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Winterizing chicken coops

Agriculture.com Staff 12/20/2012 @ 6:10pm

It's important to protect small flocks from frostbite and hypothermia. There are many ways you can reinforce coops to keep your birds healthy, warm, and dry.

Extension Poultry Specialist Jess Lyons at the University of Missouri says to start with the coop's north-facing windows. "Use air as an insulator. Install two layers of wind screening; one on the inside of the wall, and another on the outside. This creates a dead air space." Wind sheeting such as plastic or even used feed sacks work well.

However, don't tightly seal the windows. Ensure good ventilation by poking holes in the sheeting. This also helps reduce possible condensation buildup inside the coop, which creates a damp atmosphere and chills the birds even more.

If you choose to insulate the coop, enclose the insulation within a frame of drywall or plywood. The birds peck at any type of insulation for both amusement and in search of bugs.

Clean out the litter frequently and replace it with several inches of wood shavings and fresh straw. Some chicken owners use a deep litter method and only muck out the coop once a year. This works well in warmer months, when the chickens are scratching up the material throughout the day. But in winter, deep litter sometimes freezes because of manure accumulation, turning it into a cold, mudlike mess.

If you have electricity for the coop, Lyons says installing a heat lamp above the waterer helps maintain a fresh water supply. "Make sure the lamp has a guard on it, and hang it about 18"-24" above the water. At zero degrees, the water will probably still freeze, but the lamp helps overall."

Check on your chickens at least each morning and evening, and monitor their rations and energy levels. Also inspect the coop for vermin.

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