For most people, winter is an inevitable season that we all need to deal with.
Although it offers plenty of beauty, from the silence of falling snow to the serenity of a cold winter’s night, there are some hassles that we have to manage, too.
One of these hassles is dealing with the impact that the cold weather has on our backyard flocks of chickens.
While there are plenty of tips you can follow to help your birds make it through the winter, selecting the best cold hardy chicken breeds can also lighten your burdens.
If you’re dreading the upcoming winter and wondering how it will impact your chickens, follow these tips for selecting the most cold hardy chicken breeds – and for helping all of your birds deal with the plummeting temperatures.
What Attributes are Common in Cold Hardy Chickens?
There are several factors that can help make a chicken withstand extremely cold temperatures.
Here are some of the ways that chickens stay warm during the winter:
- They roost close together at night, using each others’ body heat to stay warm – this is why it is so important to have multiple chickens in your coop during the winter months.
- They survive on their stores of body fat.
- They have small combs and wattles that are less likely to become frostbitten than larger ones found other breeds of chickens.
- They can fluff up their feathers, helping to keep body heat closer to their skin.
- They tuck their legs and feet beneath their bodies for extra warmth.
- They usually don’t have feathered feet – birds with feathered feet and legs tend to be more prone to frostbite because their feathers become wet and don’t have anyway to dry off.
- They don’t have frizzles. Frizzles are genetic mutations that result in chickens with curly feathers. These are cute to look at, but they don’t provide any insulating power.
- They tend to be larger than other breeds – bantam breeds simply don’t have enough body fat to withstand a harsh winter, nor do they have enough muscle.
- They don’t have any areas of exposed skin – cold-hardy chicken breeds tend to be fully feathered, with the exception of the feet and legs. This protects their bodies from frostbite and the penetrating cold.
Top 15 Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds
Here are 15 types of cold hardy chickens:
1. Rhode Island Reds
Rhode Island Reds were originally developed in New England (specifically Massachusetts and Rhode Island – does the name make sense?) so they are well-adapted to the cold environment of the Northeast.
These birds, which originated in the late 1800s, were officially recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1904. It’s also the state bird of Rhode Island!
Rhode Island Reds are dual-purpose birds, raised for both eggs and meat. Roosters usually weigh in at around eight pounds.
Although they are usually relatively docile and curious, they can be somewhat aggressive or cagey around other birds.
This bird produces an impressive 280 eggs each year on average, and while its laying may slow or stop after the first three years of laying (as well as during the winter months), it is otherwise quite cold hardy species.
It also does well in hot weather, making it a good bird to consider if you live in an area with extremes at both ends of the spectrum.
2. Plymouth Rocks
Plymouth Rock chickens were originally developed in the late 1800s, bred in New England as dual purpose birds.
Like Rhode Island Reds, they can produce well over 250 eggs each year. Roosters weigh around 8 lbs while hens come in at about 7 lbs.
They mature quickly and are also quite cold-hardy.
Plymouth Rocks like to free range whenever given the opportunity.
They possess docile demeanor and while the hens occasionally go broody, it’s not that common.
They are dependable birds and come in seven different recognized varieties: silver-penciled, Colombia, barred, buff, blue, partridge, and white.
The Buckeye is unique because it is the only recognized breed that was developed by a woman.
Developed in the Buckeye state of Ohio, hence the name, these chickens were admitted to eh American Poultry Association in 1904 as a phenomenal dual purpose breed.
Renowned for their ability to withstand cold temperatures, these birds have small cushion combs and do quite well when allowed to free-range (although they can handle confinement, too).
These chickens are curious and friendly, though roosters can be relatively aggressive.
They aren’t as great at laying eggs as the last two breeds we mentioned, but they still produce a respectable 150-200 eggs each year. Roosters will weigh around 6 or 7 lbs.
Welsummers are gorgeous chickens that are native to the village of Welsum in the Netherlands.
First brought to the United States in the early parts of the twentieth century, this breed is another great cold-hardy, dual-purpose breed.
Roosters generally weigh about 7 lbs and hens reach about 6. Although Welsummers are slower to mature than other breeds, they are very hardy and do well in the cold.
As active birds, they are great free-rangers and get along well with other birds while also being quite intelligent.
5. New Hampshire Reds
If you thought the Rhode Island Red was a great cold hardy chicken breed, wait until you hear about the New Hampshire Red!
These chickens are often mistaken for the Rhode Island because they are close relatives.
However, New Hampshire Reds are quite a bit larger, making them even better suited for raising in cold climates.
A dual-purpose breed, the New Hampshire Red is a prolific egg layer and produces roosters that are perfect if you are raising them for meat.
Australorps originated in the 1920s in Australia as a combination of the black Orpington and several other breeds.
