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Chicken coop insulation?

          


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 2
We are new to chickens and I will be building a coop in the next few weeks. We would like to accommodate perhaps a dozen layers (and retirees) in perhaps a 10x12 coop on a cement slab. (Presumably building on a slab will ease cleanup and ensure floor longevity). We liven in central Wisconsin where it is below freezing for months. I see mixed messages about coop insulating. One theory is that chickens can cope with the cold and by insulating you can increase moisture (and the chance of health risks). But I also see that you have to be very careful about drafts if you don't insulate.

Any advice on how to handle this in a new coop?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15469
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Oh my.

It is maddening how somebody can ask a simple question and my answer could fill a book or two. 

So ... trying to keep it short ....

First, most chickens will be fine without any insulation. 

Second, the chickens will require less feed and be generally healthier if they can stay warm (and some insulation could help with that). 

Now for some obnoxious opinions ...

I am at odds with myself. 

On the one hand, I really like the idea of a portable coop.  Something really small that I can drag around.  That way, the chickens do not destroy one area, and I never have to clean the coop.  Each time I spend 45 seconds dragging it, the coop is at a fresh spot.  The old spot has a whole lot of chicken poop and will thrive over the following year. 

On the other hand, Sepp's shelters are quick, easy and on really cold days are quite warm to the animals inside them. 

I think that for chickens, I would stick with portable shelters.  And I would seal and insulate three sides rather completely and one side would have an open door, and an opposite side would have a small hole for ventilation.    I think I would want to size the roosting area to hold just the right number of birds - they can keep each other warm better if there isn't a lot of extra space.





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Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
It can get pretty chilly here in the winter (had ten below last winter), and in New Hampshire, where I lived for a number of years (can get down to thirty below there), and then there is the Interior of Alaska, where I kept chickens in a drafty shed, which also housed a couple of milk goats and some caged meat rabbits...some of the chickens lost toes there, at seventy below and howling winds.  So chickens don't NEED insulation.  If you use insulation, you'll also need ample ventilation, as the biggest danger to livestock is ammonia fumes in the air, not the cold.  Keep them dry and out of the wind, and they can stand a great deal of cold.

One thing that will help is to choose breeds that are better-suited to cold weather, such as Wyandottes, Rose-comb Rhode Island Reds, Chanteclers, and so on.  You want small combs (pea combs are best, rose combs next best, then small single combs -- avoid birds like Leghorns with their large combs even on the hens).  You also want fluffy feathers and large body size, as the larger body size retains heat better.  (For someone in a hot climate, the opposite is recommended -- smaller animals have more surface area to dissipate heat for the amount of mass.)  When we got our chickens in Alaska, I got some Light Brahmas, thinking they would be really good in that climate -- they meet all the criteria; pea comb, large body size, fluffy feathering for good insulation.  But they have feathered feet.  At that time, I mistakenly thought that the feathering on the feet would help keep them warm.  Instead it collected droppings which froze to the feet -- they suffered more foot damage than the clean-legged breeds I had. 

As long as your chickens are well-fed, and you make sure they have water rather than ice to drink at least two or three times a day (use a heated waterer if you can run electricity to their pen), they should do just fine for you. 

However, if you want poultry that are really well adapted to cold weather, choose ducks and geese.  They are much more cold-hardy than chickens are, and some ducks lay better than chickens, too.  They are messier in the winter -- when we had geese in that little shed in Alaska, we had stalactites and stalagmites of ice all around the rubber water dish where the geese dipped their heads in the water and then shook their heads! 

I've been keeping my chickens in all-wire chicken tractors for the last few years, and they work well.  I can put the chicken manure where I want it without having to hurt my back, LOL!  We have to keep the birds contained here, as we have close neighbors, and the tractors seem to work best for us.  I keep them mostly covered with a tarp; in summer I just lift the edges so they have shade and good ventilation.  Even the three White Leghorn hens haven't suffered any comb damage, and it got down to ten below last winter.  The only serious danger here is stray dogs, who could get into the tractors if they were determined enough (don't use chicken wire to keep predators out, as both dogs and raccoons can tear holes in that stuff).   

Kathleen
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
As Paul pointed out, there are many facets to that question!

What temperatures they can survive and what temperatures they will be moderately comfortable in, can be two different things.

Excess cold and excess heat are forms of stress, as are low-quality feed, lack of water, fear, etc.

Insulating the coop and carefully calculating the size of the coop with the correct number of chickens, and you probably wouldn't have to have added heat.  Never insulate with styrofoam that isn't completely covered, as they will eat it.

Ventilation is one thing, drafts are another.

Choice of breed would be important... a heavy breed would be better than a smaller, light one; an heirloom, good-forager type would be better than a factory-farmed/highly domesticated show breed.

