Help would be appreciated to help me start my chicken adventure!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Magic Turtle, Jan 16, 2017.

  1. Magic Turtle

    Magic Turtle Just Hatched

    Jan 16, 2017
    Hey guys!

    I've been lurking backyardchickens and a handful of other sites for about a year now to gather some idea to build my first coop, but I find it real difficult to start this project out since there is so many different coop design as well as different breed, owner type, climate, etc... I'm hoping that maybe you could give me a hand on finally deciding what kind of coop I will build as well as guiding me so I do not make too many mistakes, even though I know I will have to make some to learn properly.

    Before I begin asking a thousands question, here are some information that might be useful for you to help me ;

    I plan on having 2 to 3 chickens only since I cannot own more where I live. I do not aim at any particular breed at the moment, as long as the are doing fine with our climate.
    I live in Quebec, Canada and we have very rough winter in here. I wish to build a coop that will be winter-proof so I do not have to give away my chickens every winter. This is where my plans get complicated because I need to fit insulation in ; also I'm confused with the ''ventilation without airdraft'' thing.
    I would like the coop to be as compact as it can, taking in consideration that in the winter days the girls might spend a lot of time inside.
    I would like to start my build soon but would start my flock only at spring or summer.

    Can you suggest me a coop design that would be about the right size and that it could be insulated so the chicken survives the winter? They design that I liked were often very difficult to insulate or would most likely have ventilation problem if insulated...

    Also, I will need to find a way that the chicken can eat and drink when it's too cold to get out and I cannot water them several times a day. I was thinking about bringing electricity to the coop to have a heat lamp (when needed only) and a water heater ; is there any other better way?

    Thank you in advances for your help!
  2. dragonthehunter

    dragonthehunter Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 8, 2016
    New brunswick Canada
    do Not put heat lamp it is never necessary It is such a huge huge risk they can survive outside in -30 temps trust me they dont need a heat lamp

    My birds have stayed outside over night in temps -30 and below They were rebelling :/

    I suggest Salmon favorelles or Amerucana they both are winter hardy and have a high egg laying average

    For ventilation do it near the bottom and top so the new air flows in from the bottom taking the toxic fumes from the poop and sending it out the top
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2017
  3. HariSeldon

    HariSeldon Just Hatched

    Sep 20, 2016
    Dont use heat lamps unless its inside your house as you raise chicks and are monitoring the lamp.


    Open air near the top of the coop. Drafts are large openings near the base of your coop like an open window in your house causes.

    Use a water heater as I cant run electricity and have trouble with freezing with the non electric methods but I go out there everyday. Its best to keep the coop dry so make sure water won't splash too much. You could station the water right outside the coop in the run so they don't have to go far.
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I wouldn’t so much call it making mistakes as that you need to be flexible. Often things do not work out as planned so you have to be flexible in dealing with things that pop up. That’s one of the reasons I like adding more room than the absolute minimum, if you have extra room you have more flexibility in dealing with things. Designing a little flexibility in what you build can reduce your stress levels considerably.

    Another challenge on this forum is that we are all unique as you mentioned. What works for one might not work for another. An even bigger problem is that so many different things work that there is not usually any one way that is “best”. Someone may do something one way and it works, so that automatically becomes “best” and in their opinion everyone else on the planet has to it that way or they are wrong. That’s not reality, many different things work quite well. A lot of what you see on here is opinion, not fact. Most of what I say is opinion, but I’ll try to explain why I think that way. I makes for long posts.

    As for breeds a lot of people further north than you keep many different breeds, not all of them all that cold-hearty. But for someone just starting out it’s probably easier to start with a cold-hearty breed. There are a lot of them out there and all not everyone can agree on what makes a cold-hearty chicken. The largest risk in cold weather is not in chickens freezing to death, it’s frostbite. Chickens with tall thin combs and wattles are more susceptible to frostbite than chickens with short thick combs and wattles. Single combed chickens are more at risk for frostbite than pea combed or rose combed chickens. Plenty of people further north than you keep single combed chickens without issues but I think it would be a good idea for you it take that into consideration.

    You don’t really say why you want chickens, I assume it is for eggs. Chanteclers were developed by Canadians for the Canadian climate. Buckeyes were developed on Ohio specifically to be a cold weather chicken. Wyandottes have a rose comb and could work. There are others but mainly you are looking at a pea, roe, cushion, or walnut comb.

    I’d suggest at least three. Chickens are social animals and do much better if there are more than one of them. If you get two and one dies, you have a hen without a buddy.

    One huge contributor to frostbite is moisture. It’s a lot easier to get frostbite in moist conditions than dry, so your goal is to have a dry coop. Moisture comes from their breathing, their poop, any thawed water evaporating, a waterer that spills and gets the floor wet, or maybe something else. The way you get rid of excess moisture is good ventilation. But you don’t want a breeze hitting your chickens, wind chill is real. These sound contradictory, but they are not. To me, the easiest way to accomplish this, especially in a relatively small coop, is to make your coop tall enough so you can have openings above the chickens’ heads when they are on the roost so any breeze goes over their heads. When a wind is blowing the breeze over their heads will create enough turbulence in the coop to stir up the air and get bad air moving without ruffling the chickens’ feathers.

