We've all been there. That horrible hot summer night that doesn't cool down- with no air moving and a bunch of chickens who refuse to spread out on the roost, though they're all panting with their wings dropped at their sides.
When I was designing the coop, I didn't find anything about Poultry Ventilation Fans, i.e. fans with sealed motors specifically manufactured for use with poultry. Lots on natural ventilation - positioning windows, size of windows, roof vents and so on - which is all terrific stuff and this is not in any way a substitution for doing those things.
So you've added all the right things to your coop: Windows that take advantage of prevailing winds that have been predator proofed with hardware cloth, inside and out. Roof vents, and the list goes on, covered in many terrific threads and articles. I'm not out to duplicate that information.
Next logical item in the arsenal: a fan. You find something that will work from the house, plug it in, point it at the chickens and bid them goodnight.
But there's a problem.
Pick up a manual for most fans and they will read something like this: NOT for use in poultry applications. Even attic fans! Attic fans specifically state NOT for use in poultry applications! Those heavy duty fans at the farm supply stores, with a couple (expensive) exceptions... ditto.
And there's a good reason- the dust will kill the fan. I was very lucky to smell the overheating fan (checked at neurotic intervals) before it caused a fire. It's incredible how fast the dust destroys them.
Last summer up here in the Pacific NW it was miserable. We found ourselves in a bad situation when the big tree that directly shaded our coop died. Had we left it up, it was a huge fire hazard to the coop and the house- and we live in an area that still allows fireworks with neighbors that set them off with the slightest excuse.
Cutting this tree down meant losing those precious hours of deep shade in the afternoon. It wasn't the sole source of shade, but it was the most direct. We also lost a huge amount of shade for the run when another tree had to go, so we got to re-fence the chicken yard for more natural shade in the hottest possible weather, stringing tarps and fans all over the place.
That first terrible heat wave brought with it our first (and hopefully, only) hen lost to heat stroke. We weren't alone. Friends in the area also lost hens during our heat waves. Even with constant cool water and all the tricks of the trade well-covered in other articles and threads --- I'd been up most of that night checking in on chickens, had 2 fans at 2 levels pointed at them.... but between 3am and 9am when the heat finally let go a little and I dared snooze- she perished. She didn't look any worse than any of the others at that last check, but nevertheless, she was gone in the morning.
While looking for (and then waiting for the arrival of) a solution, I carried each and every one of our 30+ chickens into the house every hot night for weeks. Some bunked in dog crates in the house, others in our spare bathroom (not something we tell guests, lol) where they insisted on perching on the counter. Creative positioning of spare plywood planks and feed bags cut to size handled most of the mess. This allowed them to recover overnight, slow their heart rates, cool off, and let me sleep without worry of anyone dying from heat exhaustion.
Our coop (soon to be coops) are built for the rest of the year in the NW - when rain, wind, and some times ice and snow- along with heavy predator protection- coyotes, possum, raccoons, rats, and who knows what else are regular visitors and are also the main reasons for shelter. They're 8x12 and 8x14 buildings.
After looking through attic fans, those big tunnel fans on wheels - Finally something interesting popped up - Poultry Ventilation Fans. I won't advocate for one manufacturer over another or one online store over another-but I will tell you what we went with and where we got it. Also worth mentioning- if you're pricing multiple sources --- MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE SHIPPING when computing the total cost.
I stumbled on J&D Manufacturing which makes fans for ... POULTRY!!! Poultry buildings! Poultry dust! Poultry humidity! Indoor/Outdoor rated motor, certified energy efficient- and I just about did a happy dance then and there.
While they have many styles meant for large scale poultry operations, we went with the "Indoor/Outdoor ES Shutter Fan with 9ft Cord," the technical specifications for which can be found at this link- energy use, CFM at various settings and all that:
All my questions were answered in a timely manner by the manufacturer from their website's 'contact us' portal.
We bought it from Valley Vet Supply (from their website, search "Shutter Fan" for pricing) because that was the best deal including shipping. While we did look on Amazon and a couple other spots- it's important to note there are many versions - some are "indoor only" or hardwired (don't have a plug) and so-on- it's important to compare apples to apples when choosing a vendor.
Because I was going to replace a 24" window-- I was tied into the biggest fan, the 24" fan -- which all in cost us about $250 -- the shipping cost will vary depending where you live and how far it travels, we were in the most expensive zone -- or would have to do some siding repair on the side of the building that takes the most weather abuse- 50mph winds and driving rain. In terms of CFM's, this, the biggest of those fans, is way overkill for our coop size- but it doesn't bother the chickens one little bit.
The shutters have worked very well over the winter for keeping unwanted wind and weather out. They open automatically when the fan is on.
Having a sealed motor intended for all the abuse a fan can take from chicken dust is incredible peace of mind. The bonus is the fan sucks the air through the coop and blows a nice breeze out into the chicken run, a giant secondary benefit, especially when those hot summer days bring no air movement.
When building the second coop, we positioned everything so the fan would create a breeze in the shadiest part of the run, and went for a smaller size fan.
Installing it was a snap. Just cut the openings they indicate, support it with 2x4s (or 2x3s), push it in, screw it into place, plug it in, and voila.
The 24" ventilation fan is positioned to match up with our north-facing metal security door - and it CRANKS, sucking air from the security door and window openings, pulling it through and carrying it out the other side. We already had an outlet in place that was wired to a switch, so in our coop all I have to do is flip the switch to turn it on. Otherwise it works on a pull chain to turn it on or change the speed.
We used metal security doors as the "people" doors, which allow air flow while providing good predator protection. In the very worst of the winter weather when the wind from the north pelts us for days, I put up a sheet of luan plywood to block the wind on my north-facing door while leaving enough space for ventilation above their heads so the humidity still escapes. The rest of the year it's unblocked.
I hope this helps someone plan their coop and supercharge their ventilation, OR change their existing coop to improve summer conditions for their birds. It's not inexpensive- the prices range from $160-$250 delivered- but again- by the time you spend money on fans that will stop working (or worse, burn up the motor risking a coop fire) from the dust, you'll replace that fan and the next and so on. I wish I'd done this from the start.
I still check everyone closely on warm/hot nights because some of our heaviest feathered girls with pea combs still have a problem on the hottest nights- and they still get taken inside for the night. Always remember, nothing will replace diligence -but the fan has made a huge difference for most of our girls.
Eventually I'll add some pictures to this article. My new computer and old camera aren't speaking and I haven't bothered with finding the right adapter yet. =)
Poultry Ventilation Fans -- MADE for POULTRY DUST CONDITIONS!
Hot summer nights are hard on chickens. They have to pant (expelling moisture) and their hearts work hard to cool them down. Fans help chickens...