I learned the expensive way that you can have a light, portable tractor, or you can have a strong, tight, predator-proof coop, but you can't have both in one.  If it's strong enough to keep out dogs and raccoons, it's too heavy to move, even with wheels.  And when it's too heavy to move, it doesn't get moved.  After four years, I finally broke down and built my girls a coop.  In four years, this is the first winter that they have laid eggs between September and May.  That alone told me a lot. Stress is stress.

Your feed will have to be high-quality and possibly have a higher protein level.  I'm sure there are books containing this information.

Sue
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I agree with Susan that the portable 'coops' can't be made entirely predator-proof, and also that it's probably more stressful to the birds to keep them in chicken tractors over the winter, but am surprised that hers stop laying for so long.  Mine only quit for a few weeks in the worst weather, and I'm willing to allow them that much of a break.  (And our climate is colder than western Washington, so it's not because we have a milder climate!)  I would prefer to have mine in a sturdy, dog-proof coop, but because I don't own the property, I can't really build permanent structures, so we make do.

Kathleen
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
concrete floosr are not the best to keep critters on. they absorb ammonia (believe it or not) where dirt floors just allow it to seep into the ground. the concrete will be surprisingly hard to clean unless you are going to use bedding and clean it everyday which isn't realistic I think. buying bedding alone is going to make the chickens expensive and you are going to be feeding a lot of sacked feeds for part of the year most likely also.  the dirt it fine even if you can't move it. buy a good rake and scrape out the bottom removing part of the dirt and replace it occasioanlly. with hay or grass clippings or whatever. it is really nice to be able to move it around though.  you could put wire on the bottom so on those days when they just can't go out they won't be standing in their poo. a wire brush occasionally would be needed on the wire to knock of the sticky poops.


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"One cannot help an involuntary process. The point is not to disturb it. - Dr. Michel Odent
          


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 2
Thanks for all the feedback so far. After reading this, and talking with a few others in my area, I am not planning on insulating and will focus on blocking drafts (while providing adequate ventilation). BTW, I should have mentioned that we are hoping to get Buckeyes, which seem to be cold hardy.

Regarding the floor, I am leaning away from cement. I think the contenders are wood or dirt. One concern is making it predator proof. We do have coyotes in the area. We were hoping to not put up a bunch of fencing and letting the hens roam, so I don't think fencing is a solution. Wouldn't it be difficult to  secure a dirt floor?

If we went with a wood floor, is there benefit in elevating the coop so the hens could use it for shade during the summer?
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15469
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I cannot imagine keeping chickens without a Great Pyr dog around.

In fact, without a great pyr, I think of any chicken setup as a predator feeder.

With a great pyr around, many aspects of farming become much easier.  Most farms fail, and I think this aspect is probably the #1 reason.

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Instead of permanent fencing, look into portable electric mesh fencing, and take it with you when you move.  Here is one brand, I'm sure there are others:  http://www.maxflex.com/Nets_page1.HTM

I have a small coop that is elevated about 3 ft off the ground. The girls stay in it at night and when the snow covers the grass. I have a fairly light ramp that is lifted up and propped against the coop at night.  Since the area underneath tends to stay quite dry, the girls often use it for their dust baths.

If I had to keep birds in a smallish pen, I would cover the floor with several inches of straw or hay.  If you scatter scratch over the straw every day, the girls will kick and fluff up the straw looking for it, and keep it quite dry.  You'll have to design so you can easily rake it out every week or ten days, depending on how many birds you have.  While my coop floor is 3/4" plywood, it is covered with vinyl flooring for easier cleaning.  Poop sticks to it, but not like it sticks to wood. 

If you're putting a window in it, put it on the south side for some solar gain in winter.

Note:  most birds produce between 40 and 55 BTUs per bird per hour, if that is worth anything to you.  Standard Leghorns are at the 40 end, and heavy meat-types are at the 55 end.

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I have had chickens for years without a lgd. the only ones I lose to predation are the ones my own dogs kill

lgds are not fool proof either. I have seen many many for give away because they are chicken killers.

the lgd thing really depends on your area. my new neighbors have pygmy goats and they run free and in talking to them have done so for years (my heeler? mix now finally has the job she has always wanted "send those goats home charlene" ) . this area is more rural than our last and there is no way a pygmy goat would have survived outside of a fence at our old place. once again due to domestic dogs (not my own in that case)

at first I was leaning towards an lgd but the dog food is a huge expense and I don't produce enough meat to feed one.  now I have decided that my own regular old dogs are enough of a detterent for now. they are on an invisible fence system. might lose a  chicken to them here and there but....thats one day I don't have to feed them 
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Leah, what dog breeds do you have that you can get away with using an invisible fence?

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15469
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Susan Monroe wrote:
Leah, what dog breeds do you have that you can get away with using an invisible fence?

