The Rhode Island Red is one of the world’s most well-known and useful dual-purpose chicken breeds.
It’s also one of America’s oldest breeds!
Hardy, curious, and reliable, these auburn-colored birds can thrive in a wide range of climates.
But how cold-tolerant are they, and how cold is too cold for this breed?
After all, if you’re thinking of keeping some Rhode Island Reds of your own, you’ll first need to know if your climate suits them.
Rhode Island Red chickens are an extremely cold-hardy breed. They tolerate temperatures well below freezing without much discomfort. Ideally, they should have access to a dry, heated coop if the temperature drops below 25° degrees Fahrenheit (-4° C) or if they are exposed to rain or snow.
Do you want to learn everything you need about this popular breed’s cold-hardiness?
Keep reading–we’ll also cover how to tell when your flock is too cold and what to do to keep them warm in the winter.
Are Rhode Island Red Chickens Cold-Tolerant?
The Rhode Island Red, true to its name, was originally developed in Rhode Island (and, in part, Massachusetts) in the late 1800s.
It was specifically bred to be a hardy, dual-purpose breed capable of withstanding the harsh, bitterly cold New England winters.
Several cold-hardy breeds were used in its development, namely the Cochin and Leghorn.
This reliable breed has long been known for being robust, adaptable, and healthy.
This makes it an excellent choice for a wide range of climates and temperatures and is suitable for even beginner chicken keepers.
It also has a reputation for being one of the most accessible and inexpensive cold-hardy breeds.
It is commonly raised for its meat and eggs as a dual-purpose breed.
Notably, Rhode Island Red chickens have been bred to display a few key traits which help them withstand cooler temperatures.
Their single combs are thin, small, and fairly short.
They aren’t prone to becoming frostbitten like breeds with larger, bulkier combs (though Reds with rose combs also exist).
The breed’s wattles are similarly reduced, which helps prevent frostbite in the extreme cold.
Next, Rhode Island Red chickens lack any plumage around their legs and feet, so they can comfortably walk through cold, wet, and snowy terrain.
It’s also a strong layer and even continues to lay eggs well into the winter months, producing around 200 to 300 eggs per year.
Further Reading: Rhode Island Red Egg-Laying Guide
How Cold Can Rhode Island Red Chickens Tolerate?
Because they’ve been specifically bred to tolerate cold weather, Rhode Island Red chickens are perfectly comfortable in temperatures at or around freezing (32° degrees Fahrenheit or 0° C).
Many chicken owners note their birds are active and energetic, even in below-zero temperatures!
Still, if temperatures drop below 20 – 25° degrees Fahrenheit (-4° C), it’s a good idea to ensure your birds have access to a dry, warm coop.
Even though Reds tolerate cold weather well, it’s recommended to ensure the inside of the coop stays above 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C) on cold nights for their comfort.
This will also ensure any drinking water inside the coop doesn’t freeze.
Of course, each individual bird will be a bit different as far as their preferences go, even within the same breed.
But keeping the coop at least 5 to 10 degrees above freezing during the winter months is a reasonable happy medium for the whole flock.
Whenever temperatures drop below freezing, check your flock’s combs and wattles regularly for signs of frostbite.
Even though Rhode Island Reds are less susceptible to frostbite than most breeds, they still are at risk in cold, wet weather.
Applying a layer of petroleum jelly to your birds’ combs and wattles will help protect them from frostbite.
How Can You Tell if Chickens Are Too Cold?
Since they cannot tell us how they’re feeling, it’s often tricky to determine if your chickens are too cold or just right.
Fortunately, there are a few telltale signs you’ll be able to look for in your flock’s behavior.
These signs help you decide if it’s time to bring them into the warmth of their coop for the night (or day if it’s especially chilly).
One of the first things a chicken will do to keep its body as warm as possible is “puffing” its feathers up.
Occasionally, it’ll tuck its beak into its plumage.
This helps the bird trap as much warm air and body heat as close to its body as possible.
Additionally, a cold chicken will often stand on one foot, pulling the other foot up into its feathers to warm it up before switching feet.
This is often a sign the ground is too cold for the chicken to stand for extended periods, so it will shift from one to the other.
Groups of chickens also tend to huddle closely in colder temperatures, usually in the driest, warmest spot they can find.
If your flock spends much of the day huddled together without much other interaction or movement, it’s because they’re spending all of their energy on keeping themselves warm and are too cold!
How to Keep Your Rhode Island Red Chickens Warm
The first step to ensuring your Rhode Island Reds and the rest of your flock stay warm is to have a secure, dry coop of an appropriate size.
It should be large enough to fit your flock comfortably but small enough to retain heat.
Many chicken farmers heat their coops with heat lamps or outdoor heaters designed for barns and chicken coops.
Both of these options on Amazon are great.
Bedding material like straw or pine shavings will also help with insulation and provide a comfortable, dry surface for your birds to walk on.
Set up sturdy, spacious roosts in the warmest part of the coop.
By providing your flock of chickens with adequate shelter, they’ll be able to move in and out as they please during the day to regulate their body temperature.
They will be safe and cozy at night when temperatures drop the lowest (and when predators like coyotes and foxes tend to come out searching for prey).
Finally, having a thermostat in the coop will help you determine if the space is comfortable enough for your flock or if your heat source needs some adjusting.