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Feathers, Fat or Fur: Feathers

Feathers, fat and fur are body characteristics which help keep animals warm during cold weather and is called animal insulation. Which group of animals have fur? Mammals. Which group of animals have feathers? Birds. Which group of animals have fat? All of them. Let's explore feather insulation by looking at the chickens at the farm.

chicken on branch

Chickens keep warm in the winter by fluffing up their downy feathers which traps tiny pockets of air warmed up by their own body heat. That warm air is held close to the body which prevents cold air from touching their skin. The more fluffing up of feathers, the more air that stays trapped and the warmer the chicken.

chicken fluffed while perching

Chickens legs and feet are thin-skinned, scaly and featherless (except for our Mille de fleur hen) and therefore, they lose heat rapidly. Ever notice the chickens standing on one foot? They do this to reduce heat loss and warm one foot at a time while it is tucked up under the feathers. Many other birds, like the Canada Goose, do this too!

Canada Goose on one leg

All living things generate heat when they digest food. Our flock has food all day long and supplemented with mealworms and other treats. They tend to eat more in the winter because they burn more calories trying to stay warm.

Another heat saving action chickens do is to tuck their heads under a wing when they roost. They do this to protect their comb and wattles from frostbite. By roosting side by side at night, they reduce surface area of their body that is exposed to cold air. A hen gives off about 10 watts of energy. If you had 10 chickens in a coop - they will give off as much heat as a 100 watt light bulb.

Observe native bird species while hiking on a cold day in the parks. Are they fluffing up their feathers? Do they tuck their heads under their wings? Stand on one foot? How long can you stand on one foot?

Watch for a information about fat & fur and how they help to insulate mammals in the coming weeks!