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 (Link Broke – on my list to fix) 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
If you leave the coop door open at night what keeps predators out. I see flexi-net, but wonder if it works in high snows?
Really enjoyed the descriptive photos & lay out. Especially of the pigs & sheep. When you wire the ‘grid’ for the pens is it off of standard home current?
Scott: Our electric fences run off wall 120v. That makes the chargers much less expensive for the same power. We are currently ‘on-grid’ although that will change. Power is not terribly reliable, I built large battery backup units to deal with that. In the future we plan to install alternative power, probably hydroelectric as we have a lot of water and head.
UA: The poultry netting is actually off. It is just there to keep the hens in right after their move to a new location and to protect the hens from the guardian obediance dog puppies in training who aren’t ready to be with the birds unsupervised. The puppies area is right next to the other animals so they interact unsupervised through the fence (smell, sight, sounds, etc).
As to predators, you would have to ask Kita, Kia, Saturn, Cinnimon and the rest of the pack about that. I almost never see any predators… All I find is occasional pieces of skin, of skin, of skin… :) (Sung to music of Tom Lehrer’s The Irish Ballad.”
I have been dreaming of turning off my electric fence and replacing it with a good farm dog. I have terrible problems with woodchucks, and don’t have chickens yet (no dog either) but neighbors have lost some to predators. What breed are Kita and Kia? How would I go about proper training for a puppy?
Nevermind my previous comment – please feel free to moderate it out. I see you have a whole section on dogs, and I think it is just what I’m looking for. Thanks so much, both for the chicken coop ideas and the dog info. I hope I get up the courage to bring a puppy into my life and train her, but it’s too bad that it will be a first time experience for both of us. That’s what makes me hesitate.
Anne, Even with a livestock do I would recommend still also having the electric fence. Dog plus fence is more powerful for protection than either alone. I haven’t published a whole lot about specifically training. Basically it comes down to:
1) good basic obedience training so you develop communication with the dog,
2) exposure of the dog to the target livestock species in a controlled manner gradually fading yourself out as the dog becomes trust worth,
3) specific training such as for herding,
4) lots of patience.
Note that chickens are the hardest target livestock to train dogs to because chickens push all the right buttons to identify themselves as prey and say “Eat me!” But, with training the dogs can do it. A few dogs take to chickens naturally like Baloo who is a brother. Kita on the other hand required intense training. In the end she was more versatile at her jobs – her energy and intelligence too longer to direct.
Pink?!!!! Your house is PINK?!!!
my illusions are shattered. :->
Wow, I didn’t even notice the pink house bidness until p.v. pointed it out!
This is a great idea for a chicken coop! Simple, practical, and no cleaning it out. Thanks for the idea, Walter
*deep grin of shame* Aye, yes, we have a pink house. She covers her self with a bathrobe of Typar. But it wasn’t I who did the dirty deed in pink… That illustrious, no luminus, color was put on by the former owner who stumbled on a salvage of siding for an impossibly low price. ‘Twas too much to resist and he didn’t. Or maybe he actually liked the color.
But, if you think the siding is something, you should have seen the colors he chose for the rooms inside. We repained most of them. Still have the kitchen to do. It is still “puke green” as the kids say. After we got done repainting he visited and looked around. His comment was, “It’s very white.” No accounting for taste is there. Our neighbor, about a mile up the valley, painted his house bright yellow, just like someone else I’ve met recently… I don’t complain about my neighbor’s house and he doesn’t complain about mine… :)
So why don’t I cover it up with something bland and respectable?!? Well, honestly?… I’m trying to keep my taxes down. Seriously, the town tax assessor looked at the outside of our house and knocks off 70% of the value right there. How am I going to argue with that??? We’re talking serious bucks here! I asked her what would happen if I put plain barn board siding on the outside and she told me they would have to triple our taxes. Ouch! Pink with a bathrobe of fading Typar looks just fine, just fine.
…and that’s why much of rural America looks like a third world country. If one travels around the world you will notice that pride in one’s surroundings is still prevalent when not discouraged by the tax laws. I am sure that Vermonters of a few generations back– whose humble, practical yet neat and well cared for homesteads can be seen in historical photos– would be amazed at what has happened.
Same here too. Im also in vermont not far from you. Teachers demand such exorbinant salaries and benefits that its driven our taxes through the roof. We are paying over $13000.00 per student and they still arent getting a half way decent education. School taxes make up 80% of our town budget. It makes it unaffordable for regular people
very impressive coop. My chickens were finally devoured by preditors a year ago and I haven’t had the heart to try again. My poor rooster had frost bitte on his comb the first winter i kept them. Sigh . . . “Guilt.”
