This is the third in a four-part series on getting your chickens and coop ready for the winter.
Now we turn to the coop itself. In mild climates, chickens need only basic protection from the elements year round. If your coop keeps your hens dry and away from drafts, chances are you don’t need to make any special changes to it for the winter. If you expect temperatures to dip below freezing for a sustained time, you may want to take some added precautions to winterize your chicken coop:
- Limit drafts without cutting off ventilation. If you’re building The Garden Coop in a cold region, I now recommend in the plan that you place the entry hole for the ladder on the side face of the henhouse instead of in the floor. This will help prevent updrafts as the hens roost in the henhouse. If you’ve built the coop with the henhouse entry hole in the floor, make sure that their roost is not positioned right over the hole during the winter. And when it gets really cold, you might even close up the henhouse entrance at night.
- Partially cover the henhouse, particularly the area above where they roost (note: this applies to The Garden Coop and The Garden Ark coop designs, which have an open-air top on the henhouse). We use a wooden panel for this purpose. Heavy fabric of some kind or an old blanket could also work. One customer told me he uses straw, flaked off in sheets from the bale, which might also add to the insulation value. Remember to not seal off their ventilation, which is especially important in colder air.
- Partially wrap the run if it helps keep out rain, sleet, and snow. You can do this inexpensively with plastic sheeting (some tips on how to do this). Some customers have used canvas. Others have used plywood siding.
- Insulate the walls (sub-freezing climates). The exterior walls of the henhouse on The Garden Coop have a basic double-wall construction to limit drafts and create somewhat of an air pocket. You can add rigid insulation inside that space. I think insulation makes the most sense if you have an added heat source in the henhouse (see Part 4 of this series).
- Position your coop for solar heat gain. This is not something you’ll be able to control easily after you build your coop, which is fine (our walk-in coop is not in the ideal winter sunny spot, either). But you can get some passive solar benefit if you put your coop where it will get as much direct sunlight in the winter months as possible. For The Garden Coop, the front of the coop would ideally face south in the northern hemisphere (United States, Ireland, etc.) and north in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, etc.). Of course, if you have a mobile chicken tractor like The Garden Ark, just move it to wherever you can get the most benefit for the season — either where the sun is shining or near a fence, garage, or hedgerow that can block prevailing winds.
- Add extra bedding. If you use the deep-litter method, your hens’ droppings, food scraps, and other nitrogenous matter will combine with the thick layer of carbonaceous bedding material (straw, wood chips, shredded paper, dry leaves, etc.) and compost in place at the floor of your coop/run. The microbial activity will create heat — not tons of it, but hey, it’s heat.
- Secure any weak spots in the coop’s perimeter. Predators get more desperate and determined in the winter as their food sources dwindle. Keep doors properly latched and patch up any holes in your coop’s defense system.
How do you prepare your backyard chicken coop to protect your poultry from the elements? Any clever tips? Share your ideas in the comments below.
Next up, Part 4: Heating your chicken coop.
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