My Coop Journey

By Alaskan · Nov 23, 2013 · Updated Mar 26, 2016 · ·
  1. Alaskan

    Alaskan's Chicken Coop Complex

    (I made a separate page for my Muscovy Coop and Overflow Poultry Coop:
    and my free Bantam Coop: )
    (Cold Weather Tips are at the bottom of this page
    And here is a full article on cold weather coops: )

    (The picture above is how it looked before the door was repainted)

    (The picture above is a stage two picture)

    (Here is a picture from summer 2015, notice how different it looks with the door painted all green.)

    I wanted chickens for a very long time.

    When I was little, I would visit my grandparents, by myself. One of my jobs was to take care of the chickens.

    I did the feeding, watering, and the cleaning of the coop.

    I loved it, even the coop cleaning.

    My grandmother used hay, in a deep litter kind of method, in that she would toss fresh hay on top of the old soiled bedding. By the time I would show up, it looked fine, until I started to shovel it into the wheel barrow. Then the stench would make my eyes smart.

    All of that soiled hay was taken to the vegetable garden and put in the paths between the plants.

    Anyway, I finally had a place as well as the time and money to have chickens.

    First stage


    The nests along the South wall were five gallon plastic buckets on their sides. I had those for years, but they were just screwed into the wall, and were not very secure, they would come off of the wall. I ended up with a row of them along the ground.

    Here they are at the beginning, when they were on the North wall, which was stupid since then all of the light shone straight into the nest boxes. Shortly after this picture I moved the nest boxes to the South wall where they were darker.

    We had trusses for an 8x8 porch and used those to make an 8x8 coop. We insulated the roof, and insulated the floor but not the walls, because I was scared of rodents getting in there. We have little rodents everywhere up here.

    We did put hardware cloth along the bottom of the coop, and partway up the walls, between the framing and the outside walls. This was because I knew someone who had lost all of her poultry, twice, to tiny little stoats. The hardware cloth HAS worked very well. No rodents, or stoats, have gotten into my coop. There is some chewing around the door frame where rodents have tried to get in.

    Here is a picture of the hardware cloth on the walls. There is also hardware cloth under the floor.
    The problems with the coop were:
    - no snow free place to place the water and feed
    - way too small for chickens that refused to go outside in nasty weather ( so picking at each other)
    - windows AT perch level so the open windows meant wind blasting the chickens and closed windows meant bad frostbite.​

    Second Stage

    I put a door and pop hole into the back of the coop, and had an addition put on, 8x8. The addition had walls on the South (where the strong cold wind comes from) and East sides. The coop was the West side and the North was open. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but the North side is sheltered from the wind.

    From far away, the addition mostly finished, as well as a mostly painted coop. :lol: I had wanted the part between the plywood and the roof to stay open, but the wind blew through there and brought in snow with it. I ended up stapling up grow cloth over the openings to close it up. I did leave the entire North side open.

    You can just see the edge of the roof of the addition. It is the bit sticking out on the left side of the picture.

    You can see how the snow has broken down the fishnet that was over the run. Before we got the net cut down, the snow stuck to the net was heavy enough to break the corner gate post and mess up the fence. See how the left corner post is crooked? Also, that drape in front of the open side of the addition is the netting, now pulled down and covered by snow.

    And here is looking into the addition from the coop. Notice that the entire floor is covered in very dirty snow, with a wall of snow slowly rolling in from that open North side.

    A pretty sunrise picture.

    I was hoping that this would fix my problems by
    - giving me a place to put the feed and water out of the weather
    - give the chickens more weather free play space
    - give me lots of wind free ventilation since I could vent the coop to the shelter.

    But, I had problems with this too.

    - the snow just rolled in from that completely open North side. I easily get 2 feet of packed snow (and often oodles more) and that much snow doesn't stay back without a wall to hold it back.
    - the snow slowly ate up the floor space, and the chickens had no interest in wandering out into the run, so they soon had way too little space.​

    No point to this picture, except, it is cool. We had left some spoiled hay in front of the coop to use to plant potatoes. The moose found the hay. (The one at the top of the page is from the same day)

    Third Stage

    Well, I had wanted a greenhouse anyway......