Came here looking for info on the winter hen coop Walter and family constructed – great job Walter!
I know this post is old but had to comment on the “exorbitant” teacher salaries liz refers to. My husband teaches in Danville, we homestead up in Stannard. He makes $32,000 a year. Yes he gets good health benefits, no dental though. Is that exorbitant?!?! He works his a$$ off, way more hours than 7-3 pm. It’s hardly an executive’s salary. I happily pay my taxes.
I agree with the educational quality issues but my husband is one of the good ones. I agree there are some sitting on their duffs after 30 years of teaching doing nothing and making twice what my husband makes. But there are plenty of good teachers who deserve their salaries and more.
Hi I followed the links through to your blog from flikr because I am alsways on the lookout for economical ideas for keeping poultry and other small critters.
I actually constructed a chicken tractor pretty similar to your coop in shape. I have been thinking about what I will do for my flock to help cope with the Kentucky winter. Shall I build a permanent sturcture or could I winterize the tractor?
Thanks for helping me answer this, I am sure if your flock is protected enoungh in VT with your engenious setup with hay “footer” and litter, and of course the bubble-foil, that I could fix my tractor up in a winter spot and have happy hens through the winter, right?
I set up a blog last week too, in order to share my adventures:
Now to seek out a source for foil bubble insulation…
Thanks again for sharing,
Sean in Kentucky
Sean, you can probably get the bubble-foil wrap at your local building supply company. If not check out FarmTek.com which sells it mailorder.
Thanks Walter! It is great to have a visual. I need alot more hay, and thanks for the tip of keeping the hay over the snow. Simple suggestions really help out us beginners. ! Angie, In Oregon
No predators?!? I need one of your dogs! I have never been good at dog training. How do they tell the difference between what they are allowed to kill and what they aren’t? Love all your chicken coop ideas.
Maggie, it comes down to starting by teaching them yes and no, good and bad. Then you teach them to protect the livestock and they readily learn to hunt the predators. Puppies may get it wrong but they learn and it is worth it. A few seem to come out of the womb knowing which is which but I think they’re just sly and watch the leaders carefully. :) That’s a big advantage of training with experienced dogs around to demonstrate.
Can you use straw to form the perimeter of the coop? Do they peck at the hay for greens? I’m beginning to get nervous about winter. I have 2 hoop coops, hens are in one and turkeys in the other. I think I will do the sunroom thing with the turkey coop after Thanksgiving. Do you know of a good source for the foil bubble insulation?
Maggie, you could use straw bales. I use hay mostly because that is what I already buy but also because it has a higher food value. The chickens do eat some of it. Using hay also means I’m not managing two different materials for square bales so life is simpler.
I got the foil-bubble-bubble-foil insulation at the local building supply store, Allen Lumber, in Barre, Vermont. I’ve also seen it at most hardware stores. It works great but isn’t absolutely necessary. If I didn’t have it I would use a tarp and cover the coop with a layer of hay and then let the snow accumulate above the hay – I’ve done that before and it worked well.
Same here, only straw. I think I will look for some bales of hay for sale just to give them something to peck at. New Question…how did you attach the insulation on the ends of it. I have the piece seamed but Now I need to do the ends. I want them under the main part but I am afraid to use pig rings because I think it will tear at the puncture point. Hoping to get this finished before it gets much colder.
Attach the foil to the bottom of one side – a batten works well or use lots of staples, pulled the foil tight over the top of the hoop and then batten or staple the foil to the 2×4 base beams on the far side. When you’re done, taped the joints of the foil with duct tape. The duct tape will wear out in the sun but is easy to replace. I’ve wondered about doing a double layer offset of the foil-bubble-bubble-foil but it is expensive.
I don’t think I asked that question right. I need to how you did the ends, the ones with the door and nesting area. Isn’t that under the main part? How do you hold that onto the wire?
Ah! What we did was make an end panel that had flaps which go up under the top pieces of foil. Then we taped the end panel and the top pieces of foil together. I will take a photo next time I get a chance and post it to show the detail.
We also used tape around some openings. That’s a good idea as it makes it so you don’t catch on the wires as well as helping lock the covering to the wire.
By the way, nylon zip ties work well for providing some attachment but still use the duct tape or something like that to help join and strengthen the seams.
Here’s another page that shows some construction details.
