Winter Hen Coop

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


About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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76 Responses to Winter Hen Coop

  1. Robert Wilson says:

    thanks for the post

  2. nate says:

    I like the low-end construction requirements, and the ways you’ve found to cope with all the challenges.

    What do you think of tying thatch to the wire mesh instead of wrapping in bubble-foil insulation? I’ve heard that thatch, when properly done, is waterproof and has a great R value. It’s also 100% natural, which to us is a great big plus.

    • Actually we have done that. But it doesn’t last more than half a year, maybe a year, in our climate. I wonder about using goldenrod canes rather than grasses as they are tougher. Even tougher is the stalks of sunflowers. Those can last several years. The issue is the very high humidity and warmth inside the coop and the high humidity at the thatch-to-snow interface. It is an idea that might work with some further exploration of thatch materials.

  3. Roger says:

    Hey there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and superb style and design.

  4. Kory says:

    Wow, what a great winter coop. YOur chickens look like they are ready to go for winter lol. Do you give them little sweaters too? lol

  5. Orrin Murdoch says:

    Good morning Walter,
    I have been thinking about building a coop along the lines of yours but as of this morning the link to the article about the construction details is not working.

  6. louise says:

    Lots of good info. I just got my first batch of chicks three weeks ago and soon they will be heading into a Canadian winter. They are still using a heat lamp at night but are outside all day long,. wonderful! They love grasshoppers and will certainly miss them when the frost take them away. I am busy trying to sucure decent winter accomodation for them. Really enjoying them.

  7. Lauren Alexander says:

    I have 6 blue laced Wyandotte chicks about 4 months old. I had two large dog crates so I wired them tog back to back with no back walls I can access one end to hang food and water and the other end will be the egg door. There are perches to roost on and so far I slide the trays out to clean it every day. I live in town and raccoons will be a problem! the chicks free range during the day and I close the pen door after they roost. The whole thing is covered with a tarp for summer. I think I’ll put hay bales around it or under it for the winter and add bubble insulation to the tarp. If it gets too cold, I think a heat lamp will be good enough for Jan Feb and March in Indiana. Whadyathink?

    • Sounds like a plan. Don’t close them in too much – they need ventilation. Pick a location out of the wind. Getting buried in a snow drift is good – like an igloo – as long as they have breathing space.

  8. Lauren Alexander says:

    I could also move the whole shebang into the garage.

  9. Ben Czyzewski says:

    Hi Walt new to all this. Did you put a wire flooring in for predator protection. I don’t have dogs so I’m wondering about predators and snakes…so basically how would I keep predictors from digging underneath it.

  10. laurie says:

    Hi Walter, what are the nesting shelves made out of?

  11. Carrie says:

    Hi Walter
    Previously my most successful chicken shack was one based on straw bales. I want to incorporate their use again but… I had a huge problem with rats. They clearly thought the bale construction was just for them to winter under. They burrowed under the bottom bales and apart from de-constructing the whole thing (which I did in the end) I could not keep them out. I tried post-construction wire netting, then slabs over those, etc. The rats were persistent; I guess that equals warmth plus a food and water source.

    I wondered whether you have experienced a similar problem with rats and whether you’ve effected a cure? I expect the answers to each part of the Q is No! and Dogs! but thought I’d ask just in case… (My cats don’t cut the mustard; they seem to dislike rats although they’ll catch a few trainee-sized ones.)

    Thanks for an informative, entertaining blog.

    • You’re correct, you are building an ideal rat home. Perhaps consider farming rats. :)

      Our dogs and the local “Little People” are both big on catching rodents which helps. “Little People” is the name our dogs have for the ferrets and ermine who live around here. You might try feeding the cats less. A fat cat catches no mice, nor rats. Good luck!

      • Carrie says:

        Thanks. We don’t have too many wild ferrets in the UK; blasted mink are on the increase though but I don’t need those anywhere near chicks!

        Humm… farming rats… now there’s an idea! :-)

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        Walter, I seem to recall you saying once that chickens will eat mice and rats? I doubt that they will go after gigantic ones, but maybe it would be possible to design a hay-insulated building in such a way that the chickens will have access to most of the hay, from the bottom as well? I’m trying to think of a design in my head, but coming up mostly blank. The best thing I can think of is a grid of lumber, chicken wire on that, then hay bales, broken open, then add a walkways for humans. It would work something like blown insulation in a stick-built house.

        But it would be nowhere near as simple as a basic frame made of tight tied bales.

        The only other thing I can think of is to move the coop a significant distance every X weeks, where X is less time than it takes for young to gestate and be born. In essence using managed rotational grazing techniques to control rats instead of parasites.

        If they are available, put a quick, simple fence up around the coops when you are tearing them apart, and bring over some good ratting dogs.

        • Yes, they’re quite effective at mousing, at least with small ones up to maybe 4″ long. I would not be surprised if they would go after larger ones. They hunt as a mob. But, the catch is the chickens only hunt during the day and the rats are nocturnal – Perhaps because of that. Our dogs on the other hand hunt 24/7 and are very effective at night. I sometimes hear them catching rodents in the dark hours.

          I think you’re right that moving the structure around could help. I suspect the issue there is that in the winter that doesn’t work and you really want to stay in one place to let the bedding pack build up, compost and provide heat.

          • Carrie says:

            Quote: “the issue there is that in the winter that doesn’t work and you really want to stay in one place to let the bedding pack build up, compost and provide heat.”

            Previously I found that disturbance was a reasonable deterrent but… exactly as above comment; I want the installation warm for the winter months and to build a sizeable bedding pack. I’m quite happy to start again in spring; create anew and compost the old. I am mulling over a form-work wrapped in fine wire mesh (rather than slabs) to keep the straw bales off the ground. And placing the form-work on a wire mesh too. The latter has the advantage of keeping the hens from scratching and undermining; as in, stops the hens making the job easy for the rats!

            My hens will catch mice and voles, no probs. The ensuing squabble is something to behold though!

            Maybe I should just get a couple of pet ferrets. Anyone know how ferrets and hens co-habit?

  12. Sister Maria Philomena says:

    Dear Walter,
    Thank you for all the information. Just a note to let you know that the links to the other articles you mention don’t work anymore.

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