Chickens

The Best Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds

cold hardy chicken in winter

Chickens aren’t just great farm animals to raise for meat and eggs – they’re also some of the easiest types of livestock you can raise in a cold climate.

Not only do they provide you with eggs, but some breeds make good companion animals. Most do quite well when they live in a cold environment, particularly hardy dual purpose breeds like the Plymouth Rock or Rhode Island Red.

That said, not all chickens perform equally well in a cold climate. Some deal with the cold temperatures, freezing rain, snow, and ice far better than others.

No matter whether you live in Nova Scotia, New Hampshire, or Nebraska, if you live in a colder climate, make sure you choose chicken breeds that can tolerate the cold and are cold hardy. 

best cold hardy chicken breed

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What is a Cold Hardy Chicken Breed?

best cold hardy chicken breed

Just as the weather affects us, it affects chickens as well.

Therefore, if you live in a colder climate, it is crucial to purchase chickens that can live comfortably in colder weather. Unfortunately, while most chicken breeds can survive in cold weather, only some species still lay eggs during the cold winter months

These breeds that still lay eggs in cold weather are classified as “cold-hardy chicken breeds.” They tend to have the following characteristics: 

  • Their combs and wattles are smaller than those on other chicken breeds. These smaller wattles and combs are less likely to be frostbitten in freezing temperatures. 
  • They have feathers everywhere except their legs and feet. Feathers protect their skin from frostbite and insulate them from the cold. However, they have no feathers on their legs or feet because these areas can become wet, leading to frostbite. 
  • They don’t have frizzles, which are genetic mutations resulting in curly feathers. Curly feathers are less insulating than normal feathers. 
  • They are larger, have more body fat, and have more muscle. 

Now that we understand what makes a chicken cold hardy, we’ll discuss what temperatures chickens can tolerate. So, how cold is too cold for your chickens?

What is the Coldest Temperature Chickens Can Tolerate?

best cold hardy chicken breed

Provided they have access to proper shelter from wind, snow, and freezing rain, chickens can survive almost any temperature as long as they are healthy and fully grown. However, they thrive in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Chickens can tolerate colder weather than we can because of their multi-layered plumage. Their feathers not only insulate them but also helps trap warm air next to their body. In addition, their high metabolic rate, high body temperature, and fast heartbeat allow them to tolerate temperatures as low as the teens. 

As long as their coop stays nice and warm, chickens can survive even the coldest winters. 

Again, chickens with certain features, such as those with feathered feet, are more likely to struggle in the winter, while those with small combs and a heavy bodyweight will be much better at staying warm and keeping up with their egg laying during the winter months.

Quick Tips for Keeping Your Chickens Warm in the Winter

best breeds of chickens for pets
Photo: Wikimedia

It’s easier to keep your chickens warm than it is to cool them down. Even so, they do still need some help during the winter months. Here are some ways to help keep your chickens warm, and their coop cozy, during the winter. 

Provide a Heat Source

Don’t pump heat directly into the coop or use a heater. This could cause your chickens to overheat. Instead, provide them with a single heat source. For example, place a heat lamp or ceramic heater in the center of their coop. This isn’t necessary in most cases but if you absolutely must add heat, this is the way to go.

Placing a single heat source in the center of the coop allows them to move closer and further away as they need to regulate their body temperature. It will also help them withstand sudden fluctuations in temperature a bit better. You can also provide them with heated perches or heated pads. 

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Insulate and Ventilate the Coop

The most essential part of keeping your chickens warm is to make sure their coop stays dry and warm. If their coop gets drafty, you will want to wrap your coop with Tyvek or a similar material, such as tar paper. 

You also want to provide enough ventilation to get rid of the excess moisture that can cause frozen wattles and combs, two areas that are especially prone to frostbite. You should install the vents above your chickens’ heads without letting the air blow directly on them. 

Insulating your coop helps keep the heat inside, and removing drafts helps keep the cold air out. In addition, making sure your coop is properly ventilated helps keep the humidity down, reducing the risk of frostbite caused by moisture. 

Trap Sunlight

Even though the days are shorter, sunlight is still a great way to generate heat. Installing insulated windows can help trap the heat from the sunlight. In addition, dark-colored floors help absorb the sunlight and then release the heat during cooler nights. 

You can also help your coop absorb sunlight by increasing the “thermal mass” in your coop. Placing materials in your coop that absorbs heat can keep your coop warm at night. Some materials with an excellent thermal mass include compost, stone, or concrete. 

Give Your Chickens Room to Roost

Chickens love roosting in general. But they love it even more in winter because it helps keep them warm. When they roost, they roost together, fluffing up their feathers to keep each other warm. 

Make sure the roost is a few feet off the ground. This not only keeps your chickens off the cold floor but keeps them closer to the ceiling of the coop with the warm air. 

Protect Them From Frostbite

Protecting your chickens from frostbite is essential during the cold winter months. You want to keep them dry. When they get wet, they can quickly develop frostbite and hypothermia because their feathers can’t dry. 

