Coop Design, open-air in WI and other considerations

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by catinthecoop, Apr 2, 2017.

  1. catinthecoop

    catinthecoop Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 17, 2017
    We are rather (too!) quickly approaching the point where we can start working on our permanent coop and run. Currently we have a 'TSC Special' that we are considering a grow out coop, ok for our 5 pullets but not what we want for full time use.
    We do have some parts that we could get, no floor, no roof, basically consider it 4 8'x8' framed panels. We would need some considerable work investment to make it any sort of useful coop for our purposes.
    We bought a house in south-east Wisconsin, on just over an acre. It is flat (nice!) but the wind has been fierce over the last weeks. Weather and wind comes in from west, sometimes northwest, sometimes southwest and sometimes from due south. We get the full run of weather here, -20 temps, with blowing snow in Dec-Feb 100 in July or Aug with humidity you could cut with a knife. I have worked outside (mostly in horse barns) over the last few years and have developed a pretty good appreciation for what it takes to care for animals outside in all weather. I have the freezing water problem solved (I think) which has been my biggest issue with the horses in the cold, horses, and chickens I gather are much better equipped for the cold than we are and personally I find being out all day in the cold properly dressed isn't too bad, as long as I can be out of the wind. Its going from heated house/car to cold and back that make it seem much worse.
    Thanks to all of you fine folks here I have discovered the Woods Coop and am very interested in these fresh-air buildings for chickens. My current considerations are: I have 5 chickens right now, 4 standards and 1 bantam silkie. We chose all breeds to be cold hardy and somewhat heat tolerant. However I have seen it mentioned that Silkies might not be best equipped to handle very cold temps in an open air type coop? Even one designed properly as Dr. Woods suggests? I would absolutely understand if that is the case, with the different feather design but I don't want to be paranoid for no good reason either.
    My other current consideration is size. I appreciate that part of the Woods design is the proper ratio and depth of the house, so that a minimum size is necessary to produce the desired air cushion effect of the design. What I haven't worked out is if there is some necessary ratio of birds to coop space? If I put 5 chickens in an 8'x12' Woods Coop, will there be any detriment to the birds to be in a fairly large space? I would need to probably petition to change the law or get some sort of exemption to be cleared for more birds so for the foreseeable future 5 is it.

    So basic questions for now are: Is a Silkie going to be ok in a Woods Coop in a Wisconsin winter? Is it going to be a problem to put only 5 chickens in an 8'x12' coop?
  2. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2016
    I only have 9 birds in my 8' x 12' Woods coop, and they survived -5F temps with no harm done, but that is about as cold as some of the single comb birds are going to make it before frostbite starts burning off the tips of their combs. Birds with rose or pea combs can go much lower. This size Woods coop is good for up to about 2 dozen birds, but far fewer can make just fine. I treat mine like run with roof cover and enclosed on 3 sides. They can stay in for days on end or all the time, with no harm done.

    We have been kicking around some design ideas for a Woods type open air coop along the lines of 4' x 6 1/2' to house up to 6 birds.

    I also have an idea for a slightly larger open front design of 4' x 8' with a 4' x 8' attached run using the same roof line as the coop. It would be good for 8 to 10 birds.

    It turns out the birds can survive through cold temps down to -30F or so, with NO heat, provided you provide them with housing that allows them to do so. In addition to having their own insulation, it turns out each of them also come with their own built in furnace that produces a lot of radiant heat themselves. Several of them huddled in a bunch generate enough heat, that if contained within the coop, may raise the interior coop temps by as much as +10 to +20 degrees F over outside temps, which is enough to get them through the worst of it. At those extreme temps, it also helps if the sidewalls and roof the house/coop are insulated to retain the radiant heat (prevent sidewalls from radiating the heat outside into the atmosphere). But to trap the heat, you then have to damper the size of the opening to balance the put and take of cold fresh air in / warm moist air out. Ventilation is still required to move the moisture out.......the moisture coming from the birds themselves.

    He never said this in his book, but I have always suspected Woods relied on a full load of birds to generate enough heat to get the flock through the worst of those cold winters, that plus wide open ventilation to vent the moisture. The cold weather alternative at the time was mostly enclosed houses, which trapped more heat inside, but also trapped in all that moisture. It was the damp conditions inside a mostly enclosed house that resulted in all the frostbite.
  3. catinthecoop

    catinthecoop Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 17, 2017
    Howard, thanks for responding, your threads and responses are one of my inspirations.

