How to Winterize your Chicken Coop

November 14, 2017

Chickens do far better in the cold than you might imagine, but there are still a few simple things you can do to winterize your chicken coop and make it more comfortable for your flock. As the temperatures drop below freezing, a few modifications to your coop will help it stay warmer through the winter months (and no, I'm not talking about adding heat!)

Move the Feed and Water Outside

Chickens can't see well in the dark and therefore don't eat or drink at night, so there's no need to leave any feed or water inside the coop for them. Feed will just attract rodents, and water will just freeze. I never leave feed or water inside my coop. If my chickens want their breakfast, they have to come outside to eat it. This ensures they're getting some fresh air, sunlight and exercise, plus it keeps the coop cleaner, rodent free and the moisture level  lower - all of which are important.

Ventilation

The most important thing in the winter is that your coop stays dry and draft-free. That means closing any windows or vents at roost level or lower. But a common mistake is thinking that your coop needs to be buttoned up completely. You still need ventilation and good cross air flow. Adequate ventilation is critical for allowing ammonia fumes in the chicken manure to escape - and also to prevent frostbite. 

Frostbite is partially caused by damp conditions, so having adequate ventilation to allow any moisture your chickens emit at night when they breathe can help to prevent it. If you're seeing condensation on the inside of the windows, you need more ventilation - but be sure it's up high. Any open vents need to be well above your chickens' heads when they are sleeping.  Vents up under the eaves are a good way to keep the air flowing without creating a cold draft.


Wide Roosts

Speaking of frostbite, it's not just chickens' combs that are susceptible. They can get frostbite on their toes and feet as well. For that reason, roosts should be wide enough that your hens' feet are completely covered by the warm feathers on their abdomen from the top and the roost from underneath. A 2x4 with the 4" side facing up with the corners rounded makes a perfect roosting bar to protect feet from frostbite.

Block the Windows

Since your coop windows likely aren't double paned, and therefore let heat escape and cold in, hanging a blanket or towel over them at night will help to retain the heat your chickens create with their body heat. You can nail or staple the window covers up, and then just roll them up during the day to allow sunlight to shine in. If your coop is large and your flock small, hanging wool blankets or tarps to partially enclose the sleeping area can also help keep your flock warmer at night when they're sleeping.


Lots of Straw

Straw is my preferred coop bedding choice year round, but especially in the winter. The hollow shafts in the straw trap and hold warm air, effectively insulating your coop floor. A layer of straw up to a foot deep on your coop floor will help keep your chickens warmer at night. Likewise, straw bales stacked along the inside walls of the coop provide even more insulation. 


Pop Door Draft Drapes

One of the biggest sources of drafts in your coop is the small pop door your chickens use to go in and out. Clearly you can't keep it closed all day long - you want to encourage your chickens to go in and out as they please during daylight hours. So installing "draft drapes" across the opening can help. You can hang fabric, tarp or even a plastic shower curtain cut into strips (think car wash!) across the opening. Or style drapes that hang down with an opening in the middle your chickens can walk through. Try tying them back at first to let your chickens get used to them.

Heating your coop is not only not the best course of action as far as your chickens' health and well-being goes, but also a huge fire risk. Instead, try some of these simple, inexpensive ways to winterize your coop this winter.
Further reading:
To Heat or Not to Heat your Coop       How to Winterize your Chicken Run
How Do Chickens Stay Warm in Winter?        The Deep Litter Method
4 Things your Chickens Need this Winter       How Do I Keep my Chickens Eggs from Freezing?
Cold Weather Chicken Care Guide


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