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How to Winterize your Chicken Coop

Chickens don't need heat in the winter, but there are some things you can do to prepare your flock for winter. Winterizing your coop is a good place to start.

Chickens do far better in the cold than you might imagine, but there are still a few simple things you can do to winterize your chicken coop and make it more comfortable for your flock

As the temperatures drop below freezing, a few modifications to your coop will help it stay warmer through the winter months (and no, I'm not talking about adding heat!)

First of all, here's my #1 winter tip. Heating your coop is a bad idea. Let me repeat that. Heating your coop is a bad idea. 

Out of all the winter tips I can give you, if that's your only take-away that's great! First of all, any type of electricity in a chicken coop is a potential fire hazard. Mice chew on wires, and that can lead to disaster. Heat lamps, dry bedding and flapping chickens are also a recipe for disaster. 

Plus if you heat your coop and then lose power, your chickens won't have been allowed to naturally and gradually acclimate to the colder temperatures, so again, heating your coop is not a good idea.

But there are a few simple SAFE ways to winterize your chicken coop to make it more comfortable for your flock when the mercury drops.

How to Winterize Your Chicken Coop

Move the Feed and Water Outside (if you haven't already)

Chickens can't see well in the dark and therefore don't eat or drink at night, so there's no need to leave any feed or water inside the coop for them any time of the year.

Especially in the winter, it's a good idea to feed outside. Feed in the coop will attract rodents, demand more frequent coop cleanings (NO fun in the ice and snow) and water will just freeze overnight anyway, so you'll have to refill the water each morning regardless.

I never leave feed or water inside my coop - summer or winter. It makes a mess in the coop which means you have to clean your coop more often and that definitely isn't any fun in the winter.

If my chickens want their breakfast, they have to come outside to eat it. This ensures they're getting some fresh air, sunlight and exercise, plus it keeps the coop cleaner, rodent free and the moisture level lower - all of which are important. Especially in the cold weather.

Be Sure there's Enough Ventilation

The most important thing in the winter is that your coop stays dry and draft-free. That means closing any windows or vents at roost level or lower.

But a common mistake is thinking that your coop needs to be buttoned up completely.

You still need ventilation and good cross air flow. Adequate ventilation is critical for allowing ammonia fumes in the chicken manure to escape - and also to prevent frostbite.

Frostbite is partially caused by damp conditions, so having adequate ventilation to allow any moisture your chickens emit at night when they breathe can help to prevent it

If you're seeing condensation on the inside of the windows, you need more ventilation - but be sure it's up high. 

Any open vents need to be well above your chickens' heads when they are sleeping. Vents up under the eaves are a good way to keep the air flowing without creating a cold draft.

Provide Nice Wide Roosting Bars

Speaking of frostbite, it's not just chickens' combs that are susceptible. They can get frostbite on their toes and feet as well.

For that reason, roosts should be wide enough that your hens' feet are completely covered by the warm feathers on their abdomen from the top and the roost from underneath. 

A 2x4 with the 4" side facing up with the corners rounded makes a perfect roosting bar to protect feet from frostbite.

Block the Windows

Since your coop windows likely aren't double paned, and therefore let heat escape and cold in, hanging a blanket or towel over them at night will help to retain the heat your chickens create with their body heat. 

You can nail or staple the window covers up, and then just roll them up during the day to allow sunlight to shine in. 

If your coop is large and your flock small, hanging wool blankets or tarps to partially enclose the sleeping area can also help keep your flock warmer at night when they're sleeping.

Add Lots of Straw

Not hay, not shavings, and definitely not sand. Straw is my preferred coop bedding choice year round, but especially in the winter. The hollow shafts in the straw trap and hold warm air, effectively insulating your coop floor. 

A layer of straw up to a foot deep on your coop floor will help keep your chickens warmer at night. Likewise, straw bales stacked along the inside walls of the coop provide even more insulation. 

They help take up some of the dead air space and reduce the amount of air that your chickens need to warm up with their body heat.

Add Drapes to your Chicken Pop Door

One of the biggest sources of drafts in your coop is the small pop door your chickens use to go in and out. 

Clearly you can't keep it closed all day long - you want to encourage your chickens to go in and out as they please during daylight hours. 

So installing "draft drapes" across the opening can help. You can hang fabric, tarp or even a plastic shower curtain cut into strips (think car wash!) across the opening. 

Or style drapes that hang down with an opening in the middle your chickens can walk through. Try tying them back at first to let your chickens get used to them.

Heating your coop is not only NOT the best course of action as far as your chickens' health and well-being goes, but also a huge fire risk. Instead, try some of these simple, inexpensive ways to winterize your coop this winter.

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Further reading:
To Heat or Not to Heat your Coop      
 How to Winterize your Chicken Run
How Do Chickens Stay Warm in Winter?        
The Deep Litter Method
4 Things your Chickens Need this Winter       
How Do I Keep my Chickens Eggs from Freezing?
Cold Weather Chicken Care Guide

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