Fresh Air Coop - Northern Climate?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by mroxner, Jan 19, 2010.

  1. mroxner

    mroxner Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 19, 2010
    Greetings from a Michigan Newbie!

    I am in the planning stages of a coop. I would like it to be a low profile coop (for neighborly reasons ;-)).

    Can/should I use the open-air coop method recommended by Prince in Fresh Air Coops (don't buy this book BTW, it is available for free from Google Books)? I live in southern MI and was thinking of using the method. Maybe, perhaps, in a 3-season only sort of fashion. I would board up the open air side to the coop in the winter?? Is this necessary?

    Also, I plan to elevate my coop 18". This will give them run space while maintaining my "compact" design desire. Should I use wire netting/chicken wire for the outside run floor? I can set this right on top of the existing grass or remove the grass, set the wire floor on the earth and cover with sand/gravel. I figure this to be the easiest way to predator/pest proof the run.

    Any advice out there for either of my two concerns?

  2. mroxner

    mroxner Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 19, 2010
    Ooh, one other question. With the exception of very cold weather, is it OK to leave the coop pop-door open all night long (assuming of course that the area outside the coop is totally secure from predators/pests)?

    Thanks again,
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I think your idea of a 3-season coop will work, but I'm not an expert for your climate or the open-coop design. It may work for 4 seasons, but I prefer to keep life simpler and build a coop that can be closed off so there are no drafts that can hit the chickens but is very open at the top so you get good ventilation. I'll give you a link to Pat's ventilation and cold weather coop pages that may help. If you decide to go with an open design, I'd give a lot of cnsideration to chickens especially adapted to cold weather (this means the small combs that are more resistant to frostbite) like the Wyandotte, Chantecleer, Buckeye, or the Easter Egger. Your main risk is frostbite, not them freezing to death.

    Pat’s Winter Coop Temperatures

    Pat’s Ventilation

    I'll give you another link that describes aprons around the coop/run to help predator proof it as another option for you to consider.

    Alberta Aprons$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex916

    As I envision your coop/run being pretty small, burying wire could work for you. For a larger run, I'd prefer the aprons. Chickens like to scratch in the dirt and take dust baths. I would not put it at ground level but would bury it. Anything you bury will rust eventually, but if you use fairly heavy gauge wire and take care not to scratch the protective coating, it can last quite a while. You'll just neve know when it has rusted away. Chickens will soon destroy any grass growing in the run so I see no real advantage trying to have grass there. It just won't happen. I'd suggest burying the wire several inches, then covering it with a layer of small gravel. Top that with several inches of sand. I'd give serious consideration to building the level of sand up a bit above the surrounding area so it will really drain, probably putting something around the bottom of the wire fence to contain the sand in the run and keep it from washing away. The small rock will help keep the sand from disappearing into the ground. If you are doing this to build a truly predator proof run, the buried wire needs to be attached to the bottomof your fence. And of course you need to cover the run.

    The two considerations to me for closing the pop door are predators and drafts. Since chickens can get frostbite in a draft right at freezing temperatures, I'd close it anytime the temperature was forecast to get below freezing. It is harder to predator proof a run than a coop, but it can be done. (Especially pay attention to your gate/door. That is often the weakness.) How safe you feel is up to you.
  4. mroxner

    mroxner Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 19, 2010
    Thank you for your prompt reply. The ideas are good ones.

    FYI: I intend to purchase 1 Buff Orp. and 2 Speckled Sussex.
    Coop will be 3x4 with run underneath and an additional 6 sq feet attachment "porch" on the side of the coop, bringing the total run footage for 3 chickens somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 sq feet.

  5. LynneP

    LynneP Chillin' With My Peeps

    I guess the answer is 'What will you do for winter?'

