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Looking for experienced input on a cold-climate open-air coop

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Kutschka, Feb 11, 2015.

  1. Kutschka

    Kutschka Out Of The Brooder

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    Hi, everybody.

    I've read a lot of what's been posted about open-air coops, and have read Open-Air Poultry Houses for All Climates, by Prince Woods, which link I found in one of the other threads (thanks, whoever offered that!). Most of what I'm reading in the forum is from people who seem not entirely familiar with the concept, or who just don't trust it. The book claims, over and over, emphatically, in no uncertain terms, and with lots of real-life examples, that properly constructed open-air coops keep chickens healthier, more comfortable, and more productive than do coops with four walls, even in high winds and temperatures well below zero.

    I'm in WV; temperatures here occasionally hit zero, but most winters it doesn't get that cold. We may spend a week at a time with temperatures no higher than the teens, but usually it's warmer.

    I have a 10x10 dog pen (wood floor, about a foot off the ground) that I'm hoping to convert into a coop. Not having heard of open-air coops until today (when I was looking into R-values of plywood), I had been planning on four walls, but now I'm leaning strongly toward making the south wall entirely of mesh, thus making an open-air coop.

    The designs the book offers aren't just three simple walls with the fourth of wire mesh, though. Assuming Woods is correct about the superiority of the open-air design, I wonder how critical the various design details are to keeping the chickens well protected from the elements. I had some trouble following all the construction details provided in the book, and I'm starting with an existing structure, which makes it harder to conceive of how to proceed.

    Nearly everyone on the forum who talks about the open-air coops seems to think closing up that fourth wall in cold weather is the right thing to do, but that is the opposite of Woods' idea of open-air coops. According to Woods, an adequately designed and built house provides plenty of protection even in severe weather, and closing up the house in winter undoes the good.

    Is there anyone out there who has a truly open-air coop, even in winter, who lives in a climate at least as cold as mine (again, rarely reaching zero, with single digits unusual), who can help me understand what's most important about the details of construction? I really like the sound of open-air coops, but I don't want to do it wrong and regret it. There's lots of speculation, lots of experience with coops that are open some of the year, and some experience from people in warmer climates, but actual 21st-century experience with open-air coops in moderate-to-cold climates seems pretty scarce.

    I think I have read posts from people with the kind of experience I'm looking for, but I've lost track of them among all the posts from people who were just speculating, and/or who missed the point. I'm too pooped to troll through the threads again in search of those nuggets!

    My first and biggest question is this: Would it be all right to just make the fourth (and tallest) wall out of mesh, assuming that wall didn't face prevailing winds, and assuming other details were well done? Or would I need that offset, two-layer design of the Woods house? He offers a couple of other designs as well, but none are as simple as what I'd had in mind for the closed coop, with a simple sloped roof.

    If you are familiar with year-round open-air coops in cold climates, I'd really appreciate hearing from you!

    Thanks!
     
  2. HandsomeRyan

    HandsomeRyan Renaissance man

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    Feb 18, 2013
    Music City, USA
    The guy who has sold you on the idea that open air coops are "better" than traditional coops also sells (sold?) books about this subject. That may not make him a completely unbiased source for information.

    I'm not qualified to tell you if an open air coop will work in your situation but I will remind you that plenty of us raise perfectly healthy, productive chickens in traditional coops. I believe this author has you convinced that his system will solve a problem most of us simply don't have.

    Good luck whatever you decide to build.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
    1 person likes this.
  3. newwestchick

    newwestchick Chillin' With My Peeps

    I've not read any info on open air coops, but, when designing mine I wanted to make the run secured so I wouldn't have to go every night and close the coop door... And inadvertently ended up with more of an open air concept. The chickens are allowed access to a fenced area on the grass, but I consider this whole structure the "coop".

    I'm going to forewarn you, I am Canadian so have no clue what farenheight temperatures are compared to mine, but I am sure you could google an online calculator and do the conversion :D

    Here's my "coop"

    [​IMG]

    I am currently brooding 22 7 week old chicks. They've been out in this set up for the last 4 weeks, the temperature here is anywhere from zero degrees with heavy frost overnight, to 10 degrees as a daytime high. They had supplemental heat until last week, but only overnight in the small enclosed coop. The door to the little coop stays open 24/7, and the food and water access is outside.

    Since this set up has a building on one side, a privacy fence on a second (both those directions are the prevailing wind sides) and a roof on top, they have been dry despite very heavy rains, happy and are thriving. There is no ammonia build up or smell, and they often bed down in the deep litter in the day but will go inside their little house at night. The little house is maybe big enough to accommodate 8 full sized hens (we are not keeping all we have been brooding) however I would never ever consider keeping them confined in that tiny space for any length of time. Hence the set up! Even in strong winds the area fenced out for them is relatively sheltered.

