Are your chickens warm enough?

It's been ridiculously cold for about 2 weeks now! I have gotten several calls and a gazillion messages, emails and DMs asking me if I think chickens can be warm enough without heat. Especially considering the extreme low temperatures as of late! Many parts of the country are having subzero weather conditions right now which is obviously very concerning.

Of course I firmly believe they can keep themselves warm as I've mentioned before. I even wrote about it in Should I Heat My Chicken Coop? Since this is a question that comes up every winter though, I decided to do a little experiment to prove just how warm chickens really are.

are chickens cold?

Chickens stay warm by fluffing up their outer feathers and trapping air underneath them. This air is trapped in the soft, downy feathers next to the body. That also explains why chickens sometime look all puffed up when it's cold out. This air warms up and acts like insulation. Knowing this, it's only logical that the air next to their body would register as much warmer than the air around them, if I could measure it. Luckily, I can do exactly that!
disclosure

I used 3 things in this experiment: 
A really cold day
A few chickens
A temperature gun (Nubee infrared thermometer

I chose a day when it was 8°. The chickens were mostly hanging out inside the coop. I aimed the temperature gun at the chickens, taking readings on their outer feathers. Then I lifted a hens wing to get a temperature reading under the wing, very close to the skin. While the temperature of the outside feathers ranged from the teens to twenties, close to the body was a whole different story! I had readings all the way up to 76° at skin level. 

Think about that...the air next to their bodies is warmer than the air inside your house! While I expected them to still be warm, I didn't expect the temperature to be that high! Check out the video below. (please excuse the crazy Guinea screeching)


Click to play. Full length video Here on YouTube

It was also interesting that the roosters wattles were much warmer than the surrounding air, even though they had no feathers to insulate them. As you can see, the chickens are keeping themselves warm just fine. As long as their coop is draft free and dry, they should be able to tolerate much lower temperatures then we could.  

Knowing how warm my chickens were during this extreme cold gave me great peace of mind when our power was knocked out for almost a week during a bout of extreme winter weather. The chickens did just fine and you can read about it in Surviving Power Outages and Ice Storms in the Chicken Coop


~L

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4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the article!
    How do you know if the chickens get cold? They tend to huddle at the roost anyway, so is there something else indicating cold?

    I live in Finland where winters change from -25 to +5 (-20 to 41 Fahrenheit) it's constantly raining, so there's a lot of moisture. It's common practice to insulate and heat coops, which leads to condensing moisture, so they need to use electric fans as well. Leaving coops cold is considered almost cruelty, so I get no support from the locals. Anyway, I'd like to leave the heating out from my insulated coop, mostly because of the moisture.

    Measuring the temperature from the feathers is a good way to demonstrate their insulation, but the body temperature needs to stay stabile. Mammals will die if it drops even for a few degrees :)

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    1. Wow, that is cold! It's most important that the coop be draft free and have very little moisture inside. If you can achieve that you can probably go without heat, but I personally don't have experience in that extreme cold. Wish I could help more!

      Lisa

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