Today, this excellent dual-purpose bird is a prolific layer of medium-sized brown eggs.
In fact, it’s the Australorp that holds the record of the most eggs laid in one year – 364 eggs in a single year, in fact.
In addition, Australorps can be raised for meat.
Roosters can weigh up to 10 lbs while hens can reach 9 lbs. As with some of the other birds we’ve mentioned, Australorps mature somewhat slowly.
However, they are very cold-hardy and also quite docile. An easy going chicken breed, the Australorp does well in both heat and cold and gets along quite well with children.
The Wyandotte chicken is another heritage chicken breed that was first showcased in the late 1870s.
This bird was one of the original dual purposes breeds, with hens laying up to 200 eggs each year.
The meat, too, is of exceptional quality. Males will usually weigh around 8 lbs while hens will reach about 6. Docile, calm birds, the hens will occasionally go broody.
That being said, these chickens are some of the most cold hardy.
Most hens will lay all throughout the winter months, and they rarely suffer from frostbite since they have delicate rose combs that can withstand the cold with exceptional ease.
Dominique has the reputation of being the oldest American chicken bred.
These chickens were first brought to the United States during colonial times by the Pilgrims.
Also known as dominickers and Pilgrim fowl, these chickens are dual purpose birds that are better-known for their egg-laying ability than for their meat production.
On average, a Dominique hen will lay around 150 to 200 eggs each year.
Dominiques do exceptionally well in the cold, possessing small pea combs that make them withstand the cold with grace.
They are quite robust and very good natured.
Also known for being great mothers, these chickens often go broody and are commonly raised in some of the coldest areas of the world, including Canada and Alaska.
Brahma chickens are large dual purpose breeds that can withstand cold temperatures with ease.
They are one of the few winter-hardy breeds that have feathers not only on their entire bodies, but also on their feet.
These sweet chickens are often kept as pets, and can be kept in just about any area of the world.
Brahmas come in a variety of colors including buff, light, and dark.
They are also frequently bred as bantam breeds, but you might want to try out the full-sized standard version before trying a bantam if you live in a cold climate.
10. Buff Orpingtons
There are several types of Orpington chickens you can raise, including the gorgeous and popular Buff Orpington.
These chickens are quite large and have extremely fluffy plumage.
They also have small single combs that make them withstand the cold with ease.
In addition, Orpingtons are excellent layers.
They often go broody and have friendly dispositions that also make them excellent parents. They are a top pick for people seeking cold-hardy chicken breeds.
Faverolles were originally bred in France as meat birds but are now a favorite pet chicken in the United States.
These round, heavy chickens can weigh up to eight pounds. Their small combs are close to their heads, helping them retain heat and avoid frostbite.
In addition, thy have dense, warm feathers, feathered feet, cozy beards, and even cheek muffs.
This intense feathering helps keep these birds warm on cold nights. Faverolles are known for being friendly and are great for mixed flocks.
Ameraucana chickens lay gorgeous, medium-sized blue eggs. In fact, many people keep them for this reason alone!
However, they are also exceptionally cold hardy. They have pea combs and tiny wattles, making them less prone to frostbite.
There are several varieties of Ameraucanas that you can purchase, including blue, silver, red, white, black, brown, and buff.
These chickens even have adorable little feathered beards beneath their beaks!
These don’t do much to help keep them warm, but we’d like to think they add to the winter-hardy image of this awesome breed.
The Chantecler is another top cold-hardy chicken breed.
A spunky chicken with a boatload of personality, this chicken often takes place at the top of the pecking order.
It goes broody frequently and is a wonderful, protective mother.
It is cold hardy for a variety of reasons – not only does this chicken have a small pea comb, tiny wattles, and a large body, but it also is native to Canada.
As a result, it is one of the most naturally cold-hardy chicken breeds you will find.
The Cochin chicken is another beautiful breed that does quite well in cold weather.
Available in multiple colors, including silver laced, partridge, mottled, black, blue, and white, you can purchase this chicken as a frizzled or non-frizzled variety.
Frizzle chickens are less cold hardy than non-frizzled.
Cochins do well in the cold because they have a small, single comb and dense, warm feathers on their feet.
They aren’t great egg layers, especially in the winter, but are great chickens to raise if you are looking for a pet chicken or one for exhibition.
15. Speckled Sussex
The Speckled Sussex is an excellent layer that is ideal for a cold climate.
Not only will it lay throughout the entire winter, but it will produce impressive amounts of eggs during the other seasons of the year, too.
This chicken has a full body that makes it a great dual-purpose breed – and also helps it withstand the cold temperatures of the winter.
Tips for Raising Chickens in a Cold Climate
Here are a few tips for raising chickens during freezing weather:
Prevent Water from Freezing
Chickens always need access to clean, fresh water, but it can be a real pain to provide this water during the cold winter months, when water often freezes in a flash.