    My best advice would be to have an area (like my tiny coop) that they could get totally out of the weather, have clean dry shavings or straw to snuggle into and somewhere "safe" to lay if you are considering an open air concept. I don't think a simple 2 wall structure would be totally enough, but you could add in a little box for them to shelter in when the weather got nasty. It could be made easily from a single piece of plywood made into a three sided hutch.
     
  4. Kutschka

    Kutschka Out Of The Brooder

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    Oct 28, 2014
    Hi, HandsomeRyan.

    I realize now I ought to have been a little gentler with my presentation. I'm well aware that countless people raise healthy, happy chickens in closed coops, and I certainly didn't mean to imply that there was anything wrong with that -- though, obviously, preoccupied with my questions, I did. Apologies all around!

    There are a few reasons I'd prefer an open-air coop, if it turns out to be feasible. It's obviously not the standard course, and I'm not 100% ready to take the word of a guy from a hundred years ago, which is why I'm seeking the experience of someone still alive.

    Everything that makes it into a published book could be nothing more than entrepreneurial claptrap, and much of it in fact is. Woods has me interested and intrigued, but I treat him with the same skepticism with which I treat other published authors -- which is why I'm seeking input from among this group of financially disinterested enthusiasts.

    Thanks for the reminder to be more considerate of my audience! I really do appreciate it.

    : ^)

    Kutschka
     
  5. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I have it in a big way. Open air kept birds as individuals are the healthiest you are likely see assuming no frostbite although the assertion that egg production is not impacted by extreme low temperatures is bunk. Not only does extreme low temperature reduce egg production, it also causes a greater increase in feed intake required simply for maintenance.
     
    1 person likes this.
  6. Kutschka

    Kutschka Out Of The Brooder

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    Thanks, newwestchick -- what you tell me is reassuring indeed! It sounds like perfect engineering and micromanagement aren't required.

    Hearing of your experience is freeing me up to consider various options for my own situation, and it looks promising. The dog pen that will be the basis for my coop already has a sturdy doghouse, a bit smaller than your tiny coop, that could be an extra layer of refuge; if the chickens all try to pile into that, I can take the hint and enclose the space more, or take other measures. But what I'm envisioning will be significantly more enclosed than what your picture shows, so it sounds like it would be just fine.

    So you're saying that, in February in Canada, you've had a month of temperatures at around freezing and above? That doesn't match my preconceived notions about Canada! (Because, of course, the entire expanse of Canada is uniformly cold, right?!)

    Thanks again!
     
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    You are looking down a row of open air pens. Temps get down to -13 F around here. Egg production stops around 0 F and slows down around 15 F.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2015
  8. Kutschka

    Kutschka Out Of The Brooder

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    centrarchid, I'm glad to hear your experience. I must admit that I found claims of increased egg production hard to understand (and I saw no mention of increased feed) -- which tends to support HandsomeRyan's suspicion of author motives.

    Are you saying that your birds are housed in an open-air structure? Do you have photos to share?

    Update: Oops: There's a photo you've just shared.

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  9. duluthralphie

    duluthralphie Chicken Wrangler Premium Member

    I have two coops, one has a side completely open to the outdoors, covered by only wire fencing to keep predators out. I have an enclosed run with an open chicken door on this cop.

    The other coop is enclosed with the area under the eaves, open for ventilation, along with vents in roof and gable ends. I also keep a chicken door open to a covered run on this coop

    I have had some problems with frostbite in the coop, I think it is too tight and keeps too much moisture. It is noticeably warmer in the enclosed coop. I am going to build more coops this summer, They will be open air on one side. The birds handle the cold just fine.

    The egg production does drop in the extreme cold, it happens, It really does not matter because the eggs freeze and crack in that cold anyways. I cannot really say they go through more or less feed.

    I just keep all feeders full and throw scratch, bird seed or sunflower seeds on the ground for the birds. I did notice the birds in the enclosed coop are more excepting of new snow than those in the enclosed coops.


    I live 60 miles north west of Minneapolis Minnesota, so it does get cold here.

    I do not believe in adding supplemental heat. I do use heated water founts and/or dog dishes for the birds.
     
  10. newwestchick

    newwestchick Chillin' With My Peeps


    Ha! We are near Vancouver BC, which is on the southernmost west coast, only about 2 hours north of Seattle so a very similar climate to them :)

    It was below freezing for about ten days in November, but not really since then. It has been a little warmer than usual, but even if it was below freezing this set up would be just fine IMHO ;) If it went below minus 15 I would probably just close the little coop door at night.

    ETA this picture was taken today! Year round grass in my area :yesss: GO CANADA!!
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015

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