How to plan for *COLD*

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Ruckus, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. Ruckus

    Ruckus Out Of The Brooder

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    Nov 2, 2009
    Fairbanks
    Hi everybody, I've been lurking around this forum for a couple weeks reading up in preparation to receive some chickens from a friend who was giving away some of his older girls, and despite all the helpful advice I've read, I'm still having trouble deciding what I need to do. I know there are a lot of posts on how to keep chickens warm (including several right this moment), however, everybody seems to have very very different ideas of what *COLD* means. I know chickens are pretty cold hardy (they are, after all, wearing down jackets), and I know general things like keep the coop ventilated and don't let it draft on them, I've read several pages of the general sticky on things to remember when building a new coop, so don't worry about filling me in on the basics - I feel pretty well knowledged on those.

    Here's my situation - I live in Fairbanks, AK. We're under half a foot of snow, it was -15ºF last night, and the high's hardly approach 15ºF during the days, to say nothing of windchill. The sun set around 4:30pm yesterday, will rise around 10:00am, and will lose about 10 to 30 minutes of daylight a day depending on variables that I don't understand. It's November now, and by December, we'll be seeing -40º/-60º "daytime" highs/lows (there will be no sunlight at all for a while come January. Dec. will be perpetual twilight while the sun cruises along just below the horizon). So how do I keep two poor little 1.5 year old molting RIRs alive?!

    I currently have a 4'x4'x4' coop (formerly the top half of an unlucky outhouse), which I have done/am doing some heavy modifications to, and the outside run is about 12'x5', about a third of which is underneath our porch (snow free, very fine gravel/rock surface with about a bale's worth of hay scattered around it). The coop has room for about 3" bats of insulation on the sides, as large of an amount of insulation as needed can go on top, the front and back are currently open completely until I know how much to insulate/ventilate them, and the bottom is 3/4" plywood sitting atop a forklift pallet (meaning I can shove something under there pretty easily, if need be). I've tried to design it so that the roost is exactly centered in the coop and faced completely away and sheltered from the entrance. I'll take some pictures and post them in a little. I've got a ceramic bulbed heat lamp, and a heated water bowl to keep it warm inside. I'm more worried about keeping them alive than getting tons of eggs. They only need to supplement the egg diet of two people and be companionable to earn their keep around here. I started with an infrared heat lamp, and it seemed to keep them up too long, so we put them in a dog crate and brought them inside where it's nice and dark and warm. Hopefully I can get the coop put together in the next couple days so they don't get too sissy while they spend their nights in a nice heated cabin (and so they don't go crazy being cooped up in that dog crate!).

    So more exactly, how does one design a coop to ventilate but not blow on the chickens at all? How important is it to completely seal off the cracks in the construction (the outhouse was not built to high standards, and would take more trouble than it's worth to completely close all the "good'nuf's")? How big an entryway should the chickens have into the coop? Will they even be able to go outside at all when it gets down to the -40º days? If not, do I need to extend the coop for an indoor run and heat it too?

    Thanks for any help you can offer - I know I'm asking for most people to stretch their expertise on cold weather, but I've seen that there are a few Canadian posters who might have an idea of how to handle this level of cold. [​IMG]
     
  2. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Ontario, Canada
    There is a thread from last year about coop mgmt in very cold winter areas -- I will see if I can turn it up via search -- that has a lot of posts from Alaskan BYCers, and would definitely be good for you to read the whole (very long [​IMG]) thread. (edited to add: here ya go: https://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=106928&p=1 I suggest reading ALL of it, although there are many pages, hopefully not getting too distracted by the digression of whether Massachusetts winters are cold enough to count as really really cold [​IMG])

    Quite frankly, a 4x4x4 coop is going to be very difficult to manage in your climate. If you by any chance have a garage or outbuilding you could put the chickens in for the winter, it'd work a whole lot better.

    If you HAVE to have them in the little coop, you will be running a heatlamp for much of the winter, no question. So make sure it is REALLY SAFELY hooked up. You may not be able to have 'sufficient' ventilation in that size coop in those temperatures, meaning you may have to use a lot more heatlamp than you'd like, to keep the coop really pretty warm, so that they don't get frostbit despite high humidity. It's not an ideal situation, but if you don't have other options, you may be able to get it to work (at least for one winter). At least part of the day you will probably want to be running a lightbulb not just a ceramic heater, because they need enough 'daylight' hours to eat enough to survive the night gracefully.

