HOW TO WINTERIZE A CHICKEN COOP.

You may be thinking to yourself, Hey, I don’t own chickens so I don’t need to winterize a chicken coop.  And you would be right.  Feel free to skip this post and instead read about how cheese was invented and how to make your own cheese serving board.  I will  wonder about your judgement if you do skip this post, but truth be told, I was already wondering about you.

Winterize a chicken coop

How to Winterize a Chicken Coop

For those of you who haven’t been around since the beginning of my foray into chickens, I should explain how I got chickens in the first place.  My former fella, an imposing man stretching 6’4″ into the sky, with a tattooed neck and size 13 feet, came home one Easter morning cradling a cardboard box filled with straw and 6 downy little chicks.

I’d always said I wanted chickens, but I said it the same way one says they want to be taller, or try kickboxing.   They’re fantasy ideas that are nice to ponder but have no basis in reality.

Home he came with the box of chicks, plunked them on the counter and smiled at me, clearly thinking I’d instinctively know what to do with a cardboard box full of livestock.  I did not.  In the next few months I read everything I could about raising chickens in between building a chicken coop and keeping my mouth shut about how much fun I think it would be to own goats.

I’ve had almost 8 years of learning about chickens now with the most valuable information coming from experience, not books, the Internet or word of mouth.  One of the things I was most scared of that first year was winter.  I was terrified the chickens would be cold. I mean how could they not be?  I hadn’t considered the fact that chickens are covered in feathers and down and all the other birds in the wild seem to manage to survive without issue.  The truth is, heat is far more dangerous to your chickens than cold.  Having said that, there are still a few things you need to do to get your coop ready for winter if you live in a colder climate.

Winterize a chicken coop

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If you want a little more information on how to winterize a chicken coop keep on reading.

THE IN DEPTH INFO.
  1.  Clean out the entire coop.  This is especially important if you use the deep litter method like I do.  Scrape the ladders, walls and floor of any caked on poop.   At this moment, those of you who don’t own chickens but decided to read this post anyway are now saying “See?  This is exactly why I don’t want chickens”.

Winterize a chicken coop

2. Add in an extra-thick layer of bedding. I use straw because each individual piece of straw is filled with air which acts as great insulation.  I start with at least 6″ of bedding in the run and 8″ in the roosting area at the beginning of the winter season.

Winterize a chicken coop

3.  Block out the wind and snow if you have an open run like I do.  Half of my coop is made of hardware cloth which doesn’t provide much a barrier in the middle of a raging winter blizzard.  For the first few years I tacked up plastic sheeting like this to block the wind and snow, but two years ago I invested in plexiglass.  I had pieces cut to size to fit in each of the coop openings that needed to be filled.  If you do either of these things make sure you leave adequate ventilation at the top of the coop.  Ventilation is very VERY important. In fact, a poorly ventilated coop will also kill your chickens more quickly than the cold will.  Without adequate ventilation the coop will become humid which can cause frostbite in cold weather plus the air will be toxic with ammonia from all the poop.  So ventilate.  Got it?

Winterize a chicken coop

4. Keep your water thawed.  You can buy a variety of different heated water systems for your coop to keep it from freezing all winter, but the most economical way is to DIY your own.  You can either add small outdoor Christmas lights or install an actual low watt bulb into a metal cookie tin.  If you’re in a pinch and don’t have a metal cookie tin handy, you can go the even easier route using this method.  I have a whole tutorial on installing the lightbulb in the cookie tin here. Set your regular metal waterer on top and the heat from the lights is enough to keep the water from freezing.

Winterize a chicken coop

5.  Put your lights on a timer if you want your hens to lay in the winter.  A chicken is triggered into laying eggs by the length of the day.  They need 14-16 hours of light to regularly lay eggs.  Anything under that (like the 9 or 10 hours we typically get in winter) and they will spend all those extra hours sleeping as opposed to egg laying.  Supplemental lighting is a bit controversial with some owners preferring their hens follow the course of nature by getting the winter months off of laying.  If you do choose to use a light to help with continued laying set it to come on prior to dawn.  If dawn is 8 a.m. and dusk is 6 p.m. (10 hours) you need to set your timer to come on at 4 a.m. to get regular egg production.   I don’t do this during the shortest days of winter, allowing the chickens to rest.    I do however use supplemental lighting in the fall and spring.

