Cold Weather Considerations in Chicken Coop Construction and Placement

“I live in the north east U.S. and will soon be starting my first flock. I will be building my own coop and have plenty of land but my question is should i build the coop facing a certain direction. I am most concerned with the cold wet winters. Should they get morning sun, all day sun or am i worried over nothing? If it makes a difference I plan on keeping 8-10 Rhode Ilsand Reds. Thank You” ~ Bill

Thanks for the question, Bill.

Before we talk about the coop and it’s placement, let’s talk a little bit about breed selection.

Your choice of Rhode Island Reds is a good one.

It’s important to select breeds that will do well in your area based on their ability to thrive in your climate.

If you select breeds, particularly heritage breeds that have not been altered through selective breeding and that are native to your area, the extra steps you’ll need to take in extreme weather will be minimized.

In a cold climate, you’ll want to place your coop in such a way that you can take advantage of the sun’s warmth as much as possible during the cold winter months. A southern facing coop with windows on the east and west sides and a big door or windows on the south side will help your coop to stay warmer. It will also protect your flock from cold winds from the north.

An additional advantage of having screened windows on the east and west is that your flock will experience more light exposure.

It is light, not temperature that affects egg production because the light stimulates the pituitary gland.

A side note here; if you want to keep your flock’s egg production higher during the winter months, you should extend their daylight hours to 14 by hanging a light in the coop. It is best to have a dim transition light, simulating dust, so that your flock has a chance to get settled in for the night before it suddenly becomes dark.

As always, safety is very important here, take every precaution to ensure your birds cannot burn themselves. Also unsure that the light is very secure and cannot fall, possibly causing a fire.

Okay, back to your coop.

You’ll need to keep your flock warm. During construction, consider double wall construction with at least 1 ½ inches of insulation between the two. The most important factor here is that the chickens cannot possibly get to the insulation, they will eat it and that would be very dangerous for the birds.

I would not recommend a concrete floor in a very cold climate. If concrete is your only option, be sure you have a very thick layer of bedding material on top of the concrete. If moisture is a concern as well, be sure you have good drainage.

Finally for the construction of the building itself, build your roof at a pitch that is appropriate for your snow load.

The biggest concern in very cold climates is that your chicken’s combs and waddles will get frost bite. One way to prevent this is to apply a layer of petroleum jelly. Reapply as often as necessary.

In extreme temperatures, a source of heat is necessary.

Chickens see all colors except blue. You can hang a blue light (or more than one depending on the size of your coop) inside the coop without disturbing their rest to serve as a source of heat. If your temperature drops are extreme, you may need to provide a more powerful source of heat.

Another concern is freezing water.

Chickens must have water available at all times. Your heat source within the coop may be enough to keep the water from freezing. If it is not, there are watering systems available that are made to keep the water from becoming solid.

Bill if you also have hot, humid summers there are a few things to think about when building the coop as well. The windows are very important for ventilation in the summer. You’ll want to open the windows (screened of course) to allow for a cross breeze.

Chickens do not sweat, they breath excess moisture from their lungs out into the air.

A hen house full of panting chickens in humid conditions can cause too much moisture to build up inside the coop.

A hot coop will also cause an ammonia build up within the coop which is dangerous for the chickens respiratory systems. Ventilation is important for these reasons as well as to help the chickens to stay cooler.

For the summer months, if you can position your coop in an area where it gets shade in the afternoon from a nearby tree, that would be ideal. The tree needs to be large enough to cast the shadow from 20 or more feet away. You don’t want to have wild birds in close proximity to the coop because of disease they can carry.

However, if you have the option to build where ever you want and you have some large deciduous trees, building 20 feet to the east will help keep your coop cooler in the summer. Obviously the trees need to be deciduous so that they are not blocking the sun’s warmth in the winter.

Regardless of whether you have trees to the west, be sure to provide shade all throughout the day in the summer.

This shade needs to be in addition to the covering inside the coop as temperatures are sure to rise inside during the day. If you are using a run, you could cover part of it so that the chickens have shade in the summer and get the sun in the winter. Work it out so as to take advantage of your property and what best suits your situation.

Again, choose breeds that do well in your climate, take necessary precautions and your flock will do just fine.

Thanks for the question Bill, I hope this has been helpful.