Insulate, Clean, and Cover: Winterizing Your Coop
The cold winter months bring many new challenges to backyard chicken keepers, particularly regarding the safety and well-being of your flock. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to face these challenges head-on without too much difficulty. Not only that, but the same steps you can take to protect chickens in the winter will also protect the flock from predators and pests.
Seal Holes and Use Insulation
Even with an automatic coop door, there are still ways that predators, pests, and bitter winter winds can breach the coop. If there are holes or the walls are thin with no insulation, animals can squeeze into or create their own holes, and the drafts can blow cold air through the holes. There are several effective methods to check for holes:
- Look for the holes when it’s dark in the coop. You should see light peeking through the holes.
- Check for drafts by wetting your hand with water and moving it along the walls of the coop. When your hand is wet, you will feel the cold air more strongly than when it is dry.
- Check for drafts moving a piece of tissue paper along the walls. If there is a draft coming through a hole, the tissue paper will shake and bend.
When inspecting the coop, be sure to examine all inside surfaces for holes. If all holes are sealed and the coop is still drafty and cold, consider adding insulation for added protection. A thicker layer of bedding may be all you need for better insulation!
Use an Automatic Coop Door
Automatic coop doors are convenient, and they eliminate the need to trek through the snow at dawn and dusk on every chilly winter day! Plus, if you decide to vacation somewhere warmer for a week, an automatic door will let your chickens in and out in your absence.
An automatic coop door is not only convenient, but it minimizes the risk of predators killing your chickens. If the coop is left open in the winter, predators who are looking for somewhere warm to stay will be drawn to the chicken coop. Plus, for many predators, the winter makes it more difficult to find prey, and leaving the coop open gives them an abundant food source. Automatic doors do not forget to close for the night, and often can be set for an exact time, so the chickens will be much more secure from predators.
When selecting a coop door, make sure you choose one that will not malfunction due to the cold. This is more of an issue with doors that operate on battery power. As long as you purchase a door that has the option to run on mains electric, this problem should be eliminated.
Keep the Coop Clean
A dirty coop attracts pests and causes illness to spread quickly. In the winter when the chickens are spending more time inside, the coop may get dirtier faster, it is easier for toxins to build up, and the closer proximity of the birds makes diseases and parasites spread even faster. Here are some tips for preventing pests and diseases in winter:
- Make sure the coop, particularly the bedding, is dry
- Remove litter and material more often
- Scrub feeders and drinkers
- Store extra feed in a dry, secure place
- Use bleach to disinfect
- Use vaccines, if available
- If a bird becomes sick, isolate it immediately
Remember, prevention is always better than dealing with disease after it has already affected your flock, and these measures will help with that.
Cover the Coop and Run With a Tarp
Covering the coop and run with a tarp or thick plastic can protect against airborne predators, and even if you already have fences up to protect against predators that does not mean the tarp will not provide an additional precautionary measure! If used properly, tarps can also seriously reduce drafts, keep snow out of the run, and keep the run warmer.
The easiest way to use a tarp is to secure it to a fence. Secure it on all sides to stop drafts from getting in, from any direction. However, you should leave a little space at the top of the run so that the tarp does not prevent proper air flow.
Ensure Ventilation is not Compromised
Sealing holes, adding insulation, and putting up tarps are great ways to keep your flock safe from predators and dangerous subzero temperatures, but while taking these steps it is essential to maintain proper ventilation. Without some air flow, it is easier for toxins to build up and illness to spread. Specifically, damp litter produces ammonia, which can cause respiratory diseases.
Windows and vents are the best way to ensure proper ventilation. Consider leaving one window open for a short period of the day for added air flow. When adding a vent, consider putting it on the top of the coop so wind isn’t hitting it directly.
Protective measures against cold weather and predators are often alike. Both situations require sealing holes and keeping the coop clean, and both would benefit from the use of an automatic coop door or a tarp. As long as there’s still adequate ventilation, your chickens will be safe all winter!
Chris Lesley has been raising chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper.