Cold Winter Coops

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by mangled, Mar 16, 2009.

  1. mangled

    mangled Songster

    We live in western PA and had a brutal cold winter. Our coop, which we felt was well built and insulated, failed us in our coldest weather and we lost too many hens and an excellent roo. After 2 nights of losses, even with heat lamps, we ended up taking our surviving flock to a friend with a heated dairy barn.

    We kept the bedding dry, we insulated with foam board covered with pond liner, and hung heat lamps. We had four nights of weather with -17 temperatures and -40 windchills. A total loss of 17 birds in 2 nights.

    We are not planning on taking back our remaining flock, as our friend has taken a liking to them, and they have settled in quite nicely with her kids and other farm animals.

    We do plan on getting more chickens, but not until we can construct a coop that can withstand temperatures and windchills which seems to be the new winter trend in these parts.

    So, who lives in cold climates and has well-insulated coops? Care to share links or pictures that we can steal ideas from? We plan on no more than 12-18 hens at this time.

    Thanks in advance-
  2. Snakeoil

    Snakeoil Songster

    Jan 10, 2009
    SE Iowa
    I live in Iowa and we had more nights below zero than I can ever remember. I didn't loose one chicken and never had any heat bulbs other than two 60 watt bulbs on. There coop is not insulated but it is pretty tight. I also raise quail and pheasants with no loss. Quail and hens (BO) laid all winter long.
  3. morelcabin

    morelcabin Songster

    Feb 8, 2007
    Ontario Canada
    It was a brutal winter here as well, and I lost a roo, but not to the cold exactly...he heurt his leg a week before a cold snap and then got frostbite, we put him down, not because of the frostbite but because the leg wouldn't heal. I also lost two hens this winter but I have no idea what that was all about, one of them had a hard time with the cold snaps but made it through them and died 3 weeks later. The other? Who knows.
    But all in all, everything made it through here fine with the help of heat lamps only when it got to -30F Are you sure there weren't any other factors involved? That's alot of birds to lose in an insulated coop. Did you have it well ventelated. I know this winter would have been devastating to me with out all the ventelation I had going through there. My coop is not insulated
  4. Chickenmaven

    Chickenmaven Songster

    Feb 6, 2009
    So sorry to hear of your losses. It must have been traumatic. [​IMG]
    I am going to chime in with others questioning if there might have been other factors. I am in Michigan. We had severe cold like you did. I have a large cinder block building for a coop. [​IMG] I know it is not ideal. It closes tight against the weather, though. No insulation at all, except bales of straw we stacked inside. I ran one 250 watt heat lamp on a timer - to come on in the coldest part of the night & early morning. The only issue we had was one rooster needed Vaseline on his comb. He ended up with a couple VERY slight specks of frostbite.
    I am gonna go against the crowd, here. I think perhaps your coop was not solid enough (ventilation champs - be d*mned!). Everyone chirps about airflow, but when it's -15F, I think we need no flow. I aired out the coop on "warmer" days. If it was 30F, I opened the doors and let the breeze blow through. I also cleaned out the wood shavings every few weeks. sometimes, I just raked them into the run & replaced with new.
    My other thought is of the positioning of your coop. Mine has a fence on one side, another building on the other and big bushy cedar trees around two sides. I kept a thermometer inside: On the coldest of the cold days, it was 20F in my coop. If your coop is sitting on a hill, catching the wind, you're in trouble. I just mention all of this to get you thinking of ways to retro-fit that coop. Chickens are wonderfully resilient. I think that with a section of fence, a few dozen straw bales, or a new spot close to the barn, you could be back in business! [​IMG]
  5. mangled

    mangled Songster

    My husband razed the coop this weekend. It was in a high spot on the property, but we had at least 12 inches of bedding laid and hay bales stacked against the windward wall. On the coldest night, the thermometer recorded an inside coop temp of -5. I feel that the cold was truly the culprit. -5 is way too cold.

    But, to mull a few of your ideas....
    I'm not sure about poisoning. The remainder of the flock is thriving at our friend's dairy barn, she had no further losses. We were feeding a layer's ration with heavy scratch and cracked corn. They got scrambled eggs, warm oats or cooked rice daily.

    We did have ventilation holes, but through the coldest weather, we plugged them. Maybe it was an issue of being **too** airtight.

