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 all of our 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, or a small stand-alone coop like The Basic Coop, 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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5 thoughts on “Winter Chicken Coop Care Series, Part 3: Outfit your chicken coop for the winter.”
We are in the 5th year with our Garden Coop and have a question about winterizing. Unfortunately, the access door into the henhouse IS on the floor (I see you recommend it not be there in cold climates), and their roost is right over that hole. So we will try and reconfigure things this winter.
We’d like to try the deep litter method, so have put up a barrier around part of that hole in the floor, and a piece of wood to block the shavings from falling out the big door when it’s opened. We have about 7″ of shavings in there right now.
The floor of the run below is dirt, and I’m thinking we should dig some of it out to do the deep litter method in the run, right? It’s in a shady spot, and sort of at the bottom of a hill, so moisture can be an issue. I was thinking of wrapping something around the bottom foot or so (plastic, etc) to keep the rain out and try and keep the pine shavings dry.
Any suggestions are welcome. We want our girls to be warm this winter here in New England….
Kara & Jeff Mallon
Kara & Jeff, I haven’t done deep litter in the henhouse, so I can’t speak to that part of your question. Sounds like the barriers you’ve added should let you do that just fine. I’m considering trying a suggestion made by another Garden Coop owner, a sand/deep litter combo. For this, you’d need a similar way to block the material from falling out.
I do use deep litter in the run. Because the coop frame is elevated a few inches off the ground on the pier blocks and the hens have scratched down another couple inches, I haven’t had to excavate to create depth for the litter in the run. You could do this, of course, just watch that you don’t disrupt too much of the soil around the pier blocks to where they would come loose or sink.
I find that at least a partial wrap around the bottom half of the run is nice to keep most of the rain/snow out in the winter. Some moisture aids in the composting that takes place in the deep litter, but too much, and it all turns to muck — not fun for you or your chickens. If you have water draining into the coop from uphill, maybe create some kind of levee or slight mound to divert that water around the sides of the coop.
I remember that you wrapped your coop in past years and added a heated waterer and some other features. How did your hens fare in the winter with these modifications?
I bought a piece of plexiglass to slide over the top of the henhouse to reduce drafts. I leave a foot or so open for ventilation, and because it’s clear they still get natural daylight.
Doug, I’m not sure what the blue pellet was. My guess is that it was some kind of salt, maybe calcium chloride or potassium chloride?
You have to be very careful about adding any kind of salt to an animal’s water or diet. There’s a fine line between what an animal can handle and what is toxic. Salts can cause problems like excessive water retention, increased thirst, lower body temperature, and kidney failure.
I’m curious about the idea of adding something to the water, though. It’s my understanding that any substance added to water will lower its freezing point, and that would include sugar and alcohol as well as salts.
Anyone have experience with other additives to lower the freezing point of your chickens’ water? Sugar? Alcohol? Some obvious (negative) side effects come to mind, but if you’ve actually tried any of these, let us know what you did. . . and what happened next.
My dad used to add a blue pellet to the chicken water to lower the freezing point of the water. Do you know what that might be?