A billion first-timer questions... MN winter, run litter, run cover, etc.


6 Years
Sep 16, 2013
For starters, we are complete chicken neophytes. And I am not known for my ability to converse about construction. We have two birds, may add a third that needs to be rehomed. We have converted a 4'x4' (outside measurement, inside is closer to 3.5'x3.5') playhouse in to a coop... Insulating sides and roof, double walling, and adding an addition with two laying boxes and a center hallway to the ramp/attached run. I was not able to insulate the underside of the flooring before we put it down on blocks directly next to a fence and the garage, the bottom is no longer accessible. The addition is insulated with the exception of the pop door. We reside in MN and rock out four solid seasons. We added two temporary extra layers of wood to the floor, hoping to help preserve the main flooring and add insulation. The coop is about a foot off of the ground. Our run is also 4'x4', and just under 5' tall, uncovered at this time. The girls free-range the fenced urban yard during the day but the plan is to get temporary portable fencing or netting (maybe from premier?) in order to have a controlled area where they can range that does not include our deck. We currently use pine chips for bedding... I scoop poop daily as we have no poop bar and the preschooler spends significant time in the coop each day. I tried a poop bar but rather prefer this method. The run is dirt and currently uncovered...Until you help me decide what to do with it. Lastly, we have spent a ridiculous amount of money and I really need to shell out less, soon.


1. Run. Any tips on litter... From the reading I have done, I am leaning towards construction sand. I would plan on scooping it regularly, assuming it was not frozen to the ground. (The daily maintenance is certainly a chore however we want to keep things tidy for our girls and our boys... Children age one month and 3.5)

2. Dirt bath. We have an old barrel shaped-planter that I would like to dig in to the run and mix up nice for a dirt bath. I can drill extra holes for drainage. I was thinking some combination of dirt, sand, and peat moss with DE sprinkled in. How does that sound?

3. Water. How and what do you do to not have water spillage? We currently use a plastic canister poultry waterer... It sits in the hallway when the run is closed and then is out in the run or just in the free-range yard during the day. When in the coop, it is slightly elevated. The girls don't spill much, but I do when moving it about and refilling it. We have little space in the coop to work with.

4. Winter. I have read a ton of blogs and BYC posts re: winter and am still confused. Heat lamp vs. 60 watt lightbulb vs. ceramic bulb? Minnesotans, how low does your coop get before you provide external heat. How do we keep water unfrozen? What happens if the power goes out? Lighting/heat on a temperature sensor/timer? We will be getting an electrical outlet wired out of our garage which butts up to the back of the coop, still not sure how/where we would run a power cord in to the coop. I have perhaps an irrational fear of fire and would like to have the safest set-up possible within our limitations (we are not wiring the coop with electricity). We do plan to deep bed during the winter to add additional heat. I would love to only add heat in the most bitter of times, opting more for having acclimated birds. I would like to add light... The girls stopped laying a week ago, or at least I can not locate any eggs.

5. Run cover. We have nothing yet. I would like something constructed that is removable, has a slope, and is a few inches over all sides. I would like something that i could lift on/off on my own so weight is a concern.

On dry days, i had hoped to keep it uncovered (except by aviary netting) however i noticed that the nesting boxes or even the coop itself would be a perfect launch for a predator. We shut the pop door at dusk, but i would sure hate to see what happended to the birds, the run, and the animal if they took a leap inside, day or night.

6. Any other recommendations for portable fencing worth looking in to- I have read a fair number of positive posts about premier but want to make sure I am not missing something.

7. Thank you for anyone who took the time to read this! Your wisdom and experience has been invaluable thus far.
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1. Sand is fine, probably the best in your situation.

2. They will take a dirt bath in the sand or pine shavings. I wouldn't waste my money on DE, myself. It doesn't really do anything but dry stuff out and kill worms in feed (not in chickens.)

3. I never move one unless it is empty or nearly so. I would probably buy another waterer and not move them about. Sorry, can't think of another solution.

4. I'll give you a couple of links at the end to excellent articles on keeping chickens in winter, written by a Canadian member. You don't necessarily need heat. Actually, and it seems counterintuitive, especially in the north, what they do need is enough ventilation, high in the coop. (See the ventilation article.) Probably the simplest solution to frozen water is a heated dog waterer or a homemade water heater. People who don't have power at the coop often buy one of those black rubber feed pans from TSC for water, because they bend even when frozen and are easy to get the ice out of -- and just carry water as needed.

5. I wonder if the simplest solution wouldn't be a permanent roof on your run. They will still get some sun from the side. In winter you might want to add a side on the windward side to keep snow out. Chickens don't usually want to go outside when there is much snow on the ground. I'm not a good one to ask about construction, either, so I won't try to answer this further.

6. Sorry, not familiar with portable fencing. I do wonder how predator proof it is, though.


I have used all types of litter for coops.

I have not tried sand (sand gets good reviews on this site).

Of all the things I have tried to date wood pellets have been the best. (I tried wood pellets as a last resort when pine shavings were not available.) They are super absorbent and swell up and eventually turn to saw dust. The droppings just seem to vanish and turn to dust when it comes in contact with wood pellets .

