Chicken Sunroom How-to


And behind door number three is a spacious new sunroom as demonstrated by my beautiful assistant, Vanna White. Oh, wait, that’s Holly, my lovely wife! And yes, it is a sunroom – for the chickens! They are quite happy in there as you can see in the photo below.

On the right is our New Hampshire Red rooster. Closer to us are Black Austrilop and Buff Orpington hens. Up high you can see some White Orpington hens. There are also three guineas, Ariconnas and some mixed breed hens from our own eggs.


There are two vertical posts supporting the center of the 666 Welded Wire Mesh which we get from the lumber yard. Stock panels also work, as my brother discovered, for his chickens. Over the mesh is 2 mil sheet plastic. The plastic is wrapped around 2×4’s at the bottom edges and then stapled and tied to hold it tight. For extra protection against wind flapping I have strung some twine over the tops of some of these structures. The winter hoop house itself is up on bales as discussed last fall.

The hoop house is not 100% air tight. This is very important. The chickens have even poked a few small holes in the plastic. That is not a problem though. Some ventilation is good as it keeps down the humidity, condensation and gives the birds nice fresh air to breath. As you can see in the first picture, there is a doorway which we can use to access the interior. We leave this open all the time. At the far end of the winter hoop house itself, is a flap that we can pull up (as it is left most of the time,) or lock down with bungy cords during extreme cold at night.

The bales of hay are for spreading on the floor as the winter progresses. This covers up the hen’s poops and gives them fresh flooring to stand on. In the mean time, they enjoy having the multiple levels afforded by the stacked bales. Think of it as a loft space to get up and out of the fray.

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Next to the rooster you can just see one of our home built waterers. It is a three gallon, covered, square bucket with holes near the top rim. The bucket is placed upside down in a larger lid. These work very well and are both tougher and a lot cheaper (<$2) than the store bought versions. The bucket handle makes it easy to carry and three gallons makes for a good weight. We have also made feeders like this. Between the birds, the deep pack bedding and the sun, it stays quite nice inside the hoop house and sun room. The birds enjoy having a little bit of sun space to wander around in on cold days. On warmer days, they come out and scratch in the snow as well. Also see: Winter Hen Coop

24째F/19째F, 1″ Snow, Sunny.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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23 Responses to Chicken Sunroom How-to

  1. abe/happy says:

    Thank the lord Im not a chicken in Vermont at winter time !!

    although your ladies look quite at home :)

  2. Leslie says:

    Your chickens look awfully content and happy. I have a dumb question. How did you get them to go in there in the first place, so that they would adopt it for their very own? Did you just put some food in there?

    I am expecting my first ever in my life bunch of day old chicks in April, so I’m a bottomless pit of naive questions :)

  3. The hoop house for the hens is at the far end of the sunroom. Thus they exit their hoop house to the sunny warmth of the sunspace.

    I’m sure you’ll enjoy your chicks. They are a lot of fun.

  4. I’m a bit confused… the sun room is attached to the coop wrapped in the tekfoil? I’m trying to figure out what to do over the winter here in NW PA.

  5. Maggie, the hoop house for the chickens is their year round space that they go in at night, lay in, etc. In the winter we put it up on a hay bale foundation as described in this post. Then we used some 661010 Welded Wire Mesh covered with translucent plastic to make a sun space for them during the depths of winter. We’ve done that for several winters now and they really enjoy it, lay better, get out more and are healthier seeming. Otherwise we have long weeks of time when they won’t leave the hoop house because it gets so cold.

  6. SueW says:

    I like your simple design for both the winter coop and the sunroom. I kept chicken before – when I lived in southern Africa – and that was simple. I fed them once a day and they roosted in the outhouse. Nothing more – once in a while they’d disappear and I’d think a predator got them, only to have them show up about three weeks later with 15 chicks in tow. And they ate baby snakes.

