One of the best ways to ensure you enjoy a good experience with chickens in cold climates is to choose a breed that is known for being winter-hardy.
While most chickens are fairly cold-tolerant as a general rule, some breeds seem to enjoy cold temperatures more than others.
Consider choosing a breed that is proven to flourish in colder climates, such as the Barred Plymouth Rock. Or, if you don’t want to worry about frostbitten combs, the solution is to keep chickens that have smaller combs that are tight to the head, such as a pea comb.
Following are some of the breeds I’ve had personal experience with over the years that have done very well in the winter months. I define “doing very well in the winter months” as showing no signs of stress, such as picking feathers or spending a lot of time huddled up and dormant. Poor egg production is another sign of stress.
I first tried Buckeyes years ago and was impressed with them right from the start. The chicks are small but the most active I’ve ever seen. This trait carries all the way through to adulthood.
These birds will forage like crazy. Unlike many chickens, these girls will run out into the snow if they have been cooped up for a couple of days. Egg production is good during the winter, although they are average to just above average layers in their prime. Any small moving object will be attacked, making them excellent mousers.
Rhode Island Red
A popular breed, Rhode Island Reds are great layers and maintain a good egg production in winter months. I have had no problems keeping them through the cold months. I once kept a flock through the coldest winter I can remember with temperatures staying in the -10 to -15 degree range (Fahrenheit) for several days at a time. They did very well with no signs of frostbitten combs.
While not as active as the Buckeye, they are good foragers, although they don’t seem to like to get out in the snow as much as the Buckeye does. They are readily available at hatcheries and typically cost less per chick than some of the rare breeds such as the Buckeye.
Australorps are reputed to hold the record for the most eggs laid in a year. I have found them to be the best layer of all the breeds I have ever kept through the winter. Most people remark on how docile the breed is, but I have had several flocks that were flighty compared to the other breeds mentioned here. I’ve had trouble keeping them from flying over the 48-inch poultry netting. This was typically when something startled them, and a hen or two would make it over the netting. Once they fully matured, this behavior ceased. Overall, they have been great chickens in the cold months, especially if you want good egg production.
As always, do your research and experiment with different breeds until you find one that suits your particular homestead.
What chicken breeds would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below: