Hobby farmers and first time poultry owners often have questions concerning the heat requirements for various poultry such as chickens, ducks, and geese. Although the requirements differ slightly from the more fragile foul to the hardier ducks and geese, there are some basic guidelines to go on.
When the cold weather approaches many newer patrons of poultry worry whether they are providing the proper winter poultry heat requirements to ensure a healthy and happy environment for there flock. This depends greatly on the minimum temperatures you experience in your area. At 14 degrees Fahrenheit some roosters and chickens will start to experience frostbite on their comb which could in some cases result in infection and loss of stock. At 0 degrees Fahrenheit most chickens will experience frostbite on their comb and possibly their waddles, while ducks and geese may be happy as a goose in a snowball factory at these lower temperatures.
The most important factors to consider are the speed at which temperatures drop, the housing and nutritional needs of your birds, and the hardiness of your breeds. All animals including poultry can adjust their metabolism to changing environmental temperatures to a degree. But remember, these are domesticated living creatures that have relied on their protectors for centuries for at least some additional support mechanisms.
The most important first thing we can do to ensure good animal husbandry is to prevent drastic changes in temperature to the best of our ability. This is a good time to mention the problem with heat lamps in the winter for those that don't have cozy and secure winter housing for their poultry. You may think you are helping your birds by providing supplemental heat, but if the power goes out and the temperature drops drastically by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, many breeds of chickens will suffer. It is probably not a good idea to provide heat lamps for chickens and other temperature sensitive foul unless it is to moderate the temperature to no more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit in very cold climates. Of course this advice only applies to mature poultry and not chicks, ducklings, and goslings, that require special care while growing and maturing.
The second action we can take to help our flock is to plan ahead to have clean dry bedding, shelter from the wind, and good air exchange throughout the winter months. This can often be achieved by the strategic placement of a fan that exhausts air to the outside, or in the case of a barn, leaving the upper loft doors partially open to the outside. Moister build up from droppings and drinking water evaporation is poultry's worst enemy in winter, resulting in high humidity, respiratory problems, and frostbite.
The third consideration is the need to make a balanced feed ration and plenty of water available at all times. Just like in the case of people, if your poultry is properly nourished and hydrated they stand a much better chance of fending off disease and fighting infection in the case of frostbite or respiratory problems.
The last element to examine is your poultry breed. Keep in mind that the most difficult chickens to winter are breeds such as naked neck chickens that don't have the feathering to protect them from the cold, and may require even more protection than mentioned above. The easiest poultry to winter are the various breeds of geese and ducks that still require all but the concern over temperatures because of their physiology, in particular their protective down and lack of external frostbite locations. We maintain a flock of hardy layers that are bred to have smaller combs and waddles in our unheated barn at temperatures as low -25 Fahrenheit. We present good air flow, good food and water, clean and dry bedding, 15 hours of artificial light, and only supplemental heat lamps at colder temperatures. These birds are happy and healthy and continue to lay regularly throughout the winter months.
Remember that when discussing winter poultry heat requirements, the planning and actions that you take are the most important factors contributing to the well being of your flock.