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To Insulate or Not to Insulate...

  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.
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    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.


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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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:

    Insulate:
    • 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
    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

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Comments

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  1. 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.
  2. Barred4Life
    Interesting results!
  3. mpruett
    Thank you!
  4. cluck cluck 123
    Thanks! I loved the article!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Egg celent
    Great article
  10. 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! ;)

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