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Keeping Chickens Warm in Extreme Cold Winter Weather

I live on the shores of Lake Superior, where it is often unbearably cold and incredibly windy, so I have had to learn a thing or two about keeping chickens warm in extreme cold weather.  I decided to share my tips because many other chicken keepers who write about overwintering chickens seem to have very mild winters.  If you don’t need to plug in your vehicle, just so it will start, or you can go outside with your jacket unzipped, it’s not a real winter!  If your daffodils and tulips bloom in April, we just aren’t experiencing the same kind of COLD CLIMATE.  I say this in jest, but also with the bitterness of someone who looked out on Easter Monday and saw a fresh blanket of snow on the yard.  After reading so many articles about how to keep chickens warm in winter, and realizing these people lived where winters are mild, I really felt misled about how to keep chickens safe and warm in the cold.  So here are my best tips – including tips for keeping chickens warm in winter without electricity!

How to Winterize a Chicken Coop in CanadaHow to Keep Chickens Warm in Super Cold Winter

What Kind of Cold Are We Talking About?

Just so we’re on the same page: our winters here are very long, very snowy, and bitterly cold with really strong winds and tons of snow.  Our nights often have lows below -30 Celsius (-22 Farenheight).  A record cold for this area is -43.2 Celsius (-45.8 Fahrenheit) in 1996.  I remember that, I remember it being so, so cold – and these temps are without windchill which, living on Lake Superior, can be INTENSE.  Our chickens do NOT enjoy the winters – but they survive, so here are my tips for keeping chickens warm in extreme cold winter weather.

Winter Coop Tips Keeping Backyard Chickens in Canadian Winters

We Chose Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds:

The first step is to pick the right kind of chicken!  When researching which breed(s) you’d like, pay particular attention to your climate.  We chose a pretty cold hardy breed for our first chickens: the Ameraucana.  It has a small pea comb too, so there’s less area susceptible to frostbite.  Combs, waddles, and feet are all areas chickens are more likely to get frostbite.  Pewter, my surprise roo, is not a chicken I would have chosen because his big comb was susceptible to frostbite and, although I tried my best to treat it, he did suffer some disfigurement.  His first winter he was, at times, visibly uncomfortable despite my best efforts.  He is all healed up now, thankfully, and no other frostbite cases occurred within my flock.   But picking cold hardy chickens was the first step!

Tips for Keeping Chickens Warm in Winter

We Let Chickens Acclimate + We Nurture Them During Molting Season

If you baby your chickens early in the colder months, they won’t toughen up for the winter.  Chickens can actually produce a lot of body heat and their feathers are quite warm – that’s why our down winter coats are so toasty.  Basically your chicken is wearing the OG feather coat.  Chickens molt in the fall though (meaning they shed their old feathers, which have become worn out and broken) so right before winter they can look pretty bedraggled.  They will then grow brand new, quality feathers to keep them warm in the winter.  If you baby them while this is happening, I have read that they won’t regrow a warm enough coat.  During molting season, I like to switch my chickens to grower feed (since they aren’t laying much anyway) and that helps provide the extra protein to grow good quality feathers.  Helping them through the molting process and letting nature work its magic when they regrow their new winter feathers will help a lot.

Help Chickens When They Molt to Prepare for Winter

We Built a Sheltered “Mini Barn” (Basically a Shed) That Houses the Coop:

The sheltered barn that houses the coop and nesting boxes, along with offering storage for chicken stuff, was one of my best ideas because the barn provides a welcome shelter on extremely cold days.  If given the choice, the chickens prefer to be out in the run, but when it is super cold they hang out inside the barn and only go outside for food and water (they will not go into their coop during the day, so if I only had a coop and run, they’d be less sheltered).  The “mini barn” provides them a little extra shelter and, although it was a bit more work to build, I highly recommend a mini barn (even if it’s just a prefab shed) to enclose a coop if you live somewhere really cold.  It is nice shelter for me as well, when I collect the eggs, clean the coop, and just hang out with my flock.

