The coop is supposed to be a safe and healthy place for your chickens to live. In order for them to be healthy you need to allow for ventilation. With a poorly ventilated coop, your chickens can develop respiratory problems.
Without proper ventilation the ammonia from the chicken droppings will accumulate and cause breathing problems for them.
The ammonia fumes are lighter than air but when the air is heavy or the humidity is high it causes the fumes to be heavier.
In a humid environment, the ammonia fumes cannot rise therefore it can cause the chickens respiratory issues.
Ventilation is different than having a draft in your coop. Ventilation is purposeful and helps with maintaining a temperature, ridding smells, ridding moisture, and allowing for air movement.
A draft is where cold air gets in and keeps the area cold. The drafty air can blow in quickly and cause the warm air to escape.
A Drafty Coop
To control drafty areas in your coop you may need to seal off cracks.
Be especially sure to not have any drafty areas near the roost as this makes the chickens very cold and can cause illness. You can wrap your coop in the cold months, especially if it gets very cold, to help eliminate drafty air from entering the coop.
We wrap our coop with a tarp or even house wrap to help eliminate the cold air from entering the coop. The wrap is easily removed in the summer where the air is appreciated.
When a chicken is cold, it must eat more to try to warm up. The drafty coop will in turn cost you more money in the way of increased feed and sick chickens.
A drafty coop also allows for the water to freeze more quickly. The cold air can also cause frostbite to the chickens’ combs and waddles.
To get ventilation you need to be able to have air movement. This could be where you have an open window on one side of the coop, and then the coop door open on the other side.
This way, there is a breeze that can blow completely through the coop. Also, heat rises so our coop has openings around the top to allow for air to escape.
The roof of the coop has openings like this all the way around it. This allows the heat to escape after it rises. The spider webs are also around the whole top but we will just say they are for decorative purposes.
If your coop gets wet then the humidity inside can get pretty high. A higher humidity makes it hotter, and even can make it more difficult to breathe. The air flow can help to dry up any wet places in your coop and keeps the humidity levels down.
A wet coop; whether it be rain or dumped water, can cause the ammonia to be overwhelming. As soon as you realize the bedding or anything is wet then be sure to clean it out and compost it.
Keeping your coop cleaned out from the chicken droppings and dirty bedding from the nesting boxes doesn’t mean that the ammonia is eliminated.
I just cleaned my coop out real good from the winter, and it was miserable. It was stuffy, hot, and stinky.
The sweat was pouring, and the coop wasn’t even that bad. Then I realized I should open the window all the way up, it was only partially open.
It was a beautiful day and I had the coop door open. The difference opening the window all the way made was crazy, it instantly cooled the coop down.
There are three different methods to provide ventilation to your coop.
There is passive ventilation, also known as natural. This is where the ventilation is provided without any work from you or machines.
Examples of passive ventilation are open windows, which also add that extra light that chickens need. In the cold months the windows need to be closed, When it is hot it is best to open the windows all of the way.
In the spring I like to crack the window open a few inches and allow fresh air in, just like opening your house windows and airing out your house.
Gable end vents can be used to allow for free air flow. Place a vent on each side so that it can create a breeze. Something as simple as opening the door and having a chicken run door will provide some much needed ventilation.
Second, there is active ventilation, also known as mechanical. Active ventilation is provided by the use of fans blowing air in your coop. With it you don’t need as many holes in your coop providing the fans are working.
The fans are either electric or solar powered. Either way there is a drawback to using fans such as the power is out, it hasn’t been very sunny, or the fans quit working. Whatever the situation there will not be enough ventilation in your coop.
Last, there is wind turbine ventilation, this is just like it sounds. There is a hole cut in the roof of the coop and a spinning fan powered by wind is placed.
When the wind is blowing it works great at moving air, but when the wind is still the turbine is too. When the blades are still you just have a hole in your roof. This allows for rain or maybe even animals to come in.
In my opinion, passive ventilation is the safest and best option for providing air flow into your chicken coop. Whatever method you choose to provide the ventilation is fine just so long as there is air movement in your coop.
Go stand in the coop for a few minutes, and you will be able to tell if you need to add more for the air flow.
There are three levels to a coop, this does not actually mean floors. Each level has a job and a need.
The top level is the space above the chickens’ heads to the roof. In the top level there needs to be a way for the air to escape. This is also where the windows should be.
The middle level is where the roost is and the chickens rest. This is also the area where my nesting boxes are. You do not want there to be an opening here as it is best for the chickens health.
The bottom level is the lower 12 to 18 inches of the coop. This is where the run door is, and where the chicken water and feed is usually placed. The bottom level is also where the chicken dropping will be.
Overcrowded coops can also cause health issues and more of a mess in the coop. Chickens are covered in feathers which help to keep them warm but can also cause them to overheat.
If you see a chicken with its wings outstretched and breathing hard then it is overheating. You may want to look into the amount of ventilation that your coop is providing.
Sarah Rodriguez is a homesteading wife and mother of five living in Appalachia. She grew up in a homesteading and logging family.
She and her husband Arnie work their 10-acre homestead together alongside their growing family. Sarah honed her self-reliance skills through 4-H and FFA at an early age and is now teaching her children to live off the land, raise livestock, and the importance of both sustainability and frugality.