Their feathers should protect your chickens from frostbite. However, their combs and wattles may need some extra protection. Coating these in a layer of petroleum jelly can help protect these sensitive areas from the frigid temperatures. 

Provide Extra Water and Food

It’s always important to make sure your chickens have fresh water. However, it can be challenging to do so during the winter when water freezes quickly. You can use a water heater to prevent the water from freezing or switch it out a few times a day. 

In addition to water, chickens need more food during the day to provide them with the calories they need to stay warm. They use a lot of energy during the winter, so feeding them extra treats or scratch grain can give them that boost of energy they need. 

In general, chickens are very good at keeping themselves warm. So there’s not a lot you need to do to keep them cozy all winter long. As long as they have a dry coop that protects them from the wind, snow, and freezing temperatures, and access to food and water, they’re self-sufficient heaters. 

One thing to note is that they hate walking in the snow, especially when the temperature is in the teens. However, they do need exercise to help keep them warm and their heart rate up. Laying down some straw around their coop allows them to walk around without getting their feet wet. 

What Breeds of Chickens Lay Eggs in the Winter?

best cold hardy chicken breed

While most breeds of chickens can survive the cold weather, not all breeds lay eggs in the winter. However, those that do may have decreased output or may need some help from supplemental artificial lighting. 

Here are some of the best winter egg-laying breeds. 

Chanteclers

These cold-hardy chickens have lots of fluff under their tight-sitting feathers. They also have tiny wattles and cushioned combs, so frostbite isn’t really a concern with these beautiful birds. These gentle birds produce about three eggs a week. 

Plymouth Rocks

Plymouth Rocks are cold hardy chickens that produce about 250 eggs a year. They have larger wattles and combs than the Chanteclers, meaning they may need a little more protection. However, their dense feathering protects the rest of their bodies from the cold.

Australorp

These robust birds have a dense coat of feathers that sits close to their bodies. Their plumage allows them to survive quite well in colder climates, despite being developed in Australia.

However, their combs and wattles may need extra attention during the winter, so while the Australorp is one of the most cold hardy chicken breeds, it does require a bit of extra care in cold weather. On average, these birds lay four or five eggs a week. 

Buckeye

This active yet gentle breed has smaller-than-average combs and wattles, so frostbite is less likely. In addition, their dense plumage with layers of added fluff underneath helps keep them warm in frigid temperatures. Buckeyes will lay about three eggs a week. 

Welsummers

These are some of the most winter-hardy chicken breeds. Weighing about seven pounds, these birds are low-maintenance and don’t need a lot of help staying warm during the winter. They lay about three large eggs every week. 

Delaware

Delawares are not only talkative but also great egg layers. These cold-hardy chickens handle cold weather with ease. They can lay about four large eggs per week, even in the winter.

In addition, their dense coat of feathers allows them to do well in colder climates, and their smaller combs and wattles aren’t at a high risk for frostbite. 

Other Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds

best cold hardy chicken breed

The list doesn’t end there. There are plenty of other types of chickens that are well suited to cold weather.

If you are interested in buying chickens and live in colder climates, it’s essential that you do your research to see which breeds will do well where you live. You should choose birds that not only have the right traits to stay warm but also those that will suit your needs in other areas, such as how many eggs they lay or whether they are dual-purpose chickens that can also be raised for meat.

Some other cold hardy chicken breeds include:

What Chickens Are Not Cold Hardy?

best cold hardy chicken breed

While many chickens can survive in cold weather, there are some breeds that do much better in warmer climates. These breeds tend to have larger combs and wattles, which act as a form of air conditioning. They may also be smaller, less fluffy, or have feathers that are not as dense. 

Some chicken breeds that don’t do as well in cold weather include:

  • Bantam breeds, such as the Antwerp Belgian, Japanese Bantam, and the Bearded d’Uccle
  • Lightweight standard-sized breeds, such as the Andalusian, Holland, Sicilian Buttercup, and the Phoenix
  • Standard-sized breeds with tiny bodies, such as the Lakenvelder, Yokohama, and the Penedesenca
  • Crested breeds, such as the Houdan, Polish, Sultan, and the Crevecoeur
  • Feather-footed breeds, such as the Silkie, Cochin, and Brahmas
  • Breeds that are tall and slender with long bodies, such as the Malay or Modern Game
  • Any bird that has frazzled, frizzled, or sizzled patterns
  • Breeds with large-combed roosters, such as the Old English Game, Minorca, and Catalana

Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds: Start Your Flock Before Winter Sets In

best cold hardy chicken breed

Chickens are fantastic creatures.

Not only can they provide you with plenty of eggs to eat or sell, but they can also be raised for meat (or as pets, if you choose!).

Many chicken breeds tolerate the cold and produce eggs all year round. No matter which chicken you choose, the best way to make sure they thrive in the winter is by providing them with a warm space to get out of the wind, snow, and cold air. 

There you have it! For more resources on how to raise chickens in the winter, be sure to check out this article. And go here for information on how to raise chickens in hot weather! No matter where you live, we’ve got you covered.

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah PierceI'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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