    Other Michigan folks will guide you and if you wish I've put some winter thoughts in the link below. I think you get damp weather like us so it may be useful.
    There are ways to modify a three-season coop, too. Panels and plastic, vinyl and roofing on your run. I would think that predator protection will be a major issue for you, as it is for us, so using 1/2" gauge hardware cloth is superior to chicken wire- a lot of predators and reach through that and some rodents can creep in. The thing is, you're preparing before getting the birds, so you'll get it right~

    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    At the bottom of this I'll copy something I wrote in another post about coop and run space. A lot will not apply to your situation but you can maybe understand my comments. I'd give serious consideration to increasing the size of your coop to either 3' x 5' or 4' x 4'. Most building materials come in 8' or 4' lengths and widths. (Be careful with 2x4's. Some are exactly 8' and some can vary a bit in length). For practically no extra cost you can give your chickens a bit more room in the coop. Be careful when laying it out so that your out to out dimensions are 4', not center to center. And try laying out a feeder, waterer, nest box, and roost in a 3' x 4' space. I suggest cutting "paper dolls" to scale to help. It's not easy. If you raise the coop higher than 18" you might be able to feed and water under the coop, giving you more room. How do you keep the water from freezing in the winter? And I'd really consider increasing the size of the run to about 30 square feet for reasons mentioned below. A 25' roll of wire will fence a 4' x 8' or 5' x 6' or 3' x 10' run if you take out for the door/gate.

    As long as you have enough height for the roosts to be noticeably higher than the nest boxes, height does not matter to chickens. They are basically ground dwelling birds, so the ground area is all that really matters space wise. I said it does not matter to the chickens. It does matter to me if I have to work in there. It matters quite a bit.

    If the nest boxes are high enough off the ground that the chickens can easily get under them, then nest boxes do not take away from the space available. The tops of the nesting boxes does not add to the living space either although they may occasionally be up there. Ground level is what counts.

    Some of the things that make up the space requirement are, in my opinion:

    1. Personal space for the birds. They have different personalities and different individual requirements. Some are very possessive of personal space and some can share.

    2. Access to feeder and waterer. More than one at a time needs to get to the feeder especially, but access to the waterer is also important. Part of this is that they seem to like to all eat at once but part of it is that a dominant bird may keep others from eating or drinking, especially with limited access.

    3. Being able to put the feeder and waterer where they will not poop in it when they roost.

    4. Poop load. The larger area they have the less often you have to actively manage the poop. They poop a lot while on the roost so you may have to give that area special consideration, but mucking out the entire coop can be backbreaking work plus you have to have some place to put all that bedding and poop. In my opinion, totally cleaning out the coop is something that needs to happen as seldom as possible.

    5. How often are they able to get out of the coop. The more they are confined to the coop, the larger the personal space needs to be. The normal recommendation on this forum is 4 square feet per full sized chicken with a minimum of 10 square feet of run per bird. This additional requirement outside is sometimes not mentioned. How often they are allowed out of the coop may depend on a lot more than just weather. Your work schedule, when you are able to turn them loose, what time of day you open the pop door to let them out or lock them up at night, all this and more enters into the equation. The 4 square feet recommendation assumes they will spend extended time in the coop and not be able to get in the run. What that extended time can safely be depends on a lot of different factor so there is no one correct length of time for everyone.

    6. Do you feed and water in the coop or outside. The more they are outside, the less pressure on the size of the coop.

    7. The size of the chicken. Bantams require less room than full sized chickens. This has to be tempered by breed and the individual personalities. Some bantams can be more protective of personal space than others, but this is also true of full sized breeds.

    8. The breed of the chicken. Some handle confinement better than others.

    9. The number of chickens. The greater the number of chickens, the more personal space they can have if the square foot per chicken stays constant. Let me explain. Assume each chicken occupies 1 square foot of space. If you have two chickens and 4 square feet per chicken, the two chickens occupy 2 square feet, which leaves 6 square feet for them to explore. If you have ten chickens with 4 square feet per chicken, each chicken has 30 unoccupied square feet to explore. A greater number also can give more space to position the feeders and waterers properly in relation to the roosts and provide access. I’m not encouraging you to crowd your birds if you have a large number of them. I’m trying to say you are more likely to get in trouble with 4 square feet per chicken if you have very few chickens.

    10. What is your flock make-up. A flock with more than one rooster may be more peaceful if it has more space. I don't want to start the argument about number or roosters here as I know more than one rooster can often peacefully coexist with a flock, but I firmly believe more space helps.

    11. What is the maximum number of chickens you will have. Consider hatching chicks or bringing in replacements. Look down the road a bit.