Sue


You mean, there are dogs where that invisible fence thing won't work?

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I wouldn't take one as a gift, installed.

People have learned the hard way that many dogs, esp those with a high prey drive, will eventually learn that they they can blow through the warning and the shock. 

Once they've learned, the invisible fence is useless.  Actually, worse than useless, because once the dog gets out and the attraction disappears, the fence is now keeping the dog from going home. NOW he is paying attention to the warning.  That's why you see Lost Dog ads that say the dog is wearing an invisible fence unit on his collar.

The next worst thing about them is that they don't protect anything on your property from incoming animals, like coyotes or the neighbor's vicious pitbull.

They give an false sense of security, and many people rue the day they ever decided to get one.

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
knock on wood it has worked great for me! I heard the naysayers and had some reservations. bought the one 'for stubborn dogs' that vibrates as well as gives a tone. my dogs were already trained to a shock on demand collar so I think  that helped. I tried one on my wolf dog when he was young and I say it didn't work but I was also young and stupid and didn't train him properly to it and he was disobedient already. I am now of the tentative opinion that it may not work for some dogs but I think most it will.


the two I have on the system are a border collie/lab and a rat terrier type dog that has an extremely high prey drive. she lived wild for months near the old house. I caught her by slowly baiting her closer...took me weeks and weeks to finally trick her into getting a lasso around her neck.

I walked the  boundary with them on a leash showing them where they get the tone and vibration and that if they run back towards the house it stops. they would hardly leave the porch for a week after that. now they are more relaxed.

i love that I don't have fences junking up my view and I also love that no one can get to the house without encountering four dogs that are not to keen on strangers. and they have a big yard which I could not have afforded with traditional chain link. the dogs themselves are the deterrent to other animals entering the property but of course it wouldn't help deter a truly vicious animal. I just holler at charlene that the neighbors goat is here and she chases it to the fence line then comes back.

they have a fairly large area too. we installed 1000' of the wire. that probably makes a difference. if someone tried to use it on a small yard or area I can see where it wouldn't be as effective.

I am a believer in it now. and also believe that the problems most people have with it are probably due to training. I would highly reccomend that your dogs learn what a tone is insinuating is going to happen with a rented regular shock collar first. and I doubt it will work for a dog that hadn't already had his innattention issues addressed. that is what i used the shock on demand collar for. I don't take to being ignored by my dogs. when I say something to them they had better listen and when I tell them to 'come here' I mean it and if they continued to ignore me they got zapped. pretty soon their attention span miraculously became much longer and they started paying attention to what was going on. I think they are like children. the ability to focus and to have self control must be trained in many cases. you couldn't take a dog that is used to ignoring its surroundings and doing whatever it wants and just put it on an invisible fence system.

it can't replace training. in other words..if your dog is already used to 'blowing through' your commands and you can't control it...the fence probably won't either. it will continue the trend of not listening to the tone or you. if its not used to associating consequences with actions it will just end up confused if you expect the fence to teach it.

sue - if someone tries to give you one...send it to me! I want to expand the area. I would do the whole property if I could.

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I'm glad it works for you.  Most of the people I've talked to said it worked fine for them for quite a while, some a year or more, so the dog DID know what was what.  Some of them had acreage encircled with it.

And the ones that did see it happen, saw from the house or somewhere that the dog was just so excited by (and focused on) something on the street (cat, raccoon, kid on bicycle, etc) that they were just moving so fast when they approached the warning spot that they were through it before they realized.  One Tervuren stopped when he hit the street, acting stunned that he was actually out there.  Then he took off after the cat.  After that, it was just a matter of running fast enough (and probably squeezing his eyes shut). 

Others said that it never happened when they were home, just when they were gone.

And if anyone gives me one, I'll send it to you! 

Did you check your private messages?

Sue
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
One issue to remember regarding chicken coops: healthy chickens have to have room. You will need to consider that commercial chicken farms that will cram as much chickens in a house as they tend to be out to make a profit.

This is commonly not the situation for individuals who will be raising chickens to as a hobby or perhaps who would like to raise hens for eggs, meat or even as pets. This information is for those who are raising their chickens, inside their own backyard, and therefore are not necessarily overly focused on generating revenue.

A happy, healthy chicken will require space. It is that simple. The vast majority of types of chickens are generally friendly as well as docile and often will get along with the additional members of your flock unless extreme measures happen to be imposed upon them. Overcrowding is one kind of those extremes.

Before buying your chicken coop or perhaps chicken coop plans, take into account the breed of chicken you want to raise. Bantam chickens because they are so little don't need the same living space as other breeds. If you plan to raise larger chickens, for instance Rhode Island Reds, you will want at the least three times as much space as for Bantams.

