A winterized chicken coop is a safe, comfortable, and healthy environment for your chickens during the cold winter season. And it is not complicated or expensive to achieve either. This guide will help you winterize your chicken coop thoroughly in no time at all.
Winterizing yoour chicken coop can be as easy or complicated as you choose.
Last time, I discussed getting your flock ready for winter and answered How Cold Is Too Cold For Chickens? before getting into healthy and natural ways to feed them while saving money on commercial feed costs through the snowy, cold season in Feeding Pastured Chickens During Winter.
In this article, we will look at one vital aspect of chicken winter care you will definitely need to consider — the chicken coop. Specifically, we will look at winterizing your chicken coop.
Preparing your chicken coop is important because you do not want to have to worry about your chickens suffering needlessly or expending extra calories on keeping warm.
Everything from insulation to water to dust baths to automatic coop doors is discussed here.
And a winterized chicken coop is not necessarily one that is very different from what you already have. Sometimes it just takes a few minor tweaks.
Deep Clean & Sanitize
Consider The Deep Litter Method
Clean Your Coops Thoroughly In The Fall or Late Summer
Remove all litter and sweep the area clean. Additionally, you may bring out the hose and spray the coop out with water. You can also use plain soap or a natural enzyme cleaner that is chicken-coop specific like Absolutely Clean Chicken Coop Cleaner & Deodorizer.
Don't forget the nesting boxes and roosts. After cleaning, give everything a good rinse and let the coop air-dry.
Place a fresh layer of bedding/litter and make it very thick — about 6-inches.
I use chopped straw that is dust extracted and layer that with dried weeds, hay, and a few shovels of wood chips too.
The deep litter method is especially practical for the wintertime but if you wish to try it, it needs to be started at the end of summer for the required enzyme and micro bacterial activity to take place in the coop litter.
(The specifics of the deep litter method is beyond the scope of this article.)
With the deep litter method, you are only cleaning out your coop thoroughly twice a year. It utilizes chicken manure mixed with the litter/bedding material which then decays and composts inside the coop rather than being cleaned and replaced on a weekly basis. A carbon-based litter collects nitrogen from chicken droppings, which ferments in a surprisingly odourless process to generate useful humus.
These beneficial microorganisms help reduce infections, making hens less prone to illness.
And yes, you no longer need a regular cleaning schedule. So less upkeep, but your chickens are still happy. It's a win-win situation for everyone.
You also receive a free supply of compost for your garden.
Insulate the coop
Contrary to what some may fear or believe — chickens can fare better in the cold than the extreme heat.
They do NOT require extra heat in the winter to survive!
They not only generate a lot of body heat, but they also regulate their body temperature. Furthermore, their feathers serve as a thermal barrier, trapping heat and keeping them warm.
Despite this, there are simple steps you can take that would help your coop feel more comfortable. After all, if they're happy and healthy, so are you and your produce.
Luckily, there are many cheap ways to insulate the coop, including:
Cardboard: It's cheap, widely accessible, and easy to install. With the help of drafts keeping the heat inside, it's an efficient way to prevent crosswinds.
Thick cloth: You're likely to have old clothes, sheets, or drop cloths around your house, so now you can put them to good use!
Straw Bales: You can stack bales of straw outside around the coop to block any potential drafts.
Spray foam: It's excellent at trapping heat from the sun and blocking chilly breezes. It is the most effective but also the most expensive compared to the other options. As a result, You may need to hire a professional to do the job. Nonetheless, if you want to do it yourself, then you should put them in the middle of the studs on the chicken coop's roof. Use it only if your ceiling is high; otherwise, they may peck and swallow it. Moreover, it is harmful to their health if they ingest it.
Eliminate Drafts While Allowing For Adequate Ventilation
Humidity can kill your chickens in the winter
The belief that your coop needs complete shelter from the chilly wind is a common mistake. While it should be dry and draft-free, adequate ventilation is also crucial.
To keep drafts away, use transparent plastic to cover windows, screens, and long wires. It's essential to place it outside your coop to prevent your hens from eating it and peeling them off. Don't cover everything but leave enough space at the top for good ventilation.
In addition, you might want to look for cracks or gaps in your chicken coop and cover them with plywood, cardboard, or thick cloth.
Please ventilate your coop PROPERLY! Humidity can kill your chickens faster than the cold ever will. High humidity can lead to condensation, a breeding ground for bacteria, and frostbite on wattles. All of which are detrimental to your coop's health. When it comes to humidity, many experts agree that a humidity level of 50% is optimum.
Drafts Are Not Proper Ventiliation!
It is quite simple. Draft refers to holes, cracks, or gaps between the walls or beneath the coop's floor. On the other hand, Ventilation means planned openings, which are generally a few inches at the top.
Provide a Dust Bath
Make your chickens a dust bath. They want to keep themselves clean in the winter too.
Winterized chicken coops should provide dust baths for the season as the snow will make it hard for your chickens to find their own patch of dirt.