Build a Shed Around a Chicken Coop for Windbreak

We Insulated the Coop During Construction:

How do you winterize a chicken coop?  When we built the coop, we insulated it: top, sides, and bottom.  It’s also built inside the mini barn, which helps shelter it even more.  When the chickens are inside, they act as little furnaces in coats and generate their own heat.  The insulation helps them keep their own heat, but we also modified the coop a bit more than this after everything was built – but rigid foam insulation was a good first step.  If you can’t go back and insulate your coop, you can pile hay bales around the outside to help add some insulation after the fact.

How to Insulate a Chicken Coop

We Then Hacked the Coop and Cut it in Half:

Once we realized the chickens were getting chilly, we halved the coop (for the winter months) to keep the chickens cozier. We had built it hoping for a larger flock, so when the small flock couldn’t successfully heat the large space with their own body heat, we added a piece of plywood to cut the coop in half.  The plywood doesn’t reach all the way to the automatic door so at night they have a small area in which to snuggle and heat, but there is space for them to access the other side.  If you’re worried about keeping your chickens warm, keep an eye on the coop to chicken ratio – and either get more chickens or make the coop smaller and cozier.

Chicken Coop Size to Keep Chickens Warm

Before We Halved the Coop Space

How to Make an Uninsulated Chicken Coop Warmer

Here You Can See the Plywood We Added on the Left

We Added Heat Reflecting Material Inside:

I also found this heat reflecting material, which we stapled up inside the coop.  I measured and kept track with our thermometer, and the heat reflecting material definitely helped raise the temperature by a few degrees when the chickens are inside.  It helps reflect their own heat back to them.  I know lots of people who don’t heat their coops at all and if you’re one of those people, but think your chickens could use a bit of a “boost” to their own heating abilities, try this heat reflective material for a totally safe way to “heat” a coop in winter.

How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter No Power

We Got a Heated Waterer:

Frozen water is a big problem, and open water sources in winter can be dangerous.  I’ve heard of chickens stepping in an open water source and losing a foot to frostbite – that can be avoided with a heated waterer like this.  I know it requires electricity, which is not always convenient, but if you can swing a closed and heated waterer, that’s a big step in keeping chickens safe in winter.  We LOVE this heated waterer.  We have never had any problems with it, although the lid will sometimes freeze shut so to fill it up every few days, I need to bring it inside the thaw open the lid.  But the water inside is always drinkable – no matter how cold it is outside – and, most importantly, contained so the chickens stay dry and safe.

Why Your Chickens Need a Heated Waterer

We Covered the Run to Protect from Snow & Wind:

We built the sheltered chicken run with a roof, and the roof keeps the rain and snow off.  But the sides were hardware cloth, so the chickens were protected from predators, but got lots of great ventilation and fresh air in the summer.  For winter, we had to make some adjustments to shelter the sides from snow and wind, which really was integral to keeping chickens warm in extreme cold winter weather.  First we bought a few sheets of Lexan and installed those at the corner of the run, facing the lake.

How We Keep Chickens Warm in Winter with No Electricity

It’s where their roosts are and where they prefer to hang out.  We keep this up permanently to offer some shelter, because the winds here can be intense at any time of the year.  But it was too expensive to buy for the whole chicken run.  For the rest of the run, we bought marine grade vinyl (this is the exact gauge we bought) and installed the marine grade vinyl to the sides of the run with screws and washers.  In the spring, we take it down, hose it off, and roll it up to store for the next winter and re-install it each fall.  Since installing electric fence around the coop and run, we just install the marine grade vinyl to the inside of the run (but that’s the only change we’ve made since taking these photos).

Can Chickens Survive Canadian Winter? YES With These TipsHow to Keep a Chicken Run Warm in Winter

Why Marine Grade Vinyl is Better Than a Tarp for Winter

It’s not the prettiest, but it’s better than a tarp because it lets in light, the chooks can still see out, and it’s SUPER durable.  This vinyl is very thick and almost stiff, so it does not flap or move in the wind.  These sheets of vinyl keep the snow from blowing in and heaping inside, and shelter the chickens from the wind.  But unlike a tarp, this vinyl also creates a bit of a greenhouse effect with the sun, making it a bit warmer in there.  The one issue to watch for is humidity.  There were one or two mild winter days that the run becomes a little too much like a greenhouse, and the heat turns humid.  If it ever gets too muggy in the run, we just unscrew a panel temporarily to add ventilation.  Otherwise, there is only one spot of ventilation above the man door and that has worked out perfectly for winter.  Covering the run is essential to keeping the chickens warm in the winter.