    The birds we lost were the ones bedded down in the shavings and straw. There were none that fell from the high perches. Maybe the bird up in the higher air were saved by the bit of air leaking through the ventilatiion holes. I plugged them with burlap, so it wasn't airtight.

    Either way, a new coop has to be built. We saved all the wood from our old coop, it was only about 6 months old. I think my husband feels it's his fault, as the coop was entirely of his design.

    Thanks for the ideas. It hasn't given some insight that I hadn't considered before.

  6. vermontgal

    vermontgal Songster

    Sorry to hear about your chickens dying. [​IMG] Glad the remainder of your flock found a good welcome home!

    Since warm air rises, I think it would tend to be warmer on the roosts at the top of the coop, than on the floor.

    The coldest my coop got (inside) was +6°F, on a night when it was -30°F outside. My coop got below +10°F a couple times over the winter. I agree that -5°F is too cold for an inside temperature.

    Here's some ideas, that might help.

    First of all, what breeds of chickens? Were they heavy breeds, which are best at dealing with the cold due to more body mass?

    Second, if you have a windy spot, in addition to whatever structure you build, you could stack strawbales around the outside of the coop for extra insulation in the winter. You could consider the strawbale dimensions in designing your new coop.

    Third, can you add some passive solar heat, by having windows on the south? This helps my coop air temps to warm up during the day, so that it doesn't tend to dip as low at night.

    Hope this helps.
  7. ams3651

    ams3651 Songster

    Jan 23, 2008
    NE PA
    Im not sure what to say, Im no master coop designer but being our first winter with birds we didnt loose any. I had a drafty wall (old garage door) that I covered in heavy sheet plastic, the wall open to the field getting most of the wind had insulation (R19 I think, only $10 a roll) we have about 8 inches of beding down. I have 2 sections in the eves that are open about 8inches by 4 inches, when it started to get very windy I nailed a spare piece of plywood about half way up the bottom so the air blew upward when it came in. 1 section on the opposite side was left open. I moved my heat lamp to just below the roost pointing upward (nailed it fast) and bought a heated dog bowl.

    I think I just got lucky. My roo has a little frostbite just on the very tips of his comb. And my house sits on top of a hill in an open field.
  8. scarter

    scarter Songster

    Aug 22, 2008
    Roberts, WI
    Vermontgal is right. It would be helpful to know what breed chickens you have. We didn't have any losses in MN either and my coop is not insulated and we have large ventilation screening at the top. I hope you get some new ones soon!
  9. mangled

    mangled Songster

    We had BR, BA, RIR, EE and BO. All were fat and sassy. The EE's were smaller than the others and we lost only one. The BR and BO seemed to fare better than the rest. We lost more RIR than the others, but we had more RIR than the other breeds. The BA were the other group hardest hit. [​IMG]

    We do plan on adding a window in the new coop. The new coop will be smaller, and up into the trees a bit on the lee side of the property.

    I'm actually going to go out today and start cutting some wood for it. I'm not going to get any chicks until the new coop and run are built, so I have to get cracking.

    Thanks for all the ideas!
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I'm sorry about your loss of all those chickens [​IMG]

    I think you've brought up two (maybe three) very very likely causes though (or anyhow strong contributors): if ventilation was just through "holes" then it was almost certainly underventilated and too humid. And having chickens sleeping on the floor, unless you have insufficient roost space or they're silkies, is not normal -- either these were the ones already weakened and going to die anyhow, or they had something wrong already that you didn't notice but that plus the cold was maybe just too much for them.

    Quote:The thing is, lots and LOTS of people have chickens in coops that get that cold or colder, and while some may have frostbite issues (depending on breed, humidity, etc) it is TOTALLY not at all normal to lose bunches and bunches of chickens the way you have.

    So I don't see how it can possibly be the cold, or not *just* the cold.

    I would suggest planning *lots* of ventilation, so you will have plenty of options for keeping things as well-ventilated as possible (yes, even in winter); a droppings board under the roost that you scrape off (remove poo in bucket) every morning to remove a lot of the potential source of humidity; and if you want to superinsulate, 6" stud walls, the cavity totally filled with insulation, will give you almost twice the heat retention of 4" walls (insulate the ceiling well too, btw).

    Good luck,


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