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Five Reasons NOT to Heat your Chicken Coop this Winter

These  five reasons should be enough to convince you not to heat your chicken coop this winter.

I raise chickens. In Maine. And I can tell you that healthy chickens in the right sized, well-ventilated, dry coop generally don't need heat. I would expand that to say: pretty much no chickens need their coop heated.

Oddly enough, most people who email me in a panic, afraid their chickens aren't going to make it through the night without heat, are in places where chickens should never need heat - places like Tennessee or Louisiana or Georgia or southern California.

Not surprisingly, there are chicken coop fires every winter in the warmer climates as well as the colder ones.

I guess it's all relative .... and people who live in those places that hardly ever dip below freezing themselves feel like 40 degrees Fahrenheit is really, really cold.

Whereas those of us who live in northern climates cheer when we get a day in the winter that goes above freezing (that's 32 degrees F for those who slept through 3rd grade science!).

And in fact, it might surprise you to know that chickens are actually most comfortable in temperatures that range from 45-65 degrees F.

Much cooler than you likely imagine.

Like most animals, they do just fine in chilly temperatures as long as they have had the opportunity to acclimate to the cold gradually.

All chickens need in the way of shelter in the winter is a place to stay dry and out of the wind and drafts with some nice soft bedding (preferably straw).


Five Reasons NOT to Heat your Chicken Coop this Winter

So here are my top five reasons NOT to heat your chicken coop this winter:

#1 Any Heat Source is a Potential Fire Hazard

I think we all know by now that heat lamps are a huge fire hazard. The combination of a sizzling hot bulb, dry bedding, dust, chickens and sometimes droplets of water just isn't a good combination.  So some of you may have settled on a heating pad or radiant heat panel as a "safe" option.

The problem is that any heat source can pose a fire hazard. Mice and squirrels love to get into coops and start gnawing and chewing.And if they chew those electric wires, you've got the potential of the bare wires starting a fire.

For that very reason, I don't even have my coop wired for electricity. Better safe than sorry.

#2 Heat in a Closed Coop Will Create Moisture

If you're heating your coop, then your natural inclination will be to shut the windows. I mean, why go to the trouble of heating an area to just let all the heat go right out the windows.

The problem with that is that you will then be trapping moisture which will create condensation inside your coop. And that moisture or condensation is the leading cause of frostbite - not the cold itself.

#3 If you Lose Power, Your Chickens Won't Be Acclimated to the Cold

If you do heat your coop, then you lose power due to a blizzard or downed tree on the power lines, now your chickens are SOL, as they say.

They won't have had the chance to slowly acclimate to the increasing cold and there's a very real chance that they will freeze.

As long as they are given the opportunity to gradually get used to the cold temperatures naturally, they will be fine.

You might argue that you have a generator, so power loss isn't an issue. In which case I would refer you back to #1.

#4 A Heated Coop Encourages the Chickens to Stay Inside

By heating your coop, you're encouraging your chickens to spend their days inside the coop.

Not outside getting fresh air, sunlight and exercise. Not dust bathing or doing other chicken things. And likely not eating as much as they should.

Instead, by heating your coop, you don't encourage your chickens to go out. They'll end up just standing around in the coop.

Pooping of course, which just creates a lot more cleaning for you.

And likely getting on each other's nerves. Possibly causing bullying, feather pecking and other issues.

Maybe getting bored and starting the bad habit of "unauthorized" egg eating.

#5 Chickens Don't Need Heat

And last but not least. Chickens don't need heat. They really don't.

They fluff their feathers to trap warm air in between their feathers and bodies.

They stand on one foot to reduce the heat loss through their feet. They tuck their heads under a wing to sleep and snuggle together on the roosting bars.

Ten chickens can produce about as much heat as a regular light bulb.

Think about that for a second.

My coop is consistently about 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature due to sunlight during the day and the chicken's body heat at night.

Nice warm straw bedding, scratch grains before bedtime and a draft-free coop go a long way.

And if you live in a cold climate, choosing cold-hardy breeds is the prudent thing to do - although most chickens will do just fine in the cold.

I go a bit further since we do live in Maine and we can get stretches of a few days each winter where the temperatures barely rise about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

I have installed draft drapes over the pop door to reduce the cold air entering the coop during the day. I hang drapes over the windows of the coop that can be drawn at night to help retain even more body heat. But one thing I don't do is heat my coop.

We've seen temperatures go as low as -16 degrees and all lived to tell about it.

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