Winterizing the coop

Sylavash

In the Brooder
Oct 16, 2021
10
25
46
Northwest PA on the NY border
Hey everyone, this is my first winter with chickens in wondering what to expect. I live on the northern PA border with NY south of Buffalo. Winters start anywhere from snow in October or late December. Halloween costumes are made to go over winter coats. Once winter starts we expect light snow to mean 3-6 inches, heavy snow we measure in feet. (3-6 is not unusual) So far the nights are getting down to the 30s and days averaging low 50s.

While my summer coop had lots of ventilationI'm limiting that to a couple inches at the top of the coop for the winter. I have 21 chickens and 3 guineas that share the coop at night. (Opingtons,astralorp,Isa browns)

Normally my chicks free range from dusk to dawn. What happens in the winter? Will they still free range with snow on the ground? I plan to feed them more grain in the winter but what else should I plan or do to prepare? Should I change their feed or add to it?
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DobieLover

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While my summer coop had lots of ventilationI'm limiting that to a couple inches at the top of the coop for the winter.
That's a bad idea.
You need lots of ventilation in the winter to remove the moisture laden air and allow fresh dry air to enter the coop. You want to shoot for as close to 1 sq foot of ventilation per bird as you can manage.
Is the picture you provided the winter or the summer coop? Is it one coop and you just closed windows? Can you provide more pictures of the entire coop, inside and out?
How large is your coop?
Is your run covered?
The metal roof will sweat and drip back down on the birds with a high population density in the coop with low ventilation.
 
Last edited:

3KillerBs

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Welcome to BYC.

While my summer coop had lots of ventilationI'm limiting that to a couple inches at the top of the coop for the winter. I have 21 chickens and 3 guineas that share the coop at night. (Opingtons,astralorp,Isa browns)

Don't do that.

You still need at least 1 square foot of ventilation per adult, standard-sized hen in the winter to remove moisture so that it doesn't freeze onto combs and feet to cause frostbite. For your flock that's 24 square feet of ventilation.

The goal is not to keep the chickens warm but to keep them dry and out of the wind. They keep themselves warm with their built-in down parkas. Thus the temperature and humidity in the coop should be the same as the outside.

Do you have a roofed run so that they have a place to get out of the coop during the day even when it's snowed? If not you'll need a lot more than the usual recommended minimum of 4 square feet per bird in the coop to ward off what one of our members called "chicken cabin fever".

I second the value of the article linked above.
 

Sylavash

In the Brooder
Oct 16, 2021
10
25
46
Northwest PA on the NY border
Thank you for the article, it is very informative. I understand about the ventilation needing to be there. I have about a foot gap between the walls and the roof for ventilation in the summer but when the cold started coming this is not letting any heat in. It hit 35* (ferenheit)and the coop was 36* even with all the chickens in it. Too much ventilation. I closed the side a bit so there is plenty of air moving through but it is holding heat in. The roof is insulated metal, tipped enough for snow and rain to side of the back. I don't have a run, my chickens free range in the day over a couple acres and I close them in the coop at dusk.

My biggest question: will chickens free range in the winter? Snow? Or should I keep them in the coop more?
How much more should I feed?
The article stated more orientation in their diet but layer feed only hits up to 16%, should I be feeding a different type of feed?
 

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3KillerBs

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the cold started coming this is not letting any heat in. It hit 35* (ferenheit)and the coop was 36* even with all the chickens in it. Too much ventilation. I closed the side a bit so there is plenty of air moving through but it is holding heat in.

No. The coop is not supposed to hold heat in AT ALL. Heat = Moisture and Moisture in the Winter = Frostbite.

Don't try to keep the chickens warm. Keep them dry and out of the wind, they will keep themselves warm.

Chickens don't even notice cold until it gets down closer to 0F. And even then they only start to suffer is sub-zero temperatures last for an extended time. Here's another informative article on extreme weather: https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/aarts-extreme-weather-spiel.75893/

My biggest question: will chickens free range in the winter? Snow? Or should I keep them in the coop more?

I am in the south so I don't have direct experience, but the forum consensus seems to be that chickens *generally* don't like to go out in the snow. Some people provide a roofed run, some shovel the run, some cover the snow with straw ....

Don't confine them in the coop, go ahead and open the door and let them decide, but they probably won't range far unless you manage the snow in some fashion.

The article stated more orientation in their diet but layer feed only hits up to 16%, should I be feeding a different type of feed?

I'm presuming that "orientation" is autocorrect for protein. :D

Many people here on BYC feed 18+% all-flock feed with oystershell on the side instead of layer pellets. You can find some good discussions on this on the feed/water forum. :)
 

K0k0shka

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I agree with what's been said about chickens not needing heat. They need clean dry air free of wind and precipitation. Don't seal up the coop. Chickens aren't people and their winter needs are different from ours.

