In an ideal world we would have moved the hens to their winter quarters about a week ago, maybe two. In the warm weather they prowl the pasture, breaking up poop paddies, patrolling for bugs and eating grass as well as the all important job of egg laying. That silver spaceship that Holly is kneeling by is their coop. She is looking in the egg collection doors which allow us to easily access the three laying shelves. The coop is made of a rectangle of 2×4’s on the ground with four arched pieces of light weight rebar to form hoops. Over that we put wire and then TekFoil (Foil-Bubble-Bubble-Foil insulation) which keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Generally there is a drape of fabric, curtain material picked up at a yard sale, on the top to keep the hens from poking holes in the foil with their talons. This article has some photos and description of the construction of the hoop house.
The hillside shown above is a nice place for the hens in the summer, but come winter the winds get fierce and very cold so we move the coop closer to the house. This is not just for their sake – it is a lot more pleasant to take care of the hens and collect eggs when they are close by. For the winter we put the hoop house in a location where we have poor soil and want to add a lot of organic matter. It is much easier to just have the hens deposit it there than to have to move it later. We start with building a foundation of hay bales the size of the hoop house.
The center area of the bales is left open because over the course of the winter the hens will poop and we’ll add hay bedding and they’ll poop and we’ll add more bedding until spring. The addition of the hay, which is high in carbon, absorbs the nitrogen from their poop so that it is captured for the future garden rather than out-gassing. Thus the smell is also controlled and it stays pleasant inside the coop. The deep pack bed of compost also decomposes during the winter, warming the hoop house and giving the hens the fabled radiant heated “Warm Toes” floors from Vermont. They think it is great.
In moving the hoop house between summer and winter quarters we also clean it out and remove all the wooden roost sticks so that any pests are left behind. This is an important part of our natural organic method of managing the birds. As a result we have had no disease, mites, ticks or other problems. Ideally I want to eventually have completely separate winter and summer housing to give the coops time to air. But that is still on the to-do list and you know what those are like.
Here we have my beautiful wife Holly holding the door while Kita and Kia have been rounding up hens. Sort of. Many of the hens decided the space between the coop and the wall was a nifty place to perch. In the end all of the hens went in for the night. We leave the coop door open except in the most extreme wind and low temps (-45째F). By having an open door the birds get plenty of ventilation which is important to prevent respiratory disease in both the birds and their keepers. The ventilation also keeps the humidity a little lower thus reducing condensation on the inside of the coop. Yet it still stays quite balmy inside the coop.
Just inside the door is a hanging five gallon bucket I made into a feeder and there is a waterer as well. All the comforts of home. One big advantage of using their same coop for the winter is that they don’t get so upset when we move them so egg production does not drop off.
Also see: Chicken Sunroom
“If Hell is over heated then Heaven is in Vermont.”
10째F/29째F, 1/2″ Snow, Sunny