Cold weather breeds
With the blast of Arctic air that covered the Midwest last week, several people have inquired about what chicken breeds do best in cold weather. Generally, the comb is the most sensitive part of the chicken and most likely to suffer cold damage. Frozen combs do not regenerate – it’s like dubbing. The experience is stressful for the chicken, too, so it’s best avoided. If your chickens have large single combs and they are coping with temperatures below freezing, a coat of petroleum jelly on the comb can provide some protection.
A heat lamp in the coop, even a regular light bulb, can provide sufficient additional warmth to protect birds from damage. Chickens generate warmth with their own bodies, so more birds means more warmth.
Sometimes the biggest challenge is keeping the water from freezing. Electric water dishes are available. Make sure your chickens have fresh water available.
Overall, chickens are heavily feathered and insulated against the cold. Breeds with more feathers do better. Naked Necks, with about half the feathers of other breeds, nevertheless seem to fare fine in cold weather.
Silkies, with their hair-like feathers, are subject to chill if their feathers get wet. Keep an extra eye on them.
If you are looking for breeds adapted to cold climates, here are a few suggestions:
Chanteclers were developed as a Canadian breed. Their small combs are well suited to cold weather and they are good winter layers. They are big birds, cocks weighing more then 8 lbs and hens more than 6. When the last rooster being kept at the University of Saskatchewan died in 1979, the breed was declared gone, but small flock owners across Canada had maintained them. They are a modern composite breed, so they can also be re-created. As a result, there is some discussion about purity and whether birds come from original or re-created lines. You may determine for yourself to what extent you wish to be involved in that discussion.
Wyandottes were developed in New York State in the 1870s, another location known for cold winter weather. They feather out well and come in several colors. The Columbian color pattern comes from Wyandottes that were exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. They are a good dual purpose breed.
Dominiques, with their rose combs, are reliable and sturdy. They have a long American history going back to Colonial times, so they have survived many cold winters.
Buckeyes are the only American breed credited to a woman, Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio. They are named for the Buckeye state and the Buckeye whose color they have. They are well-suited to those cold Ohio winters and a good all-around breed.
Javas are considered an American foundation breed, although they take their name from the Asian island of their origin. They have a small single comb and adapt to any climate well.
Norwegian Jaerhons are a 20th century breed of Scandinavia. They are smaller, 5 lbs. for cocks and 3 ½ for hens, with attractive patterns. A good choice for a hardy dual purpose breed.
I can put you in touch with breeders who have these breeds and others. Stay warm.