My biggest question: will chickens free range in the winter? Snow? Or should I keep them in the coop more?
Mine hate the snow. Won't set foot on it. They also hate being closed in the coop. My run is partially covered and there are some areas that stay pretty snow-free, but after a big snowstorm I have to go and shovel some of the snow out of the way in their run (they don't free range). Even if I can't get all of it, I'll shovel enough out to reduce the height and then I'll throw a bag of leaves on top of it for them to walk on. I save lots of bags of leaves in the fall and use them throughout the year on the run floor. They work great! The chickens really appreciate a fluffy carpet of leaves on top of the dreaded snow in the winter.

The article stated more orientation in their diet but layer feed only hits up to 16%, should I be feeding a different type of feed?
I use Purina flock raiser, which is 20% protein, year round for all birds. Then I have calcium on the side available at all times (broken up eggshells). I don't use layer feed, never have.
 

Ridgerunner

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My biggest question: will chickens free range in the winter? Snow? Or should I keep them in the coop more?
Chickens hate change. Waking up to a strange white world is a big change. It usually takes two or thee days for chickens that wake up to a strange white world to venture out into it. Even then, if helps for them to have a reason to go out. Food can be a good reason.

These photos were taken when I was in Arkansas. The most snow I measured was about 9" deep, nothing like yours. That snow fell mostly at night. I always leave my pop door open and let them decide what they want to do. It took two or three days before the boldest went out in it. There was grass and weeds sticking up above the snow so they could forage a bit. They made a trail to my compost pile to check it out as it is a great food source. There were trails to some places where they usually hang out. Some never left the coop until the snow melted, some spent a lot of time out in it.

The day I took this photo this 1" of snow fell during the day after they were already out. The change was gradual enough that they never got frightened and stayed out.
Snow Feb 2013.JPG


It was +4 F when I took this photo, you can see the ice from emptying the rubber water bowl. I left the pop door open and they decided to go outside. It was a calm morning. If a cold wind strong enough to ruffle their feathers had been blowing they would not have been out there. Their down traps tiny air bubbles in it, that's what insulates them and makes down such a good insulator for our clothing. If a wind releases those air bubbles they can get cold. You can see how much the cold bothers their feet, by the way.
Ice.jpg


It hit 35* (ferenheit)and the coop was 36* even with all the chickens in it.
In my opinion, not a problem. Your job is not to keep your chickens warm, your job is to allow them to keep themselves warm. Something like the wild birds that overwinter where you are. The difference is that they have the freedom to decide where they want to be. We take that flexibility away from our birds when we confine them.

One danger is a breeze that ruffles their feathers. If your coop becomes a wind tunnel they can have problems. You don't want a roost where the wind blows over it. A little air movement isn't bad, it's when it ruffles feathers it gets bad. An easy way for me to achieve that is to have the ventilation openings over their heads when they are on the roosts. Any breezes caused by that is above them.

The other danger is frostbite. As you should know from where you live, moisture is a big component of the risk of frostbite. If you go outside in cold weather with wet hands or a wet face you can have problems. But if you stay dry you are at much less risk. Same with the chickens.

In a coop the moisture can come from their breathing, their poop, or any thawed water. So you need to be able to remove that moisture. That takes ventilation. How much ventilation? I wish I had a good answer. I'm not one that believes that if you have 143 square inches per bird you are doomed to utter devastation but with 144 square inches you have utopia. That 1 square feet is a general guideline that will keep most people out of trouble even of the worst conditions. For many of us it is overkill, for a few it may not be enough. I can't tell from your photos how high your highest roost is, can you lave that foot open at the top and breezes still be above their heads? If you are keeping heat in you might be keeping moisture in.

I remember as a kid chickens sleeping in trees with the overnight lows around -10 Fahrenheit. Minus 10. Those chickens did not get frostbite and did not freeze to death. They were not on a dead branch of a tree overlooking a bluff and squawking defiantly into the teeth of a blizzard. They were in a pretty sheltered place out of the wind and you can't get much better ventilation than sleeping in a tree. I have not kept chickens in truly cold temperatures, the way I read Alaskan's article things change around -20 F.

How much more should I feed?
The article stated more orientation in their diet but layer feed only hits up to 16%, should I be feeding a different type of feed?
You can get a lot of different opinions on this. I just free feed 16% protein and call it good. They eat how much they want to. But it's not about protein anyway. They mainly burn carbohydrates to generate body heat. In my opinion, the amount of protein is not that relevant as far as keeping them warm.
 

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