How to Raise Chickens in WinterHow to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter Without Electricity

You can see the heaps of snow that piled up outside but didn’t disrupt the chickens inside:

How to Keep Chickens Water from Freezing

We Added More Roosts:

To keep warm, chickens will roost with their feet under them and their heads under their wings.  In the winter, their little bodies are quite warm so they use it to keep their exposed areas cozy.  To make sure they can do what they need to do naturally to stay warm, we added more roosting spots, at different heights, and protected these roosting areas from the wind with solid sheets of Lexan (which I discussed above).  Adding more roosting spots helps with keeping chickens warm in extreme cold winter weather and is another thing that can be done without electricity.  Even just throwing in an old table I heaved home from the dump provided an additional spot to roost – we give them as many options as possible!

We Lay Down Chopped Straw – But No Deep Litter Method:

I lay down some chopped straw in the run for winter (I am obsessed with this stuff – it lasts a long time) and that enables me to be able to rake up the poop regularly to keep it clean and dry.  Plus I think the chickens prefer to walk on the straw as opposed to the frozen soil.  I also add heaps of this same straw to the barn floor in winter for a little extra insulation too.  Keeping the coop, barn and run clean and dry is essential to making it comfortable in the cold.  I spot clean poop out every couple of days and change it over entirely every couple of weeks to keep it clean and dry in there.  It only two a few seconds each day and it makes such a difference for humidity too (poop = humidity = bad for chickens respiratory systems).  I can’t get the hang of the deep litter method, but I’ve heard that works well.

Keeping Chickens in Winter in Canada Tips

We Closed Off Some Ventilation:

We had put the “right” amount of ventilation when we built the coop and barn, but maybe it was too low, or too much for our intensely cold and windy climate.  We quickly realized that it let in too much of a draft come winter, so we closed off one side (inside the half of the coop where they slept) and bought a vent with a foam filter for the other side, to allow air, but not as much wind, to travel through.  We bought a thermometer and hygrometer (to measure humidity) so I could check the humidity and temp regularly, because too much humidity is very dangerous to the health of chickens.  Good ventilation is actually key to keeping chickens warm winter (and healthy), so don’t think that sealing off a coop entirely will keep them safe – they NEED that ventilation, but you need to watch them (and monitor exact humidity levels) to determine how much.  Here’s a look at the vent we temporarily closed off  (it was lakeside, with lots of wind); we open it up again in the summer.  Watch your coop ventilation and make adjustments as necessary throughout the winter – what was “perfect” for summer chicken keeping may be different once the temps dip.

How to Keep Chickens Warm in Run

We Bought a Radiant Heater Designed for Chicken Coops:

There were some cold days here when all of these measures just weren’t enough to keep chickens warm in winter, so we did break down and buy a radiant heater.  It was just enough for them to endure the coldest nights.  We don’t even use this every year, but I feel better knowing we have the option in a pinch.  I did research and this one has the least risk of fire – although no heat source (other than a chicken!) is a risk of 0%.  This is the exact heater we bought and we just hung in on one wall.  Obviously this method of keeping chickens warm in extreme cold winter weather requires power, while most of my other suggestions don’t require electricity.  As a volunteer firefighter, barn fires – actually any fires – really scare me, so this is definitely a last resort!!!

The Best Coop Heater

We Feed Them Warm Meals:

Closer to bedtime, on super cold days, I make them some scrambled eggs and veggie mash (I use a food processor to mash up veggie scraps and herbs and add to scrambled eggs) or some oatmeal with cinnamon, to help warm their tummies.  Or I give them their fave, sunflower seeds, because having something in their bellies before bedtime helps keep chickens warmer in winter.  A warm nighttime snack is a delicious way to keep chickens warm in extreme cold.

