Chickens: Top Breeds for Cold Weather

We’ve already talked winter chicken keeping. And as we face temperatures here of -30 with -50 windchill, causing a state-wide shutdown of all schools in Minnesota on Monday, I start to feel the panic. It’s not “new” news for us- last week we faced temps of much the same. I’m a born and raised Minnesotan. I’ve seen the worst winters you can imagine. But that doesn’t mean they ever get any easier- and I’m always thinking of ways to beat it.

Just yesterday we decided to finally break down and insulate the chicken coop. I’ve never before insulated our coop, but as my fellow animal keepers know- cold weather and snow makes keeping our critters alive and happy a constant battle. So why not make it easier? And we can go beyond insulating and all the other tips and tricks for cold weather chicken keeping. Why not start with the chicken itself? That is why we’re here today.
 
Some breeds are naturally more hardy, resistant to the cold, and persistent layers through winter. So when it comes time to selecting which breeds you would like to keep in your colder climate, consider the following. It might mean all the difference when it comes to sustaining a successful flock.

**Please note: Owning a “cold hardy breed” does not mean that they are safe from frostbite or other calamities of the cold.  You must first be sure that the housing you are providing for your flock is appropriate in size {4 square feet per full size chicken; less than this will cause stress and pecking while more could mean your birds will not be able to properly heat their environment naturally on their own}, with proper ventilation {cross ventilation above their heads- preferable on the tops of all four of the coop walls} to remove humidity and excess moisture, and preferably insulated used in conjunction with the deep litter method to generate additional heat. Also it should be free of drafts. With each of these aspects in place, the threat of frostbite should be at a minimum. If not, you should definitely take into consideration the type of combs these breeds have- large single combs are at the greatest risk for frostbite, as well as large wattles. When in doubt, go for a pea comb ;)**

Top Breeds for Cold Weather:
{beginning with arguably the Top 3}
Orpington:
Large in size, fluffy feathering.
Plymouth Rock {or “Plymouth Barred Rock”}:
Big, robust body with fluffy feathering.
Rhode Island Red:
Extremely hardy, excellent layers.
Both are cold weather hardy and good layers through winter {primarily in their first two years}.
Ancona:
Hardy, efficient layers.
Andalusians:
A closely feathered, medium breed.
Australorp:
Moderately large and hardy.
Barnevelder: 
A medium-heavy, dual-purpose breed.
Brahmas: 
Large, heavy breed with tight plumage. Hens weight on average 9 lbs, roosters 12 lbs.
Buckeye: 
The only breed to have been developed by a woman, it is stocky and hardy.
Chantecler:
Very cold hardy and excellent meat producers.
Cochins: 
The most fluffy and feather legged of all the breeds. Great heat producers in the coop, but they can struggle getting up and down from the roosts due to their size.
Delaware:
Hardy, medium-sized breed primarily selected for meat production.
Dominique:
Known as the oldest American breed, it survived harsh colonial times and carries that hardiness through to today. Boasts heavy plumage.
Faverolles:
A dual-purpose, heavy breed well-equipped with feathered feet, a muff, beard, and even 5 toes.
Jersey Giant:
Robust and cold-hardy, but are big eaters.
Marans:
Dual-purpose, tough, and disease-resistant.
New Hampshire:
This medium-size breed originates with the stock of Rhode Island Reds, but bred more for meat than eggs. 
Silkies:
A fluffy breed with silky plumage and, like the Faverolle, has 5 toes.
Sussex:
A medium-sized dual-purpose breed that is both hardy and vigorous.
Welsummer:
Hardy in the winter and do well in confinement.
Wyandotte:
Thickly feathered and especially fluffy beneath the tail.

3 of our Easter Egger pullets.

Top Breeds for Egg Production in Cold Weather:
Not all breeds that do well in the winter are necessarily the best layers. Likewise, some of the best layers out there {such as the Leghorn} are not always so efficient in the colder months. This list provides you with some of the breeds who lay consistently throughout the year, even when the temperature drops.

Ancona:
Average 220 eggs per year.
Australorp:
250 eggs per year or more.
Brahma:
Excellent winter layer {especially for a heavier breed}; approx. 200 eggs per year.
Light Sussex:
Up to an average of 260 eggs per year.
Orpington:
Up to 240 eggs per year.
Plymouth Rock:
200+ eggs per year.
Rhode Island Red:
200+ eggs per year.
Wyandotte:
Up to 240 eggs per year.

I hope that these brief and summarized lists can aid in your decision on which breeds would suit you best in your colder climate. As always, not every breed is perfect for every situation and each should be individually researched before purchase.

Stay warm, my friends.

About yellowbirchhobbyfarm

Hi! I'm Erin, a 19th-century homesteader at heart. Here at Yellow Birch Hobby Farm we practice self-sustainable living by way of organic gardening, canning & preserving, raising a variety of livestock, hunting, foraging, and cooking from scratch. And here at our blog, we share it all with you! So glad you've found us.

11 comments on “Chickens: Top Breeds for Cold Weather

  1. I agree with your choice of chunky, well feathered breeds, but would also factor in comb type. Single combs are more vulnerable to frostbite, so while some single comb breeds might have high survival rate and good productivity in winter, they are more likely to get frostbite in extremely cold climates. This is probably painful for the bird (most people who get it say it hurts), and a management problem for people who want to keep their birds comfortable in winter and also don’t want the risk of infection, which can complicate frostbite.
    Janet
    http://ouroneacrefarm.com/

    • This is a good point, Janet! I think that first people need to be educated on proper housing (especially taking into consideration the area they live in- for example, living in an area like I do where we’ve seen -20 and colder for much of the past two months- insulating should be required!), in addition to flock size, proper ventilation, managing the deep litter method, etc- my coop is close to 60 degrees even with the -20 temps and there is little risk of frostbite. So chicken owners should first be schooled in proper prevention, and then paired with smart breed choices (again with their area taken into consideration), frostbite could be eliminated all together.

      Thanks for this reminder. I”ve added a bit of a “disclosure” to this post. 😉

      Erin

    • He {was} a Quail Antwerp Belgian D’Anver cockerel 🙂 His name was Max, and sadly he was lost last winter to a bobcat attack 🙁 Thanks so much for inquiring and allowing me to reminisce for a moment 🙂

      Erin

  2. Russian Orloff is an excellent cold weather breed. Lays medium sized brown eggs. The breed often lays through the winter months. Breed can be a decent meat bird. Your list isn’t complete unless you include the Russian Orloff.

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