To Insulate or Not to Insulate...

By mpruett · Mar 31, 2013 · ·
  1. mpruett
    To Insulate or Not to Insulate…
    That is the question we are faced with when first starting out with chickens. Three winters ago I was new to chicken rearing. I did what most of us do. I read researched, planned, imagined, read some more and finally took the plunge.


    I bought 25 straight run Dark Cornish. I chose Dark Cornish based on my research and my inexperience. Dark Cornish are advertised as: a heritage breed, dual purpose, hardy, brown egg layers, great foragers, medium sized, good mothers, still have instincts and small pea combs. I wanted to make sure someone knew what they were doing-even if it was the chickens! I arranged to have my farmer friends take the roosters when they started to crow. “If it crows-it goes” is the saying at my house.

    My chicks arrived as promised and into the brooder they went. They grew as they should-much to my relief. It was time for them to move into their brand-new chicken tractor built by me-designed by Andy Lee of Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide …fame.


    To prevent overheating from the sun, I insulated the hinged roof of the tractor with 2” blue foam board. Who knew that chickens LOVE to eat insulation? I countered by gluing cardboard over the insulation. The chickens ate through that too. I removed the cardboard and insulation and moved the tractor to the shade under the trees.

    As wintertime approached, I worried about my chickens being cold. Our winters are -10F to +30F for 5 months. I built a “winter” home for my chickens. A two level wooden framed coop with paper backed fiberglass insulation sandwiched between sheets of OSB board. There was no insulation eating that winter.



    I also housed their home inside the south-facing bottom floor of my bank barn. The chickens were insulated from the wind and snow on three sides. I attached their tractor to the winter home via a covered run so they could go outside in the sun and still be protected from predators.

    Twice a day I made my way down to the barn to open and close their coop door and to feed and water my chickens. We got over four feet of snow that winter so I had to plow a path to the barn. I did not supply supplemental lighting and my chickens stopped laying eggs for 41 days. They remained happy and healthy.


    My second winter, I decided to locate the chicken tractor closer to the house. I moved it under a Norway maple tree. I insulated the outside of the tractor with stacked straw bales and added a heat lamp inside the coop. Having learned my lesson, I did not insulate the roof of the coop. The chickens continued to lay eggs all winter at a reduced rate. Again, they remained happy and healthy.

    This is my third winter with chickens. I read Open-Air Poultry Houses for All Climates by Prince Woods during the summer. I decided to try the methods recommended in the book. I did not insulate my chicken tractor much at all. I attached wind blocks to the upper sides of the tractor. I made them out of leftover metal roofing. I stuffed three empty feedbags full of straw and placed them around the roosting area. I gave them fresh water every day; let them free range to get sunshine and exercise and added straw to make sure their tractor floor stayed dry. I did not supply additional heat or light and the chickens produced an abundance of eggs all winter long.



    To Insulate or Not to Insulate:

    I have learned that you will have to use your best judgment based on your own area and experience. These are some criteria that I would use to decide:


    • If you have less than 10 chickens
    • If your chickens are a small breed
    • If they are bred specifically for egg laying
    • If comb size is large and more susceptible to frostbite
    • If your winters are lengthy and -40F to 0F
    • If you experience frequent windy weather
    • If you experience frequent wet winter weather
    Do Not Insulate:
    • If you have 10 or more chickens
    • You have medium or large breed chickens
    • They are a dual purpose breed
    • If comb size is small and less susceptible to frostbite
    • If you have shorter warmer winters and -10F to +30F or better
    • You can ensure your chickens can stay dry and out of the wind


