My new home is a winter wonderland. From October through April, the snow covers the ground and drifts to depths of up to 5 feet. The average low in December is 22 degrees Fahrenheit and the average high in August is 82 degrees with 2.6 to 5.3 inches of precipitation per month. The 3,800-foot elevation places us in the USDA plant hardiness zone 5A, the same as parts of New York state and southern Maine, and may reach temperatures as low as -20 degrees.
While I have no doubts that my current chickens would have been thrilled to live in Arkansas where we were originally planning to move (our other homestead was in zone 7A), they may not do as well in this brumal habitat. Needless to say, my chickens must be hardy, and, while I am planning a very well-insulated and well-positioned coop, I will be selecting several new breeds from the list below with traits more well-suited to my new climate.
Chickens which are well-adapted to the cold often have smaller combs, such as pea or rose, which are less likely to be frost-bitten, and their wattles are also very small. Some winter-ready chickens also have extra feathering such as beards. Breeds which are developed in the cold have a hardier constitution which allows them to live comfortably and thrive where other breeds might be uncomfortable or more susceptible to secondary issues such as respiratory complaints. These breeds may also be better able to continue to lay or maintain weight throughout the winter. If you live in a place with very cold winters, or other extremes such as very hot summers or very wet seasons, then you will want to consider breeds which will thrive in your climate rather than risk losing your flock or expending unnecessary energy and resources to accommodate their lack of fit.
Many breeds are suited to cold climates, especially those developed in Canada, New England, northern Europe, Russia, and other northern countries. Here is a list of chickens for the cold:Ameraucana – Bearded and pea-combed, the Ameraucana is built to resist the cold, humid winds on the western coast and mountain highlands of South America Brahma – An Asiatic breed, the Brahma is pea-combed and has feathered legs. These big birds stay warm and lay well throughout the winter. Buckeye – A dual-purpose, pea-combed breed developed in Ohio (zone 6), the Buckeye is thick and hardy. Chantecler – Developed in Canada, the Chantecler is considered a premier cold climate breed. Their low, cushion comb is very resistant to frostbite and their constitution is particularly well-suited to northern climes. Dominique – The first breed developed in the United States, the Dominique is suited to New England’s chilly winters. Their down is particularly thick, and their rose comb is resistant to frostbite. Hamburg – Also rose-combed, the Hamburg was developed in Holland. As the “everyday layer,” Hamburgs are known to lay nearly every day, even throughout the winter, and continue laying well into their fourth or fifth year.
Icelandic – A landrace from Iceland, these chickens survived entirely on their own for many years, demonstrating the ability to forage for their own food, reproduce naturally, and endure cold climates. Icelandics have a wide variety of comb types and plumage patterns.Russian Orloff – An old breed which may have originated in Persia in the 1600s before being refined in Russia, the Orloff has a tall, game-like, muscular stance, a tight walnut comb, and a beard. Wyandotte – The rose-combed, thickly feathered Wyandotte is an American favorite well-suited to the cold. Norwegian Jærhøne – Developed from native chickens near coastal Stavanger, Norway in the 1920s, the Jærhøne is a durable, homestead bird well-suited to the wet and cold. The Norwegian Jærhøne is single-combed. Other single-combed breeds for cold climates: Jersey Giant, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Sussex