    I had a greenhouse built, 8x16, with an 8x16 'shed' to connect the greenhouse to the original coop. All in a 'U' shape. The shed has the bottom of the walls two feet solid plywood, then wire. The bottom of the wire has two feet of plastic panel, leaving about one foot of open wire above the plastic panel for lots of ventilation.

    The plan was to have the shed hold the feed and water, with lots of venting so no frostbite, but also enough shelter to keep out the snow and the wind. Also, once the growing season was over, the chickens could have access to the greenhouse.

    Inside the new greenhouse.

    This year I tried nylon fishnet, to see if it would be easier to keep free of snow. In this picture it is still nicely up (but yes, we did of course get a heavy enough overnight snow dump to break it all down).

    The greenhouse and shed addition worked perfectly! The greenhouse and shed together made for more than enough room for all of my chickens. For two years I had this setup with about 45 chickens with no picking at each other, and no serious frostbite.

    In the winter my overhead fish net would get broken down by the heavy wet snows. Without overhead protection, and fencing that was now much shorter, I was happy to let the chickens stay locked up all winter.

    Here is a picture of the East side of the coop, those little dark ball things are the top of the five foot tall fence posts.

    Then, last winter (winter of 2012-2013) a dog climbed into my run and pushed his way into the Shed through a pop door. The pop door hadn't been securely latched because of a giant ice cube. I had wedged it closed. That dog killed every single chicken. I still am sad that none of my chickens flew up to the high perches that were available to them.

    The loss of all of my chickens in the winter..which meant I had to wait several months before I could have new chicks...gave me time to rethink everything.

    I thought through what I would like to do differently, and what I wanted to change.

    Fourth Stage

    The entire complex.

    And here is a sketch of the buildings. The buildings, doors, windows, and pop doors didn't change. But part of the run complex that the buildings are in the middle of, were converted to "Fort Knox" style runs, and I also added the poop trays.

    1. I decided that my coop was much too drafty. The hardware cloth had succeeded in preventing all rodents, time to insulate the coop! I put up insulation and then plywood and painted as much as I could until my paint ran out (I used leftovers from my house).

    I had not painted the interior before. WOW! So much nicer when you paint the inside of the coop! The dust doesn't stick as badly on painted plywood, and it looks so much nicer! Also, I hope the paint on the floor will help the plywood floor last longer.

    2. I decided to try out poop trays...all those people on BYC who love them have to have a reason, right? I put in two poop trays in the 8x8 coop.

    I put 2x8 poop trays on both sides of the coop.

    But then the coop was taken over by my brooding Muscovy and her new brood of 11 ducklings. :rolleyes:

    So, the chickens were kicked into the uninsulated shed, and I had to put two poop trays in the shed, as well as add some nest boxes. The poop trays are fantastic! Everything is so much cleaner, it is truly a gigantic difference.

    The inside of the shed. I thought about insulating the shed roof, but did not have enough leftover insulation.

    On my higher poop tray in the shed, I had planned to bevel the front edge of the 2x4, but didn't get around to it. The chickens liked perching on the the perch, as well as the front edge of the poop tray.

    I added the second lower perch and poop tray, but no one wants to sleep there. They do like playing there, probably because it is in the sun but out of the wind. But they don't like sleeping there.

    So....since if I beveled the poop tray edge, that would force the chickens to start fighting over who gets the prime/highest perch....I decided to NOT bevel it, and I just took a 1x4 and screwed it on top of the 2x4 edge, so that the edge was now a proper 4inch perch.

    The chickens all perch with their heads out, so even though they are perching on the edge of the poop tray, all of the poop falls into the tray. And, none of the chickens poop on each other.
    This way I have gotten two full 8 foot perches on one 2x8 poop tray.