    Now – no snakes. Just bears and eagles. I’m at 56 degrees north in Juneau, Alaska. Temperate Rainforest. Warmer, but wetter and darker (marginally) than Vermont. So, I’m planning on getting chickens this spring. My questions are: 1) Can I use straw bales instead of hay? hay is $22 per bale, while straw is only $11. Not a typo, we have a Morgan pony. I could feed them a little hay, but building the whole thing out of it would lead to $$$ eggs. Question 2) Where do you have electric light? I understand they need 13 hours light to lay, though a friend who has a small commercial flock told me 16 hours. We get down to 6 hours of daylight here, and then it’s usually overcast (I may be IN the coop with the chickens if the light is good). Question 3) Predators. Do you rig an electric fence around the chicken yard? We have a black bear trail about 50 feet behind the house. I hear they go for the feed more than the they go for chickens. Last, and dumbest question, but I have to ask – 4) Do they get lost in the forest? We have dense reainforest and I just wonder if they wander in and get lost or am I attributing too little intelligence to them. My african chickens had some veld smarts, is there a woodsy-smart breed here?

    Thanks – Sue in Juneau

  7. 1) Can I use straw bales instead of hay?

    Yes, definitely go with what is cheaper. In fact, at $11 per bale for the cheaper straw I would look at other alternatives. How about leaves? Build up a frame and put leaves outside it. Something besides money.

    2) Where do you have electric light?

    I’ve experimented with this a lot and don’t have a conclusive answer. Light appears to make some difference. What is far more important is diet. Make sure they are getting enough protein in the winter. Feed them bears if necessary. Bears are high in protein and fat.

    3) Predators. Do you rig an electric fence around the chicken yard?

    Yes, although fencing alone won’t stop everything. We also have livestock guardian dogs. Combined with the electric fencing the chickens are safe.

    4) Do they get lost in the forest?

    Not that I’m aware. Ours forage in the brush and regen trees but never a problem with getting lost. We have Rhode Island Reds, NH Reds, Buff Orpingtons, White Orpingtons, Black Australops, Americanas and the resulting cross breeds between them. I have tried the Cornish Cross hybrids, a meat bird, and had horrible results with them. Other people have done well with them. I think the difference is I want a bird that will work for its living.

    By the way, I used to live in Alaska – Near Kenai, Anchorage and Fairbanks. I got to experience the big earthquake of 1964.

  8. cabingirl says:

    Thank you for the informative posts on chickens. I too live in Alaska (Homer) and have been trying to figure out how to have chickens without the big stink. I read about organic matter (leaves and grass) in the winter to absorb poop and create compost in other sources, but your ideas go beyond that and are obviously designed for weather more like I live in. People with chickens here (5 hours daylight mid winter) either give the hens a break in laying (they quit in the darkness) or add artificial light – which also adds heat. I have been told 1 4o watt bulb will keep them laying.

  9. Michelle says:

    I live in southern MN and we just got chickens for the first time this year. They are free roaming for laying and bug patrol since we don't use chemicals and have lots of bugs! I love your chicken sunroom idea! I would like to build one and I am hoping you would be so kind as to add some more details, like the size, size of materials, how to fasten, etc. I will be building this mainly with my two kids, 7 & 5 so I can use all the help I can get!! I think my 32 chickens would be so much happier this winter if we can get this built for them! My main concern is to get it strong enough to withstand high winds which are common here.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful website!

    Michelle Johnson
    Dennison, MN

  10. Michelle,

    It is pretty simple. Make an arch with some bendable material. It could be a mesh of saplings, 661010WeldedWireMesh, hog panels, cattle panels, etc. Stake the bottoms down firmly. Cover with translucent plastic. Ropes on the plastic from one side to the other and diagonal are good for keeping wind from snapping the plastic. A building on the windward side helps.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  11. Patricia says:

