Coop Options for COLD Winters

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by LizC, Jun 7, 2010.

  1. LizC

    LizC New Egg

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    We have four backyard chickens and two backyard ducks, all girls. For spring/summer/fall, we have them in a quite open coop arrangement, and they free-range in the fenced yard during the day. I'm anticipating winter, however: we can expect the first snows as early as the last bit of September (just had our last snow two weeks ago), and January/February temps can hit -20 easily, warming up to near-zero if the day is sunny.

    Any suggestions on how to make sure our girls are comfortable through the winter? We'd love it if they'd continue to lay, and are planning to provide augmented light to hit about 12 hours a day (off at night).
     
  2. WingingIt

    WingingIt Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 16, 2009
    If you'll post pictures of your current coop setup, people here are great at giving suggestions on how to improve/augment them.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Dar

    Dar Overrun With Chickens

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    [​IMG]

    where are you located? that will help in giving suggestions
     
  4. LizC

    LizC New Egg

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    Jun 7, 2010
    I'll grab some photos tomorrow. [​IMG]

    Basic description:
    10'x10' metal frame in a "house" arrangement (right angle at the peak of the roof) with 5' tall walls. Walls and roof are wrapped in chicken wire. The whole frame sits on top of a wood frame to deepen the floor cover. One side of the front is a hinged people-sized door; the kids (all of us, really) can go in and out quite freely. We leave the roof tarped for rain deflection and shade (propping the door open in the day, so they go in and out at will, or just enjoy the yard... I often find them hanging out in the raspberries or under the lilacs).

    The coop is at the north end of the yard, and butts up to a wooden privacy fence. Prevailing winds come from the south and south-west in our yard, and we do have a lot of trees for wind breaks, but they are at the far end, rather than in the lee of the house or garage.

    We're in Northeast Idaho, a bit below Yellowstone. Our valley is right around 4800 ft above sea level.

    I anticipate enclosing the run as much as possible, or else building a winter coop in a different portion of the yard to reduce winds. We do have a section between the back porch and the bathroom window that *might* be possible for a winterized coop in the lee of the house. The downside there is lack of light--it's very north-facing, and the snow does hang on there the longest every year.

    The lee of the garage won't work, as that's the raspberries. I could also see butting them up against the west fence of our yard (close to the fence gets less wind, but does get sun!)

    Over winter, we can expect loads of snow; one of my concerns is making sure they have covered, snow-free places to roam on the sunny days, even when there's 3 feet in our yard!

    They've done well with light snow so far (up to one foot); we got them in mid-March, put them outside in mid-April, and they did fine with temps down into the mid-30s and snow--we kept the tarps arranged to block winds and blowing snow. I'm mostly concerned with what they'll need when it's hitting -20 and -30 at night, and warming up to zero in the day.
     
  5. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    You might take a look at my 'cold coop' and ventilation pages, links in .sig below. There are also a couple of loooong threads about people in cold-winter areas, and Alaskan coops, that you might want to look for.

    Generally, though, the biggest thing is to keep the air as dry as possible, and well ventilated (if you don't do the latter, the former is impossible [​IMG]), and have appropriately chosen breeds.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat
     
  6. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    You will definitely want some sort of enclosed winter-worthy structure for them. It would be real, real difficult to suitably winterize what it sounds like you've got, so you will probably end up building something else: whether it's attached to the existing enclosure, or separate and elsewhere, is up to you.

    I'd suggest planning to build their winter quarters as large (square footage wise) as you possibly can. It avoids a LOT of problems, that way.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat
     
  7. LizC

    LizC New Egg

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    Pat, the cold weather coop info is GREAT! Thanks! I'll look for Alaskan options, as well.

    I've decided that "chicken people" are just generally lovely. [​IMG] I did not expect so many helpful things so quickly! I have friends in Florida and on the lower East Coast who keep chickens in their backyard, but their situation is so radically different, they've not been able to help as much as they'd like.
     
  8. CityChook

    CityChook Chillin' With My Peeps

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    My Coop
    Hi Liz - first, [​IMG]

    I'm in Minneapolis and I understand cold. There are lots and lots of us MN folks here at the BYC, as well as others in cold climates, so hopefully more folks will chime in.

    I had a little trouble following the description of your coop, but it sounds like it's not going to be very warm. As mentioned earlier, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's what has worked for me:

    I have found that once the snow falls (and it STAYS here once it comes) my chickens don't like to go outside. The pop door is opened daily until the temperatures hit around 0F then I keep it closed. When we have a sunny/warm day - I'm talking in the 20s, I will force the issue and push them out. They tend to stick to the shoveled path and they like to sun themselves on my back step under the glass door - it reflects sunlight/heat. The ground is totally frozen a foot down, so it's not like they can dig below the snowline for things to eat... I'm sure they think it's boring.