    The trashcan holds feed and treats. The clear plastic tote screwed to the wall is a nest box.

    The other end of the Shed, showing the people door and pop door into the greenhouse. The open pop door on the right of the picture goes into the smaller secure/Fort Knox run. The closed pop door on the left of the picture goes to a standard run.

    The tiny, bantam only nest boxes. They are actually suspended from the underside of the higher poop tray.[​IMG]

    3. I tried out Sweet PDZ in the poop trays, WOW! Very nice! Even in high summer (had two weeks of that this year) there was very close to no smell! Lovely stuff! (A bit trickier after the weather gets below freezing)

    4. I Did NOT want to lose any more chickens, ever. I added on two close to Fort Knox runs. I did put a little bit of solid roofing over one of the runs. The runs are both roofed with the stiff wire that is used in concrete. The holes are large enough for a small dog to jump through, but it is very stiff, so will NOT bend when covered in snow. Someone in my area has used goat wire fencing and that stuff has to have the snow knocked off of it so that it doesn't bend or break. I have had more then enough of 'running out every hour to knock the snow off' so I like the stiff wire. I am worried that with deep snow that the wire top will no longer keep dogs out, and am thinking of adding chicken wire on top of the concrete wire. I know that dogs can tear apart chicken wire, but I wonder if I wire a double layer of the chicken wire to the concrete wire if that will be enough.

    The larger secure run.

    And, the roof area of the larger secure run.

    All of that new secure run covered with a bunch of snow.

    A close up of just the wire roof, with the snow on it. Notice where the chickens have walked. They have come out to drink, look towards the house to see if I am coming out with treats, and then run back inside. They are NOT utilizing the entire run, because it is covered in that nasty white stuff. This is why I like having the food and water forces the silly chickens to go outside.

    Here I am standing in the unsecured run and looking at the secure run on the North side.

    This is behind the shed. The far left is the edge of the greenhouse.

    And NO, the concrete reinforcing wire is NOT good enough by itself. A Great Horned Owl smushed itself through a hole (I watched it smash itself back out) and killed two bantams. Just bit the heads off. The kids are putting chicken wire over the concrete wire right now.

    5. A lady with gorgeously colored Muscovy put them up for sale
    , I bought them, and so had to build them a coop too! And quick! The new, slapped together duck coop is about 10x5 with an extra 2.5 box on the side. It also has a second story of about 2x8.

    All of the duck coop information, and my overflow poultry coop I moved to a separate page:

    I have my Free Bantam Coop on this page:

    Thank you for looking at my page. I hope you liked it, and that it maybe gave you some ideas that you can use with your own set-up. If you have any questions, I would love to answer them (I love talking about poultry :D ).

    Cold Weather Tips
    - Venting is MUCH more important than warmth. My chickens do look cold at -10F, but they do not look miserable. I don't usually get much colder than that. My chicken area stays at or only slightly warmer than the outside. The big thing that the housing does, is block the wind and the snow, and keeps them dry. So, housing = dry and no wind, NOT necessarily warmer.

    - Reduce the humidity by keeping LOTS of ventilation in the coop, and the water outside! The water can be kept in a sheltered location. Having the water outside also helps to force the chickens to go outside, which reduces the risk of unwanted behaviors.

    - WIDE perches! The chicken does not only have to cover their toes with the feathers, I find it is best if the toes do not bend. I think if the toes bend it reduces the circulation to the toes and so increases frostbite risk. Keep the toes flat.

    - Closely monitor the food, they will die QUICKLY in the cold if they run out of food, and they will be eating food much more quickly when they are cold.

    - Do not feed wet food that can then freeze onto their faces and cause very bad frostbite.

