one year later - help with coop redesign for frostbite

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by amory, Mar 14, 2018.

  1. amory

    amory Hatching

    Mar 14, 2018
    long time readers, first time posters. very glad to have stumbled on this excellent resource last year. after one summer and one winter, we're in need of some advise from other cold climate dwellers with regards to frostbite.

    we got the birds to help with our land's tick problem, after numerous human and dog friends struggled with lyme.. after a few months on the loose our ten voracious black australorps ate nearly every last one!

    the coop started one wall at a time from all sorts of excess building materials from our job sites. the sides, roof and floor are homemade structural-insulated-panels - filled with 1 1/2" pink foam.

    we ran ac from the house in pvc underground to power the water heater, as well as two 100w radiant panels to take the edge off. no lights, heat lamps or other elements. we're in zone 5 wisconsin, with extremes of -40 to +100f.

    the run is on the edge of the forest and gets good deciduous shade in summer. this winter we had the coldest december on record. a few of those days the ladies didn't leave the coop, and we hung a towel over the door. otherwise more or less they seemed pretty happy, albeit with small spots of frostbite on the tips of the combs.

    after a recent cooper's hawk attack, from which the hen miraculously healed, we finally picked up a rooster. he's an altsteirer, from a local lady who raises rare breeds from greenfire. listed as cold hardy on their website. he's seven months old and thus survived the winter ok.

    after one week with us, he's already showing worrying frostbite all over his comb. and it's been mild and spring-like - high 30s in the day and low 20s in the night. sunny. not too windy. he still keeps a distance in his new home, so not the best photo. but the tips are all showing signs, as is the main bit in the back...

    when we got him a week ago..
    IMG_0657 copy.JPG

    the ventilation openings are about 2 inches, running front and rear lengthwise. the glass is regular single pane from the hardware shop. when roosting, they can just stick their heads up to the middle of the window (ie a direct cross breeze from north to south shouldn't pass onto them).

    any thoughts for improving our coop so our winged friends can keep a bit more comfortable?

    -after previous failures of expensive auto doors, i'm adverse to those.
    -they wake up much earlier than us, so a door proper would keep them cooped longer
    -remove window entirely and replace with insulation?
    -fill in either the front or rear gaps to leave just one side for ventilation?
    -create a vertical eve above the window so air can escape, but not blow straight in?

    first island of snow free ground appeared today, and they were quite happy to dig around!

    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
  2. Peppercorngal

    Peppercorngal Songster

    Feb 5, 2018
    Feather Falls, CA
    I'm in California and the coldest it got this winter (so far) was 27 degrees. For us that is really, really cold. My Chickens are not used to that temperature and I simply used a red heat lamp from dark until dawn in the coop. My coop, however, is 6 feet tall (I can walk in it) 4 feet wide x 6 feet long. That's my small coop for a few laying hens I have. I hung the lamp horizontally pointing to the roost that they use. It worked like a charm. It's still in there, but has been unused for a week or two. My other coop for my new chicks is 10 feet tall and 8x10. I had 2 heat lamps in it. One was red the other white. My chicks were not feathered at the time. Now those lights are removed as the chicks have full feathers. The new coop is built like a house with a steel door and all, pretty warm I'd say. Good luck, sorry I've been no help at all. Your chickens are beautiful! :frow
  3. Redhead Rae

    Redhead Rae Chickens, chickens everywhere!

    Jan 4, 2017
    Braxton County, WV
  4. Trellinius

    Trellinius Chirping

    Mar 5, 2018
    I live in MO and we had a colder winter than normal (at least in January) but still only about -12 for the coldest night. My one RIR rooster got a bit of frostbite as well, everyone else was okay.