In retrospect I think I would use a larger wire spacing which would make the whole thing lighter weight and I’m not sure the rebar was necessary. It certainly did make the hoop house rugged.
Thanks, Walter. My hoop coops are taller …I used panels from a corn crib that blew over in a wind storm earlier in the summer. Just for ease of construction I made rectangular doors and covered the frame with wire. They are presenting my biggest issue at the moment, next to bodacious winds that keep blowing my main covering off. I don’t want the corners to poke holes in the foil as that would make the roosts drafty.
I may put this off until the weekend and I have some help. Some one slap me when I start having fun so I will know I am having a good time! I wish we were closer…I want some of those piglets!
I’m in the process of buying an 18th Century farmstead here in the NE so I went online to look up information on raising chickens (my mother grew up on a farm in the Philippines and when I asked her about what to do with chickens in winter, well, as you can imagine, she had no idea since she grea up on a tropical island). Anyway, that’s how I found your site, and I love it! Will definitely be back to read more…
I am getting ready to buy and raise chickens at our home for the first time. I live in Kansas (windy and cold in the winter/hot and humid in the summer)and find your coop to be a great alternative. My question is this … the dimesnions of your coop seem to be 12X4. How many laying hens can you keep in this house? Also what size and length is the rebar that you use for the forms?
I am sure this will spaun more questions but this is great …
Yes, it is 12’x4′ on the base. It is about 5′ tall in the middle. I did that partially for efficiency of materials. That has housed as many as 70 hens over the winter if I remember correctly. Right now we have about 30.
In retrospect it would be nice to have it be slightly bigger but then it would get unwieldy and heavy. It is a trade off. I tried putting wheels on it but our terrain is so rough and steep they don’t work all that well. We move it as little as we can get away with. Rotating it around and moving poultry netting around it works well when we must confine the chickens in the spring to keep them away from fresh plantings.
Putting a little temporary breezeway on the back, the egg shelf access side, is a good idea in the winter to keep the wind out.
What size rebar did you use? What did you use to bend it into shape. Most of the rebar I am familiar with is pretty rigid and would seem kind of hard to form.
We used #3 (3/8″) rebar on the coop. #4 (4/8″ = 1/2″) also works well but is much heavier to lift later. You could go with #2 (1/4″).
Alternatively, skip the rebar and instead use cattle/hog panels. My brother did a very nice structure that way.
I have also used 661010 Welded Wire Mesh on similar projects which is even lighter gauge than cattle panels and that worked well although the resulting structure is more wobbly.
Lots of possibilities. Don’t feel locked in by exactly how I did it. Most of all it depends on what I’ve got on hand when I go to do a project and how heavy I’m willing to have the resulting structure be.
I’m interested in raising a small flock of chickens but I live in Wisconsin and am concerned about how they handle the winter. What temp does the coop have to stay at for the hens to keep laying? Also, what’s a good size coop and flock to start out with?
Anon, I’m not sure what temperature is required but inside our coop it tends to stay above freezing. I leave the door open for ventilation and to make sure it doesn’t get to hot and humid. The birds generate a lot of heat. The big thing is block the wind. Snow works great. Hay works great. Mountains, hedges, etc all work well.
I would suggest having a flock size of at least a dozen to start with. You’ll have extra eggs. Most of the year they feed themselves for free from foraging. Gift the extra eggs, feed them to piglets, dogs, etc.
Thanks for the informative chicken coop posts, I’ve read them thoroughly and *believe* that I’ve got the premise ;) Are the nesting boxes for the hoop house made from the same 666 welded mesh and just formed? And if this is the case is the 3′ width wide enough to cross the center and lower nesting box or is it added to to get the required length?
I currently use straw bale houses for the chooks but am finding too many mornings of frozen water which leads to never ending changing altho’ the birds themselves have a good body temperature. Which leads me to my second question; the waterering and feed buckets you’ve made. Are they hanging? How do you attach the base to the upturned bucket and does the weight of the feed and water buckets compromise the integrity of the weld mesh?
Thanks for the blog,
Tracy in northern Alberta Canada
what a great web site, as I just discovered it. In the chicken hoop house photo, there is a large black plasatic pipe running alongside the chicken hut, what is it for? thanks again for the info. from oklahoma…..
I’m not sure which photo you’re looking at but my guess would be that the black plastic pipe is 1″ black plastic water line which we use extensively for getting water from the springs and holding tanks to the waterers for the animals. We also feed whey with 1″ black water line. It’s great stuff.