    Absolutely you need to close off all the cracks, and insulate too. (If you do a halfway-decent job insulating, that will in and of itself take care of closing off the air leaks [​IMG])

    Good luck, ahve fun,

    Pat
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2009
  3. Ruckus

    Ruckus Out Of The Brooder

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    Nov 2, 2009
    Fairbanks
    Thanks for the link, Pat. I'll start reading it now. [​IMG]
     
  4. Ruckus

    Ruckus Out Of The Brooder

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    Nov 2, 2009
    Fairbanks
    Took some pictures:

    This is what it looked like this morning:
    [​IMG]

    I then took off the roof, front, and back walls, and opened the sides, put insulation in them, and closed them back up.
    [​IMG]

    Made a wall for the front w/2 inches of foam insulation (I'll put a mesh barrier up to keep them from getting at the exposed stuff).
    [​IMG]

    I dropped the false ceiling at an angle, splitting the interior basically in two, and build the roost onto the backside, facing away from the entrance.
    [​IMG]

    View of the roost with the roof put on.
    [​IMG]

    View from the entrance with the front wall left off. Chicken ramp leads up to roosts.
    [​IMG]

    With the front wall up.
    [​IMG]

    The roof will be hinged at the front, so that the roost can be accessed from the backside, outside the run. I'm planning on putting the heat lamp in the back left (looking from the front) corner, where it won't be in the way of chickens going up the ramp, but I'm wondering if that will be too close or dangerous. I'm still trying to think of a clever way to make the front wall removable for cleaning... Thoughts, suggestions?
     
  5. LynneP

    LynneP Chillin' With My Peeps

  6. jafo

    jafo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 2, 2009
    Hello! We been to Fairbanks! Stayed for a month, toured the state from Homer to Seward, and almost to Chicken! Love it!. [​IMG]
    In looking at your coop, wht don't you do a 4" thick insulated roof as well? Them temps, and just a tin roof = massive heat loss. Bieng such a small coop, I'd drill like 2 , 1" holes through two opposing walls, and stuff a piece of pipe in them for vents, to wick away moisture from both thier breath and the droppings. I like the way you separated the coop, with the "upstairs bedroom", and if you put even just a ceramic heat bulb in there, back left as you say, that heat will rise, and they should be quite toasty! Each hen will give off about 10 watts of heat as well. You'll also be putting a door on the "POP" hole to close them in for the nights right? Corn will help them generate heat too, any kind, cracked or whole, cooked or raw. It was 28 degrees here in the Great Northeast this morning, and we have a 6x8x6 ft tall coop, with 6 birds, and as of yet no artificial heat source. I opened the pop door to let them out at 6;15 and was surprised to feel the temp difference in there. Good Luck![​IMG]

    ps - you could hinge the front wall to open left or right, with a strip around it of that foam rubber stuff to seal out the drafts. I'd use a "piano hinge" and good sized gate hooks (2) to clamp it shut.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
  7. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    That building they're in front of, you couldn't put the chickens in *there* for the winter? It'd really work better.

    If not (and I'm assuming 'not' [​IMG]), I would suggest thinking about building a roof for the run (with adequate supports vs wind and snow load!!!!!!!) and covering the 2 or 3 upwind sides of it with clear plastic or suchlike, so that outdoors is less completely unappealing. They still prolly won't go outside at -40, but it will get them outside in more borderline weather.

    It looks as if your "roost" is designed more as a platform of bedding for them to snuggle into? (which is not the usual, but probably a good idea in your situation even tho you will have to clean more often). I would suggest LOTS OF bedding on there, also lots of bedding on the floor, as much as you have room for and still have clearance for the birds to fit in there too [​IMG]

    Quite frankly I think it would be an extremely bad idea to run a heatlamp in that small and crowded a coop. You *might* get away with, like, a 60-100w regular lightbulb without setting things on fire. If you try anything higher (what wattage is your ceramic heat emitter?) just make super sure it is at least as far away from combustibles (wall, ceiling, bedding) as the mfr's instructions state, and make sure to construct a wire cage around it so the chickens can't lean against it and burn their combs. Yes, chickens *do* do that sometimes. If you need further insulation you could consider stacking strawbales around the coop's outside walls, and even *on* it if the roof will support it. Or bags stuffed with dried leaves, pine needles, whatever. The more insulation you have, the less wattage it takes to warm the coop.

    I would also suggest constructing some ventilation even though you may have to close it down when it's like -60 outdoors. You can build a lot less than people normally would if they were going to properly ventilate the coop, but *some* (for the milder parts of the season) would really be a good idea even if you're going to rely on running up your electric bill to keep off frostbite.

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat
     
  8. annie3001

    annie3001 My Girls

    Jun 11, 2009
    Ct.
    i agree here with the last post! what about that building right in front for the chicken coop? or is that your house?
    i think personaly they have a too small of a coop. is there anyway you can build it a bit bigger?
    i think it my be dangerous with a heat lamp and such a small coop? thats my opioion. you sound like you have all the right idears, but being in such a very cold climate most of the time, it seems your chicks might be happy with more room.
    good luck! and keep us posted![​IMG]
     
  9. Ruckus

    Ruckus Out Of The Brooder

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    Nov 2, 2009
    Fairbanks
    Thanks for all the suggestions, guys!