6.  Heat the coop?  That’s another controversial subject among chicken owners.  I was convinced that chickens needed to be toasty warm when I first got my birds, but quickly realized that heat wasn’t going to make the hens more comfortable, it was going to make ME more comfortable.  Chickens are covered in feathers.  They’re fine in the cold.  Don’t fret it.  Keep the wind and snow out of their coop and they’ll be fine.  I *do* have a safe, ceramic, wall mount heater in my coop for nights that get exceedingly cold to prevent frostbite on any areas of the chicken that aren’t covered in feathers like their feet, combs and wattles.   Any nights that will be below 4 Fahrenheit or -15 Celsius, I will turn the heater on to raise the temperature by a just a few degrees.

Winterize a chicken coop

Winterize a chicken coop

If you do all these things you can feel confident that your chickens will make it through the winter comfortably. I wonder what kind of care goats need in the winter?

And would they like kickboxing?

 

58 Comments

  1. Susan says:

    The best picture is of you squishing the chicken!

    You should use it for your Christmas cards…I would, but, that’s not saying much.

  2. Kris wilson says:

    I don’t have chickens, and admit that I skimmed thru some of this post. But I wanted to say that I admire your dedication and the consistent care that it takes to properly look after your chicks. I had no clue about over wintering chickens, it takes a lot of knowledge and love!!

  3. I’m about to find out the answer to that goat question. As well as donkeys, turkeys, and a horse. Dear Lord.

  4. Leticia says:

    I do not an cannot have chickens, but I love to live vicariously through you. Neither do we get -15 over here, we are also headed to summer, antipodeans that we are. 🙂 I kinda wish I could have chickens in my apartment, but I am sure I would just get a fine.

    • Laura says:

      Just saying. My mother had an inside chicken for 8 years. He was an asshole some days, but I loved him none the less. Pretty sure he thought he was a dog. But I’m just letting you know I support the chicken in the apartment idea!!!

  5. I LOVE YOUR BLOG! I have a burning question–where do you keep your poopy boots? I can’t walk into my coop, so keeping them somewhere inside isn’t an option. I toyed with the idea of keeping them in a container just outside the run, even though changing shoes outside in the winter isn’t the most comfortable thing I can think of.
    Another question- our coop has two horizontal “windows” across the top on each side about 8″ tall and spanning the width of the coop-about 6 feet. Should we leave them both open in the cold (freezing ) temperatures?
    Squeezing chickens and cuddling is the best feeling ever!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Karen! Yes, leave the “windows” open. If you find the chickens are getting wind from them or snow is getting in then block parts of them if you need to. I have a mudroom so that’s where I put my boots on (and off). I have a boot scraper outside my door that I use religiously before coming into the mudroom. Coop boots/shoes are SUPER gross. Bleh. ~ karen!

  6. christine Hilton says:

    I don’t have chickens but I kept reading with the thought of making an outdoor space for my retired fella to spend the winter.He is only 6′ ,size 12 feet but that still produces a lot of “gas” to put up with inside.

    BTW,you really do look amazing these days.

  7. Ev Wilcox says:

    You are a great chicken momma Karen! We have 2 outdoor cats (allergies, alas) who have a bottom heater in the house we built for them on our deck. The heater comes on at about 34F and is barely warm. Their water bowl does the same, so the water does not freeze. Dehydration is a killer. Northeastern Ohio winter can be a bitch (did I type that outloud?) The deck is completely fenced, so they come and go at will, but cannot be harassed by marauding dogs. They get fed every morning when our inside doggie family member gets fed. The dog and the cats are friends-we insisted on it! Dorie Mae and Norman (cat) are best buds, but Blue (cat) is an “acquaintance”, so it works well. We love our animal family very much, and you are a very good example of a great caretaker. Thanks Karen!

  8. Meredith says:

    Where did you get that heater? I want one. I have a crazy scary heat lamp that I turn on only in the most horrid of winter weather, but then I lay awake all night watching and waiting for the thing to burn down my coop. The lights in the tin thing is genius. I have walked through a garage full of tins and half strings of working Christmas lights to get in my car to go to tractor supply to buy a new chicken water heater base in the dead of winter then the first one stopped working. Never again!

