Make It Your Own: Nate’s Winterized Wisconsin Garden Coop

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Winterized chicken coop built from The Garden Coop plans

With extremely cold weather dipping into the U.S. this winter, I thought I’d share some detailed notes I got from a customer in Galesville, Upper Wisconsin. He’s taken several steps to winterize his Garden Coop and reports that his flock of seven has stayed active, healthy, and laying — even as the mercury dips to 20 below. Read on to see what he’s done. The rest of this post comes directly from Nate. . . 

Outfitting our chicken coop for cold weather

We built a version of The Garden Coop in the spring of 2013, following the instructions in the plans. We made a couple of modifications specifically aimed at surviving upper Midwestern winters:

  • We used 1.5-inch foam insulation around the walls of the henhouse and 3 inches of fiberglass insulation below the floor
  • We recycled a couple of insulated windows for light in the henhouse
  • We mounted an inlet on the side of the coop, which we wired directly to a brooder lamp.  We use a standard flood bulb in the lamp (no heat bulbs).

Our first winter with chickens has been one of the coldest on record. So far, the key to survival has been the use of insulation and sunlight.

The henhouse

Along with insulating the walls and floor of the henhouse, we made a removable roof (ceiling panel), which is simply some 1.5-inch foam insulation sandwiched between a couple of thin sheets of plywood. The roof slides and can be adjusted to increase or decrease ventilation, which is very important. We have the roof situated so that there’s a single 1-inch opening that runs along the side of the house above the nest box. The chickens roost on the other side of the coop, and we close the door to the henhouse at night. [Editor's note: Keep a close eye on the amount of ventilation your flock needs, especially in the winter. You may find that your chickens need more than what Nate has found works in his area for his flock.]

As a general rule, we are observing a 20- to 30-degree F difference between the early morning temperatures inside and outside of the henhouse. The coldest it has been inside of the henhouse was 10 degrees F on a morning in which it was -20 F outside with a very cold wind chill. Otherwise, it is typical for the temperature in the hen house to be just above 20 degrees F on mornings with outside temperatures ranging from 0 to -10 F, and 30 F inside when the outside temperature is above zero.

Our light contributes a small amount of heat, but not much. It turns on at 5 am and keeps the hens laying through the winter. The bottom line here is that seven chickens can produce a lot of heat when confined to a small, yet well-insulated (and properly ventilated) area.

The run

The chickens want to be outside in the run, even on the coldest days. We wrapped the entire run, from bottom to top in clear plastic. This reduces wind and allows sunlight to enter.

We positioned the coop so that it starts receiving December-February sunlight around 10 am and continues until the sun goes down. The sunlight creates an incredible amount of heat in the run during sunny days. Again a general rule is that we see 20- to 30-degree F temperature differences between the inside and outside of the run during the day.

Heat produced in the run is transferred to the henhouse via the henhouse door. But the henhouse also heats up because sun enters through the large windows. Note that the top of the run should not be covered completely to allow adequate ventilation.

That’s it — insulation, sunlight, ventilation, and our chickens seem happy despite many very cold days and nights (-20 to just below 0 F nights). Our Leghorn and Blue Andalusian lost the fine tips of their combs to frostbite early in the winter, but now that those tips are gone, we don’t observe much in terms of frostbite. Our seven birds are laying between 4 and 6 eggs each day, which suggests that they are comfortable. Thanks for the great plans!

 

A big thanks to Nate for keeping such a watchful eye over his chickens in such extreme cold weather — and then sharing his notes on winterizing his chicken coop with us. If you like what he’s done or have any questions or tips of your own to share, please leave a comment below. And be sure to check out our coop plans and kits and our series on winter coop care.

 

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14 Responses to “Make It Your Own: Nate’s Winterized Wisconsin Garden Coop”

  1. John says:

    Nate, thank you. I live in Northern Minnesota, I think that maybe we have the same climate. I’m going to build a lightweight small coop for four on wheels to move around for summer. I will use a chain link 24′x24′x6′ dog kennel to put the coop inside for summer and used build a design like yours for the winter. Going to dig a one foot trench around the winter coop and bury some chicken wire to prevent the varmints from Getting under.
    The summer portable one, I will used portable, hot wire to prevent digging under the chain link. I can’t do this in the winter Because of the low wire and snow.
    Going to be a big job for four chickens, but my little girl is worth it.

  2. MountainLily says:

    What type of clear plastic did you use? How did you attach it to the coop?

  3. Mike says:

    Tell me more about the removable roof (ceiling panel). We were just talking about having something similar. Pictures would be great. Thanks!

  4. Chelsea says:

    This is a very helpful post! Thank you Nate, we are in the midst of building our coop now and one of our big concerns was the cold weather and the roof. Thanks again!

  5. Jill says:

    Nate, I live in Wisconsin and will be entering my first winter with my 14 month old chickens. I have a predator-proof lean-to run attached to my garage with a little pre-fab coop completely in side the run. I’m looking for clear plastic like you used to wrap your run. Where did you get it and how did it hold up through the winter. I’m going to be tacking the wrap down over hardware cloth that is held on with washers and pole barn screws. The plastic will need to go over this, so I’m thinking about stapling it down or trying to tack it down with wooden strips with foam underneath to cushion the plastic against the screws that are there for the hardware cloth. Any advice would be appreciated, and mostly what type of plastic did you use and how did it hold up.

    • Nate says:

      Jill,
      I didn’t spend much time thinking about what type of plastic. I found some thin vinyl, which was really clear. It came in 25′ rolls. We attached it with wooden strips (laths). The only problem we encountered was that the door to the next box would sometimes smack against the vinyl and put cracks in it. But those were easily fixed with tape. We plan to reuse the vinyl again this year. If it makes it two-years, I’ll be happy.
      Nate

  6. mrbob2 says:

    Nate, I have another question. Did you install blocks in the ground? Is your coop bolted down or attached to the ground? What about freezing ground and rising blocks?
    Thanks

    • Nate says:

      Luckily we live in a really sandy area, so we don’t worry too much about freeze-thaw effects on blocks. We used the blocks as suggested in the plans. The coop just sits on those and the hardware fabric is buried deep in a trench.

  7. mrbob2 says:

    Nate, Do you have any more pictures of your coop. I’m going to use these plans and some of your ideas for my coop down here in Central Illinois.
    Thanks for posting your great job.

  8. Nate says:

    Thought I’d post a follow-up comment on ventilation. This is probably the biggest concern I have about keeping chickens in the winter. The hen house should probably be set up to allow for ventilation on both sides, with some pass-through of air. But if you do that with the garden coop, air will be passing directly over the chickens’ heads, which also isn’t good. So I choose to use a single vent on the side away from the chickens. I open that up to 3-4 inches (along the entire side of the coop) when night time temps are above 20. When they are below 20 and especially when they are below zero, I close it down to around an inch or so. Not ideal, but it seems to balance warmth and moisture build-up OK.

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