Madison, Wisconsin. Where the winters are mean and the chickens are many. I got a note recently from Dan Marleau, a customer in Madison, who wanted to pass along this video tour of his backyard chicken coop, built using The Garden Coop plans and adding some of his own modifications. Take a look.
I asked Dan if he would share more of his experience keeping chickens in cold climates, specifically, what extra steps did he take to prepare his Garden Coop and his flock for the Wisconsin winter. Here’s what he had to say. . .
Winter was a breeze. The question I get most from folks about winter is how do you keep the chickens warm? Answer: I don’t. They do just fine. They need fresh air, but you don’t need to build an elaborate heated structure for them. Without proper ventilation, you’re causing more problems.
Here are some of the steps Dan says he took this past winter:
- I used an all-in-one plastic heated waterer, which, once plugged in, keeps water from freezing even when it’s -5°F outside. I filled it once per week.
- I added lights to keep egg production from falling, but things still dropped off a bit. One or two eggs per day versus the usual three or four.
- I increased the depth of litter, since they wouldn’t be getting out of the coop for three months or so. Deep litter is awesome. People are always worried that a coop will need regular cleaning, not a chore to look forward to in winter. But that litter works great all winter. I throw some scratch in the coop and the chickens turn that stuff over and the place looks neat and clean. And thanks to your great design, come spring, I can get into the coop easily and shovel the litter out and spread new litter down. Easy!
Minding the frost line
If you’re in a region where the ground freezes during the winter, Dan also suggests that you set the concrete pier blocks deep enough so that they rest below the frost line. This might not be possible for every situation, but it will help minimize any uneven frost heave that might occur. I would add the tip that you use solid concrete piers instead of cinder blocks, as they may better withstand the pressures of shifting soil.
What if your frost line is deep, say, three feet or more down? Given the relatively light weight of The Garden Coop chicken coop (compared to, say, a storage shed and its contents) I think the concrete-block-on-grade construction in the plan is still the way to go. Any shifting will likely take place over the course of years, and should be slight enough to correct with shims between the blocks and the frame.
Keep in mind, it’s just a chicken coop. Don’t overbuild it. Just correct for any gradual settling as needed.
Dan also sent a link to a talk about the ins and outs of backyard chicken keeping which he gave to his colleagues and community at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thanks, Dan, for sharing your experiences, videos, and pictures!
Now you know what Dan does. How do you help your chickens stay healthy through the winter—or any time of year? Do you use lights for heat or to even out egg production? Made any modifications to the foundation of The Garden Coop for the soil in your region? Leave a comment and let us know.