Free-ranging chickens’ and allowing them to graze as nature had intended is always recommended over just keeping them in the coop. Chickens and any domestic bird will peak their productivity and health when they have a space to roam around freely.
Healthy, happy, and natural birds are in our interest. Spring, summer, and fall months are easy. Let the chickens outside, provide them with some basic food and fresh water, safe overnight space in the coop, and the rest they will find on their own.
Winter months require more care and work to maintain the overall health of the flock. In some areas, the winters can be harsh, with the temperature not reaching above freezing point and a ground covered with snow most of the time. But even with mild winters, occasional frost, and a minimum of snow, chickens will require additional attention.
How much cold weather can chicken tolerate?
Chickens are very hardy birds by nature. With their body temperature around 106°F (41°C), chickens can withstand the external temperature down to 32°F (0°C) or even several degrees below that, but this should not remain their living conditions.
As any warm-blooded animal, chickens prefer the warmer conditions, ideally around 75°F (23°C).
Signs that a chicken is too cold?
If the temperature is uncomfortably cold, a chicken will show it by ruffling its feathers, tucking its head under the wing, and lifting one leg. Head and legs are at the most risk of freezing, so the chickens attempt to worm up those body parts.
Roosters and breeds with a large comb, like Leghorn, are susceptible to getting frostbite, and a breeder needs to pay special attention to protecting them.
Coop condition during the winter
Unless there is deep snow, chickens will still run around the free-range area regardless of the temperature. Birds shouldn’t be restricted in their freedom for too long. Extremely bad weather, disease, and risk of predators are the only situations where keeping your chickens in a contained space is recommended.
The chicken coop needs to provide safety during those cold frosty days and nights. Avoid the draft by any means but have an air circulation enabled to prevent a buildup of ammonia from the manure; this is best achieved by having ventilation toward the coop’s roof, where it will not affect the birds.
The floor should have some isolation in the form of wood shavings or straw. This will also prevent the risk of wet feet, which can lead to freezing.
Enough natural or artificial light will keep bacteria away, and chickens will gladly spend more time inside.
Roosting bar or roosting surface in the coop will make a big difference. When it’s cold, chickens tend to roost close to each other, sharing their body temperature and warming up each other.
Chicken feed during the winter.
With the lack of greens and insects that free-range chickens find during warm months, chicken feed must be supplemented with extra proteins, minerals, and vitamins over the winter. The best solution is pellet food which contains all the necessary ingredients.
Food and water must be placed inside the coop. When the outside temperature doesn’t go above freezing point, water must be checked several times a day and defrost if it turns into ice. A water warmer can be used to heat the water if needed; these generally run on electricity and consume ~300 Watts.
There is no fear of winter as long as chickens have a proper coop, food, and water. Free-ranging will be beneficial to birds’ spirit, vitality, and overall quality of life. With all of these requirements met, don’t be surprised if you find plenty of eggs even during the harsh winter months because that’s what happy chickens do.
This article is also found on my personal blog https://deluisio.com/2021/12/06/free-ranging-chickens-in-the-cold-winter-months/