    Share This Article

Recent User Reviews

  1. HennyPenny2019
    "Informative and thought provoking"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Feb 9, 2019
    More ideas for my chicken notebook. This has given me a whole new view on coop building. Well done!
  2. Mfrostjones
    "Minnesota winters"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Dec 21, 2018
    in Minnesota I have our girls in their run and their coop is for sleeping and egg laying. Our run is wrapped in clear plastic on 3 sides to allow sun in and protect from wind and snow. The top is a metal top. That is the only insulation I use. The girls have thrived. Our winters can get down to -25 so if it gets -10 I will turn on the heat lamp and feed them more cracked corn (to raise their body heat) but they are doing great!
    HennyPenny2019 likes this.
  3. Geggs
    "3 Winters worth of learning plus photos!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 22, 2018
    I found this article well written and full of specifics which I'm sure will help me when I finally get my flock. I was especially heartened by the opening, in which the writer notes their own time of reading and dreaming and planning [my current state] prior to "taking the leap." Some other things I have seen and read about people getting chickens, geese or other poultry who are completely clueless about the needs of that poultry, or even considering that chickens etc might have specific needs, makes me cringe for some of the poor birds out there.

    I'm sure despite all the reading and you-tubing I've done, there will be a lot more to learn from the birds themselves once I actually have them, but I feel like I am building a solid base with articles like this one.
    HennyPenny2019 likes this.


