Cold Weather Questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by ChickenTownie, Oct 10, 2014.

  1. ChickenTownie

    ChickenTownie Out Of The Brooder

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    Jul 14, 2014
    Bethany, Oklahoma
    I am new to the backyard chickens scene and with winter fast approaching, I figured I needed to get some information to make sure my girls are happy and healthy. Currently, I have 4 hens and a 4x4 coop. Water and feed is kept inside the coop and I give them some other food outside when I check on them so they will (hopefully) start to get used to me. The coop has an attached run that is completely enclosed with hardware cloth and a roof. I havent been closing the coop door at night because I can't afford an automatic door yet and I am not always there at the appropriate times to open and close it. I didn't think this would be an issue since the run is as predator proof as the coop. I have kept them mostly in the run except some in the evenings when I am home so they can free range a bit. The run is a little small for this many birds so we are going to expand it hopefully in the next couple months so it will be at least 8x8 ft.

    Coop:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    Now that you have an idea of my set up, here are my questions.

    For the coop:

    What do I need to do for the windows in the coop? I have two windows in the sides that have a plastic drop in cover to close them. I have heard that being too drafty is bad and that no draft is bad... so I am not sure if I should close them of leave them open. The only other opening for the coop is the door they use to go in and out.

    There are cracks around the door that are not air tight. Do I need to seal these some how? Any recommendations on the best way? I thought of putting a trim piece of wood around them or maybe some sort of weather stripping on the inside. I am not a real handy man, but I am learning so I am confident if someone points me in the right direction I can get it going.

    There are other "cracks" where the coop isnt air tight should I caulk these to seal them? For instance, where the laying boxes are connected there is a small 1/4 to 1/8 inch gap that I could probably fill in... This would also help deter some rain/snow leaking in.

    Do I need more or different air flow? Should I be diligent in opening and closing the coop door?

    Do I need any heat source out there? I don't have power to the coop but I could run an extension cord in a pinch. Would a heat lamp in the run be better? So they can stretch their legs?

    For the run:

    I thought about just putting up tarps or a shower curtain around the outsides of the run to keep it warmer and dry. Is there any reason not to do this? I was planning on leaving a little space at the top for air flow. How much should I leave?

    Am I missing anything on the run that would help winterize?

    For the chickens:

    At what outside temperature should I start to worry about the effect on the birds?

    Do I just need to feed them corn all winter? Is there a limit to how much I should feed them? Do I need to just mix it with regular feed?


    Sorry for asking so many questions, but I just want to make sure I cover all my bases.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2014
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    South Georgia
    Those are coms thoughtful and sensible questions. I'll give you my version of the answers, LOL.

    A draft on the roost is bad, at least in winter (in summer it is a welcome breeze.) But they must have ventilation. Chickens put out a lot of humidity and ammonia, and there must be a place for this to exchange with the outside air. (Ammonia fumes become harmful before they reach levels where you can smell it.) Preferably, this should be at the high point of the coop, The exchange will take place whether there is another opening in the coop or not; it's not like a fireplace, where many homes have to keep a window partly open to use it.

    It is probably not necessary to seal these cracks. You might want to check to be sure none of them creates a direct draft on the roost, though.

    It would be hlepful to know where you live. You probably don't need to close the coop door at all. Chickenc can die of heat exposure at 100 degrees F but they are well prepared to deal with cold. I'll put some links at the end of this, including an excellent article on winter coop temps written by Patandchickens, a Canadian member. Chickens rarely if ever need heat in the coop. If you do heat a coop, and the power fails, they are at greater risk than if they have never had heat, because they are not acclimated to the cold. Somewhere around 20 or 30 below zero, chickens begin to have problems with cold -- in a well designed coop. Frostbitten combs and wattles are usuallly caused by allowing humidity to build up in the coop, not just by cold temps. In a really cold climate, you might consider wide roosts, so that they can keep their feet warm with their bodies more easily.

    I would probably leave the run open to the outside at leaston one side. If you have a lot of snow, they will appreciate the snow free area as they don't much like to walk on snow. In a snow free area, a roof is plenty.

    There is a myth floating around that corn makes them warmer than other foods do. The truth is, digesting food makes them warmer. You should definitely not feed them corn as their only diet anytime, as it is not a complete feed - nowhere near. Basically, you should feed them their regular feed. I would not want them to run out of food, say, at 2 PM on a day it was going to be zero that night; they do need to be able to eat late in the day. IMO.

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/winter-coop-temperatures

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/...-go-out-there-and-cut-more-holes-in-your-coop

    And just for info, this is an excellent (though rather expensive) coop desgin for winter areas. Note that the front is open air:

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/445004/woods-style-house-in-the-winter/0_20

    Good luck!
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2014
  3. tcstoehr

    tcstoehr Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mar 25, 2014
    Canby, Oregon
    It is confusing, you need ventilation but no drafts. What the heck? What I've taken this to mean is that you need a free exchange of air going in/out of the coop but their shouldn't be a direct path for wind to go directly across your chickens. In my setup, I have two large windows, one each on opposite sides of the coop. The roosting area is away from the air path between these two windows, and the windows are high enough up so that the chickens milling about on the floor won't be affected. I believe this meets the ventilation without wind exposure requirement. Another way to do it is to have like 12" of opening all around and just below the roof line of the coop. High enough where your chicks won't be hanging out and still allowing plenty of air exchange.

