Small coop in winter - heat options? Help!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by mianita, Nov 1, 2015.

  1. mianita

    mianita Out Of The Brooder

    Sep 19, 2015
    So fall is here and I've read a lot about winter with chickens, but everybody talks about big coops and mine is small (plenty of space for my 4 banties, well 3 as of today). This is my first year (I got my small flock in August).
    The coop is made from pretty thin cedar wood, I painted it, so it serves a bit longer, but I'm really concerned about how cold it gets during the night. I plan to put heavy plastic around the run, so it doesn't get too wet in the run when it rains.
    But I don't know if I should install the heating pad inside on one of the walls.
    I've read that in case of power outage the chickens will die because of sudden temperature change.
    I live in Idaho and we get some snow, but nothing brutal.
    The thing is my youngest chicken (6mo) died the night before during the first low temperature. I think she got wet during the day and got really cold at night, I found her in the morning...
    My chickens have an area to range on and they go out even if it rains, so they do get wet.

    Any advise how to prepare coop for the winter? Should I use heating pad? I don't want to use a lamp, because coop is tiny.
    Attaching some photos of the coop.
    Any advice is really appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.



    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
  2. mianita

    mianita Out Of The Brooder

    Sep 19, 2015
    Any ideas? We are going to get first low temperatures this week...
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Since you had a chicken die I can certainly see why you have concerns. I am sorry that happened to you.

    Can you tell us what temperatures you mean by cool and cold? Those terms aren’t very descriptive and it could help us respond.

    My chickens get wet a lot and are not harmed by it. It’s always possible the wet and cool contributed but then again they may not have. It’s always hard to say. It’s possible there was something underlying that weakened her and she could not handle the bit of stress from wet and cool that would normally not cause a problem. Sometimes chickens die and we just don’t know why. I’ve had a couple die that I think injured themselves, one flying down from a roost and hitting a hanging feeder and one that I think was trying to get away from an amorous rooster and banged into a wall. I did not see either of these so I’m just guessing.

    Do you lock them in that coop section at night or is it open? One concern is that I don’t see any ventilation. Chickens don’t need an airtight coop, that’s dangerous anytime of the year, not only in winter. The coop needs to exchange bad air for good. There are different ways to do that, to me the easiest is to have openings up high over their heads. They don’t need to be hit by a cold breeze that ruffles their feathers in winter either. Openings over their heads allows air exchange but keeps any breezes over their heads.

    Part of what you are trying to do is get rid of excess humidity. Excess moisture can lead to frostbite, not death. But when their poop beaks down it forms ammonia, a lighter than air gas that can kill them. That’s a big reason why you need an opening over their heads, so that ammonia can escape. You didn’t have a strong ammonia smell when you went out there did you?

    Your chickens are a lot like the wild birds that overwinter where you are. They can handle really cold temperatures if you let them. When a cold wind is blowing the wild birds seek shelter from it in trees, bushes, fence rows, some sheltered place. They have great ventilation but they can get out of the wind. They keep themselves warm by trapping tiny pockets of air in their feathers. Those pockets of air are what insulate them and keep them warm. Sometimes we make it hard for our chickens to find places out of the wind with great ventilation in our coops, but that is what they need. They do a great job of keeping themselves warm.

    Wet feathers can cause problems with those air pockets so it is possible that her being wet contributed to the problem. It’s really hard to say what caused it. I never lock my chickens up because of weather and give them the option of what they want to do. I’ve never lost one to cold but I’m sure others have.

    I took this picture a few years back when the outside temperature was 4 degrees above zero Fahrenheit. They can handle pretty cold temperatures.


    As long as you don’t get that coop too warm and give your chickens free access to the outside regardless of weather, they will be out in cold temperatures and acclimate themselves. Heat kills a lot more chickens than cold, a lot more. You don’t want to cook them. But as long as they have acclimated themselves during the day in cold temperatures I don’t think they are going to die because of the heating pad going out at night. I also don’t believe the heating pad is necessary for them. As long as they have good ventilation and are protected from breezes they don’t need it. The main benefit would be that it makes you feel better. There is some value in that.

    Once again I am sorry for your loss. I know it doesn’t help to say it but when you deal with living animals you sometimes have to deal with dead animals. Any of us that haven’t been through it yet will.
    1 person likes this.
  4. Hokum Coco

    Hokum Coco Overrun With Chickens

    Dec 6, 2012
    New Brunswick,Canada
    Quote: [​IMG]


    I am subject to -40º weather l live in Canada think North Pole. I have 65 trips around the sun and have been keeping chickens and birds for decades.

    Your best practice I find is to not be too concerned about winterizing or heating your coop to help your birds combat the cold.

    Predator proofing "ABSOLUTELY".

    Your efforts should be spent in winterizing your birds and letting them acclimatize to their surroundings.
    This is done by feeding them whole corn if available or cracked corn as an added supplement in a separate feeder.

    The extra protein is more the adequate to bring them through the
    "COLDEST" winter.

    Do keep an eye open for birds that maybe not be adapting well to the new menu and may be at the lower end of the pecking order they can sometimes run into problems and may need extra TLC.

    That being said in a perfect world the flock will flourish and do just fine .

    I do not add any extra heat or lighting.
    Egg production does slack off but I have more than enough eggs for the table all winter long (24 hens).

    Some people may disagree with my method but it has worked well for me and I am not about to change.

    I look at it in the same light as winterizing your car.

    You really do


    have to winterize your car if you can keep it in a controlled environment at all times otherwise you are in for

    "MAJOR" problems.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  5. mianita

    mianita Out Of The Brooder

    Sep 19, 2015
    Thank you so much for taking your time and writing those responses! I do appreciate it so much!
    There is a ventilation on the top, between the roof and the run and I keep it open all the time. I haven't noticed any smell of ammonia, but the window was sort of wet on inside, so I guess it wasn't as dry as it should be. I think my little chicken was not feeling well in the evening, I always lock them for the night and check if they are all on the roost. She was in the nesting box for some reason and I actually had a thought that it will be cold there and placed her on the roost with others, so that they keep each other warm. I wish I had taken her inside that night, but I had no idea, I am so new to this. She was our favorite and kids loved her, that is why I am so stressed out I suppose.
    I'm not very concerned about their egg production, they are more pets for us than egg producers, so I didn't plan to add any lighting at all.
    I did place a heavy plastic around the run today, so it stays more dry inside. I left an opening for ventilation and I keep the door open for them all day long any way.
    The temperatures now are 40s during the day (37-45) and should be around 23-28 during the night this week.
    I've changed the pine shavings today (I usually change every week, but probably I should do this more often in winter?) and I added more than usual.
    I don't like the idea of a heating pad inside the coop, but I think the coop is not insulated at all, cedar wood planks are pretty thin.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by