Over the last week or so, I’ve noticed that the majority of my readers are looking for ways to prepare their coops for winter. As such, I’ve decided to add just one more post (which will occasionally be updated) on exactly what we did, why we did it, and (as the winter passes) how it’s going.
- Early this spring, while I was traveling in China, Jason started by building a floor for our chicken coop. The coop itself, used to be a storage space attached to the garage (three solid walls, a roof, and a sliding wooden door). It had a dirt floor, but given our rural location and the amount of predators we were facing, I wanted a wood floor to get the girls off the ground and protect them (at that point, I still wasn’t sure about keeping roosters).
- We next framed the room into two separate areas — a stall for the chickens and a work area for storage, cleaning and – eventually – raising young chicks.
- We then went to work framing in the chickens’ room with chicken wire, and Jason moved the light fixture to a more central spot and lowered it about 18” to keep it away from any insulation we would add later.
- A week before the girls showed up, I whitewashed the coop (see instructions in earlier post).
- For the summer, we added a gravity-fed chicken nipple watering system, which provided the birds with fresh water when they were in the coop at night, though they spent the majority of their days outside in the chicken tractor we built, and I used our Australian Shepherd to move them back and forth every morning and evening.
- As winter neared, I began making modifications. I started by removing the drip watering system and switching back to our tried and true double wall metal 5-gallon waterer. Now, admittedly, I hate using this in the summer because it makes a HUGE mess. That said, I’ve found a few modifications that have allowed it to work successfully. I placed it cinder blocks to get it up and off the floor (and out of the shavings). When I fill it, I also use one hand to pull metal arm that holds the washer (which regulates the water) in place, so the font doesn’t fill with water and overflow as I’m filling it from the top. Problems solved.
- We placed the waterer on a Farm Innovators heated base from Tractor Supply (http://www.tractorsupply.com/chicken-equipment/farm-innovators-heated-base-for-poultry-water-feeder-2167298) and have had great luck with it so far (fingers crossed for those REALLY cold nights).
- Every morning, I bring out a gallon of hot tap water and refill. This warms the girls up without asking them to expend extra energy to raise their drinking water to body temperature before they can process it. I’ve found that a gallon of water for ten birds is enough each day, though I do double check it every night. The waterer gets a full wash every Saturday morning.
- In September, when the temperatures started dropping, we insulated the ceiling with basic rolled insulation from Lowe’s. Since our ceiling is so high, we’re not terribly concerned about mildew, but I’m very careful to keep the humidity in the coop at a reasonable level (between 70 – 80%). The natural low humidity of winter in our part of the country is helping. If you are keeping chickens in more confined quarters, you definitely want to use blue board, or cover up your rolled insulation with another layer of plywood to keep out the mildew.
- The north wall of our coop leads into the garage, which provides a great wind
block. The west wall has negative space insulation, whereby there is an outer wall, six inches of space and an inner wall. I’ve also lined this wall with 10 hay bales, which provide both insulation and something for the chickens to play with during the day (I throw in a small flake of hay every morning for them, along with their food, water, and oyster shell). The south wall is negative-space insulated on the lower half and uninsulated above 8′. The east wall consists of a sliding door that we keep open in the summer (during the day). We built a temporary retaining wall to keep out drafts on the lower half (it’s about 6′ high), and as it gets colder, I will stack hay bales in front of the outer door.
- We run one 90 watt light bulb 9′ above the chickens 24/7. There is a lot of contradictory research out there, but this is what has always worked for us. It adds a bit of extra heat, and it seems to calm the girls at night. We’ve had no problems with picking, and our egg production has been consistent.
- We replaced our summer perches with wider board perches (6” wide) that allow our roosters and hens to keep their toes nice and warm under their feathers.
- If the temperatures really drop (below -10 F), I have plans to add an additional infrared heat lamp above the perches, but – for now – everyone seems happy and fluffy, growing nice thick feathers and spending a lot of time moving around during the day.
- The final step was starting the composting floor to add extra heat (through the process of composting!
Successfully Composting on a Wood Floor:
- The key to a successful composting floor is regular maintenance.
- We cover our floor with local pine shavings (bought at the feed store from a mill about 20 minutes away from where we live ). They are kiln dried and come in paper wrapped bales (so there is very little residual waste once they are used (as the paper goes right into the garage wood stove).
- I started by dumping out 2 full bales of shavings to give a nice firm lower layer for the girls to work with.
- Every morning, I bring out a 3 gallon bucket and scoop out the chicken droppings (most are below the perch). These get deposited into our compost bins. Every few weeks I remove most of the shavings from below the perch, as they get the most “use”.
- Then, wearing my knee-high mud boots, I scuff up the shavings on the floor, to ensure the microbes are moving around.
- Every other day, I add between two or three handfuls of new shavings to keep things fresh.
- On Saturdays, I toss down 2c. food grade diatomaceous earth (DE), purchased at the feed store and carefully scuff it in, trying not to raise too much dust (it can be a bit caustic, so I usually let the girls outside or into the work area while I’m doing this). DE naturally repels mites and lice, so it has that added benefit, and since it is present in most chicken food, anyway, it is fairly harmless, but please take care not to inhale it directly (I wear gloves and open the door to the coop for added ventilation when I use it).
- On Sunday, I throw down a cup of cracked corn, and when the chickens pick through it, they distribute the DE further by disrupting the pine shavings.
I don’t want to make it sound like this is a worry-free process. I spend much of my spare time, when I’m home, checking on everyone and carefully monitoring daily behavior (Abby, our Australian Shepherd, loves this!). When I see a change that needs to be made, I adjust things (such as adding the heat lamp on really cold nights). That said, our forefathers kept chickens long before we had electricity and central heating, and so much of our process of chicken keeping focused around wanting to keep birds that were naturally resistant to the cold to ensure their health and safety.