    - Feed stays fine in freezing weather, water either needs to be brought out several times a day (if it freezes solid in an hour, I try to bring out fresh water three times a day), or you need to use something to keep it liquid. There are many ways to keep the water thawed. I have a terrible time with my electric to my coop, so I use a stock tank deicer in a black rubber pan. The rubber pan is almost indestructible and can be jumped on and tossed around to pop out ice cubes. I picked out a deicer that will not melt plastic and that will not break if the water runs out. It is strong enough to melt itself out of a solid block of ice in a short amount of time (which happens fairly often, because the power keeps going out). Some people give their birds snow to drink, but I think that would increase their feed consumption even more. Mine have learned to break thin ice to get at the water beneath.

    - I do still get some frostbite in the thin comb points of a single comb, or the thin front edge of a large rooster wattle (which is why I am moving over to only tiny combed breeds, I am hoping to eliminate all frostbite). The frostbite that occurs on the comb points or wattle edges has never been a problem. The bird is obviously uncomfortable when it first happens, and again when the rotten parts fall off and the good parts then heal over. However, they have never needed doctoring, antibiotics, cleaning, etc. I keep an eye on the frostbit area to make sure none of the other birds pick on it, but other than that it heals on its own. Frostbite on feet is an entirely different and much more serious thing, and often, but not always, does need doctoring (or processing of the bird). Point, slight frostbite on the comb is sad, but ignorable, frostbite on the feet is serious and potentially highly problematic.

    - Unwanted behaviors are likely to crop up in the winter. I try very hard to give my chickens as close to 10 square feet of SHELTERED, INSIDE space as possible. In addition, I keep the water outside, to force them to use the outside space even when they do not want to. If my sheltered, inside space starts to get closer to 5 square feet per chicken, I find I need to work harder to keep unwanted behaviors at bay. They need to have treats brought to them several times a day, things to play with (Some hay, whatever), or whatever you can dream up to reduce boredom. I have at some times, when it is especially windy and horrid, put the water inside, but only in the Shed area where there is a very large amount of ventilation. (Remember, the Shed has an almost foot tall vent on most of the Shed walls.)

    - I use NO heat in the winter! (Unless I have baby chicks). With my leghorns, they needed NO light and still laid very close to 7 eggs a week! My Rhode Island Reds, Golden Comets, Marans, Sussex, and all other breeds I have had, have all needed light in the winter to keep them laying.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. pippi_smiles
    "Great coop article!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jan 29, 2019
    Gave me some great ideas on how to improve my own coop!
    Miss Lydia likes this.
  2. emrya
    "Very Detailed!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 17, 2018
    I like seeing all the steps taken to achieve a great deep winter coop!


