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    The Best Chicken Breed for Your Climate

    Authored by Gail Damerow

    How do you pick the best chicken breed for your climate? North, South, East, West — the United States has an amazing variety of climates. Some areas of the Deep South and Far West are warm all the time. On the other hand, New England, the Northern Plains, and the Pacific Northwest historically have been cool or cold much of the time. And some states in the East, Mid South, and Mid West see-saw between hot and cold.

    You can get a pretty good idea about a chicken breed’s climate preference by looking at its overall physical characteristics. Certain traits develop as adaptations to the climate where the breed was developed. Another good clue, then, is to determine the climate attributes of the area where the breed originated.

    Warm-climate traits for poultry

    Chicken breeds that originate in the southern European countries of Italy and Spain are especially well suited to warm climates. Many breeds from Asian countries share their characteristics. So do a variety of other breeds that tolerate hotter climates. Warm-climate traits include:

    • Large combs and wattles
    • Clean legs and feet (no feathers)
    • Sparse or tight feathering
    • Small, lean bodies
    • Light colored plumage

    Large combs and wattles, as well as a lack of leg and foot feathers, allow for greater heat dissipation. Sparse or tight feathering prevents warm air from being trapped close to the body. Smaller bodies have less mass to heat up. And light colored plumage tends to radiate, rather than absorb, heat from the sun.

    Not all heat-tolerant breeds share every single one these traits. But most such breeds share the majority.

    What is considered warm-climate for chickens

    So, how warm is warm? Most chicken breeds start feeling uncomfortable when the ambient temperature rises much above 80°F. And it’s worse when humidity is high.

    As the temperature rises, chickens that lack warm-climate adaptations have difficulty keeping their bodies from rising above their normal core temperature of about 106°F. Regardless of humidity a temperature of 115°F is usually fatal, even for heat-tolerant breeds.

    Chicken breeds for warm climates

    Breeds that are well adapted to warm temperatures generally do not do well in really cold weather. Here are the best breeds for a warm climate:

    Andalusian (Spain)

    Ancona (Italy)

    Aseel (India/Pakistan)

    Catalana (Spain)

    Crevecoeur (France)

    Fayoumi (Egypt)

    Houdan (France)

    Lakenvelder (Netherlands)

    Leghorn, production (Italy)

    Malay (Malay Peninsula)

    Minorca (Spain)

    Modern Game (England)

    Naked Neck (Transylvania-Romania)

    Old English Game (England)

    Phoenix (Japan)

    Polish (Netherlands)

    Silkie (China)

    Sicilian Buttercup (Italy)

    Spanish (Spain)

    Yokohama (Japan)

    Cold-climate traits

    Chicken breeds that originate in cool or temperate climates develop adaptations that allow them to remain warm as temperatures drop. Cold-climate traits include these:

    • Minimal combs and wattles
    • Crests, beards, and muffs
    • Leg feathers
    • Dense or fluffy feathering
    • Large bodies
    • Dark plumage

    During cold weather, small combs and wattles conserve heat. They are also less susceptible to frostbite. Crests, beards, muffs, and dense or fluffy plumage trap warm air to retain heat close to the body.

    Leg and foot feathering also help to some extent. But wet feathers in cold weather can lead to frostbitten feet. Wet crest feathers can also freeze. That’s why the Polish and Crevecoeur breeds, with their massive top knots, are not considered cold-hardy.

    Large chickens have more body mass to generate heat. And many heavy breeds tend to accumulate fat to furnish extra energy for warmth during cold spells. Dark plumage helps by absorbing heat from the sun.

    As with heat-tolerant breeds, not all cold-hardy breeds share all these characteristics. But most breeds share the majority.

    What temperature is too cold for chickens

    Compared to keeping cool in hot weather, most chickens have an easier time staying warm in cold weather. However, as the ambient temperature approaches 25°F, a chicken’s core body temperature is in danger of dropping below a fatal 73°F. Some breeds are better able than others to cope with low temperatures.

    Chicken breeds for cold climates

    Breeds that are well adapted to cold temperatures generally do not do well in hot weather. The following breeds are well suited to a cold climate:

    Australorp (Australia)

    Barnevelder (Netherlands)

    Brahma (Eastern USA)

    Buckeye (Midwest USA)

    California Gray (Northwest USA)

    Chantecler (Canada)

    Cochin (South Vietnam)

    Cornish (England)

    Dominique (Eastern USA)

    Faverolle (France)

    Hamburg (Netherlands)

    Houdan (France)

    Jersey Giant (Eastern USA)

    Langshan (China)

    Marans (France)

    Orpington (England)

    Spitzhauben (Switzerland)

    Sussex (England)

    Wyandotte (Eastern USA)

    Weather adaptable chicken breeds

    All chickens are most comfortable when the ambient temperature hovers around 70°F to 75°F. Within this ambient temperature range, a chicken is best able to keep its core body temperature near 106°F.

    Some breeds, however, adapt well to varying temperatures. These breeds generally tend to be on the larger side and easily accumulate fat for winter warmth. But most also have large combs and wattles for good heat dissipation in warm weather. The most adaptable breeds include these:

    Ameraucana (Chile)

    Ancona (Italy)

    Araucana (Chile)

    Appenzeller (Switzerland)

    Campine (Belgium)

    Cubalaya (Cuba)

    Delaware (Eastern USA)

    Dominique (Eastern USA)

    Java (Eastern USA)

    Leghorn, non-production (Italy)

    New Hampshire (Eastern USA)

    Plymouth Rock (Eastern USA)

    Rhode Island Red (Eastern USA)

    Sumatra (Indonesia)

    Welsumer (Netherlands)

    Slow and steady wins the day

    Breed characteristics are important in determining a chicken’s temperature tolerance. However, most healthy chickens fed an appropriate diet can thrive in all but the most extreme climates. Further, through gradual exposure, all mature chickens can somewhat adapt to temperature extremes. A slow, steady change in temperature causes any breed much less stress than a sudden, drastic change.

    Still, every climate presents challenges for us chicken keepers and our flocks. Even if you have selected the best chicken breed for your climate, the weather can — and will — throw you a curve. So be prepared to take necessary measures to keep your heat-tolerant chickens comfortable in a cold snap, and to protect your cold-hardy chickens during summer heat.

    Gail Damerow has written many books about chickens. Those available at Tractor Supply include Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks, The Chicken Health Handbook, and more. Visit Gail’s blog at gaildamerow.com.

    More information about raising poultry

    Find all the information you need about raising chickens. Get an overview, then find helpful links to more in-depth education.
    Gail Damerow shares 12 tips for introducing new and existing flock members. Read more on how to properly socialize your chickens with each other.