Nate’s Winterized Wisconsin Garden Coop Walk-in Chicken Coop

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 walk-in chicken coop and run 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.

How we prepared the henhouse for the cold

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.

Ways to get the chicken run ready for winter

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

We positioned the chicken 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 chicken coop plans and kits and our series on winter chicken and coop care.


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