    My run is covered and nestled between my garage and the coop, so it's relatively protected. If you decide to roof the run (and I'm glad I did), then it is vital that you build the run roof with the ability to withstand heavy snow. I tried putting down some straw over the snow - it still blows in from the sides - but it froze quickly and they just weren't interested in venturing out, so I gave up and let them stay inside. Their choice - like I said, the pop door is open.

    For the coop, they have 12 sq/ft per bird. That's an enormous amount, but it has served me well over the past two winters. They can stay inside for weeks/months at a time and be quite content, happy even. They have surfaces to jump around upon, windows to sun themselves and a light that runs early mornings and evenings to extend the daylight hours. I find that they seem to actually lay BETTER in the wintertime! My coop is a walk-in style with insulation in the walls and ceiling. I use 9-12 inches of deep litter in the wintertime. I have ridgecap/soffet ventilation that is open 365-24/7 and gable vents that are open until temperatures fall below 0. I run a ceramic heat emitter over the roost 24/7 from November through April and supplement with a second red lamp when the temperatures go below -15F.

    Whether you decide to go with heat or not, you will need to consider how you're going to keep your water thawed. I use a heated dog water dish, and I love it, but it requires electricity. Water will begin to freeze in as little as 10 minutes here, so the heat source is pretty useful.

    Ventilation is vitally important in cold climates and Pat's page is great. While it seems counter-productive to cut holes in your coop when the goal is to keep it warm inside, it is really important to give that moist warm air a chance to escape. Chickens are pretty tough, and can handle incredible cold (it's been -10F inside my coop many times, even WITH HEAT) but they can't handle the humidity and could end up with frostbite.

    Hope this helps. Good to think about it NOW than in the fall when there are so many preparations in the yard to attend to before the snow flies...
     
  9. alpinefarm

    alpinefarm Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I live at 8500' elevation in the Colorado Rockies and my flock laid all winter long this past year, didn't skip a beat, even tho our temps are quite often below zero and our snow is 3' or more deep around their coop.

    Here is what has helped:

    Coop has well-insulated walls on all sides and the roof.
    I use deep litter on the floor, which I fluff up and add to throughout the winter, keeping it dry and pleasant for them to be in.
    Large window is covered each winter with plastic sheeting to insulate.
    Ventilation holes (6" x 6", with grates on them to cut drafting) are under the eaves on both ends and are always open.
    I open the trap door out to their run every day, all day...snow, rain or shine, and I lay a little fresh hay (native grass and alfalfa, which they love to eat) on the snow in the run after every storm.
    I feed them outside the coop, in the run, so this encourages them to get out in the daylight, as well.
    So my feeling is that if they are getting outside, the sunlight helps them lay better and the outdoors is good for their feather development, so they can then keep themselves warmer naturally.
    I feed them only whole grains, the processing of which helps keep their guts generating heat better than processed feed does.

    Hope some of my ideas help you!
     
  10. maryboland

    maryboland Out Of The Brooder

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    I also live in the Colorado Rockies, and I do believe you will have to build a well insulated winter coop. Chickens can stand a lot of cold as long as they are dry and out of drafts. Also they should be able to roost on a wider board -- six to eight inches wide so their feathers can cover all their feet as frostbitten feet is a real danger. For snow I am trying a new type of run. I leave my pop door open all winter -- it's on the leeward side and I have read that plenty of fresh air is important for winter health. But the pop door opens into a run about 5ft by 15 ft made by driving rebar into the ground at intervals and stretching PVC pipe on it to form a hoop shaped run. Hardware cloth is attached to this with cable ties and a chicken wire apron is laid horizontally on the ground all around and held down with landscape pins -- all this of course for predator control. Now I planned this hoop shape because for winter I plan to lay strong transparent plastic over it ( secured with clamps designed for the purpose which I get from a gardening supply outfit -- email me if you want detail on these). I will leave the lee end of this run open with no plastic so fresh air enters. But the plastic covered hoop run should shed snow easily and quickly and give the chix a dry, sunny place to get some vitamin D and very fresh air. This will be my first year with this type of run so we'll see but I have high hopes for it.

    If expense is a problem building a winter coop, check the forum for many examples of good covered coops made from free pallets and covered with scrap plywood. Rigid insulation could easily be inserted in the pallet spaces -- just cover the inside with some cheap plywood so the chickens can't peck at the insulation, which is toxic. I have myself often toyed with the idea of a winter coop made from old hay or straw bales -- if you had enough, you'd hardly need to do any construction, just arrangement, but I've never done it or seen an example of one. Good luck!
     

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