  9. Mary W says:

    The last picture just makes me feel good. The sturdy, clean, homey chicken house is modern and well thought out – a Frankly Llayed Right coup. I miss their sounds so much. I did love our sow and her litters but the soft contented garble of chickens is so peaceful and when they lay an egg, nobody anywhere could be any prouder or louder with their accomplishment. They are a joy. No, I can’t have chickens but read every word just to remember those older days of contentment. Thank you so much for a great morning cup of coffee.

  10. JodyG says:

    I would definitely get some goats if I could.

  11. Charlene says:

    My chickens are still molting so “no squishing allowed.” I will be glad when it is over and we can cuddle again. Good article, Karen. Enjoy seeing your hens!

  12. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Ok, so I’ll admit to skimming the words but I liked the pics! And best of all, your cookie tin water heater adds a lovely festive touch for your girlz.

  13. Di J says:

    Hi Karen, from a fellow chicken keeper in the UK (11 girls) who has recently painted her coop black. I just loved the look of your coop when I came across your site last year and it felt a brave move for me to go from brown or green to black. But why did I wait???

    We’re also preparing for Winter. Last year we did what you did with the plexi-glass and it was a great improvement. We aren’t able to buy electrically heated pet bowls, but we have got around the problem with using an electric aquarium heater with a built-in thermostat inside the plastic ‘green and white’ Crown drinker, and the little red indicator light tells us it’s working.

    We are totally discouraged from using straw in the coop as it’s said to encourage red mite to live in the hollow stems. Chopped hemp equine bedding is now the bedding of choice of many keepers as it’s absorbent and makes poop-picking easier. Hen keepers will understand about poop-picking and it’s certainly not as disgusting as dealing with dog poop! The old bedding is also great for composting.

    Did you ever post the results of your test of how long eggs would keep if they were refrigerated? If you did, I missed it.

    Many thanks for all your posts, which are really enjoyable to read.

    • Alena says:

      I think Karen charmed thousands with her black coop. A few years ago, I was too chicken (pun intended) to paint my garden shed black and I painted it a very nice indigo blue. It was a lot of work (the shed came with the house when I bought it 12 yrs ago) – it was stained but the walls had to be scrubbed clean etc. – and I managed to paint only 2 sides (the 2 that I can see). The back is facing one neighbour and the other shorter side faces the neighbours my lot backs up onto (there are tall hedges on both sides so I think neither neighbour suffers too much).
      Did not get to finishing it last year (oops) and this early fall when I finally decided it should be finished I found out that I must have mistakenly included the paint can among those that I took to the local city dump. How dumb am I? In my defense, I have to say I had tons of leftover paint (I like to paint often) and I did not realize the blue paint got included with the rest.
      So I will have to repaint it and I think I will go black this time.

  14. Jen says:

    This is great timing because I have an issue with my coop that I’m not sure how to fix.

    Turns out the lid over the nesting box (and pretty much the whole coop) was made out of paper covered in shingles, framed with actual wood. Yep. So to get two lousy seasons out of this coop I bought (our first), I replaced the nesting box roof with a sheet of plywood, covering it with the reserved shingles from the original roof. Awesome! However, there is a decent gap between the coop itself and the new roof, where the hinges are. Currently I’ve got a plastic tarp over the roof to keep out rain but I’d really like to have something fitted. What I would love to find is some kind of flexible plastic (so the lid can open) that can be installed like duct table (easily!). Any ideas?

  15. Jackie Cameron says:

    Hi, Karen – Love your posts about your chickens, even though we don’t have any. Just yesterday on a celebrity news show they did a story about actresses with their pet chickens. One even had a halter on hers & was walking it on a leash. Seems you were way ahead of time with your chicks. Now it’s become trendy to have one as a pet. Love your stories – thanks for sharing your life with us.

  16. Alena says:

    Man, your Marans or whatever they are called are beautiful!
    Any chance you will be selling the feathers by bunch?

    • Karen says:

      I don’t think so Alena. 🙂 4 little chickens don’t really result in a many bunches of feathers even when they’re moulting. But you’re right, their feathers are beautiful! The black one (Marans) is so soft you can barely even feel her. ~ karen!

