tool to help you keep cows, goats, pigs, and chickens warm in the winter, you have to keep it clean and warm. Otherwise, it could become frosty or moldy, which are both bad news.

To help ensure that your chickens and other animals stay warm, only use straw as a ground cover to eliminate muddy spots or as a top layer on denser, more absorbent, thicker layers of sawdust.

10. Sneak the Small Critters Inside

pot belly pig on couch inside the house
Pigs are just like dogs; they love coming inside. Be careful, though, they’ll get used to it quickly and won’t want to leave! My horse snuck into our old house multiple times, and as soon as I turned my back on him…

When temperatures drop really low and the wind picks up speed, you may want to bring the little animals inside. Throw on your largest, most inconspicuous coat and carefully sneak past your spouse.

I’m not speaking from experience here, of course. 

Bathtubs are a good place, as are old baby playpens and rubber totes by the wood stove. 

Hold them inside just long enough for the coldest period to pass, and send them back to their barn.

Keep an eye on them after being transferred back outside to ensure they don’t go into shock or get worse.

How to Keep Chickens Warm In Winter – Your Questions Answered

How do I keep my chickens warm in the winter without electricity?

Keep your chickens warm in winter by improving your coop (adding extra insulation, blocking drafts, and using a deep-litter approach to bedding).

How do you keep chickens warm in the winter without a heat lamp?

Install additional windows to maximize warmth from the sun and provide your chickens with plenty of suitable roosting space so that they’re not sleeping on a cold floor.

How do I keep my chickens warm in the winter?

Increase your chickens’ food intake to compensate for the increased energy they burn keeping warm. Digesting the extra food will also generate heat, keeping your chickens warm.

What temperature is too cold for chickens?

While some chicken breeds are hardier to withstand freezing temperatures, others will struggle to maintain their body temperatures at anything under 40℉.

Is it okay for chickens to be out in the rain or snow?

Chickens aren’t as stupid as they look and can make up their own minds about the weather. If you can give them access to the coop, they can decide when it gets too cold or wet outside and come into a cozy corner to shelter.

How do you winterize a chicken coop?

Switch to deep-litter bedding over winter to help keep your chickens warm and prevent the eggs from freezing. Provide additional insulation with blankets or curtains, and add a sunroom or garden tunnel to your chickens’ roaming area.

How do you insulate a chicken coop for the winter?

Use foam, blankets, cardboard, or tarpaulin to insulate a chicken coop in the winter. Then, supply plenty of fine bedding, like sawdust, to insulate the floors.

How Do You Keep Chickens and Other Animals Warm In Winter Without Electricity?

While chickens are hardier than they look, they need a little extra TLC to get them through the first frosts of winter.

Using the methods listed here, you can easily keep your chickens warm in winter without electricity, so won’t have to rely on a potentially hazardous heat lamp to see them through. 

Don’t forget chickens have their own methods of keeping warm, and using a heat lamp or chicken blanket can disrupt those processes, leaving your chickens even colder than they would have been if left to their own devices. 

How do you keep your farm animals warm in winter without electricity? Any tips for fellow readers? Let us know in the comments below!

Keeping Chickens Warm Without Electricity

Author

  • Nicky

    A horse-mad redhead with a passion for the outdoors, Nicky lives on a 6ha small-holding on the Wild Coast of South Africa. She spends her time rearing goats, riding (rearing) horses, and meticulously growing her own chicken food. She has a witch’s knack with herbs and supplements everything, from her beloved Australian Cattle Dog to the occasional passing zebra with the fruits of her labor. Nothing is bought unless Nicky fails to MacGyver it out of scraps of broken bridles, baling twine, or wire. She loves baling twine (and boxes, oddly enough).

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