    I guess I would approach this from a different perspective than it being the coop . . .
    where the Astrolorps affected by the cold - did they get frost-bite? I'm thinking it may be something with the breeds - some are more susceptible to cold than others.
    AmazingRachel likes this.
  5. amory

    amory Hatching

    Mar 14, 2018
    thanks for the reply! we have family in southern california and it's always funny talking with them. for us 45f means t-shirts, for them it means arctic coats :)

    the australorps were affected as well, though earlier, when it was significantly colder. the new rooster is supposedly a cold hardy breed, and came to us after wintering locally. i've added another photo of his condition when we picked him up.
  6. ChickenFajita6

    ChickenFajita6 Songster

    Apr 1, 2017

    We are similar. I am in the south, we normally have mild winters but had a few bitter freezes this year, including snow - twice!! We put a heat lamp in the coop aimed at the roost bar everyone sleeps on (it was only about 2' away from them). We also sealed up all the other openings that are normally open for airflow with plastic sheets. The coop seemed ok anytime I checked it, but one of my girls did get a little frostbite on the tip of her comb. She is the hen with the biggest, floppiest comb too. If we lived in a cold weather climate I'd really have to weather proof their coop for her sake!
  7. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    Ventilation is really important, and I don't see a lot in the picture of your coop. Is it damp in there? That's a huge issue, and contributes to frostbite.
    The most wonderful coop design, IMO, is the Woods coop; look it up here. I'd love to have one!
    My coop/ run combination has hardware cloth openings high up, and is never damper than ambient.
    I also don't see the dimensions of your coop, but it looks small for eleven birds.
    My coop in summer, and in winter with two layers of plastic sheeting.
    IMG_0222.JPG IMG_0223.JPG IMG_0224.JPG IMG_0620.JPG IMG_0622.JPG IMG_0623 (1).JPG
    I do need newer better pictures! Mary
    Ol Grey Mare likes this.
  8. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    If possible, and it's too late now, but get birds with smaller combs and wattles. Big single combs on cockbirds especially are going to freeze in very cold temp, no matter what you do. That's why I have Chanteclers!!!
    AmazingRachel likes this.
  9. amory

    amory Hatching

    Mar 14, 2018
    @Folly's place
    i'd have to wander out into the cold to remeasure, but i believe it's around 3ft x 8ft wide plus the two boxes with dividers for four layers. the fenced run is 12ft x 20ft, with a roof, and during winter, snow piled around to provide a chicken-high windbreak.

    for ventilation there's the door, and a 2-3" gap running the entire 8ft. here's a better head-on view.

    it's never smelled of ammonia. we've put a humidity gauge inside, and it's been more or less the same as outdoors. in summer it's cool, and in january with the radiant panel on it's reasonable. so i don't think it's an issue of too little ventilation or too much moisture..

    as you can see from the two rooster photos above taken a week apart, he came to us with zero frostbite, having survived the same wisconsin winter.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
  10. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Your coop is tight space for 10 birds in your climate.
    Ventilation is not bad, but coop too short for 'draft free on the winter roost'.
    Heaters must be draining your wallet, all the heat is going right out the vents.
    Wonders what kind of housing that cock was in at his previous place?

    I've come to believe that frostbite is almost inevitable on large combed birds.
    I have a large, tall, well ventilated coop, but you can't make it drier inside than out. It can be humid here, especially during thaws, and I've found that frostbite on combs most often occurs when temps are 20-32F. Frostbite doesn't always happen on the roost either, wattles dragging in the snow(they love to eat snow, despite warm water in the coop) almost guarantees nippage.

    I would strongly suggest a larger, taller coop...your birds will be more comfortable but it won't necessarily eliminate frostbite. Sorry, no magic here, just harsh reality. You could try preventative coatings on combs, but I do not believe that really helps much, if at all.

    Good news is, it should heal up just fine and won't get nipped as bad if at all next winter, if he makes it thru the summer acting as predator 'speed bump on the way to the buffet'.....and it won't affect his progeny producing performance. My rule is hands off frostbite, let it heal on it's own, messing with compromised tissue is asking for more trouble and could very well introduce bacteria leading to infection.
    There can be swelling for a few days, which is uncomfortable so expect some reduced activity, but passes quickly. Make sure he has a feeder that doesn't touch his comb when he's eating.

    Here's my cockerel this winter.
    You can see(kinda) in Jan he lost the front of his left wattle already, about a 1/4" along the entire length. His right wattle is deformed(injury or genetics, not sure yet) so it didn't get nipped.

    Tips falling off on 3-4-18.
    There's a bit of 'wetness' where the 'scab' was, but it dries up within hours.
    sweetater22 and AmazingRachel like this.

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