Chickens / Homestead Vision and Action / Management

Chickens for Cold Climates

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.

By Sami Sieranoja via Flickr (Creative Commons)

By Sami Sieranoja via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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:

By Royale Photography (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Ameraucana rooster

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

By Rasbak (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Light Brahma hens

Brahma – An Asiatic breed, the Brahma is pea-combed and has feathered legs.  These big birds stay warm and lay well throughout the winter.

By Steven Walling (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bantam Buckeye hen

Buckeye – A dual-purpose, pea-combed breed developed in Ohio (zone 6), the Buckeye is thick and hardy.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A White Chantecler rooster, taken in 1926 at the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac in Quebec, where the breed was developed.” (Wikipedia)

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.

JapanBreakfast at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Dominique hen

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.

By Ryan Zierke (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gold Spangled Hamburg rooster

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.

By Christian Bickel 31.07.2004 via Wikimedia Commons

Icelandic roosters

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.

By soapydishwater (Polka RUSSIAN ORLOFF) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Spangled Russian Orloff hen

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.

By ripperda (wyandotte haan) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Silver-Laced Wyandotte rooster

Wyandotte – The rose-combed, thickly feathered Wyandotte is an American favorite well-suited to the cold.

By Bearpaw (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Norwegian Jærhøne pair

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.

By seppingsR (Floppy) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Buff Sussex hen

Other single-combed breeds for cold climates: Jersey Giant, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Sussex

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24 thoughts on “Chickens for Cold Climates

  1. I’ve had and still do have some of these breeds of chickens. They really do fare well in southeastern Wisconsin winters to be sure. I’m hopeful this year to get some Chantecler’s as I’ve never had them before and want to try them. Great information.

  2. I raise the White Chanteclers in Wisconsin, and they are amazing birds. The lack of wattles, their small cushion combs, and tight plumage make them an amazing cold weather breed. My stock came right from Canada. They are also a great dual-purpose bird, so the extra roosters make great table fare.

    • It looks like a real winter there judging by the beautiful winter pictures on your blog! I am glad to hear that the Chanteclers do so well there. I bet they are perfectly suited. Thank you for the detailed description!!!

      You can see some of Denise’s beautiful White Chanteclers on her blog here in this post.

  3. Heather, another great article…although we are in Southern California, so cold for us is dry and 35 degrees…ha ha. We were really excited to see the Buckeye on your list. We have been raising these birds since last year and they are absolutely fantastic. Our rooster is so docile toward people, and the hens average about 5 eggs a week. We will see how they fair in our hot summers, but so far they are among our favorites. Its great to see this American treasure getting some good PR!

    • It’s great to see how versatile the breed can be. You’ll have to report back after the summer heat, but I bet they will do well because Ohio can have some hot summers. It’s great to hear that they are docile and lay well. I was wondering how much egg production was sacrificed for the valuable meat qualities of the bird, but it seems they are very productive in both ways. Thanks for sharing, Sunbird!

      You can find photos of Sunbird Farms’ Buckeyes as well as an informative article about their history here on the Sunbird Farms’ website.

      • I think egg production really depends on the line, because my sense is not all Buckeyes are good layers, but we’ve been super lucky. We will let you know. Best,
        Brice @ Sunbird Farms

  4. Thanks for the direct to my never updated blog. Because of a combination of busyness and maybe lazyness, I find facebook to be a lot easier for posting. Shame on me. I think the Buckeye people have done a pretty good job at working on and identifying their lines for productivity. The Chanteclers have only sort of re-emerged the last 2 or 3 years. I’m trying to work on productivity, but find that egg laying is something that seems to be just fine. As far as Sandhill, I think you will find a variety of opinions. I will not order from them again.
    I am envious of your ability, Heather, to harness your time enough to do some great writing. You really have a lot of fantastic information on here!

    Namaste from Blackhorse HIll

    • Thank you, Denise. That is interesting feedback on Sandhill. I’ve never ordered chicks through the mail because I love hatching so much! I’m definitely interested in learning more about the Chanteclers. Do you know of any good American sources?

      • Heather, I will be hatching throughout the summer, but I don’t like the idea of shipping chicks. I will ship eggs, however. My friend James Verrill in Vermont has eggs and chicks (Fayrehale Chanteclers) and John Blehm in Michigan has I think only chicks. (chickhatchery.com) He has buffs and partridge as well. The partridge and subsequently the buff are not the same bird, even though the APA admitted the partridge that way back in the 30’s I think it was. The White bird is really the only true Chantecler. I also have partridge, but am not happy with their quality. I think they have a ways to go to be very productive.

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  6. I am a follower now. I found you through “The Homestead Acres”. I am a transplanted country boy to the city, trying to Urban farm. My next step is chickens, I can have 5 hens. We had chickens growing up but I didn’t pay any attention to them other them collecting eggs, lol! You have any suggestions?

  7. I have kept and shown chickens for many years, and love having chickens. I have never seen a Russian Orloff or Icelandic and am pleased to read about the breeds . I always learn something when I read farm blogs. Now I am going to try to find out if anyone in our area actually has these breeds.

    It is so amazing I can read and learn about chickens from all over the world via blogging! Thank-you.

    • Thank you, Kathy! I often learn about rare chicken breeds on the Backyard Chickens Forum. Someone will get excited about their new project and get other people involved in discussions, and often, breeding or importation projects. It’s fascinating to read along or be a part of. I took a look at your blogs this morning, too, and I think you have a wealth of information there!

      On Spot On Cedar Pond, Kathy blogs about her farm. She has a post about brooding some adorable ducklings. On her chicken blog, Just Chickens, there is excellent chicken keeping and breeding information.

  8. Hi Heather,
    Just wanted to mention that we are starting a new thread over on BYC for anyone that’s interested. It’s called, “Pastoral Poultry, Traditional Farming in a Modern Era,” and its under “Flock Management.” We would love to have you and your readers share their invaluable experience and insight. You can find the link on our blog or here: http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/765304/pastoral-poultry-traditional-farming-for-a-modern-era#post_10894632
    Thanks!

  9. I’ve been raising “mutt” chickens for 5-6 years now (a VT friend got me to hatch them in my living room in December – I had to make a pen in my basement to keep them until they got fully feathered and the weather warmed enough to put them in the barn). Recently I became interested in the original white Chanteclers, and have ordered some chicks from Fayrehale Farm in VT. The owner, James Verrill, has also recently begun raising and selling Icelandic chicks, so I ordered some of them as well. He has a wonderful website with lots of cool information about these chickens, his efforts to implement permaculture ideas on his 1/2+ acre homestead, and other interesting stuff. I’m looking forward to having my new heritage flock this spring.
    If anyone is interested in learning about other rare chicken breeds from isolated hamlets around the globe, check out Greenfire Farms (I think I remember their name correctly…) They look for the rarest of the rare and import and breed them to preserve these unique birds. I was fascinated by the Indonesian chicken they found that is all black – inside and out – for about $1000 (yes, $1000) per bird! Some day when I get rich…..
    Love all the information about cold-hardy, year-round laying chickens. Thanks!

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  11. Pingback: Selecting a Breed of Chicken for Your Flock

  12. Not true !! we have chickens in our family over 500 years the breeds they had were many comb size don’t Mean a thing. Medium size to large breeds is what they had that laid medium to jumbo egg

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