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Chickens and Styrofoam

 
Jenna Sanders
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Location: Michigan, zone 5
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We are getting chickens this spring and trying to design a coop for them. We have done our research and are getting cold hardy chickens (Buff Orpingtons), but with these frigid Michigan winters, we want to make sure our chickens are nice and warm, but would like to do so without the added expense of electricity. We plan to face the coop to the south with some type of window, for passive solar heat...and maybe pile snow around the outside of it for added insulation. Lord knows we get enough. My husband says the easiest thing to do would be to add some blue dow board type insulation on the inside, however, I went dumpster diving and found a bounty of 8x8x8 Styrofoam cubes and I was wondering if those would be safe to somehow incorporate with the coop for insulation?
Any ideas? Or other tips on how to keep our lovely ladies warm?
 
Ken Peavey
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If you use styrofoam be sure to cover it with a solid panel to prevent access by the hens. If they can get to it, they'll peck at it. If they peck at it, they'll break pieces off. Once they see a small nibble size piece...IT'S ON!
The chickens will peck and eat the styrofoam relentlessly. Having no nutritional value, it won't do them any good. The bits will be ground up in their gizzard to some degree and pass through without issue in small amounts. I don't know what large amounts will do, but I would not want to find out.
 
Paul Ewing
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They would work well if you cover them with paneling or some other material so the chickens cannot peck it. Chickens love Styrofoam and will peck it into millions of little white balls all over the place. Chicken houses really don't have to be that insulated if you can keep them dry and out of drafts.

Read Wood's _Open-air Poultry Houses for All Climates_ which has some great information on stationary chicken buildings. You can download a PDF of the 1912 edition from Google Books at http://books.google.com/books/about/Open_air_Poultry_Houses_for_All_Climates.html?id=o08PAAAAYAAJ or Robert Plamondon has reprinted it as _Fresh-air Poultry Houses_ http://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Air-Poultry-Houses-Open-Front-Healthier/dp/097217706X

 
Jenna Sanders
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Location: Michigan, zone 5
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I was thinking they may eat it...thank you for the excellent info.
 
Tom OHern
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Location: Seattle, WA
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Jenna Sanders wrote:We plan to face the coop to the south with some type of window, for passive solar heat...and maybe pile snow around the outside of it for added insulation.


Just putting a window in does not make it a passive solar system. You would need to have some sort of heat storage. Since the chickens are not inside during the day, a sunny window is not much help.

I think people ignore the best heaters in a chicken coop are the chickens themselves. They put out a lot of heat and are fine down to -20ºF. The trick is to not build a coop that is bigger than they need and then they will be able to heat it up when they come in each night. All a full sized chickens needs is about 7"-8" to perch on at night. On really cold nights I give them some extra starchy feed an hour before they go in for the night so they have some extra calories to burn. Keep them dry and out of the direct wind and they will be fine.
 
Cj Sloane
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Deep litter will compost and add heat.
 
Jenna Sanders
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Location: Michigan, zone 5
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Just putting a window in does not make it a passive solar system. You would need to have some sort of heat storage. Since the chickens are not inside during the day, a sunny window is not much help.

I knew it couldn't just be that simple, thanks for clarifying. So, chickens are a lot tougher than I give them credit for and I can just let them be?

Also, can someone explain deep litter to me? Is it just an extra thick layer of bedding material?
 
Cj Sloane
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Deep litter isn't bedding, its the stuff on the floor of the coop. A really deep layer of brown material (bark mulch, pine shavings, leaves) can absorb lots of chicken poo and so you don't have to clean it out too often. If you add more brown material (enough so it doesn't smell) you might only have to clean it out 2x/yr.

And, as it composts, it will help heat the coop.
 
Karen Walk
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Whatever you do for insulation / heat - make sure you maintain enough ventilation that your chickens aren't breathing in evaporated poop. A high humidity home in the middle of winter is not good for animals, especially when the humidity source is their own feces. Lots of dry bedding will also help.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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This is the best article I found when I was researching this topic a few years back ...

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/winter-coop-temperatures

What I took from it was to worry more about ventilation than heat. However, we do use a 100 watt incandescent when it get's really cold. We're just coming out of the 5th coldest winter on record here in Minesnota and all my chickens made it though healthy and unscathed (no frostbite).
 
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