For many breeds of chickens, you need a minimum of 3 square feet of space for each adult chicken. This is the minimum amount of room which you will want within the chicken coop itself. Should you be raising solely Bantams, this specific requirement can be lowered. However for all other birds it is a minimal.
Dog training
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Crowding or overheating for just one day can stress chickens to the point of cannibalism, a habit which one can not break them of no matter how comfortable they are later on.  I learned this the hard way.    They must not be crowded or overheated for even one day.


Idle dreamer

suomi--Nicola Lloyd


Joined: Aug 19, 2009
Posts: 50
Location: Finland
We have to bring our chickens into a winter room , it gets down to minus 30oc and below ( ive no idea what that is in fareneit,but trust meits cold..cold..)    anyway it has a concrete floor and two outside walls co we insulate with straw bales it works perfectly.
For the floor we cover the bales with layers of cardboard and the keep adding loose straw to the floor to absorb the poop some times I might put down a sprinkling of sawdust to "freshen"up the place.
We also have good ventilation.....an absolute must.

The straw floor is pretty deep by the end of the winter, we can only let our chickens out end of may, so they have had nearly 7 months inside.  The chicken floor the is cleared out to the compost pile along with the sheep flooring and left to break down for a year or two...perfect.
We make sure they get a god diet and lots of clean unfrozen water, oh yes and a few items in the room to keep them interestd!  eg; hang a cabbage from the ceiling so they can jump up to it, a branch with little seed balls or. or just a bale of strw that they can peck apart!
Nicola.
Paula Edwards


Joined: Oct 06, 2010
Posts: 411
Everything is said, but never insulate your chicken coop with the white insulation stuff (you might have the idea to reuse fruit or other packaging). Because they like eating it and I guess it is not very healthy for the birds.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15469
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Looking for video clips and pics of winter chicken shelter.  If you have anything like that or can get something like that, please visit this thread.


Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
We are in the mountains of northern Vermont - so similar climate. Lots of wind here.

Protection from the wind and ventilation is more important than insulation. The chickens have a good insulating layer of feathers. We leave our coops open so the birds can go in and out in all but the worst (below -25°F) weather. Even then, building a sun room off the coop takes care of that.

See:

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:flashweb.com+chicken%20coop
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15469
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Two winter chicken coop designs. Both are designed to warm the chickens so that the chickens won't need as much food.

One is an earth berm design. The other is a portable design that is parked for the winter and surrounded by straw bales.




Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
You do not need to insulate and it is important to have plenty of good ventilation. People worry too much about drafts. Adult chickens, ducks, geese have no trouble with them. We have open three sided sheds, partially earth bermed sheds and snow bermed sheds. I leave the front open to allow free flow of air.

Oh, we're in the mountains of northern Vermont. It is very windy. It can get down to -45°F although this year it has just gotten down to -16°F, thankfully. If the chickens can survive outside here they will do fine most anywhere.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
Ken Nomes


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 1
ediblecities Hatfield wrote:Everything is said, but never insulate your chicken coop with the white insulation stuff (you might have the idea to reuse fruit or other packaging). Because they like eating it and I guess it is not very healthy for the birds.
We are in upstate New York and raise Red Stars and White Leghorns. We built the chicken houses ourselves and put them on skids so we can move them around often. We produce about 21 dozen a week, well more than what we need. It sure makes our friends and other family members happy. In regards to insulation, we use reflective insulation very successfully and have no problems with the animals. We do not require heat in the winter other than maybe a heat lamp in severe conditions. The summer months the buildings stay cooler. I buy 100' rolls from this company. Product doesn't cost much and have used it elsewhere wrapping my pumps for wells and inside my horse stables.
Tuck Pern


Joined: Nov 15, 2012
Posts: 1
Our chicken coop is raised off the ground about 2 feet to keep snakes, rats and other such critters away from the hens, eggs and chicks. We did an installation of an permanent electric fence to close the coop off from any outside predators such as dogs, bobcats or coyotes (depending on your area). Our fence is 5 feet high to prevent any predators jumping over and was purchased from http://www.zarebasystems.com. Be sure to train your birds correctly and immediately to return to the chicken house every night to prevent any stragglers from roaming around at night, doing so will attract predators to your coop.
Jay Green


Joined: Feb 03, 2012
Posts: 587
    
    8
Here's a simple hoop coop design that is easily and cheaply built and will house up to 20 standard birds:

Hoop Coop and winter pics added
Justin Shaw


Joined: Nov 13, 2012
Posts: 7
Location: SW Alberta
Living in Canada, I built my coop well insulated. However, ventilation is more important to a chicken's health than being a bit cold once in a while. Chickens are tough but I wanted them to be comfortable in the -30 to -40 weather. Multiple slider windows in my coop offer the light and ventilation they need, even in the dead of winter. I have 30 hens in a 10x15 coop and I rarely smell ammonia when the windows are cracked.
 
 
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