Winterizing a coop for a Canadian Winter!


10 Years
Jun 11, 2009
Nova Scotia
I am in Nova Scotia, Canada. Our winters can get down to about -20 Celcius, -5 Farenheit. With wind chill, add another 10 degrees, that is the coldest and these cold days seem to come all at once with cold snaps that last 4 days to a couple weeks.
This is my first time as an adult to raise chickens. We will winter about 18 hens and a rooster. The coop is built inside of a large shed, maybe 20 x 20. The shed is on blocks with no barriers underneath.... the cold air and wind can blow under the shed. The shed is made of boards and air is able to blow through the knots of the wood.
The coop is 8 x 4ish and the roof is open to the rafters of the shed.

My husbands plan is to use bedding, lots of it, not change it for the winter for the floor. And then maybe vapor barrier on the walls and ceiling. I think we need to build a subfloor, use insulation pink and plywood. Then insulation and plywood for the walls and ceiling too of the coop only. I have also heard of stapling newspaper to the walls to prevent air from blowing through.

My objective of course is to prevent frostbite on toes and combs, prevent the water and eggs from freezing, but even more importantly, I WANT THEM TO BE COMFORTABLE AND HAPPY.
Does anybody know what temp will make a happy chicken? What temp do they like for egg laying? How many hours of light do they need?
I have an extension cord and the ability to add light and heat as I am doing now. (come on! it gets down to 1 degree celcius here now! that cant be fun for young little pullets!)

Input is appreciated! We are getting ready to do something in the next week or 2!
If you don't yet have the birds. I would wait until springtime. Otherwise, make room in your house or garage and expect to provide heat until birds get full feathered at around 8 weeks. Big shock to put them from a heated garage to an unheated coop.

Ventilation is vital to good health as chickens seem to be prone to lung ailments. Heat will kill more chickens than cold will. I have seen pics of coops in Canada that were only three-sided sheds, open to the south. I would consider a deep pile of straw or hay in one corner of floor for them to huddle together in case of really cold snap. Do not use metal for a roost pole! Frostbite danger. I would do straw or hay all over around 6" deep and then lightly cover the poop occasionally with more hay, straw, sawdust, wood chips, all winter to prevent ammonia gas buildup. Clean out in springtime and re-straw. Dont like the sound of the bedding with the buildup of filth all winter.
Well, as far as what temp makes a chicken happy, I dunno. Mine sort of like the chilly weather. But I'm talking 40s. I am certainly not advocating that you try to keep your coop at 40 degrees.

My chickens laid better last winter in subzero temperatures than they laid all summer. They're weird.

The common consensus is that around 14 hours of light are needed for egg production. Some provide light to keep production up, some don't.

I turn on the heat at about 15-20F. As it continues to get cold here I attempt to keep the coop around 10-15F. Sometimes that takes 2 heat sources. My coop is insulated and I have large double paned windows for sunlight to help warm the space during the day. However, I only have 4 chickens. The more bodies you have, the more heat (and moisture) that they will generate.

Moist air is what will cause frostbite. It is very important to have adequate ventilation to draw that moist air up and out of your coop.

IMO, draft free and well ventilated (up high) is more important than warm. My coop has been as cold as -5F inside and yet it didn't feel too bad, even to me (without feathers!) because there are no drafts inside. That might be where you can work on your coop set up.

Here in MN, I am unable to keep water thawed without a heated water dish. It was a minimal investment (around $25) and worked wonderfully. Highly recommended.

Hope this helps.
Oh, sorry gsim. My "little young pullets" are actually 13 and 16 weeks old. Some are mixed.... rir, americana, etc. and a couple are purebred (the youngest) barred rocks. They are fully feathered now. By heat, I mean just a light bulb in the baby coop which is 4 by 4 feet. They don't even bother huddling close to the bulb anymore.
Ventilation seems to be key..... should I keep the ceiling open to the rafters?
I am happy using deep bedding and adding fresh every week to keep amonia fumes down. (gsim, of course I would not just let my chickens walk around in their own filth, that is not what I meant!!!) But do I have to also build a subfloor and insulate?
I am also willing to use a heater but I would rather make it as insulated as possible while providing enough ventilation.
City chook, how do you draw the moist air up and out? And I have seen water dish heaters.... a thing you put under the dish..... is this what you have or an actual dish that heats?
You don't get *that* cold but I would guess it is probably mostly a damp cold, which is harder on chickens than drier air. (And there is a limit to how much good you can do with ventilation when the outdoor humidity is 98%

It is not inconcievable you might end up running a lamp, but I would suggest just keeping a close eye on the birds and see how it goes, because you easily might *not* need a lamp.