  17. Joel says:

    Thanks Karen for confirming that I’m doing my coop winterizing OK. Plexiglass must be so easy compared to plastic. I’ll do that next year when I redo the coop. It was a temporary coop I built 3 years ago when I wasn’t sure if the city was going allow urban chickens.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Joel! Yeah, there’s not much more to it. 🙂 The plexiglass is really great. Way easier and more effective. ~ karen!

  18. Nicole says:

    Goats are just as easy (if not easier) than chickens. AND you can use their manure straw directly on your garden beds – it’s truly amazing how much it helps my garden.

    Also, goats are much more personable than chickens and chickens are pretty cool. So . . . I have 2 beautiful little Nigerian Dwarf wethers – shall I send them to you? 🙂

  19. Linda Bohling says:

    On the first photo of the coop, it looks like a hatchet just to the top left of the coop door. Is this to keep the girls in line? Cute Coop.

  20. Grammy says:

    You are the reason I don’t own chickens. Really.

    I, too, had always said I’d like to have some chickens. That fantasy of their adorable clucking as they go about the fenced-in yard gobbling up pests that bother my veggies, and supplying us with fresh eggs regularly, and just being cute in general, and certainly requiring less care than our pampered dog was powerful. You know that dream. And then I somehow stumbled into this place and got pretty excited that I could get all the tips from you on how to have fun with my chickens.

    Your trials and tribulations and successes and heartbreaks let me see right off that I am in no way ever going to have back-yard chickens. That’s a good thing. I think it’s tragic when people opt to take in living creatures without ever finding out first how to properly care for them, and how much care they actually require. I’ve got too many other things to take care of to add chickens. I still read all your posts about your own chicks, though, because they’re interesting. I never had any idea how many things could go wrong with a chicken.

    Here’s a fantastic end to the tale: A couple of months after you convinced me not to get chickens, I awoke one morning to distinct noisy clucking very near my bedroom window. My neighbor had got chickens! She apologized for the noise and I assured her it’s not only not a problem, I love the sound of them. She was so happy that I didn’t complain, she brings fresh eggs to us whenever she’s got more than she can use. I get to hear her girls cackling away once in awhile, and I don’t have to have a coop and all the care and maintenance that goes along with the livestock.

    I thank you, and I’m sure the chickens I didn’t get thank you, too. They deserve to have a “mom” like you.

    • Karen says:

      I’m always happy when people tell me I convinced them to not get chickens. It’s a trend. For sure. And too many people want to hop on “the trend” … (insert any ridiculous thing here) That’s normally fine, but not when it involves a living creature. There’s more to owning chickens than buying a wicker egg basket and a cute pair of boots. 🙂 You definitely have the best of both worlds! ~ karen!

  21. Christine Warren says:

    I solved my heat problem with a heater made of a Terra cotta pot with saucer and a light socket kit. I expanded the hole in the bottom of the pot and put the light socket in. Using a low wattage bulb I set the pot with light inside on it’s saucer (no contact with straw or coop that way) and leave that in the center of the chicken’s”living room.” It’s never so hot that I can’t hold my hand on it, but it radiates heat and takes the chill off…and looks cute too!

  22. Paula says:

    How many chickens do you have now? How long is their roosting bar?

    • Karen says:

      Just 4. 🙂 I’m not sure how long it is. Long enough for 4 chickens anyway, lol. ~ karen!

      • Paula says:

        Thanks Karen, I was trying to gauge how much space you give each one and then I was going to compare it to mine to make sure I was giving mine enough room. As you know, if you read on the Internet, there are 15 different answers.

        • Karen says:

          Oh! They need enough room to have several inches between them in the summer when it’s hot and if they don’t get along for whatever reason. I’m guessing you could get away with a foot per bird, plus another foot or so for wiggle room. Total guess though. ~ karen!

  23. Hannah says:

    The only thing I didn’t like is how ‘-15C’ is ‘the most frigid weather’. PLEASE. -15C is a pleasant day. Our chickens live in a wooden shed (insulated) that is winter-round heated with a heat lamp. That’s sucker’s on steady from October-March or else we get dead/maimed chickens.

    I am very envious of places where it gets warmer than -20 during the winter, and it’s probably a lot easier to raise chickens in that kind of environment. Trying to keep chickens from killing themselves in -40C is a day-long challenge. They will huddle in a giant group under the heat lamp and the ones in the middle get heatstroke and the ones on the outside freeze their combs off.