Black Ayam Cemani Hen

We Snuggle Them (Kidding, Sort of):

I go out there on super cold days and try my best to snuggle them a bit.  They willingly hop into my lap for a bit of a break from the cold.  Obviously not an actual solution, because you can’t snuggle them 24/7, lol, but I like to think it helps boost morale!  Do chickens have morale?  They wait for me at the door all winter, excited for treats and snuggles, so I like to think so.  The regular snuggles really just help me make sure they are healthy and well.  I occasionally had to treat Pewter’s comb for frostbite that first winter, so it’s good he was ready for a cuddle because I had to get super close to administer the ointment.  By snuggling, I check them over to look for signs of frostbite or respiratory problems (like raspy breathing/sneezing), which help keep them healthy and also help me keep tabs on my measures to keep my chickens warm in winter.

How to Keep Chickens Warm at Night

We Check the Chickens at Night:

On super cold nights, I go out and check the chickens, even though they have an automatic coop door, because occasionally they haven’t made it into the coop on time and are trapped in the barn, more exposed than they are in the insulated coop.  Coal, my Silkie, even went broody one winter and refused to go inside at night, so I’d have to manually put her in there every night.  I don’t check on them on mild nights but whenever it is super cold, I go check just to be sure everyone is tucked in for the night.  On super cold nights, I also peek at the temperature and humidity to monitor our coop winterizing efforts.  Then I encouragingly pet their bums, promise them that spring is coming soon, and leave them alone.  But checking on them regularly through the bitter winter – as much as it sucks for me – is key to keeping them safe and warm.

How to Keep Chickens Warm in Canadian Winter

What We Plan to Do for Next Winter:

To help keep the chickens warmer, we add new chicks every couple of years, because more bodies generate more heat naturally – both in the coop and in the run.  More chickens is always the answer!

Spring Chicks

We also plan to build way more roosts, swings, platforms – basically a chicken jungle gym (you can buy this kind of thing too), so they have more areas to roost and tuck their feet under them.  We need to figure out some better drainage in the run too.  We’ve thought about digging down and removing some soil and adding sand in the run, which can prevent the mud that happens when we get the heaps of snow melting.  It can get kind of cold and muddy in there come spring.  For me, I’d like to add an awning to the run door because the snow melts off the roof on rare warm days and then freezes the bolt shut, creating a dangerous patch of ice right there too, so I need to stop that from happening.  I also want to install a camera inside the coop instead, so I don’t have to bundle up in the dead of a cold winter night and trudge outside to be sure they’re safely inside the coop.  I’d like to make keeping chickens warm in extreme cold winter weather a little more enjoyable for me too.

I Hope You Found My Guide on How to Keep Chickens Warm in Winter Helpful!

It has definitely been a learning experience figuring out how to keep our chickens warm in really cold winter weather, because many sources I read about “keeping chickens warm in winter” don’t have the intensely cold and brutal winters we have, so I was shocked when my chickens were cold.  The first winter Pewter sustained some frost bite damage to his comb, but that was the worst of it.  My flock survived the winter.  Years later, they still hate it (like me!) but we weather through and all look forward to spring together!

How We Keep Chickens Warm in Extreme Winter Cold

What is the Best Way to Keep My Chickens Warm in the Winter?

  1. Choose cold hardy chicken breeds!
  2. Insulate the chicken coop, by building it inside a shed, adding rigid foam insulation, and/or installing heat reflective material on the interuir walls.
  3. Minimize drafts, but do not allow too much humidity to build up.
  4. Cover the chicken run with a roof and marine grade vinyl on the sides to shelter chickens from snow and wind.
  5. Ensure chickens have many places to roost.
  6. Get more chickens – or ensure that the coop is not too large for the number of chickens you have.
  7. Invest in a heated watered to make sure chickens stay dry and have access to clean, fresh water.
  8. Add chopped straw – or try the deep litter method – for extra insulation in the coop and run.
  9. Feed chickens a warm meal at night before bedtime.
  10. Check the chickens at night to make sure everyone is safe and warm inside the coop!

P.S. Don’t Forget to Pin for Later!

Tips for how to keep chickens warm in extreme cold winters. How to keep chickens warm at night, even without electricity.



  1. Miss Boots
    April 14, 2020 / 3:34 pm

    Wow….so informative! Great post. I live in Saskatchewan so I know all about cold winters!

    • April 14, 2020 / 7:52 pm

      Yikes, yes, you definitely know about COLD winters!! I’m so glad you found it informative. I hope this post helps some newbie chicken keepers like me – I didn’t realize so many of the sources were from folks in warmer places, comparatively. I hope once we grow our flock, we can heat without electricity – that’s my dream (but keep the waterer because it’s awesome).