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  1. kuropas
    What a steep learning curve. Who would have thought?
  2. pippi_smiles
    WOW!!! Very detailed and helpful!:eek:
  3. CindyinSD
    Wow! Very helpful. Thanks. I’m a poultry newbie in western SD, Black Hills. It’s just getting cold here and it’s reassuring to read about your experiences in your harsher winter environment. My 7 week old chickens don’t much like the snow. It’s 32 F today and they’re all huddled inside. Good to know they’ll go out eventually to drink. They’ve been out in it a couple times, but they still act as though they think all that fluffy white stuff is pretty darned scary.
      Alaskan likes this.
    1. Alaskan
      If they are only 7 weeks old, you might need to move the water into the coop until they get a bit older and wiser. Or roof the run and add a windblock.
      CindyinSD likes this.
    2. CindyinSD
      Thanks. Yes, they can go under the coop. It’s a little less than three feet height there, but I have been thinking I ought to tack up a bit of plywood to the north side of the under-coop hangout area—for the winter, anyway. I put it on stilts to give them that area and also because of predators.
  4. BlackHackle
    Wow! This is soo helpful! I live in Canada so most of this info applies to me!
    1. Alaskan
      glad it was helpful
      BlackHackle likes this.
  5. Soon2BChixMom
    Wow, I never knew how big moose really are! Great photo since the chair demonstrates a size comparison! Off to read about your muscovy!
    P.s. One of these days I am going to come visit Alaska. It's my dream. But, only in the summer. :D
      Alaskan and Miss Lydia like this.
  6. CCUK
    Well done! Your really up against it up there. Diversifying and modifying all the while. My hens had there first taste of snow this year. They didn't like it! We only got 1 foot max. Not 5! I was panicking when we got -6c and started adding extra straw and warm mash. But no real need to worry. So long as there aren't draughts or leaks and they have good ventilation, their good to go! Thanks for sharing.
      Miss Lydia likes this.
    1. Alaskan
      Mine never like snow. Some just try to ignore it.
  7. Miss Lydia
    Great article so much info for us all.
      Alaskan likes this.
    1. Alaskan
  8. feather13
    Your coop and set up are absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and information. I first became interested in keeping chickens while visiting a friend in the Norwegian Arctic Circle!
      Alaskan likes this.
    1. Alaskan
      glad you liked it.
  9. Attila the Hen
    Thank you so much for all your work in putting this information together. Very interesting and you are a wonderful chicken owner.
      Alaskan likes this.
  10. mowgli457
    just finished my winterizing , each year i come up with differant {better} ideas that makes life tolerable for my guys , they still have access to free range all day the outside run is closed up at dark or slghtly b4 . the coop n outside run has a ramp w guillotine type door which is at its highest in summer , and low enough that they do a lil squeeze in winter . oh no i had pic to post but there is no place to access them from ???
  11. mowgli457
  12. Elemes
    This was very informational!
  13. Amberjem
    brrr but awesome coop :)
  14. Theegoliath
    Thanks for shareing your progress, and adventure with all of us. It means a lot more coming from someone first hand! : )
  15. Theegoliath
    Thank you for documenting each step, and the cold tips are great too! Having someone speak first hand means more then anything else to me : )
  16. Theegoliath
    Thank you for documenting each step, and the cold tips are great too! Having someone speak first hand means more then anything else to me : )
  17. Alaskan
    Oh, and yes on my temps, I am on the coast where the warm water from Japan hits Alaska.
  18. Alaskan
    Other people have had success with the surveyor's tape, but I tried that this spring and lost another two they got locked back into their almost fort knox run.
  19. nayalusa
    amazing that you could make a coop in alaska!Loved all the pics.
  20. RezChamp
    Wow. Lotsa work. Yup. Ingenuity,.... always. I'm really amazed at the fact you're in Alaska & you seldom see temps below -10. Must be close to the coast eh.
    Dang!, here -30 is norm. This winter was killer cold, minus[​IMG][​IMG]FREAKIN[​IMG][​IMG]50!!! for over a week straight.[​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]
    At that temp even my Chanteclers froze their combs. Pea combs.
    I had 3 of my roosters freeze their feet solid. Actually kinda comical to see them try walking.. I brought them in the house to thaw them in cold water. I was told later that's a no-no but it worked out.(still bad ending)
    Needless to say even before the snow was gone work was started on a new insulated coop.
    All told though, worked to be an exercise in futility since 4 dogs just stepped over the 6inches of my 5&1/2foot fence and killed all but 2 of my 84 chickens as well as a bunch of others.
    Started over this spring too. 65(62 still alive)chicks of 5 different breeds, 10 turkeys(9 still alive)and 20(18 still alive) and 2 of my geese survived the attack because they can fly.
    Yes I can certainly relate to many of your problems.
    Good job, indeed a labor of love.
    I really like the idea of the poop board/perch. May I?
    More power to you Alaskan.
    PS. I really like stucco wire. Use that stuff for everything.
    And try hanging old DVDs and CDs and surveyor's tape(ribbon) of different colors. it works real well against avian predators. It even helps keep away coyotes.
    My run is about an acre in size so I don't cover it. I just relocate my "deterrents" about the run from time to time. Works for me.
  21. TeaChick
    Great coop!!! =)
  22. Alaskan
    The water I either keep bringing out fresh water, or I use a stock tank deicer (one that will not melt plastic or break if allowed to run dry) in a black plastic feed pan. The food is dry pellets, so it doesn't matter how cold it gets. I do try to feed more fats in the winter, I just toss it in their food scraps that they get.
  23. chixmaidservice
    I am thrilled you put such an emphasis on ventilation.This is where I need to bite the bullet and improve my coop as I had one pullet lose most of her comb to frostbite last winter and I am way south of you! Seems so rational to want to seal out the cold, but not what is best for the birds. How do you keep water and feed from freezing in your extreme winters?
  24. chickadoodles
    Very nice coops and set up Alaskan! Great job!
  25. TwoCrows
    Very nice Alaskan!
  26. trv005
    Love your set up! Sorry about your bantams! I bet owls aren't your biggest problem up ther in Alaska. Stay safe and warm!
  27. cutechick53
    Very nice nest boxes! when I expand I will have to do that to save costs!
  28. emma p
    Really good job!
  29. AKNan
    I'm loving the perch/poop trays we have as they do most of their poop in there at night and they lift right out and are so easy to clean out. We found the how to video on line to make them so glad.
  30. sourland
    Well done!
  31. holm25
    Way to go Alaskan making coop of the week!!! Nice coop!
  32. chickwhispers
    Wohoo! Alaskan! Way to go! Coop of the week! Still a great set up! But you don't need a stinkin pet owl like that! Sorry about your bantams!
  33. BYC Project Manager
    Congratulations, we've chosen one of your pics for the Chicken Coop Picture of the Week. Thanks for posting your coop design & pictures to our "Chicken Coops" pages! You can find more info about the CC-POW here: CC-POW Process
  34. Alaskan
    My poop trays are not really removable, but they are put in with you could.