  24. Thera says:

    Has it really been 8 years? I remember ohhhing and ahhhing over that post and I am still jealous and still want chickens! May your chickens haven a wonderful warm dry winter!

  25. Sarah says:

    I can’t believe I’m going here butttttt… the white chicken in the picture with the splash coloring and is bearded/muffed… what color eggs does she lay?! I have her twin and still waiting on egg color! Sold to me as an Olive Egger but someone else said they think she’s a blue laying ameraucana so I have my fingers crossed!!!!!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sarah! My Splash chicken is an Olive Egger. Yours does look like an Ameraucana because of the leg colour and the fact that she has no feathers on her feet (which she would get from the Marans) but not all Olive Eggers have feathered feet. If you know what her parents were and what their parents were you’ll have an idea of what you should get from her. Mine is an Olive Egger mother and a Splash Ameraucana father (if I remember correctly). BUT Olive Eggers aren’t guaranteed to lay olive eggs, it’s just that the likelihood is much greater. 🙂 You could still get dark brown eggs for instance. But if you bought her as an Olive Egger chances are you’ll get olive eggs. If it was a first generation cross (F1) (Ameraucana w/ Marans as opposed to Olive Egger w/ Marans you’re less likely to get an olive egg and if you do it will be a lighter olive than you would get with a second generation olive egger. 🙂 ~ karen!

  26. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    You are the best chicken mama ever…you chicken squisher you…lol

  27. Sarah says:

    Good evening Karen!! I’ve been holding back on commenting because I didn’t want to look like a complete lunatic but I’m not for faking anyway..😏. I would absolutely love to squeeze a chicken!! Yours are gorgeous and beautiful and might take my eye out but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to hug a chicken. I’ll wear eye protection!! By the way, you have the funniest writing style ever and I have to read your posts everyday to cheer me up!! Thank you so much for sharing your life, recipes and chickens and maybe one day I’ll get to squeeze one and pet it in person and not in my imagination!!

    • Karen says:

      Life’s too short for holding back on commenting, chicken hugging or anything else! ~ karen

      • Sarah says:

        Yay!!! You responded!! I’ll bravely comment to my hearts content and thank you for responding back!! I feel like a rock star!! You made my heart flutter!!! I can’t wait to squeeze a chicken!! God bless Karen and I can’t wait for the ensuing hilarity!

  28. Amy says:

    Thank you! I’ve been looking everywhere to find out what temp to turn on the heater in the coop. Finally found an actual temperature recommendation here!

    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome Amy. 🙂 That’s my recommendation. Others turn it on when it’s colder but this is the temp. I’m happy with. 🙂 ~ karen!

  29. Angie says:

    Great article. Thank you!

  30. Melissa Keyser says:

    Despite having chickens my whole life, the whole ventilation thing confuses me. I mean, I get why isn’t needed, but how do you create ventilation but NOT drafts? Being in a temperate climate, I just leave everything open all the time, so I don’t have a problem, but how do you cover your screens with the plexi but still have ventilation?

    There is a possibility we’ll be moving to a snowy area in the next few years, so if I start studying up on this now, maybe I’ll have it understood by the time I actually need it….

    • Karen says:

      If you look along the top are of the actual “roosting” area (with the large double doors up top) there are open areas with hardware cloth. These are open all winter. They allow venting but don’t put a draft directly on the chickens because they vents are up high. If there’s a HUGE winter storm with wind and snow then I cover them with plexiglass for the night so the girls don’t get snowed on. ~ karen!

  31. Mary Casey says:

    Karen,
    Your info on chickens – (and many other things😃) has been soooo helpful to me
    Over the years. The one issue I seem to be dealing with over and over is mites. I remember you said you dusted with something very strong- that worked for you. I probably can’t get the product you used- the US products are different than CA. But do you know the main ingredient that was in the product you used? Permethrin? Pyrethrin? Carbaryl? And how often did you apply until they were gone? I know I need to continue things for maintenance, but if I could just get them out first, I can do that. Thanks, and on winterizing, is your coop insulated? I am in process of building a new coop and thinking of adding some.
    Thanks!
    worked

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