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Do Chickens Like Snow?

Raising chickens in Michigan, I’m often asked how well chickens enjoy snow. My answer is always straight forward.

Chickens DO NOT like snow!

One of the funniest experiences you’ll ever have when raising chickens is introducing them to their first snow. Our matriarch hen, from a few years back, always made it a point to be the first one out of the coop in the morning. I’ll never forget the comical results of her debut into the winter wonderland of snow.

That old girl was halfway down the ramp before she noticed the overabundance of white. Talk about an awful squawk! It was an absolute frenzy of flapping as she did a U-turn and tried to go back up the ramp. Unfortunately, the rest of the flock, oblivious to the snowy changes that had occurred overnight, was still trying to get out of the coop! It was a bad omen for what the next five months would bring.

Do Chickens Need Heat In The Winter?

Even a quick glance at your online hatchery will produce dozens of different kinds of chickens available to purchase. This wide range in choice is the result of careful breeding over a long period of time; each variation having specific strengths and weaknesses. Keep this in mind when choosing a bird for your location.

If you choose a chicken that has cold hardy characteristics – for example, the Buckeye or the Barred Rock, then you shouldn’t be too concerned about temperature provided the bird is fully feathered. So long as they have adequate food and water and are able to get dry, an adult chicken should be able to weather temperatures below freezing.

If, however, you choose a breed that does not have cold hardy characteristics – for example, the Sicilian Buttercup, then you will most likely have to supply heat for the animal. They simply are not built to withstand the cold.

It’s worth noting that baby chicks of any breed need heat. These fuzzy little chirpers are not able to maintain their own heat and if mama hen is not there to keep them warm, then you will have to supply a heat source for them.

A general guide for chicks and temperature;

  • 1st week – the brooder (the pen for baby chicks) should be 90 degrees
  • 2nd week – drop the temperature by 5 degrees (85 deg.)
  • 3rd week – drop the temperature by 5 degrees (80 deg.)

Follow this pattern until the temperature inside the brooder matches the coldest possible outdoor temperature (night time). For us, this has generally been around the 8 week mark.

Frostbite On Combs And Wattles

While your cold hardy bird might be naturally resistant to freezing temperatures, that does not make them immune to frostbite.

Frostbite generally occurs on their combs and wattles: the red piece of skin on the top of their head and the piece that hangs under their beak like a flimsy beard, respectively. Chickens can get frost bite on their feet, but unlike their combs and wattles, their feet can be covered by their belly feathers as they hunker down for the night. This reduces the risk.

You can identify frostbite as either a blister like swelling on the affected area or by a bluish black appearance on the tips of their comb or wattles.

I can tell you from personal experience that frostbite on chickens looks awful. But, the birds never gave me any indication that they were in discomfort and in every case, the bird completely healed on its own without any assistance from me.

It’s worth noting, that frostbite actually occurred more during the early parts of winter and late spring than in the middle or coldest parts of winter, like you would think. I believe this is due to moisture.

Much like the frost you see on your roof when the previous day was sunny and the night was below freezing, any moisture that collects on the bird and is able to freeze, will cause frostbite. For this reason, it is good practice to ensure that your outdoor coup has good ventilation.

# Note #

For an in-depth look at chicken coops in winter, please read, “Should A Chicken Coop Be Insulated?

Chicken Feet In The Snow

A chicken’s foot can handle the cold snow a lot better than our bare hands. But like our hands, they will eventually need a chance to dry off and thaw out.

If you live in an area that has lots of snow, it’s a good practice to clear a spot for your birds to play in. If not, you may find that your chickens stay inside the coop and never leave – hence the phrase cooped up.

Even something small like shoveling a skinny path or setting up a lean-to, makes a huge difference for your flock. It can be snowing fairly heavy and if they have access to somewhat clear ground, then they’ll be out there scratching and pecking at it.

It’s helpful for you, and healthier for them, to be outside and moving. Remember, if they never leave the coop, then ALL of that poo is staying inside the coop, meaning you have to clean a lot more often (in the snowy cold weather). Better to get them out and let them spread the waste around.

Will A Chicken Get Stuck In The Snow?

Anatomically speaking, chickens have funny legs. Watch your birds move around long enough and you’ll eventually wonder if their legs weren’t stuck on those fat bodies as some sort of afterthought. A chicken’s legs just doesn’t match the rest of its body!

And those skinny clawed feet are not a good match for walking on powdery snow. Consequently, if a chicken finds itself in a place where it can’t push off something solid, it will get stuck.

This is especially the case if the snow is deep. Chickens have quite a bit of surface area on their lower half, which prevents them from sinking. And, as was mentioned above, if their feet can’t touch, they’re not moving. It’s a good idea to keep a careful eye on your birds when you know that they’re out. If something startles them and they take flight, then wherever they land is probably where they are going to stay. If you’re fortunate, you can go wading through the snow, collect your chicken and put them in the coop where they can get dried off and warmed up. If you’re not, then the bird will either freeze to death or be very easy prey for any light-footed predator.

Chickens Sliding On The Ice

Between their wings and their clawed feet, chickens do reasonably well on a slippery surface – notably better than people. However, this does not mean they are invulnerable. Chickens are definitely susceptible to injury from an unintentional slide.

Chickens are also a top heavy animal and a simple twist of a clawed foot can result in a sprain, torn ligament or even a bone break. All of these are quite painful for the bird and will require time to heal.

It’s a good practice for the individual caring for their backyard flock to have their birds avoid slippery surfaces as much as possible.

Snow Is Not The Season For Your Birds

Chickens and snow are just not a good combination. But there are a few things you can do to help the winter months pass by a little smoother.

1) Buy a breed that is cold hardy. If your chicken is built for the cold, then it will be more comfortable in the elements.

2) Provide a place for them to get dry. In the same way that you need to dry your gloves after a time outdoors, the chickens will be able to warm themselves much better if they can dry out.

3) Keep their space well ventilated. Any moisture or condensation that stays on their body could freeze and cause frost bite.

4) Provide a place for them to scratch. I’ve found that if the birds can see the ground, they’ll come out of the coop to scratch and peck at it. For this reason, I’ll shovel a couple of paths around the coop, hitting these paths with a quick sweep of the outdoor broom every so often as to expose a little grass. Generally, the birds will see it and will work it over, widening the path.

5) Ensure they have food and water that’s easily available. With their bodies working hard to keep them warm, they’ll surprise you in how much they eat and drink. Make sure there is a route clear of snow and visible to them from wherever they are weathering the cold.

6) Count the days till spring. Okay, this might not help the chickens, but it will certainly help you as you sit in your home all cooped up!