I’ve expressed my frustration and displeasure at dealing with the plethora of opinions in Facebook groups before (Know When To Hold ‘Em and Best Practices For Chicken Keepers). I appreciate the need to feel helpful and offer advice, but too often not enough information is provided by the original poster or not enough expertise is held by the folks responding for that advice to be accurate or useful. I fear that group members obtain erroneous information, have a false sense of their own knowledge and abilities, and may be led down the wrong path at the expense of their birds.
An Arctic outflow has been spreading across North America and sending chicken keepers into a panic about how to deal with winter weather that they, and their birds, are unaccustomed to.
This is a typical post offering advice about dealing with chickens in cold weather: “I wonder how in the world chickens ever survived as a species without people to protect them from the cold. Obviously this is sarcasm. So many people need to relax and know they have survived a long time without people. Your chickens will be fine.” It’s often the same sentiment when it comes to chickens’ injury, illness, wound care and pain.
I came across a post that challenged the pervasive scoffing towards those concerned owners with the refrain ‘they’ll be fine’. I thought her response was no-nonsense, reasonable, and one that echoes my feelings as well. I reached out to that kindred spirit, Kandy Crockett, and asked if I could reprint her post here to which she kindly obliged.
Regarding chickens being “fine” in very cold temperatures.
Which breeds specifically are “fine”? Are some breeds not fine?
How about if the floor is sand, coffee grounds, pine shavings, straw, just wood covered with a tarp, or something else?
Does this “fine” apply to those in thin wooded pre-fab coops that hold six chickens equally to 9′ x 17′ coops with high roosts?
What temperatures are okay for chickens with large combs and wattles compared to those with pea combs? Where’s the cut-off temp for “fine” between the two?
How about if they have been in a nice warm brooder until today and are just now of age to be put outside?
How about if they are in the middle of a bad molt?
How about if they are, or were recently, sick?
How about if some of my chickens are seven weeks old?
How about if I also have some one week olds under their mama included in my coop?
How about if I have 3 birds vs. 30 birds?
How about if I can see condensation in the coop?
What symptoms should one look for to cause concern that they might not be fine and might need help?
Asking for a friend.
And for a lot of other posters who are asking if their flock is okay in very low temperatures and they just get told that they are fine without really knowing what that person’s specific situation is:
Are you sure they’re fine?
“Fine” is the standard answer here, simply repeated by posters who saw other posters saying it, without considering the questions that might impact your answer.
Maybe YOU know what you are talking about. Maybe others who spout the “it’s fine” mantra don’t and are just repeating what they saw others say.
And maybe sometimes even you spout it without finding out the specifics that a new chicken keeper posting a question failed to mention because they didn’t know they needed to.
Maybe, in most cases, the chickens will be fine down to temperatures penguins live in, but questions need to be asked before the group just repeats, “They’re fine”. If your answer would be different in different circumstances, then the group ought not just be repeating, “They’re fine” so quickly and find out for sure by asking a few questions.
And maybe even tell the poster that there are variables that need to be considered before they trustingly agree with a group of “experts” telling them their birds will be fine.
Consider how many folks on this group post a picture of their half grown chick asking if it’s a boy or a girl and their photo only shows its head. They don’t know better. And we need to presume as much before telling them the mantra firmly or, in some cases, making fun of them for asking.
Even the agriculture extension department website suggests heat for lower temperatures and I figure they know what they are talking about too. They even give advice about properly using heat lamps! They don’t say NEVER. They suggest how to do it safely.
And they offer advice about what to look for to signal if your chickens are not handling the cold well and need relief.
I’m not seeing that in most “it’s fine” posts either.
And those who repeat that wild birds aren’t dropping dead are presuming chickens are anything like wild birds.
There are laws about leaving your dogs and other pets outdoors even for short periods with considerably higher temperatures than many here are asking about.
Why would that be if wolves, dingos, coyotes, foxes, and assorted other wild dogs and wild cats handle it “fine”? How many of those do you see dropping dead from the cold?
Shall we start making fun of dog and cat owners for not leaving their pets out all winter in -20 or -50? I mean, I’m sure they’re fine too and don’t need any extra heat because wild animals handle it fine. Well, don’t they? So put your Chihuahua out and stop being a worrywart.
Wolves don’t have doghouses; they have drafts, high winds, moisture, and no one gives them any corn before bed.