Thank you we are working on winterizing our hens now. Good information! I love the use of hay, I had considered similar ideas, this one works great.
My husband is at home RIGHT NOW constructing a coop based on your design. (While I do my dayjob)
I’m not sure what size the rebar is, we got it from a concrete supplier in Burlington.
My question to you is: Any special technique for bending the rebar? We tried bending it without the holes drilled the other day just to see how tall the coop would be, but it was not going to be easy, so we didn’t continue. Do we just drill holes, stick it in one side and bend?
Suz in North Hero
Exactly, drill the holes, insert the 10′ lengths of #3 (3/8″) or #4 (1/2″) rebar and bend the other tip over to the other hole. Rebar bends pretty easily – it’s a soft iron. Having one end in the frame of the base makes the whole process much easier. The heavier #4 rebar is not necessary. I tend to use what I’ve got on hand for a lot of projects. Often stuff left over from other projects.
Wow, what a great page. We live in southern Vermont and are newbie chicken owners. We got our first flock this spring. I have been endlessly search the net in hopes to find information about whether or not a heat lamp/light bulb was necessary for the winter or if the coop is to small etc. The information I found is very unclear. Our indoor space is small, 4" x 4", the nesting boxes up off the floor and the is plenty of perch space (we used an old wooden ladder add added a dropping tray so the space under the perch stay clean and dry) We with 8 hens and a large insulate window on the south side. It is up off the ground and mostly air tight with a large vent that opens and closes. They will have access to a covered out door run (consisting of cattle fence and chicken wire with about 200 zip ties. And believe it or not….mobile! I am writing in hope that you (or others) could give your opinion on heat and space etc, I would hate to find out part way through the winter that changes need to be made.
Thanks again for the great info…I am glad to see that other have been creative with their project.
A 4 foot by 4 foot coop for 8 chickens should be big enough and also keep warm enough through the winter. With the window it could even over heat so be sure to always allow for ventilation or for the birds to be able to get out if its too hot. Otherwise you may cook your chickens.
If it does get too cool the first thing to think about is blocking drafts. Next, if necessary add a incandescent light which will produce heat in addition to light. A 40 watt bulb may be enough. Experiment. Each situation is different.
First time looking at your blog on this topic and find all the info great after having exhausted backyardchicken.com. Love your winter/summer coop concept. Our 11yr old son has wanted chickens for a couple years, and we dove in this spring with 2 gold comets and a hand-me-down mobile coop. Coop has been falling apart and awkward to use, so we built our own – just finished it yesterday. Most difficult thing to figure out is heating. You mention an incandescent lamp, which our other chicken owning friends have also suggested (no need for special red heating lamp I guess), but will this produce too much light if left on all night long? We have 4’x5′ enclosed area with door left open to attached run. We’re hoping for another 2-3 chickens if we can find any layers this winter which will help add warmth…but for now, coop feels awfully bright with lamp on. Am tempted to put on timer to shut off for some of night so they can sleep better – again, not sure how low temp has to dip before artificial heat is needed….30F? 20F? 10F?
Grateful for your advice or others’ experience with this.
Little to no heat is needed depending on your climate. We normally leave the door to the coop open for ventilation so they won’t over heat and don’t get too much humidity inside the coop. I only close the door during extreme cold, deep negative numbers like -20째F or below. The light bulb is more important to keep them laying than for heat although it does provide some heat.
Check out the chicken sunroom.
Walter, thanks for all the great insights! We're "next door" (Adirondacks), have no experience with chickens, will build one of your coops ASAP, raised-beds garden, a few bee hives, some solar & wind power — all part of trying to protect the family from what we feel could turn into the collapse of our currency, supply system…you name it. Questions:
1) Do you think it's dumb to consider 12' x 4' raised beds (most seem to be just 8'x3'), then using your coop winters to enrich the soil of one after another raised bed?
2) Our kids are under 5, have no dogs yet, aren't thinking about getting a whole team, plus we're on a hi-wind ridge top (81mph in Jan.)…so, with predators in mind…do you think keeping the coop door open just DAY-time would be ventilation enough?
The raised beds with the hoop house on top is a great trick. I considered doing this but never did. My brother did this and it worked well for him.
On the door, monitor it. If you’re getting too much moisture buildup inside, too warm, then vent.