    If the wind is not blowing, warm air rises. Inside the coop is normally warmer than outside, especially during really cold spells. The warmth comes from their breathing, poop, any heated waterers, and if the coop is on the ground, from the ground itself in cold snaps. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air and is lighter. Gravity will cause the dryer heavier outside air to come in the coop and settle to the bottom, forcing the warmer moister air out of the top. The colder heavier drier air will come in whether the openings are high or low. That’s the way gravity works.

    There are other methods that can work, as I said there is hardly ever only one way to do anything. A standard method is to have a low opening and a high opening to create a vertical air movement, but have the roosts in the back in a sort of cul de sac so they are not in a breeze. You need a certain sized coop for that to work but it is a legitimate method.

    Do you ever see wild birds over-wintering where you are? How do you think they survive your winter weather? Their down coats keep them warm and their feet aren’t that susceptible to cold as long as they are dry. You probably won’t see them out when a wind is blowing hard enough to ruffle their feathers but even in really cold weather you will usually see them if it is calm. When it’s windy they find a protected place out of the wind. This is practically always some place with great ventilation, like thick bushes.

    The same thing applies to your chickens. Don’t worry about providing a warm place for your chickens, provide a dry spot that is out of the wind. They take care of the rest.

    You don’t need a small tight coop for your chickens to keep themselves warm. You need one with enough ventilation that it stays dry. The tighter you squeeze chickens the more likely you are to have behavioral problems. Especially if they are going to be trapped inside your coop a lot in winter, they need more room, not less.

    Insulation is another controversial topic on here. A big use for insulation is to help keep coops cool in hot climates. It can also stop some buildings, especially metal buildings or roofs, from having moisture condense on them and drip in the coop. They will eat many types of foam or fiber insulation, so you need to cover it so they don’t eat it, by the way.

    Some people will argue that insulation does no good in a cold climate. Those that have it tend to like it. Insulation will help prevent heat loss through the walls or wherever you put it. There is a lot of heat generated inside that coop. Even with good ventilation, you can often notice it when you walk in. While your chickens don’t necessarily need it a little extra warmth doesn’t hurt them. If you build a walk-in coop, it might be nice for you if you need to do some work in there.

    I don’t have any great designs for you for three hens. You don’t need a tremendous amount of room for three hens. I personally like a walk-in coop for many reasons, but you need enough room for you in there as well as the chickens. A coop on the ground will take advantage of the thermal mass of the ground during a cold snap. If you build an elevated coop the bottom provides another surface for cooling so you might want to insulate that.

    There are two gasses you might have to worry about in a really tight coop. One is ammonia generated from decaying poop. Ammonia is hard on their respiratory system but it is lighter than air. As long as you have an opening, even a relatively small one, over their heads gravity will move the ammonia out.

    The other is CO2 from their breathing. CO2 is heavier than air so again gravity is the moving force. CO2 is hardly ever a problem, especially with small flocks. Most of our coop construction isn’t really air tight so gravity can move it out by any loose fitting down low in our coops. But if you build an air tight coop, maybe by insulating, it could become a problem. You don’t want something that generates a breeze, but being a bit careless in a low fit-up or two might not be a bad idea.

    That’s enough typing for now. Remember a lot of this is my opinion. Others can have valid opinions different from mine. Your problem will be trying to figure out who may say something that fits your unique situation. Good luck and welcome to the adventure.
    1 person likes this.
  5. Magic Turtle

    Magic Turtle Just Hatched

    Jan 16, 2017

    But will the chicken need water (and food) inside the coop too? That is what I think and it's a big part of my design problem since I'm trying to figure out to make space for roosting, nesting, feeding + ventilation..

    Oh. I thought a heat lamp was mandatory, but if it aint a good idea, I will be glad not having to bring electricity to the coop! ;)

    For the record, one coop design that I particularly like at the moment is this one :
    I'm just unsure it would be suitable for what I need. I'm thinking about adding isolation (but not too much) and close-able ventilation trap at the top. I'm also thinking it could be a good idea to put a real floor instead of the mesh, but could I use the mesh floor in the summer time and a real floor in the winter..?
  6. Folly's place