I would absolutely for 100% sure either build a raised floor for the shed (be careful of rodent infestation underneath...) or close in the walls all the way down to the ground and run a wire apron to protect vs predators that will want to dig in. You can't just leave the bottom part open like that.

Either way, yes, definitely lots of bedding (more if they're directly on the ground) and you will be fine

I would recommend against vapor barrier. A coop is not a house and the performance requirements are different. In a coop, you actually WANT wood to be able to absorb some humidity, to give some extra leeway in damp spells. Because it will be on the whole much better ventilated than a house, and because it is typically not heated anything like so much and therefore does not experience the same degree of condensation, you will not run into the same type of mold problems you would in an un-vapor-barriered house. A vapor barrier will not kill your chickens of course but I think it is a poor idea and just makes your life more difficult.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say 'open to the rafters', you will want solid walls on all 4 sides of the coop with the tendency of weather to come from any possible direction in the Maritimes
You will want your vents up high, near the top of the walls, just under or between the rafters (is that what you mean?) so they are protected by the roof overhang and tap off mainly the *warmest* coop air, which (perversely) gives you the most benefit for lowering humidity. Don't worry, your chickens will still be warm enough.

You might take a look at the pages in my .sig below, they may have some useful info, also LynneP who lives somewhere out near you has a page on winter coop management based on her past year or two of chicken ownership that you will want to check out.

Good luck, have fun,

BTW, heated moist air rises up and out *on its own*, on account of hot air rising
, that's why you want wintertime vents high on the walls;

and a dogbowl will be real small for 18 or 19 chickens, you may want to consider either making or buying a heated base for a galvanized metal waterer.

Good luck, have fun,

Hi neighbour! Sometimes we do get that cold- remember the 10 day stretch at -40C chill factor last winter? It was savage here. Properly insulated you can expect the coop, at that size, not to get much lower than -5C, BUT you will need to insulate. What you use depends on the rodent situation. We have feral cats using the barn where our coop is built, so we don't worry about rodents in the floors and walls. Now, we're in the middle of the mainland and we get high winds and a heavy snow load- not sure where you are. We use a light in the coop 5 am- 8 am, and we have a heated dog bowl raised on cinder blocks and a concrete patio block. That's for 12 layers and I agree with pat that you might need a second one or a bigger heated waterer.

Some ideas here, and please let me know if I can be of more help, I may be down the road from you!

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I keep my pop door open during daylight hours unless it's going be be below 0F. Fresh, cold air enters through the popdoor, lingers and gets warmed by the hens/heat lamps, collects moisture and rises to the top of the gables and exits the coop. I also have ridgecap/soffet vents that help draw air out, so even when temperatures are REALLY BAD and the gable vents have to get closed, I still have some circulation happening.

Pat's got it right - keep the vents up high and on the non-weather side. She told me, while we were still building, to make the vents in the walls under the eaves -- I WISH I had heeded her instruction. My DH refused to cut into the walls (they were insulated and finished) so we put the vents in the gables. It works fine, but under the eaves would have been so much easier to manage as you don't have to close them up when the weather hits. As it worked out, I have a large window that is mostly covered by the eave, so I leave it open from the top down and the rain tends to stay out.

It seems converse to put holes in a coop when the goal is to keep it warm. Everyone looked at me cross-eyed when I said we HAD to do it and to get out the jig saw. But it works. The warm air that's at the top of the coop isn't doing the chickens any good anyways since they can't reach it. The warm, moist air rises and leaves the coop, and keeping it dry inside keeps the frostbite at bay.

As far as the dish goes, I only have 4 chickens, so I use a dog bowl that actually heats up. They also make heaters that can warm up a large waterer as well, which is probably what you'll want with 18 chickens.
As many other posters have said, you need ventilation high up above where the birds will be. Cold, moist air = frostbite.

You can stack straw bales outside around the base of your coop to provide extra insulation. This can turn in to a comfy place for rodents, though ... so best to wait until the rodents have hibernated before you put up the straw bales. Stack part way up the walls, and leave the walls that are higher than the roosting area bare.

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