Your Chihuahua is a dog but it isn’t the same as a wild dog. Oh I see. And the wild birds I see outside aren’t chickens and they don’t have combs and wattles. And who knows what all the differences between them are. I don’t.
We may not see wild birds dropping dead. Maybe they are and we just don’t see it. Maybe they died inside a hole in a tree. Maybe they died in a snow pile and decomposed under leaves or branches unseen.
But we do see shivering chickens with frostbite, losing feet, legs, combs, wattles, and their lives. We do see that.
Something is different between chickens and wild birds.
In most cases, maybe the “fine” answer is absolutely correct. I’m sure it is. But as responsible members of this group, coming off as experts to new people, we need to be more careful to find out if we are giving an individual the correct answer for their specific situation. Maybe we need to ask a few questions before answering.
I just don’t want to see anyone’s chickens getting hurt because a bunch of “experts” didn’t ask important questions and just zipped off the standard answer. New chicken owners come into these groups and ask questions because they think we know what we’re talking about and will give them a right answer. Especially when so many agree with the answer. And especially when they get out pitchforks if you have a question. They MUST be right, right?
Many thanks to Kandy Crockett for sharing her words of wisdom, used with permission.
Bitchin’ Chickens: I’m going to add two cents of my own on this subject. Sadly, within days of the oft-repeated ‘they’ll be fine’ advice it turned out many of those poor birds weren’t. I’ve seen literally dozens and dozens of posts since then from owners now asking for help on how to treat their birds for the aftereffects of frostbite. (Or worse, feeling guilty having not done enough to protect their flock from death.)
I have a well-insulated, well-vented coop and haven’t required a supplemental heat source for the few days a year when our temperatures fall below 0C/32F. I have winterized my coop and flock so that cold (or hot) temperatures haven’t been an issue. My mentor, Dr Vicki Bowes, avian vet/pathologist does suggest that if their water is freezing then it’s time to think about heating options to keep your flock protected from frostbite, which can cause pain, damage, loss of combs, wattles and feet as well as death. Regardless of the issue, be it cold temperatures or something else, please rely on science and fact rather than opinion. Your birds count on it for their survival.
Photo Credits: Shelby Catlett, Kerry Marsh, Jared Lee Snider and Bernadette Welke Knudsen.
Thank you, thank you! I am an amateur for sure, but I can read and study, and I have a heart. After losing my first free range flock to coyotes (and to the horrors of my kids), 15 years ago, this time I sought breeds that were heavy, cold-hardy and I was not so quick to completely free range. We got the highest, biggest area electric poultry fence we could afford, found a huge coop for sale that had raised legs, and did research about how to beat insulate it. We are on our third year and have lost one chicken to illness but none to cold or predators. We started raising fodder this winter so they would have healthy green protein, but the jury is still out on that.
My feeling is that a lot comes down to knowing your flock! We had one super cold snap so far this winter. When that happens, I feed warm mash, adding oats, which they love, to their usual feed, to help them warm up. They do free range now, but if the weather is harsh, I keep them to the yard where they are more protected from predators seeking food. It seems to be working.
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100%!!! I couldn’t have agreed more with every sentiment of this post – nor have said it better!
Chicken groups over the winter are extraordinarily frustrating because of the typical “they’ll be fine” responses.
And, so heartbreaking when the follow up posts start rolling in showing every type of cold injury imaginable – from relatively minor frostbite on combs and wattles to full scale necrosis of entire feet (and often dealt with without veterinary guidance or pain management).
I will be sharing this post on my page!
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Thank you for speaking out. The internet is indeed full of very bad chicken advice, I deal with it pretty much daily with my business. I am thankful for the few groups I participate in that have rules on not spreading blatant misinformation! The Crossbeaks and Special Needs group has been rapidly growing as word gets out that we are no nonsense, haven of some sanity. Thanks again for this well written post. Julie ~ Springwater Avian Health
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EXCELLENT Post. I feel vindicated. I am someone who asks a lot of questions before posting my answers on these types of groups, and my answers usually have a lots of details, exceptions to the rules, and “this may not apply to your situation if you have xyz, etc.” Simple answers cannot be all inclusive, or reflect a lifetime of acquired judgement. Unfortunately, those without judgement or experience tend to parrot advise that may or may not apply to the specific situation, and then birds end up suffering.
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