    Folly's place True BYC Addict

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Welcome! RR's post is excellent, as usual! The cute red coop you like lacks windows and ventilation, and might be small for even three birds. Make sure that you know exactly what the regs are for coop construction, and lot setbacks, before you build! A permitted garden shed type building, modified with windows and upper vents, is dual purpose, with room enough for feed storage, food and water inside, and could be divided for some implement storage too. Crawling around in and under a raised coop is not fun, unless you are really limited in space for a attached run. Electricity at the coop is very useful for lighting and especially for keeping drinking water unfrozen in winter. My coop roof is insulated, and it is very helpful to manage summer heat too. Three birds will need a minimum of twelve to sixteen sq. ft. of space, and more will be better, and more run space. Predator protection is a huge issue; plan for all openings larger than 1/2" diameter to be covered in hardware cloth, and everything sturdy enough to keep out large hungry dogs! Breeds with small combs are best for winter; Chanteclers, Easter Eggers, Wyandottes. Hens with smaller single combs could be Australorps, Speckled Sussex, Salmon Favorelles. There are so many breeds and color varieties!!! Marans for dark eggs, Buckeyes, and then all those cute bantams! Mary
  7. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Think of yourself when sizing the coop, a walk in coop is the way to go IMO.....especially when dealing with extreme winters.
    I built my coop, also after reading for a year, in part of a large shed I already had on the property....which made it easier and cheaper.
    Having all the extra room to go inside out of the weather to gather eggs, store feed, examine and tend to birds is a luxury I wouldn't want to give up.
    Coop itself is a third of the shed area and can be split to add new birds or isolate a 'bad' or sick one.
    The rest of the shed holds other tools and all my chicken feeds and supplies.
  8. Lynnski

    Lynnski Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 1, 2016
    Weymouth, MA
    Hi Magic Turtle, welcome to BYC's!

    You are getting some great advice here and i love to read threads like this with all these ideas! I, too, am new to chickens, live in a cold climate, have a limited space and wanted only a couple chickens so i thought i would share my journey so far...

    We also ordered more chicks knowing there could be a casualty or rooster in the batch. I am happy that we did as we ended up with 4.

    In our situation, we wanted every inch of enclosed run space we could squeeze out of our yard so decided on a 4'x4'-ish raised coop so the underneath could be used as well....we found this awesome youtube with plans and stocklist somewhere on the page:

    We ran an extension cord out for the heated waterer in the run and supplemental lighting in the coop (ok, full disclosure, and a nanny cam cuz i like to watch them!). I take the suggestions about heat in the coop very seriously and have read some heartbreaking stories when things go wrong.... I am on the no-heat-in-the-coop team. These girls are doing great and have been thru a blizzard!

    Space is an issue inside the coop, you are right to plan ahead! I needed to be able to reach everything so the big doors on the front were perfect. Poop trays under the perches make it easy to clean but it also makes clean, usable space for the chickens (and a heated waterer) when they are snowed in.


    My husband saw this great DIY feeder to save space at a local "hen hop". Because we use supplemental lighting to extend the egg season, they eat in the morning when the light comes on before the pop door opens. Grit and oyster shell on the other door.


    And here is what we use so the water doesnt freeze.... I've had it hooked up since September as a test to see how it weathered the storms and more importantly, did it create any moisture. So far, so good as long as there is a cover. We used a 2.5 gal bucket from Lowes, smallest aquarium (submersible) water heater and horizontal poultry nipples mounted 1/2" above the aquarium heater so the water will always cover the heater.


    To be honest, we have changed the inside design a few times before we got it so that it fit our girls.

    I hope you have a great time planning and building a home for your new flock! You are in the right place. I will be forever grateful to the generous folks here who share without judgement, just for the love of these creatures!

    Keep us posted!
  9. Magic Turtle

    Magic Turtle Just Hatched

    Jan 16, 2017
    I do understand why a walk in coop would be much better, but I really do not want to get into something this big for only 3 hens. Maybe after a couple of year if I have a confirmation that I really do like having chickens and all goes, well, I could consider having a walk-in coop, but right now I think it would be best to wait.

    That is really more like what I am planning to have! I wonder, do you have issues with ventilation?. Also, does the window above the nestbox is enough for the sunlight.? What kind of cold do you get where you are from? Where I'm from we get to the -30 celcius when it gets cold..
  10. Lynnski

    Lynnski Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 1, 2016
    Weymouth, MA
    I would have loved to have a walk in coop too! It really is the perfect setup for all the reasons suggested here. This design was my Plan B.

    Its hard to say about sunlight coming in that window over the nesting boxes.... although it faces east and i think it gave plenty of light july and august, we have the supplemental lighting in the morning. The window is the biggest we could fit knowing we could only have that and the flap window directly opposite. Ive kept both windows open every day to some degree depending on the wind.

    Our temps are nowhere near your cold! We can keep water frozen for the good part of 3 months but if we get to -5F, its temporary. I am on the coast so nor'easters and wind are a special concern for us.

    I wish i had known more about ventilation when we were building... I would not have calked the joints and holes so good. I toss around thoughts of adding some small holes along the roofline of the wall along the fence but the last blizzard blew in snow from that direction. I worry about the cold and watch these girls every day, and so far there is no signs of humidity, no comb frostbite, no frost on window, no smells. Be sure, as soon as i see a change, ill be drilling holes!

    Good luck in your choices, keep asking the questions!

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