Replace my litter and clean my coop every October after I harvest my garden.

Works for me in my deep litter method.

I do add to pellets from time to time.

I have 63 trips around the sun so it is not my first rodeo.

I have anywhere from 10 to 15 birds housed in my 4x8 coop.

Through the winter months it froze harder than concrete with -40º temperatures. The poop froze before it could be absorbed by the pellets and there was like a crusty layer of poop in certain areas where they collectively took aim (no smell, messy feet or flies @ -40º). Come April things started to look after themselves.

Oh I might add I do have poop boards 3½" below my roost that I clean every 2 to 3 days (excellent for catching eggs laid through the night).

In my nest boxes I fold a feed bag to fit (nest boxes are 1 ft³). When a bag gets soiled; fold a new one; pop out the soiled; pop in the new.

Easy peasy!.

Chicken coop is salvaged 4x8 metal shed.

Nobody "I know" heats a chicken coop.

Healthy "cold hearty" chickens die from heat not cold.

I live in Canada last year was subject to -40º (C or F take your pick) no light or heat in coop NO PROBLEMS.

Chickens have been raised on this continent for over a hundred years without heat.

If you feel you must supply heat to your chickens I suggest keeping your chickens in the house that way you can huddle with your birds when the hydro goes out.

Chickens will die from cold if not given the chance to acclimatize. Hydro is more apt to go out in an ice storm or blizzard when subject to below 0º temperatures in my opinion.

How would you supply heat then to your un-acclimatized birds ???

Diary of last winter cold snap check out the link:

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I am in MN as well!
We got our girls in May and our Buff Orp is just starting to lay. We haven't made it through a MN winter with our chickens yet, but I have done tons of research and I think I have a pretty solid plan for the winter. I think the main thing to remember about chickens is that they are birds. Wild birds are outside all winter. If you have chickens that are winter hardy, you don't have to worry about them. If you provide them with draft-free but well ventilated shelter (that's a challenge, eh?), good food, fresh water, and high energy snacks, they will be fine without heat. I know that my birdies are really feathery and are getting to be a nice size. I think they will be able to keep themselves warm, and if they get cold they can always snuggle. I have a nice, thick layer of shavings in the coop and the girls love to bathe in them, so I can totally see that if they get chilly, they will hunker down in the shavings all in a little pile.

Our run is sand. I LOVE the sand. I have a kitty litter scoop. I go out every morning and clean up the coop. It takes me 15 minutes to scoop out the run and the poop board under the roost. I stir the shavings in the coop, empty/refill the water, and rake the sand just because I like it to look like a Japanese contemplation garden.
As for the dirt bath, I have a large enameled washing pan that has dirt, wood ash, and a little DE in it so the girls can bathe. They LOVE it.

I think if you're spilling water when you take it out of the coop, you need to get a lighter (less heavy) container so it's not so hard for you to move it. My girls have a small rubber bowl in the run, they also have a covered bucket with 3 poultry nipples on the bottom. This winter, I'm making a warmer out of a cookie tin http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2011/11/make-cookie-tin-waterer-heater-under-10.html. I'm buying a 1 gallon galvanized waterer to place on it this winter in the coop. I'm planning on only filling it 3/4 way and I will likely change it 1x/day. I'm not sure how many hens you have, but I know that my 4 don't drink 3/4 of a gallon of water every day, even when they're really hot.

The exact reason that I'm not heating the coop is what you and hokum already said...if the power goes out, they're in trouble. If they're already acclimated to the cold, the power going out won't affect them at all. We have put electrical in our coop for the water heater and the automatic pop door. We will also have a light, but that is for my convenience during the winter. I don't want to be cleaning and filling in the pitch dark. Our coop is about 50' from our house so we don't have any floodlights that will reach that far. Our hens will not have the light on for heat or to extend daylight. If they stop laying in the dead of winter, that's fine with me. They don't need to work that hard when it's frigid outside. I'm not selling eggs, and they're our pets more than anything.

I would really recommend putting a roof on the run. We just had a big rainstorm not long ago and the girls were out in the run during the rain (3" in 45 minutes!). They didn't even care about it! It's nice not to worry about them getting attacked from the sky, or having to be sure they're going in the coop during a storm. I don't know what your coop/run looks like, but here is the link to what we built. https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/813959/pics-of-our-coop-and-run#post_11828138 I have to get some updated pics on there. I've built a poop board (love it!) and a nest box since those pics went up.

As for portable fencing, do you mean like a pen that they can be in while doing some unsupervised free-ranging? We built a tractor out of pvc and chicken wire. It's more to keep the girls contained while I'm in the house. It wouldn't do much for a fox/raccoon attack, but it did save them from a hawk. I like to have them in the tractor when I have to go in the house. We don't leave them in it when we leave our property, just when we can't keep an eye on them.

I hope some of this helps! Good luck with your girls in the MN winter!
Very good point about getting acclimated to cold, I didn't think of that. A sudden change can be problematic for them even in warmer climates.

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