    Lynn, that's a great article, I'll definitely borrow some ideas from you.

    Jafo, I had started with a 5" gap between the tin roof and the false ceiling, but when I dropped the ceiling at an angle to partition the roof and make the roost, I took off the tin roof and put in 2.5 inches of blueboard (at R-5 per 1"). Additionally, I'm going to throw some R-25 ceiling insulation (in plastic bags to keep out moisture) in the large space behind and above the roost itself. I'm putting the same bagged up R-25 stuff in between the tin walls and the plywood inside walls. The front and back walls are also 2.5 inches of blueboard. Good to know about the corn! I have been giving them some red pepper seeds with their mash the past couple days while I have them outside. They seem to loooove them. [​IMG]

    Pat, that little ol' 15'x20' building there is OUR coop! [​IMG] We have been bringing them in with us during the nights, but we like to stay up later than them, and feel bad when they're trying to sleep at 9:30 and we want to play Scrabble (which can get loud). I have been planning to put plastic around the outside walls, but we don't get frequent enough precip during the winter to make it worth putting a roof on top of the run. You may be able to see that about a third of the run is safely tucked under the porch, and the girls love it there. What do typical roosts look like? I had used a couple of egg crates turned sideways and filled halfway with straw initially for them, but they seemed to prefer to huddle together in one of them, so I decided a communal roost would be fine for them, especially since there are only two of them and they could use the huddle warmth anyway! I've been worried about the heatlamp too. I can get quite a few inches of clearance around the lamp that I'm not worried about it directly touching anything, but I am worried about a chicken rampaging into it or it heating things too much in there. The bulb is 250w. I'll try to position it where I think it will be able to go and take pictures. I liked Jafo's idea of ventilating with a couple of 1" holes on each end of the coop, do you think that would be enough? I definitely want to ventilate it as well as I possibly can without having to running up the electric bill by keeping a light in there all the time to compensate.

    Annie, I agree it's pretty small, but it's also only two chickens, and the pictures do make it look smaller than it is (my lens is slightly fishbowl). It's roughly 4'x4'x4', so, minus the obstacles on the interior, it should be the 2 sq ft. per chicken standard, and the run outside is more than big enough for the two of them. They have been getting along surprisingly well in the awful 2x3 dog kennel I've been keeping them in while I finish up the coop.

    Hopefully by tonight I will have it done enough that I can put a thermometer in there and test the overnight temps, and if it seems safe, I'll put them out tomorrow night.
     
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

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    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:LOL, sorry, I feel very stupid now [​IMG]

    We have been bringing them in with us during the nights, but we like to stay up later than them, and feel bad when they're trying to sleep at 9:30 and we want to play Scrabble (which can get loud)

    Have you thought about trying to teach *them* to play scrabble too? <g>

    I have been planning to put plastic around the outside walls, but we don't get frequent enough precip during the winter to make it worth putting a roof on top of the run.

    My thought was more in terms of wind than precipitation. A roof will create more-still air in the run, which at like -30, -40 will make a real difference to the chooks.

    What do typical roosts look like? I had used a couple of egg crates turned sideways and filled halfway with straw initially for them, but they seemed to prefer to huddle together in one of them, so I decided a communal roost would be fine for them, especially since there are only two of them and they could use the huddle warmth anyway!

    Typically you'd use a piece of 2x4 or suchlike for them to sit on; however as I say, in your conditions it may actually be *better* to have the arrangement you've got, where they have a flat area of bedding to snuggle down into. Make sure to provide plenty of bedding, and (because they'll poo into it) clean it often.

    a couple of 1" holes on each end of the coop, do you think that would be enough? I definitely want to ventilate it as well as I possibly can without having to running up the electric bill by keeping a light in there all the time to compensate.

    Sounds reasonable to me (not for someone else, but for *you*). You WILL have to run the heat up to compensate for underventilation, though... a 4x4x4 coop is just too small to ventilate properly when the incoming air is like -40 or colder. That is the difficult part, to me -- not the floorspace (you actually have 8 sq ft per chicken indoors, which is pretty decent, not just 2) but the *air volume*. Tiny coops like that are tough to run in very cold conditions. Every time you open them to collect eggs or clean or check chickens, you swap out basically all the coop air for very cold outdoor temps, and they have very little thermal inertia or heat from the ground, and radiate heat like mad, and because the air volume is small in relation to chicken population, you need proportionately *more* ventilation yet there's nowhere to let it come in that won't frost the chickens or cause considerable cooling of the coop and frost issues.

    As I say, I think you can make it work, at least for one winter; but don't underestimate the challenges, or the extent to which you're going to have to use electricity. (The more insulation, the less electricity you will need)

    Good luck, have fun,

    Pat​
     

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