    I asked hubby to build me a chicken tractor, gave him the dimensions, told him make it LIGHT. Us girls have to move it, not Mr. He-Man with the hammer. He built me a TALL chicken coop with wire mesh sides. So, needless to say, instead of being moved around in the acre like I originally intended, it has now found a permanent home jacked up on broken concrete pieces, and is wrapped in plastic until I can get some mud wattle n daub stuff on it this summer. The chickens for the most part seem to like it, I guess. I have 7 hens and if I’m lucky I get 2 or 3 eggs a day here in June in WA. They could be eating better. That is all about money. Sigh… That will be improving soon, too. My ultimate goal is to cut down on what I bring in from outside to feed all the critters as much as possible and thereby save $$$. There’s no sense in spending massive money on something I spend time on too, because I can just go to the store and spend massive money. In winter, I got 1 egg a day, and it was brown, presumably from my “steadies”, the RIR. We lost one of those this winter to the cold. I learned a lot about keeping chickens warm this last winter. Now in spring I am learning about the neighbor’s dogs and free range chickens. I was fortunate though, that I had one black austrolorp hen that just stubbornly refuses to stay in the hen house. It turned out all right, because I found out where all of my eggs were going! She sat on about ten or fifteen eggs and hatched 6. The neighbor’s dog ate one, so I am down to 5, but considering how hard it is to find broody hens here… It will be way cool. I have 5 out of 15 pullets running around out there too that are almost finally big enough to start laying. We raised those inside ourselves from the farm store. So hopefully, 5, 5, and 7. I will have next spring 17 hens, and a few of those are middle aged, so they will have to go, but not until I get new replacements. Maybe the year after that… I tried penning all the hens in and even leaving the rooster(s) outside to stand guard in various forms. The hens don’t like to be cooped up and they peck a lot and fight. The roosters break down any netting, even that tuff green plastic stuff that looks like construction netting. That poultry netting is completely useless. Even 6 ft tall stuff they knock it over, slip under it, or break it. I guess sex is a powerful motivator! LOL So, off to free range they go. They seem happier, and I cut down the roosters to 1 and the hens grew back their back feathers. “This is all a learning process”, I keep telling my husband. He just sees dollar signs. And he wants to shoot the goat. That’s another story altogether…

    As soon as I get paid I will be getting a slingshot and some paintballs or something for the neighbor’s dogs and have told him so. Oddly, he’s keeping his dogs inside his fence now… My daughter and I are both wicked shots with the slingshot (grin).

  12. Sky says:

    Great site.
    Your design is just the thing for adverse conditions.
    Have you tried using other materials for the coop frame, that might result in lower weight and/or lower cost?

    Many of the veggie hoop houses that I have seen utilize electrical conduit (either plastic or metal), but I wonder if you could get away with using saplings or bamboo. From what I have heard rebar can collapse under snow weight. Do you have any experience with that?

    I found the coop page looking for solutions to winter waterers for pigs. From reading your posts, I guess that that isn’t an issue that you have had to deal with, but do you have any good ideas?

    Cheers!
    Sky, in WV

    • I’ve tried other materials including saplings which are ultra-cheap – I grow them. They all worked fine. Rebar is actually fairly cheap and very strong. Snow load is a concern in our climate but we have never had a problem with the hoop house collapsing under snow. In fact, I routinely bury the main hoop house in snow since which does not need sunlight (dark is better for egg laying). This provides protection from our cold winter winds and stops drafts as well as adding insulation. See here. You’ll notice that even though the snow load is uneven the hoop house has no problem holding the forces. What ever you build, make sure it will take the wind, snow and other forces.

  13. deborah ferris says:

    I just stumbled across your site as I was googling for information. I haven’t started yet but am thinking through the options. I live in SC & am able to have chickens in the city. Yea! Eventually, I would like to do both laying and meat chickens. I don’t need or want a lot of either as at least initially I am just planning eggs and meat for two adults. I have a place in my back yard about 8′ x 10′. I was actually thinking about getting 4-6 birds 2 x a year for meat birds. Our seasons are such that I think I could raise two rounds of birds. Currently, there is grass there but I am concerned about smell and mites. I could use a hoop version but actually could use the outside wall of our garage as one wall. With the above information, is 8 x 10 enough room for 4-6 meat chickens? Will I have to remove poop or can I cover it with straw? Should a wait a few weeks between batches of chickens to let area “rest.” I know chicken raising can be urbanized but need some pointers. Thanks. When I get around to phase to for laying hens I’m also thinking 3-5 hens will be enough…maybe less. I could use about a dozen eggs a week.