    Part of the appeal of the Woods design is, as you suggest, treating the house as one large coop/run, when weather is bad or other circumstances dictate. At this point I'm thinking I won't even roof the run (aside from HC to keep critters out) if I go with an open-air design. I would be very interested to hear about your ideas on a 4'x8' coop, that is approximately the size I was originally thinking of building, but with a larger run, we are not supposed to free-range the chickens, and we have lots of space to work with.

    I am wondering if I could provide some supplemental infrared heat source in the worst of the weather (-5F and below overnight) to keep everybody a little more comfortable. I too suspect he relied somewhat on a certain mass of body heat to get them through the worst, which is why I was questioning it. I am planning to run electric, one way or another, to have bucket heaters for water, I might just build in extra capacity. If the infrared heaters only heat objects and not the air, I'm not sure providing insulation would help much, on the other hand, adding it in, might buffer the heat exchange enough that I wouldn't need extra heat at all. Lots to consider.

    Was interesting reading about how chickens do move much of the moisture out through the breath. Horses sweat like people, but big animals have lots of lung capacity and I have seen the effects of all that moisture in the metal barns, not to mention horses remove a lot of moisture through urine and in a badly designed barn it stinks to high heaven!
  4. Blooie

    Blooie Team Spina Bifida Premium Member

    Feb 25, 2014
    Northwestern Wyoming
    My Coop
    Sounds to me like you are probably farther ahead than a lot of us who start out with chicks! I was of the "seal-every-crevice-insulate-heat" school for a long time when we started planning our coop, but with 22 chicks in the house realized that we had to do something sooner rather than later!! So we built a strippy coop and that coop is still housing our birds very well without all the fancy stuff! A plastic rated stock tank heater in the water bucket keeps the water from freezing. A plastic greenhouse type cover that's adjustable for ventilation is over our hoop run. This year we planned to remove the front of our coop and modify it to be similar to @JackE has, but hubby's recent shoulder surgery put a halt to that for the time being. We're in northwestern Wyoming, where we know cold as well, but our summers are relatively dry compared to what you have. Growing up in Eastern South Dakota and that heat and humidity, I know well what you are talking about!!

    So all that covered, I thought I'd toss in a little something about those fragile Silkies. I provide them nothing special....they don't have a special area that's warmer, they roost with the standards just fine, and they did great through our harsh winter. This year was a doozy, too.....we got our first heavy snowfall on October 12 and it seems like winter never loosened it's grip once. We like this area of Wyoming because being in a "basin" surrounded by mountains our winters are generally a bit milder than the rest of the state. Not this year! For 2 solid weeks we never got UP to zero and the snow just kept coming and coming....We dropped to that -20 mark and stayed there (and lower) for days on end. And Wyoming is known for it's wind. Sustained winds of 40-50 are not uncommon here. Just this past January we had a National Weather Service officially posted gust of 90mph. We just grumble when we have winds in excess of 60. So yeah, we get that too! [​IMG]

    Yet if I'd go out to do chores, the chickens ran out the door. They didn't care - the door was open and they wanted to be in the yard! And right out with them were the Silkies. This photo was taken when it finally got up to 9 degrees. It's not the best picture in the world, but there smack dab in the middle are two of ours, Smudge (the white and black one) and King Tut, (the little black one) and the others followed shortly afterward. So with a coop as well planned and ventilated as yours will be, those little stinkers will surprise you with their hardiness!

    1 person likes this.
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I don’t get the cold here that you do but I saw chickens sleep in trees one winter when I was a teenager when we went through four days and five nights where it never got above zero Fahrenheit. Those trees were in a protected valley and were more of a thicket, so they were pretty well protected from wind. They also had the ability to move around the tree trunks to help block the wind if they needed to. Those were single combed full-sized barnyard mutts.

    One forum member I haven’t seen on here recently told a story of chickens going feral on the Michigan peninsula. They slept in trees that winter and managed to feed and water themselves. They received no help from humans. I have a lot of respect for what a chicken can handle if we give them just a little bit of help. I think a lot of the problems come where we restrict them too much and don’t allow them to handle things themselves. Poorly ventilated coops or tiny coops that act as wind tunnels worry me.

    In my opinion, as long as you can give them a space out of direct breezes and with good ventilation they can handle things fairly well. I’ve also worked outside in the winter, in Kazakhstan with the lowest temperature -29C (-20F). As long as you are properly dressed and out of the wind, that cold is very bearable. I think chickens are properly dressed for it, it’s the wind we need to help them with.
  6. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2016

    This is a rough sketch of what I had in mind for a simpler open air coop. It would basically be a square pipe with depth to width ratio of about 2:1, so should result in totally dead air at the roost level in the back. Window, access door and nest boxes on one side, pop door on the other.