    Still, we may be getting a bit overly cautious here. There are people in very cold climates keeping chickens in a coop whose entire front side is wire mesh. That side is put opposite the prevailing wind. That is certainly good ventilation but I can't imagine they don't get blown by gusty winds. But they reportedly do just fine. So if you're worried about open cracks here and there, my personal opinion is don't worry about that. Although, if there is actually water coming it, I would certainly deal with that. Moisture in the coop is the boogey-man, not cold temps. So as for adding a heat source, it is not necessary, nor in my opinion even desirable, for chickens.

    Putting a tarp over the top for rain protection would be a fine addition. Your chickens will desperately want to be outside every day, and keeping them reasonably dry is very helpful to them.

    I'm not a cold weather expert since I live in the Pacific Northwest. But I have read many reports of people keeping their chickens healthy and happy in -30F winters. Yikes! People do use corn in cold weather for a heat boost. Whether or not it works like that I really don't know. I would just throw out a bit of corn for them as you see convenient. I'm guessing that if you put it in their food they might throw their food all over the place while trying to find bits of corn.
     
  4. ChickenTownie

    ChickenTownie Out Of The Brooder

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    Jul 14, 2014
    Bethany, Oklahoma
    I live in Central Oklahoma. Should have mentioned that. We don't usually get a lot of snow all winter but we do get some and we also get bad ice storms. It does get pretty cold though, but I work with someone who has 100+ chickens and their coop is completely open on one side and he said they didnt have any issues last winter, but I suspect the more chickens means more heat to share.

    I think the doors might draft on the roosts a little, so I will double check. I already traded out my smaller roosts with longer/wider roosts because of iwiw60's recommendation. The roosts they have now are 4 inches wide and all but one of them roost together. One prefers to sit on the opposite roost even though there is space for her.

    I will read the articles you posted. Thanks for the help!
     
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    There are two totally different concepts, drafts and ventilation. Drafts are winds blowing directly on the birds, think wind chill. Ventilation is exchanging bad air for good. The two bad airs are ammonia from the poop decomposing and moisture from their breathing and poop. Ammonia is lighter than air so it will rise. Ammonia is hard on their respiratory system. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air and will also rise. Believe it or not, openings over their head will get rid of more moisture too. Moisture in the coop in cold weather can contribute to frostbite. Many people on this forum have solved frostbite problems by providing more ventilation to coops that were too airtight.

    If you have openings over their heads when they are on the roost and no openings their height or lower, you will provide draft-free ventilation. I don’t know where you are located so I don’t know what kind of temperatures you are dealing with, but I’ve seen chicken sleep outside in trees in a protected valley in weather below zero Fahrenheit. Chickens really handle cold much better than hot. I don’t know how much wind comes through those cracks so it is hard to be definite, but remember the chickens sleeping in trees. I probably would not be over concerned about it.

    It looks like you may already have openings between your overhang and the top of your walls, hopefully covered with hardware cloth to keep predators out. That should be plenty. I’d find a way to block those windows and close the door at night and I think you are good to go if you have truly cold weather.

    I don’t know if snow is a concern for you. It would help if you would modify your profile to show general location. We don’t need your birthday and social security number, just a general idea of where you are. Chickens generally don’t like snow if they wake up to it. Some will always avoid it but many will eventually get used to it and walk in it. Snow might lock your chickens in the coop, thus reducing the space available to them. Blocking off your run on the sides to keep snow out might be a good idea.

    Also, chickens usually don’t mind cold but they don’t like a cold wind. Putting something around the bottom to keep cold wind off them is probably a great idea if you get cold winds. Ventilation = good. Cold drafts = bad.

    Some people keep chickens in minus 20 or minus 30 Fahrenheit without any heat and without any problems. Some people have problems with frostbite in the mid 20’s Fahrenheit if the coop is closed up too tight. There is no set answer for when does a temperature become a problem. It depends. It looks like you have regular chickens, not exotics, so your breeds are not a problem.

    Some people will tell you that you have to feed them corn in the winter or civilization as we know it will cease to exist. Some of us don’t bother. A lot of people are somewhere in between. Feeding them corn or some other treat won’t hurt, but keep it to about how much they can clean up in say 10 to 20 minutes. In my opinion what they need is a balanced diet every day of the year. If you limit the amount of extra corn or other treats to what they can clean up in 10 to 20 minutes, you will not upset that balance.

    It looks like you are in a partially protected area there and the coop looks nice. You look to be in pretty good shape to me. Maybe a little wind and snow protection on the open sides of the run and maybe block the windows for the winter.
     
  6. ChickenTownie

    ChickenTownie Out Of The Brooder

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    Jul 14, 2014
    Bethany, Oklahoma
    It sounds like I might just tarp off the bottom 4ft of my run so they will have protection to go outside but still plenty of air flow. Maybe a little higher on the exposed sides to block snow. I might add a little vent near the top of the coops that will be out of the way of my girl's roosts. Does that sound like a good plan? I live in Oklahoma so I shouldn't get below zero often if at all...
     

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