    • Egg hens will lay about 0.5 to 0.8 eggs a day on average after they mature (~5 months) so four hens or so is probably enough. Meat birds tend to just sit around eating and grow very fast, in 8 to 12 weeks. Then they keel over and die if you don’t harvest them. For the meat birds if you built your hoop so it doubles as a compost pile and just keep adding layers of carbon (hay, straw, sawdust, wood shavings, etc) then they will make you a very nice pile that in time will become good gardening soil. After one year start a a new pile next to it and move the hoop top to that pile. Each pile should be a minimum of 4’x4’x4′ so an 8’x10’x4’high pile with a hoop roof over that is a good size. In your climate shade from the sun is going to be an issue. The rule is: if it smells add carbon.

      As to mites, those are a problem in the southern areas. Diatomaceous earth may help.

      Have fun!

  14. valerie says:

    ….Winters coming ….

    I’ve been searching on the web for ideas for how to house our recently adopted hens this winter. Winters are are long, cold and snowy here at 9000′ in Colorado, sometimes we have 6′ of snow in the yard by March and it lingers til May. It seems quite daunting to keep them not just warm but content and laying eggs. We have 6 girls, all layers of different cold hardy breeds. I also have the challenging of keeping them safe from predation (bears, foxes, ermine, coyotes) in a tidy little mountain town with close neighbors in fancy houses. Whatever I build must look like a temporary structure though, so your approach is not only going to work for us but it also fits this description. If we build anything that appears to be permanent we will have to get a building review by the town authorities, ridiculous but true.

    SO… My plan is to build off our exisiting 6′ fence by attaching cattle panels to the fence and bending them to arch down to the ground to create a long tall sunroom, and cover it as described. Then my plan is to build a more cozy secure deep liter coop INSIDE the sunroom which I can lock down at night and which will ventalate into the sunroom area. The sunroom then acts as a day time enclosure that will be well lit and free from cold wind and snow build up, and which will also provide a buffer for the coop from the fridig outdoors. My plan is to ventilate the coop into the sunroom (which can also be ventilated) thus providing prewarmed air for the coop. Do you think this is a viable concept?

    For the sunroom … should I line the entire floor with straw bales so that the birds are not on the ground? I plan on stacking strawbales against the fence to the top. I see from your photos that you line the sides of your sunroom with bales but not the center of the floor.

    Do you have any suggestions or concerns for me? Any advice is greatly appreciated!!!

    • Sounds like a great way to get around the bureaucrats. For the predators I would add good electrical fencing and dogs. The stages of air lock are excellent. I would allow the poultry access to the ground so they can get minerals and scratch in the dirt.

      • valerie says:

        Thanks Walter! check out this setup! Thanks for your feedback. I will be able to enclose the entire thing with the hot wire. I think I will still build a coop inside the hoop house structure for added warmth on those really bitter snowy cold months. Ha! Wish me luck!

        • We don’t find they need much warmth, if anything it is ventilation that is key. Otherwise they get too humid which results in wet feathers and that is uncomfortable. The birds do very well in the cold. Be sure to have good ventilation for what ever you build and have fun!

  15. valerie says:

    here is cool setup for your review!
    http://www.soulfirefarm.com/?p=131

  16. smallhandsfarm says:

    Walter, is light an issue for your laying hens in the winter? I think I’ve heard that artificial light is necessary to get hens to lay in the winter. Do you supply that, or do you just not worry about the lower production? The reason this question comes to mind is that the hoophouse looks like it would be pretty dark covered with snow. I know you also have the sunroom.

  17. Sid Lee says:

    I just wanted to drop a line and say how much I enjoy your blog. I moved to town to go to college a few years ago and to say I have missed living in the country is a big understatement. I cant even have a chicken where I live at the moment but I can live for now vicariously through your website. Thank you for the effort and keep the updates coming!

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