    This is much simpler framing and less waste and scrap than the Woods coop with half monitor. Each coop sidewall from a single sheet of plywood or if a person wanted an insulated coop, use the type of rigid foam insulation with foil face, and metal siding over that. Then a single sheet of plywood for the floor. Roof could be single sheet of plywood or you could also insulate the roof and use metal siding for that too. Entire front (shown on the right) would be mostly open. Front would be hinged to swing open for cleaning......basically drag everything from back to front with a garden rake.

    For an attached run, you would add that on to one side and build it the same way. With a covered run, the roof could extend over both coop and run. Run would have room for a 6' entry door on the south. Hang feed and water under the coop, with pop door joining coop and run. Wide open for ventilation in the summer. The run could be enclosed on three sides to block the wind in the winter.

    Entire thing could be fixed in place or built on runners to make it portable (would skid along.........might take several people or a garden tractor to move it).
  7. WesleyBeal

    WesleyBeal Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 28, 2016
    Douglas County, Minnesota
    Regarding heat: I only have one winter under my belt, and I can't speak to silkies at all, but my impression is that they can take all the cold you're going to get.

    I'm in central, central/west Minnesota. We had temps of 25 below zero this winter, and the chickens weren't bothered by it.

    What they didn't care for was when our temps were in the mid-20's and there was too much moisture in the coop. I ended up with frostbite on some combs.

    If it's cold enough, and the moisture levels are too high in the coop, they'll get frostbite.

    Near as I can tell, it doesn't get too cold for a chicken. They do want protection from the wind, and the air needs to be dry to prevent frostbite.
    1 person likes this.
  8. ScottandSam

    ScottandSam Still learning

    Dec 24, 2016
    Shell Knob, Missouri
    Well I ungrounded son from his computer so I am hoping he finishes tweeking the sketch up plans fast. Hopefully before he has to go to work Friday or its going to drag out another week.

    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
  9. catinthecoop

    catinthecoop Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 17, 2017
    Hi Blooie, I trust that if your Silkies can make it in a Wyoming winter, mine can make it just fine in WI. (I bet you have much better scenery too!) We, of course want to give the best care we can to our animals, sometimes it's just difficult to wrap our brains around how better for them and better for us might be very different. I will never forget the time a horse owner told me, with a straight face, that if his horse went out in -10F weather, his ears would fall off... I was so stunned I didn't know what to say! (Side note, love your MHP post, wish I had seen it earlier, but now I know about it for next time.)

    Ridgerunner, totally agree, wind is the big issue, in the cold and we don't give animals the benefit of the doubt, they know exactly what they need to stay comfortable. We're just following along trying to figure out what they know instinctively they need! I have seen folks doing studies on horses and shelter in the winter, not sure if anyone is doing that for chickens, maybe someday we could inspire a researcher to get something published. In the mean time we have thousands of years of evolution and human observation of real life with chickens to rely on, and it seems some of those folks who had to do the best they could before we automated the hell out of things realized that open-air shelter was a help to the animals rather than the assumed harm.

    Howard, that is very similar to what I was thinking about and wondering if it would work. I think I will draw something up myself and see if I can get an idea for what materials would cost etc. I'm a bit stuck on siding, house/garage and existing shed are all matching vinyl sided and I think I want to stick with that to keep it neighborhood friendly. I do know the insulation you're talking about, I will do some research to figure out if that can be used in the setup I want. Also have to say I love your sliding windows, perfect idea for this style of coop. I was thinking of trying to get/build some sort of panels for a wind block on the run, maybe some of the greenhouse materials could be put into a frame and bolted to the side of the run.

    Wesley, even one winter in, it's good to see we won't be asking too much of them to be outside in the cold. I had been struggling to figure out how much and where to put ventilation in my coop build, knowing it was necessary but being warned about the evil draft, I thought I might have to just guess. I was worried about guessing wrong and freezing my chickens, but now I'm feeling so much better, it's so simple, and in some ways it was right in front of me all along. Woods design isn't terribly different than a run in shed for the horses, I have one I see every day and horses make good use of it.

    Scott, I am subscribed to that thread and following along, am eager to see what you and your son come up with.
  10. JackE

    JackE Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 26, 2010
    North Eastern Md.

    Here's a link to a book written over 100yrs ago. This guy DID do intensive studies on chickens, and what they need. In the link below, you can read about it. And check out a few other open-air designs.;view=1up;seq=4


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