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  1. CWP1966
    I live in the western piedmont/foothills of NC. Winters here are not too bad. But when it stays in the teens at night and doesn't get above 32 degrees for several days in a row I think you need a little help. I put clear contractors plastic on the northern sides of my runs. I also make sure there is plenty of ventilation.
  2. Jurassic Wolf
    I live in new jersey, but right now its almost 60 degrees (it was 27 yesterday) so I don't know if I will need insulation... mother nature is broken
  3. gsim
    Well written and described. I live in E. Tennessee, so no insulation needed, winter OR summer. I will average between 7-12 hens in any given year.
    My coop is 8 x 16' with 8'tall walls and open rafters to the roof decking, about 11 ft their peak inside. Roof is conventional, 6:12 pitch.
    Ventilation is very important to flock health. So I installed one turbine vent (salvaged from dumpster). I also installed full length 16' long continuous soffit vents, front and rear. Also included are 2 gable end vents, about 12" square. Window sash at each end will open for summertime conditions, plus I leave one of the two pop doors open year-round since my coop sits inside of a well-fortified and electrified run of about 2,000 sq ft.
    Two mature oaks and a mature cedar tree shade the coop all day long, so it is never a bit hotter inside than outside temp is. I close all windows in winter but still leave the pop door open. Turbine vent remains operable all year long. (Not climbing up there to bag it what with the mild Tennessee winters, plus would have to open netting overhead to get on roof.) It is never drafty inside, nor is it ever stinky. I designed my roosts and droppings boards so that my total daily cleaning time is about 4 minutes. Once a week I carry the plastic Tote Box out to dump the poop around some evergreen trees here and there.
      StaffordshireLady and Susan Dye like this.
  4. fishdaughter
    My last (inherited with the house) hens were completely feral and roosted in the trees all last winter! It was the worst winter for years and I expected to find them dead/half frozen/struggling, but no, they thrived! Naturally I kept them well fed and watered. I couldn't tame them, i tried so hard to get them to sleep in their coop but they were determined to live a completely wild life. I've since moved, the new tenant happily adopted the feral hens as i couldn't catch them. I've now just got some rescue hens to start again. They're in a big draughty barn (and will free range outside) and planning to use straw bales to keep them cosy.
      StaffordshireLady and Susan Dye like this.
  5. lucymarcysally
    I have 3 large birds that are almost 4 years old now. They have a coop with a run underneath and access to the backyard. In the winter I put a sheet of cardboard on the metal floor in the coop so it doesn't feel so cold and there are extra pine shavings covering the floor too. There are 2 nest boxes but the girls likes to cuddle up together so I removed the divider and now there is room for all 3 girls to sleep side by side in the nest box. There is a screened window near the top of the coop that I cover with glass in the winter to let in the sun but keep out some of the cold. The east, west and north sides of the lower part of the run have plywood against the lower part to help block the cold wind and snow. And I use a heated water bowl so they always have access to water. They keep laying during the winter but at a slower pace than in the summer. They have decided they prefer to sleep on the lawn furniture in the summer rather than stay in the coop so I guess next summer I will need to find a way to keep the coop cooler for them.
      StaffordshireLady and Susan Dye like this.
  6. Betsy57
    I have one coop insulated in the ceiling and the other none. The insulated coop is always 10 degrees cooler in the summer. A huge benefit! Plus it is warmer in the winter too but I am more excited about the cooler temperature in the coop in the summer.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  7. Patuxent
    This is our first year and have been dreading the uncertainties of winter. We did insulate with foil backed foam board jand they haven't pecked at it, but they sure like that bare board styrafoam insulation under the porch. We do not have electricity to the coop and prefer to keep it that way for now. Good information @mpruett...thx.
      StaffordshireLady and Susan Dye like this.
  8. Barred4Life
    Interesting results!
  9. mpruett
    Thank you!
      Susan Dye likes this.
  10. cluck cluck 123
    Thanks! I loved the article!
      Susan Dye likes this.
  11. mpruett
    I put my wind barriers at the top for the same reason. My chickens roost as high as they can, regardless of the amount of bedding available to them. Thankfully, they have never gotten frostbite.
  12. Diane8
    I put up wind barriers on the lower half of the coop. The reds and the leghorn got frostbite on their combs. So now I blocked the upper half of the side that's open since they seem to remain off the ground when they sleep. I thought that if it was cold they would burrow into the wood shavings and cuddle. In any case, they all seem fine.
  13. mpruett
    No harm in spoiling chickens! Sounds like we could learn from you-eight years is great for a chicken.
    I also always add straw to the floor to keep them dry.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  14. NCBantam22
    I insulated my main coop because it was formerly a large insulated dog house!
    I also add straw in there too so they probably don't even realize the outside temps!
    Then in hot weather we have outside perches with a tarp over them to keep the chickens dry.
    Currently have 2 Leghorns, 1 Red Star, 3 EE, 1 OEG Bantam and a Pair of Partridge Silkies.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  15. Egg celent
    Great article
      Susan Dye likes this.
  16. Serrin
    Extreme winter and summer temps were the deciding factors for us insulating our coop. Typically, we don't provide heat until we hit the negative range, and then I think it's more out of compassion for the comfort of our birds than an actual need raise the temperature. They're spoiled rotten, you see. We've been keeping chickens going on eight years now. Our oldest girl will be eight in March. We must be doing something right! ;)
      Susan Dye and Kasey11 like this.
  17. mpruett
    Sounds like a good plan.
  18. sheetmetaltom
    great read. this will be my 1st winter, im not insulating, no light because they probably wont be old enough to lay til the end of the winter. born aug 22. im put black rubber on roof to absorb sunlight and heat, and will be using hay bales and leaves as a wind block. hoping everything will be ok. except for my ee'ers, mine are large birds even now.
      Susan Dye and Kasey11 like this.
  19. mpruett
    I totally agree. I too had to let go of my worry about the cold and learn from my chickens:)
      Susan Dye likes this.
  20. Gryphon
    I fretted over my chickens since this is their first winter. Their coop isn't insulated, but quite solid and they're all large dual purpose birds with small combs. Today I look out my window after seeing that it's 16 F. out to see all my pullets happily scratching around, and realized that they're far better equipped to handle this kind of weather than I am.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  21. KC101
    Thanks.... I really enjoyed your article.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  22. mpruett
    You're welcome. I'm happy to talk chickens:)
      Susan Dye likes this.
  23. joan1708
    Good information. Thank you for sharing your experience!
      Susan Dye likes this.
  24. mpruett I have never experienced this with my chickens. The MSU website has a searchable poultry disease database. Look up Limberneck or Crookneck disease. I would isolate your hen from the others just in case the others can catch it. Good Luck and maybe others with this experience will be able to give you more direction.
      Susan Dye likes this.
  25. JesNflock
    Great article! It's amazing how doing things a little bit different can give great results!
      Susan Dye likes this.
  26. eddieokie
    HELP, Went out to feed my girls an found one of my hens with her neck stretched out and, she couldn't hold her head up...
  27. mpruett
    Thank you!
  28. chickenpooplady

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