I am a newly registered forum member and I am new to chickens, though not to birds (or animals, or farms for that matter). We are the proud parronts (parrot parents, LOL) of two Indian Ringnecks and one Alexandrine. (Google search them, they are Gorgeous!) My previous parrot experience has given me extensive knowledge in the healthiest, safest and most rewarding bird husbandry. I think these skills will benefit me while venturing into keeping chickens.
We are on a 10acre "hobby farm" (I hate that term, but havent invented an alternative as of yet, LOL) and we keep our animals for the love, companionship and rewards of ownership, not to profit off of them in any way. Obviously we gain fresh food and compost from them as well, so its a win win situation. With spring in the very near horizon, we have selected four chicks (thats right, only 4) of cold hardy breeds (2 Buff Orpingtons, one Mille Fleur and an Easter Egger) and have them in a home made brooder at the moment, while we make preparation for thier transfer outside.
I have done TONS of research for months on the proper care of laying hens, and have found this forum, as well as a few others, a great resource for experienced, informative answers to a variety of questions.
Though, my husband and I are having a debate when it comes to the erection of our homemade chicken coop.
Now for the Issue! I have read in many places that while insulation is not Required, it can be beneficial to egg laying hens in the winter months for various reasons. We are the type who like to keep our animals in the most comfortable living conditions we can afford, so after looking into it, we feel insulating is the best option. That, or keeping the hens in the house, which I can assure you my parrots would NOT appreciate, LOL We live in Southern Alberta, Canada, where we have winters that can stay in the Minus 45 Degrees Celcius range for weeks on end. We are also located close to the Rocky Mountains, so we have quite the windy location, all seasons.
Our coop will be located in a fenced in run/pen area attached to our garage (with no access to the garage). The pen is about 55 Feet Long, by 20 Feet Wide and 6 Feet High. One side has 55 feet of garage/shop as a wall, and the other side has thick foliage for windbreak, the entire hight of the pen and more. The two ends (20 feet) are open to the elements with wire and wood fencing.
We intend to build our coop on stilts, and insulate with styrafoam. There will also be a light fixture with a 100 watt light bulb for extreme conditons. The debate is this: I have read that with insulation, Ventilation is even more important than when you have no insulation. That without proper ventilation, insulating your coop can trap moisture (and fumes) and actually promote frostbite, etc.
But my husband is absolutely adamant, that if he is going to the trouble of insulating the coop, he would be removing all benefit of said insulation by putting in ventilation around the roof of the coop. He feels wind and cold will simply travel into the coop through the vent spots and make the coop cold regardless of any insulation. I believe he is basing this off of his knowledge of home insulation, which is by no means similar.
My Questions! Is this true? If not (and I am right) how can I simply explain to him the way the logistics of this concept works? Ive been given the impression from many books and forums that vents do not affect warmth of a coop in winter. Would you need larger than average vent spots with an insulated coop? Would building overhangs around the vent spots adequatly prevent wind and elements from seeping into the coop? Or would overhangs prevent adequate ventilation?
Also, what about the door? Wouldnt any wamth in the coop seep out when I open the door in the morning? And for easy cleaning, our coop will have one whole side wall that will swing open so I can sweep/rinse out the coop efficiently. Wont all the warmth escape at this time as well?
LASTLY, Im curious how Automatic doors have worked for people. All the websites that sell them, say they protect the coop from predators and such, but I worry that it would close at night, and lock a stray hen out with the predators! My husband is an electrician, and he can actually set up a sensor that can open and close the door when a chicken nears it, but then I suppose the same would work for predators, LOL
Thanks in advance for your experienced info, and I apologize for being long winded, its a nasty habit of mine! LOL
Loving care giver of two Daughters, three Dogs, three Parrots, two Horses and 4 Hens!
For chickens, the main thing is to prevent chilling due to wind or moisture, but allow plenty of ventilation to avoid illness from ammonia fumes. So the coop should be tight enough to keep wind out, but ventilated at the top to allow fumes to escape. The lower portion of the coop can be insulted to retain warmth. I think some kind of thermal mass would be helpful.
I live in Georgia and so my concern about insulation is opposite to yours - how to minimize the heat in summer is a bigger issue than the cold in winter. I will note that as far as bees are concerned I do provide vents in the hive to avoid a buildup of moisture. But the bees have an advantage over chicken - they can regulate the size of the opening at the top of the hive with propolis and so I provide the vent and leave it to them to decide how much ventilation they really want. I think some ventilation is important - you could agree on the lowest temperature for the chicken (eg. say 40 deg F) and then use a thermostat and a vent opener to let out (moist) air when the temperature rises above the comfort level.
I just built my first automatic coop door opener - I am not an engineer and the electrics are very simple. Also, I only use it (at present) to open the coop in the morning. I agree that there are risks with using the automatic door closer in the evening - a not so obvious risk is the chicken may leave dirt on the threshold and the door will not close fully, and then the on/off switch will not trigger and the motor may continue winding and wind the door all the way up. If you are interested in my coop door opener, or other comments on my chicken, you can look at my website.
www.nu-trac.info - new life tracks – growing organic, conservation, self reliance
Your chickens wear a heavy down/feather coat in the winter, so unless you live in very northern climes or very arid, hot climates, insulation is totally unnecessary.
Ventilation, however, is always a good idea. Keep in mind that a chicken coop doesn't have to be a like a home that is sealed up to keep out cold. Cold is not the enemy...condensation(chickens breathing hot air and the heat from their bodies will create this in the coop) and cold winds/drafts are. In the summer, lack of good airflow through the same space creates humid and closed conditions~just right for bacterial and fungal growth.
Optimally, air should flow from the bottom of the coop and out through the top...fresh air in, heat and humidity of bodies combines with it and it rises to leave the coop near the roof line. You are right...the more ventilation, the better. As long as the vents are not located directly opposite your roosting sites and blowing cold winds on your birds, it is a good thing.
I'm with Jay. if they're kept too warm in the coop, they will get into trouble when they venture outside. and ventilation is extremely important. you do want to avoid drafts, though. it can be tricky to balance air exchange with keeping drafts out, but I bet you're equal to it.
the main idea is that their feather trap air. that dead air is what insulates the birds. a breeze will disturb that air and it won't insulate any more. the reason ventilation is so important is that chicken lungs are extremely sensitive to ammonia. chicken shit is extremely likely to evolve ammonia. if that ammonia is allowed to build up at all, you'll have sick chickens. because birds are prey for a lot of other critters, they typically do their best to hide any illness, so it likely won't be obvious to you that there's a problem, even if it's fairly severe.