    I use PDZ in the trays, and think it is lovely, but also think that in super cold winter I might want to switch to old feed sacks. The PDZ I scoop clean with a kitty litter scoop.

    Thanks about the nest boxes! I love them too, the bigger one is a very old shipping box of some kind, and the smaller one was a small shelving unit.
  35. featherweightmn
    Awesome Coop! Really like the nest boxes too!
  36. pollitos2013
    I loved all these pictures of your coop setup! Very helpful as we are planning our first coop here in a place with lots of snow. Are your poop trays removable? Is that sand in them? Do you scoop it out with a cat litter type thing?
  37. Alaskan
    Yep, lots of Moose.
  38. chickwhispers
    Nice set up Alaskan! A lot of hard work!!!! Does everyone up there get to have a pet moose?
  39. Highcotton
    That is a nice coop. I like the picture of the Moose and the coop. My brother was stationed at Murphy Dome. He said they shot a moose on the site and enjoyed Moose for a while.
  40. Alaskan
  41. crazyfeathers
    Whoops I meant roosts. Thanks
  42. crazyfeathers
    Can u show More pictures of the poop trays and rooted. We are constantly updating the coop and this looks like an awesome idea. Great job on your coop.
  43. Miss Lydia
    You did an awesome job, especially when having to work with such drastic elements. and to keep working on it till you got it finished. Great job. And I agree with 3goodeggs, every coop should have a moose.
  44. 3goodeggs
    ...everycoop should have a moose.
  45. chickisoup
    love it!!! Had to smile. You did pretty close to what I did!!! Great minds thinking alike??? Except I already had a "pre-fab" greenhouse they had to run thru the snow to pop into last year. This fall we literally spun on it's axis so it was oriented the same way as the coop. we put up a clear panel roof over the space between the coop and greenhouse, popped out one of the side panels in the greenhouse and, viola' ! instant chicki breeze way. Just yesterday we hung clear tarp on the exposed side so they can now hop between the two without ever having to put their chicki toes in the snow if they don't want to. You have inspired me to work on my coop page as well. will post the link when it's done.
  46. Wisher1000
    What?! No jokes? No silliness? Who would have guessed that there is a serious (handy, and practical) side to our quirky Alaskan? Great job! More pics, PLEASE!
  47. sourland
    Hey, you surprise. Well done!!! Neat stuff, Alaskan
  48. crazyfeathers
    Nice work, we are always remodeling our coops as well only the best for our chickens. Good luck..

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