Hello again, Walter —
Am thinking about cold frames to put around/atop the raised beds for the garden we need – with the wire chicken coop to get moved from one such bed to the next, one a winter the way your brother is doing it – and have a few questions:
Would like, ideally, to build cold-frame boxes atop most of the 20-odd 12'L x 4'W x average 18"(of soil depth) raised beds we're hoping to set up. For those cold spring & fall nights, I'd like to incorporate a heat-retaining top cover of alu-foil attached, maybe "duck-taped"(?) to the glass (would plexiglass be better: less brittle & cheaper?) portion of the prop-up/let-down cover for the frame.
1) Roughly how high should those boxes rise above the appx. 18" of soil depth we expect to have inside them? (Tall-growing pole-climbing plants, like tomatoes, don't lend themselves to cold-framing at all, right?)
2) To max the life-expectancy and minimize the cost of the cold-frame boxes, plus to let us LIFT & MOVE such a 12' x 4' x (roughly say) 30" high box out of the way and to the next bed, per each winter….WHAT MATERIAL SHOULD WE USE TO BUILD the cold-frame boxes? Would some tough plastic be the most cost-effective, durable & portable, together with, say, detachable window tops? Have you heard of, seen something like that & could tell us where to find it?
Thank you again in advance for any insights!
We have -just this year- begun a shift from sheep to chickens, pasture raised in hoop houses for rotational grazing. Pondering the winter issue we found your site and are about to build two more hoop buildings, incorporating your fantastic winter ideas.
I haven't seen any comments on how you are keeping the chickens' water running. We are in an area of Wisconsin that will frequently get seriously sub-zero for long periods with NO snow for a water source. Having electricity for water heaters has seemed the only realistic solution for all our livestock. How do you keep the water defrosted in the chicken coops?
I cannot tell from the photos but wondered if you include roosts for the crew in winter?
Also wondered if you have any roosters in your winter coops and if so how many and how do they get along?
Love your website.
We have several solutions to the winter water issue.
One is water heaters, we've done that in the past although not for several years.
Another solution is simply toting water to the animals – I try to avoid that.
Our best solution is simply the same as summer, we have year round mountain springs that are about 45째F or so. In the summer that's cool water and in the winter it feels positively balmy. Around the springs there are large areas that steam even in the coldest weather. These springs provide our water and the overflow goes to the animals through a series of pipes and troughs running down the mountain. See these fun posts about our ice sculptures which result from the water flows.
We do get a lot of snow so they always have that to eat. Even when they have water available they'll often eat snow by choice. I do notice though that the chickens lay more if I provide them with warm water. They like their afternoon tea… :)
We do keep multiple roosters in the same winter hoop houses. Once they have established their pecking order they get along well. Right now though we have no roosters as I taught them all not to crow. Delicious.
You really do need professional chicken coop plans to build a coop that can protect your chickens through cold and warm weather. A co-op not only keeps predators out, but it also protects your poultry from harsh weather.
Really? I wonder if the message above is a new form of spam. It came with a link which I deleted.
A friend just alerted me to this wonderful site as she knew we were thinking about more space for our chickens. I'm in the process of building a wood framed hoop house, 16' long x12' wide and high enough to stand up in. This is for the chickens to use as a sun room in the winter, but come spring we will use it for growing crops that need that little extra warmth here in southern NH. To keep the cost down (to zero) I'm reusing the material from a large deck that I removed (we prefer to have more garden space), plastic sheeting was donated from an old project, screws came from that local resource, the dump/recycling center, as did the aluminum screen door. Now I need to explore the rest of Walter's, and wife's site. Thanks Walter
Hey you two,
We built ever so modified versions of your huts this year for our central Wisconsin winters and I have to say: THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!
Building the huts was one kookie but fun day and then watching them really function for our birds was a winter's delight.
Our modification included an extended back-end that allowed us to both shelter and then get into the back doors for eggs, and a completely clear (heavy-duty shower curtain) cover flap for the front (south facing) door. The inside temps stayed warm enough to keep all the chickens very healthy all winter. Even during the worst days of our Wisconsin winter here on our ridge top farm – many negative 20 nights and a long winter with daytime temps that rarely rose above 15 as well- the inside water froze only partially. Obviously the hens were able to get water if they needed it during the night, with it finally beginning to freeze over during the last pre-dawn hours.
We never used any electricity in the coops (couldn't actually as it was too far from our placement)and never needed it.
Great, wonderful, outstanding. …any other accolades you need for this plan? We have begun gathering materials for the next three sets for the incoming breeds. We are trying to find axles and wheels to help us turn each coop into easier coops than I was using last year, but are really happy to have the plan to work with our larger goal of one coop for each breed we work with here.
Good job and thank you again.