That is the question we are faced with when first starting out with chickens. Three winters ago I was new to chicken rearing. I did what most of us do. I read, researched, planned, imagined, read some more and finally took the plunge.
Dark Cornish Hen with a Small Comb
I bought 25 straight run Dark Cornish. I chose Dark Cornish based on my research and my inexperience. Dark Cornish are advertised as: a heritage breed, dual purpose, hardy, brown egg layers, great foragers, medium sized, good mothers, still have instincts and small pea combs. I wanted to make sure someone knew what they were doing-even if it was the chickens! I arranged to have my farmer friends take the roosters when they started to crow. “If it crows-it goes” is the saying at my house.
My chicks arrived as promised and into the brooder they went. They grew as they should-much to my relief. It was time for them to move into their brand-new chicken tractor built by me-designed by Andy Lee of Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide ...fame.
To prevent overheating from the sun, I insulated the hinged roof of the tractor with 2” blue foam board. Who knew that chickens LOVE to eat insulation? I countered by gluing cardboard over the insulation. The chickens ate through that too. I removed the cardboard and insulation and moved the tractor to the shade under the trees.DIY Chicken Tractor
As wintertime approached, I worried about my chickens being cold. Our winters are -10F to +30F for 5 months. I built a “winter” home for my chickens. A two level wooden framed coop with paper backed fiberglass insulation sandwiched between sheets of OSB board. There was no insulation eating that winter.
Exterior Wall Construction
I also housed their home inside the south-facing bottom floor of my bank barn. The chickens were insulated from the wind and snow on three sides. I attached their tractor to the winter home via a covered run so they could go outside in the sun and still be protected from predators.
Twice a day I made my way down to the barn to open and close their coop door and to feed and water my chickens. We got over four feet of snow that winter so I had to plow a path to the barn. I did not supply supplemental lighting and my chickens stopped laying eggs for 41days. They remained happy and healthy.
The Bank Barn Insulates the Chickens from the Snow
My second winter, I decided to locate the chicken tractor closer to the house. I moved it under a Norway maple tree. I insulated the outside of the tractor with stacked straw bales and added a heat lamp inside the coop. Having learned my lesson, I did not insulate the roof of the coop. The chickens continued to lay eggs all winter at a reduced rate. Again, they remained happy and healthy.
This is my third winter with chickens. I read Open-Air Poultry Houses for All Climates by Prince Woods during the summer. I decided to try the methods recommended in the book. I did not insulate my chicken tractor much at all. I attached wind blocks to the upper sides of the tractor. I made them out of leftover metal roofing. I stuffed three empty feedbags full of straw and placed them around the roosting area. I gave them fresh water every day; let them free range to get sunshine and exercise and added straw to make sure their tractor floor stayed dry. I did not supply additional heat or light and the chickens produced an abundance of eggs all winter long.
Feed bags Stuffed with Straw Wind Blocks Attached to Tractor
To Insulate or Not to Insulate:
I have learned that you will have to use your best judgment based on your own area and experience. These are some criteria that I would use to decide:
- · If you have less than 10 chickens
- · If your chickens are a small breed
- · If they are bred specifically for egg laying
- · If comb size is large and more susceptible to frostbite
- · If your winters are lengthy and -40F to 0F
- · If you experience frequent windy weather
- · If you experience frequent wet winter weather
- · If you have 10 or more chickens
- · You have medium or large breed chickens
- · They are a dual purpose breed
- · If comb size is small and less susceptible to frostbite
- · If you have shorter warmer winters and -10F to +30F or better
- You can ensure your chickens can stay dry and out of the wind