    I'm sure I am missing several components, but the point I'm trying to make is that we all have different conditions. There is no magic number that suits us all. The 4 square feet in a coop with 10 square feet in the run is a good rule of thumb for a minimum that, most of the time, will keep us out of trouble, but not always. I do believe that more is better both in the coop and in they run.
  7. kristen2678

    kristen2678 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 26, 2009
    North Berwick Maine
    I really think you need a fourth wall. Imagine them trying to stay dry and warm in cold driving rain? Wind can be pretty rough. You'll have a mess on your hands. I would also consider making it larger and increasing the run size. Maybe some large windows covered in hardware cloth might give you the same open air feel but keep them safer and healthier.
  8. Slywoody

    Slywoody Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 18, 2009
    [​IMG] I'd shy away from the open air idea and think about lots of good windows, insulation and ventilation. As far as grass removal, don't worry about that. Those chickens will take care of that a lot faster than you can. As far as the wire being buried inside the run, they'll dig right down to that too. I'd go with the wire buried all around the run and the coop. You'll also need some kind of heated water bowl for the winter. Hope this helps. [​IMG]
  9. elmo

    elmo Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 23, 2009
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Hi, Welcome to BYC! [​IMG]

    Quote:Um. Having one side open in a northern climate (and even *southern* MI counts as northern for this purpose) only works for largeish coops. I would absolutely not for a moment recommend it for a tiny coop like you are proposing. They will be miserable and I would be shocked if they didn't suffer severe problems or death from it.

    In fact a small, reach-in type coop such as you are planning is actually rather difficult to design and manage *period* for cold-winter areas. The problem is, chickens create really an *astonishing* amount of humidity and ammonia fumes, all of which must be got rid of through ventilation *without* causing a breeze directly at the chickens. A small-air-volume coop requires proportionately more ventilation than a large one, and yet in a small coop like that there just *isn't* anywhere for the air movement to *go* that isn't right at the chickens, you know?

    It can be done, but it is not ideal and requires a lot of careful forethought and some compromises.

    My suggestion for your best shot at comfort would be to roof the run (probably "properly", with an actual properly-supported roof, can be of metal or plastic if you don't want shingles) and then for wintertime enclose all but half a long-side of it with stapled-on plastic sheeting or whatever. Then have the coop vents you'll be using in wintertime located atop the coop wall shared with the run, so the coop is being ventilated into a well-ventilated but protected/part-enclosed run. (If you could ventilate the coop in wintertime to/from a larger building, such as a garden shed if the coop could be built against it, that would be even better. However note that a coop vent in the wlal of a larger building will cause a fair bit of chicken-dust to get all over the larger building, which sometimes you don't want e.g. in a workshop)

    Should I use wire netting/chicken wire for the outside run floor? I can set this right on top of the existing grass or remove the grass, set the wire floor on the earth and cover with sand/gravel. I figure this to be the easiest way to predator/pest proof the run.

    If it will be a small run, it might be reasonably affordable (though still a lot of work) to bury a 1/2" or 1/4" hardwarecloth floor. However you would want really a LOT of earth or sand or whatever on top of it, preferably 6" as an *absolute* minimum and more would be a whole lot better, because scratching in the dirt and digging dustbathing holes and etc are such a major part of "being a chicken" that it'd be a real shame to deprive them of that. Also the less they can effectively dustbathe, the more mite/lice problems you're likely to have.

    The other most-common two ways of digproofing a run are to bury the bottom 12-18" of the run fence, or to run a horizontal apron of stout galvanized wire mesh on (or just under) the ground for 1-4' out from the run fence. Either of those, esp. the apron, are much more appropriate for larger runs. And it would be a good idea to think in terms of giving the chickens as much space as you possibly can. They will be happier. Really.

    As far as leaving the popdoor open at night in warm weather, well, it's your choice. Go browse the "Predators and Pests" section of the BYC forum first, though. An awful lot of people were *sure* their runs were totally predatorproof and/or that they had no meaningful number of predators around, until, one morning, big pile of bloody feathers. Closing the popdoor is an awfully effective *simple* precaution.

    Good luck, have fun,


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