Step-by-Step Coop Winterizing Preparations

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.

  1. 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).

    Exerior view of the coop in the summer.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. A week before the girls showed up, I whitewashed the coop (see instructions in earlier post).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The north wall of our coop leads into the garage, which provides a great wind

    View of my work & storage room from the interior of the coop. Note that I usually move the birds into this space when I am adding DE to the composting floor or working with the hay rake (which they are a bit frightened by).

    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.

  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. The final step was starting the composting floor to add extra heat (through the process of composting!

Successfully Composting  on a Wood Floor:

  1. The key to a successful composting floor is regular maintenance.
  2.  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).
  3. I started by dumping out 2 full bales of shavings to give a nice firm lower layer for the girls to work with.
  4. 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”.
  5. Then, wearing my knee-high mud boots, I scuff up the shavings on the floor, to ensure the microbes are moving around.
  6. Every other day, I add between two or three handfuls of new shavings to keep things fresh.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below!  And welcome, again, to our coop!

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9 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Coop Winterizing Preparations

    • Thanks for your comment! There are some wonderful resources out there. I’d start with local zoning laws just to make sure it’s legal in your suburb then go from there. I have a friend who is considering an Eglu (http://www.omlet.us/products_services/) as a first step towards eventually building her own coop. While I’m a little bit more of a do-it yourself-er, personally, and it is a bit pricey, Eglu might be an easy first step to see if it’s something you’d really want to do.

      • If you’re looking for an egg-sharing operation, you may want to consider a few more girls… We currently have eight girls and two roosters, and they produce about four dozen eggs a week, which allows me to keep one and sell three. By selling the three, the girls are able to earn both their own feed and fresh pine shavings. I’m happy to answer any questions if you have them!

  1. What a great, thorough post on preparing the chicken coop for winter! Sounds like you are a wonderful chicken mama to your girls. Thanks for the great tips!

  2. What a great post with so many useful tips. I will have to winterize the coop as it is getting very very cold in Germany 🙂
    Sorry to ask,i also got an Aussie, when she herds she is always barking. Does your Aussie do that too? Or is quiet?
    Will have to browse through your posts and get more tips.

    • Yvonne,

      Thanks for your email! Abby (our Aussie) came to us as a rejected cattle dog (she’s been on a working farm and just had the wrong personality for driving large animals – mainly cattle). It too me about six months to get her to move the chickens in the way that I wanted (she was remarkably good at putting them back in then pen I’d just removed them from, and it’s still a work in progress.

      Abby almost never barks unless a predator/neighbor’s dog/car comes into the yard; when we work with the chickens, or she’s outside guarding them, she tends to sit quietly, totally focused on them. I have noticed, though, that when she does bark, the roosters puff up and move the girls back into their coop themselves, if they are out grazing (typically while Abby runs right at whatever has caught her attention. I’m not sure how to help with you problem, but it might work to socialize your dog more with the chickens and get him/her used to the idea of being around them quietly. When we first got ours, I spent hours with the chicks and Abby (always supervised!) in the same space, so she recognized the fact that they were also mine and that they, like the cats, were to be treated gently and protected. There are also some great videos of herding dogs on YouTube that I used when working with Abby.

      Best of luck!
      Jess

  3. Thanks Jess for your quick answer. I will try this and will hopefully make an “proper” herding dog out of Naomi. Even though i work a lot with you tube i never thought about leaning from there
    Have a nice day. Yvonne

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