Winter can be challenging if your formerly free-range chickens must spend all of their time closer to the coop. Dust baths are required for chickens to clean themselves. It sounds counter-intuitive, yet they clean themselves by getting into dirt.
It's simple to prepare a dust bath. Get a shallow box or a bin or small hard plastic kiddy pool (ideally with a lid in case of rain), fill it with sandy soil, wood ash, charcoal (some combination of) and you're done!
The best location for your dust bath is in the run below a cover, safe from rain and snow.
You should also find a way to block it from the wind and give your chickens a direct path to get there even if there is snow on the ground.
It is best to avoid placing your dust bath inside the coop because the dust can create potential respiratory problems and also become heavily soiled with chicken droppings.
Keep Water From Freezing
Water In The Coop Can Be Dangerous
Winterized chicken coops must manage humidity levels.
I do not keep any feed or water in the coop in any season outside of just-hatched chicks in brooders of course.
Water is messy but more importantly, it can be dangerous in the winter as it will raise the humidity levels inside your coop and make it colder and more uncomfortable for your chickens.
Humidity inside of your coop is a bad idea. I talk about this more in my article on getting your flock ready for winter
There are many options for you to consider.
If you have electricity, consider keeping your water on a heated base like this or buying a heated waterer and then keeping this outside in the run.
You can also keep one waterer inside your home and switch out the water a couple of of times daily without any heating.
Of course, that means trudging out into the snow and cold, and speaking of which........
Consider An Automatic Coop Door Opener & Closer
Are you looking forward to trudging out into the snow in subzero temperatures at dawn? Me neither.
If you were going to look into buying an automatic chicken coop door opener/closer — winter is THE time to do it.
Imagine leaving your warm, cozy bed at the crack of dawn on a balmy Canadian January morning just to open your chicken coop door for an ungrateful flock.
NO THANK YOU.
Get a rugged coop door opener and closer that will last through the most extreme cold days and last for years.
The best, most highly rated automatic chicken coop door opener I have found that will last you for years and through the toughest, coldest winters is hands-down the ChickenGuard Extreme Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener/Closer that has a timer and/or light sensor option to open and close your chicken coop.
It is not cheap but it will be one of the best and most important investments into your winterized chicken coops.
And you can use it all year round to make your life easier in the mornings.
Feeding Chickens In Winter
Your flock needs good nutrition and plenty of food in the winter to stay content and healthy.
I never leave feed (or water) in the chicken coop because of the potential for rats and mice and other predators being attracted to it.
It's also just messy.
I recommend you do the same. At the very least use a rat-proof hanging feeder system and keep it suspended off the ground where the chickens can still access it.
As I also ferment my feed, it would freeze in the coop so I prefer to simply bring it out to them daily when I go check to see how they're doing.
I have a plan to keep my pastured birds healthy and happy while saving some money (hopefully) on feed costs throughout the winter and you can read all about that here:
I get into topics like growing fodder, sprouting seeds and grains, and more.
I don't feed layer feed ever, I prefer leaving them some crushed oyster shell for calcium free-choice on the side. The winter is also a perfect time to try your hand at a fermented feed system.
Stock Up On Supplies now
Winter storms can leave you stranded or affect business hours and the supply chain.
I leave my home as little as possible in the wintertime and I do not enjoy going to the shops for any reason unless absolutely necessary.
I especially have no motivation to stock up on chicken supplies when it's dark, frigid, and unsafe to drive.
Get your chicken supplies stocked up and organized before the snows come.
Buy extra feed and treats.
Prepare a Winter First Aid Kit
Winter can bring season-specific ailments to your flock — like frostbite.
While your poultry can get sick at any time, it's especially vital to keep them healthy during the winter since they're more susceptible to diseases and injuries at this time.
A Chicken First-Aid Kit:
- Petroleum Jelly: rub petroleum jelly on combs and wattles to prevent and soothe frostbite.
- Nutri-Drench Poultry: Boosts the immune system corrects Vitamin deficiencies and improves antibiotic response
- Epsom Salt: if your chicken develops bumblefoot, soak the foot in warm water and epsom salt.
There is more you may want to have on hand of course. And this handy list will give you a more complete guide on chicken first-aid.
Winterized Chicken Coops - What NOT to Do
What you don't do is just as important. Ignorance and good intentions have sickened and killed whole flocks.
- Do not block all ventilation in your coop.
- Do not cover windows with newspaper or cloth — this prevents sunshine and heat from entering the coop.
- Do not overheat the coop. Electric heat is really not necessary.
- Do not leave water inside of the coop.
- Make sure your supplies are stocked up.
- Do not cram your chicken all in a small space.
- Do not leave lights on all night long.
- Do not leave the dust bath inside the coop.
- If using the deep litter method, avoid diatomaceous earth.
- Make sure your layer of litter/bedding is nice and thick.
- Make sure grit and oyster shells are offered on the side free-choice.
- Make sure the run is covered at least partially, including the dust bath and give them break from the wind.