Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 1: Clean your coop.

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Cold weather tips for backyard chickens and coopsWhether it’s your first winter keeping chickens or your fiftieth, it’s helpful to have a checklist for preparing your backyard coop for the change of seasons. Of course, what’s on your list will depend on a lot of things including your particular climate, coop design, chicken breeds, routines, and more.

In this four-part series, I’ll share what has worked for us to get our backyard chickens and coops ready for the cold. I’ll also include several ideas offered by The Garden Coop Facebook community and others on how to keep your flock healthy all winter long. So here we go. . .

Clean your coop before the cold weather sets in.

How to clean out your chicken coopIn the Pacific Northwest, winter brings constant rain and occasional snow, so we’ve found it a lot easier to do a good cleaning while there are still some dry days in the fall. Even if your winters are mild, a good seasonal coop cleaning in the fall is never a bad idea.

  • Remove all the old bedding and litter from the nesting boxes, henhouse, and run and replace it with a few inches of fresh wood shavings or straw. (See Kate’s comment and my reply below about the benefits of keeping deep litter going in the run into the winter.)
  • Dust everything down with food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to prevent mites from settling in. Remember to wear a dust mask for this part.
  • Scrub the waterer and feeder. Might as well do this while the water from your backyard hose isn’t bitter cold.
  • Clear the roof of leaves and debris. On the corrugated polycarbonate roof of The Garden Coop, The Garden Ark, and The Basic Coop chicken coops, wipe off any muck that’s built up near the drip end so that rain and snowmelt can run off easily. This is also a good time to tighten any screws and patch any leaks that may have developed over time.
  • Plan to clean the henhouse regularly throughout the winter. Your chickens will be spending more time inside. So remove their droppings often to keep moisture from building up in the air, which can irritate your chickens’ lungs and cause frostbite on feet and combs.

What steps do you take to clean your chicken coop for the season? We encourage you to share your ideas and tips in the comments below.

Next up, Part 2: How chickens keep themselves warm — and how you can help them.

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8 Responses to “Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 1: Clean your coop.”

  1. Marcia says:

    Hi, This is my first year with my 4 hens and I appreciate the suggestions for winterizing. We are close to Lake Michigan and have a ready supply of clean beach sand which I have used in my coop which is a lot like the ones in the pictures. To keep it clean we have used a kitty litter scoop daily to remove the droppings, and I have been really happy with the results. I would love to keep on doing this through the winter. Is there anyone out there who has used sand like this and could tell me how it worked for them?

  2. walt says:

    One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I have to stop worrying about the flock in human terms when it comes to their comfort, especially in winter. Chickens are VERY adaptable and ok with the cold, with only three real requirements for their comfort: proper ventilation, an ice free water supply, and protection from the wind. If I had to add a fourth, it would be to be left alone after they go to roost. They get comfy, huddle up together, and let the the insulating properties of their feathers do the rest. Anything that interrupts that means they get cold and have to start all over. This includes well meaning humans “checking” up on them, windy drafts that ruffle their feathers, or having to constantly relocate away from a well meaning heat lamp. That’s not to say that it never gets cold enough that supplemental heat is not needed. In Eastern Oregon we went for weeks with daytime temps in the teens, and nights below zero. But barring cold spells like that, the night’s are likely not as cold as you think. Look at the hourly breakdown on your weather page if cold temps are forecast. Likely the 20° temperature the tv weatherman was all giggly over only lasted for an hour or two before dawn. Your girls won’t even notice :)

  3. I love this site and also completely disagree regarding cleaning the run in fall. My goal from spring on is to add to the deep litter in the run in order to provide extra warmth and depth to the litter. If the run is in soil (even with hardware cloth below), the litter becomes self composting and self sanitizing. Deep litter provides B vitamins and nutrients to the hens as they peck and scratch through it. Cleaning the run in fall is like removing a cozy quilt from your bed instead of adding an extra blanket.

    • Kate, that’s a really good point. I think in the past I let the deep litter get too thick leading up to the fall, and I wanted to clear it our to have a fresh start heading into the winter when things don’t decompose quite as fast. A better recommendation would be to keep the deep litter, though make sure you have enough room for some buildup to occur in the winter. I’ll make a note of this in the post. Thanks!

  4. Karen G. says:

    This is helpful. We have hardy breeds – Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington and Americana. So far the girls are doing well but the temperatures haven’t dropped yet – things do freeze around here in the winter.

    I plugged the hole near the double doors with an extra strip of wood and in the worst of winter will cover some of the top of the coop. I did wrap the back in plastic as the rain was really coming down at an angle in our latest rain storm and I wanted them to stay dry at night.

    I will think about insulating if we get a lot of freezing weather but will hold off for now. I am glad to have it as an option. I might wrap more of the coop then too. I am also wanting to add sand to the run/fenced outside area we have for them as the mud is already forming. Maybe that will keep them from getting cold feet.

    I have been concerned about the wind and that “the girls” have taken to sleeping on their outer roost this summer. I am not sure if they will know to sleep in the box again now that the weather is cooling down and the winds are coming.

    We’ve loved this process of coop building and chicken tending and so appreciate your help.

    Thank you,
    Karen

  5. Karen G. says:

    Hi,
    I am hoping to get more info about keeping our chickens healthy in the winter while they live in the garden ark. It has been a great home for the late spring and summer and I am hoping to find out more about making it a happy winter home if that is possible. Any feedback?

    • Karen, in a moderate climate like California, there aren’t many extra precautions you need to take for your flock in The Garden Ark. Cover the area directly above their roost in the hen house to limit updrafts when they roost. Make sure they have fresh, unfrozen water during the day. And keep their run dry. If you do get occasional snowfall or bitter winds, consider wrapping part of the run in a plastic sheeting or providing a separate, more enclosed day run. The other tips in this series regarding exercise and feeding also apply here.

      I was asked this same question from a reader/coop builder in Idaho where temps of -10ºF are common. If your climate were that extreme, I’d suggest keeping only the hardiest breeds, using a flat panel heater in the henhouse, and perhaps using a heated waterer for your convenience. The flat panel heaters are safer and slimmer than a bulb and should suit the smaller henhouse of The Garden Ark.

      Insulation would also be an option in such extremes, but only makes sense with the additional heat source. On The Garden Ark, you could double wall and insulate the hen house on three sides, the floor, and part of the roof. The double doors that form one side would be trickier to insulate (perhaps think about an inserted piece that you could remove when you open the doors). You also want to make sure that you can keep the run free of snow so that your hens can get exercise during the day, and maybe also have an external run that you keep clear for them.

      Here in Oregon, our flocks have done really well in The Garden Ark with no modifications for winter other than those I mentioned above for the moderate climate. Yours should do great!

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