    July 20, 2020 / 10:57 pm

    Do you have to remove the heat reflecting insulation in the summer?

    • July 22, 2020 / 1:52 pm

      I did remove it because I gave the coop a deep clean in the spring. So I took the reflective sheets down and scrubbed them all (and the walls and vinyl sheet floor). And decided not to put them back up until winter. If you would like to keep it all up the time, just monitor the heat in the coop because chickens can overheat really easily.

  3. Susan Randall
    October 7, 2021 / 7:08 am

    I live in New Hampshire where it can get as low as -30 degrees on occasion. We are making a coop area inside an existing building that has sheetrock on the walls and batting for insulation. My research is saying we need to remove the sheetrock (they will eat it and it will absorb moisture), replace the insulation with something for humid areas, and cover the walls with wood. My husband wants to put plywood around the bottom two feet of the sheetrock and call it good. What do you think? Am I on the right track or being too fussy?

    • October 7, 2021 / 9:37 am

      I don’t know much about sheetrock and chickens, specifically.

      I will tell you moisture is a big issue in the winter, especially in enclosed areas. That can make them very ill and be worse for them than the cold and it’s a constant battle to keep the humidity down, so anything you can do to prevent moisture is a good idea. Humidity is a bigger issues than I ever thought it would be, and we even insulated well and installed proper ventilation in the coop – still a struggle!

      However, if it’s a large building with good air flow, then maybe it won’t be an issue?

      I will also say that chickens will indeed eat everything, lol, and get into things and places you never thought would be an issue. So it’s entirely possible they will find a way to nibble the sheetrock above the plywood.

      It’s difficult to say what’s the right decision for you… building supplies are expensive right now, maybe your ventilation is good and humidity won’t be an issue? I always say trust your gut. It sounds like you did a lot of research and it’s always easier to do things the right way (or way you want) the first time as opposed to going back and fixing.

  4. Andrea Lagarde
    December 14, 2021 / 8:19 am

    I live in Quebec and have many nights below-30c. Finally, a true post about keeping chickens in winter! This is my first winter with 3 chickens and I am worried about the cold. I will for sure insulate their coop. Thank you for all the tips.

    • December 14, 2021 / 12:07 pm

      I’m so happy to help! I was just in my chicken run thinking about how warm they are since we put up the vinyl on their run. It has filled with snow prior (we were late this year doing it) and then once it was up, their body heat melted the snow and it’s like a greenhouse in there. They really can produce a lot of heat, they just need our help keeping it in! Have a happy winter with your chickens and please feel free to reach out with any questions!

  5. Jen
    January 17, 2022 / 3:40 pm

    What humidity do you aim for?
    We’re in NH and my hend got through a night of -22 windchill with no heat lamp! So pleased. (We have a small farm and 300 hens.)

    • January 17, 2022 / 4:55 pm

      I’ve read that 50-70& is okay. I have nowhere near that many hens, but I’m not surprised you can keep them warm without a heat source – they are the heat source! When I talked to the local farm co-op about heating they told me to just get more chickens, haha.

  6. Tarrah
    December 21, 2022 / 12:39 am

    Thanks so much for this article. I’m in Colorado and expecting -22 with -50 windchills this week. I keep looking for how to keep my chickens warm in extreme temps but as you say, its for people in mild-winter areas. So glad I found yours!

    • December 21, 2022 / 3:14 pm

      I’m so happy this was helpful. There are risks with the heater I’ve chosen and suggest, as with anything electrical, but ultimately some days it is just too unbearably cold for my small flock. I hope you can keep your chooks warm this winter – sounds like it’s already scary cold there!!

  7. sessann
    January 2, 2023 / 2:06 pm

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post! We are planning on getting chickens but are novices. We live in Northern New Mexico where it can go down to -37 F and have extreme winds as well. I was pleased to find your post! Thank you for this info. I also appreciate how much you care for your chickens. Warms my heart.

    • January 4, 2023 / 11:46 pm

      I’m so happy this was helpful! I’m no pro, but I’ve had chickens for a few years now so I’m glad to share what I’ve learned!

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