You can sue a heated waterer to prevent you from having to constantly truck water out to the coop.
Offer Some Extra Calories
Your chickens will naturally want some extra calories during the winter.
They are going to be using up extra calories just to stay warm so it’s not a bad idea to offer free choice feed during the colder months.
Free choice feeding is recommended during the rest of the year, too, to help your chickens stay happy and healthy, but it’s essential during this cold season.
You can also give your birds some extra treats in the evenings. Wait until the evening hours to do this so that your chickens have consumed all the nutrients they need to stay healthy during the day.
Scratch grain and other treats aren’t necessarily nutritionally dense, but they offer additional calories that your chickens will need to create body heat in order to digest.
A handful of scratch grain each is a great way to help your chickens stay warm overnight.
Keep the Bedding Dry and Clean
It’s always important to keep your coop free of excess moisture, but it’s never more important than in the winter.
Moisture can quickly build up from dripping water, urine, and excrement, leading to high levels of ammonia which can not only damage the lungs of your chickens but can also create a damp environment.
Too much water increases the likelihood of frostbite.
If cleaning your coop once a week isn’t an option, another good method of keeping your chickens warm is through using the deep litter method.
This method of bedding your coop involves allowing bedding material and poop to build up throughout the year so that by winter, you have about a foot of composting material on the coop floor.
The compost itself will let your heart, and you won’t have to worry about your chickens getting too cold.
Winterize the Coop and Run
Your coop needs to be properly winterized with adequate ventilation – but not too much! – for your chickens to make it through the season.
The goal here is to create a coop that is not too drafty but not too stuffy – if it’s too enclosed, moisture won’t be able to escape and you’ll have issues with condensation.
Chickens let out a remarkable amount of moisture as they breathe. Plus, there is moisture in their urine and droppings.
Even the water in your drinking fount can be evaporated back into the air.
Plan for lots of ventilation near the top of the coop where the warm, moist air can escape – and position the vents from the roost so the birds don’t have cool air blowing on them as they sleep.
You may want to install a humidity gauge in your coop, too, and aim for readings between 40 and 70%.
If you live in a windy climate, it might also behoove you to set up windbreaks.
You can cover your un and coop and the windiest sides by using tarps or heavy plastic.
This will not only keep blowing snow and freezing rain away from your flock, but it will also help warm the coop when the sun is out. Just leave some parts open for adequate ventilation.
Something else you should know is that chicken aren’t terribly fond of snow.
If your chickens don’t head out when temperatures plummet and there’s a fresh layer of the white stuff on the ground, don’t let it worry you.
Be Careful with Heat Lamps
Some people put heat lamps or even heaters in their coops during the winter months.
While you can certainly do this, you need to be extremely careful, especially if you are using the deep litter method of bedding.
With all that bedding, you are inviting a fire.
Plus, chickens will warm themselves on the coldest nights – as long as you have plenty of bird in the coop, you don’t need a heater.
Be Vigilant for Signs of Frostbite
Frostbite can easily strike any type of chicken, but it’s more likely to affect chicken breeds that have large combs and wattles.
If you have these types of birds already, you can easily prevent frostbite from setting in by applying a thick layer of Vaseline to the combs. This will help protect your chickens against the cold.
Frostbite occurs when the fluid in cells freeze.
This causes tissue damage or even death. In general, your chicken is only at risk of becoming frostbitten in its legs, feet, wattles, and combs.
That’s different from humans, who can get frostbite just about anywhere. Moisture most often leads to frostbite, so a coop with plenty of ventilation is key to preventing it.
Don’t Be Surprised if Laying Ceases or Slows
Think of winter as a natural break in your hens’ laying cycles.
Some chickens are naturally excellent layers, even during the winter months.
However, some supplemental light may be required if you want to keep yourself in eggs all winter long.
Just keep in mind that putting a light in the coop can stress the birds and shorten their overall al ying lifetime.
Don’t stress out too much if laying stops or ceases, though – it’s a natural part of a chicken’s cycle.
Can You Raise Chickens During the Winter?
If you live in a cold environment, you can absolutely still raise chickens during the winter months.
In fact, raising chickens all throughout the year is a great way to provide you and your family with consistent access to healthy, fresh eggs and meat – and it will also make you feel like a total champion when you find yourself walking out to the chicken coop in the dark hours of a winter morning to collect eggs!
However, if you live in a cold environment and want to raise chickens, you need to make sure you put the extra work necessary into figuring out the ideal set-up for your birds.
There is some extra work involved in keeping chickens throughout the winter months, but if you do the appropriate research and invest in cold-hardy chicken breeds, your workload will be substantially reduced.
Consider some of these most cold hardy chicken breeds – and stay warm!