How-To Monday: Successfully Ventilate the Cold Climate Chicken Coop

Being that we’re in the heart of winter, it’s likely you’ve come across an article or two pertaining to protecting your flock against the elements or at least on how to keep them comfortable. On my own blog I’ve discussed winter chicken keeping and the best breeds for cold weather climates, and I’m back at it again today with a cold weather focused article, this time on how to add proper ventilation to the cold climate chicken coop. And it’s easier than you think.

Many fear that by adding ventilation they are putting their chickens in danger. After all, the vents will allow the warmest air to escape- how on earth will the flock survive without it? But the fact of the matter is, it’s that warm air that is the most dangerous to your birds. For in that warm air, the moisture is trapped- your worst enemy when it comes to frostbite {not to mention exposing them to respiratory issues}. If proper ventilation is not in place, the moisture produced by your chickens will condense on available surfaces- ceilings, walls, windows, and of course frostbite-susceptible appendages such as combs, wattles, and feet. Add cold temperatures to the mix and you could be looking at frostbite. Think of it this way: have you ever gotten your hands wet while outside in the winter? Wet hands {as opposed to dry} when exposed to cold air will freeze much faster and accelerate frostbite. The same applies to too much moisture in the coop.

Proper ventilation is key in aiding in the prevention of a frostbit flock.
So how and where do we add ventilation and how much? Let’s discuss that now.
1. How much ventilation is needed?
According to the book “Raising Poultry the Modern Way” by Leonard S. Mercia, one fifth of your coop wall space should be ventilated. You can go by the books or you can go by your nose {which is what I would personally suggest}. If it smells stuffy or ammonia is present, you probably need some more ventilation. In fact, you probably need more ventilation than you think. The great thing is if you believe you’ve ended up with an excess of ventilation {which generally the opposite is the case}, you can always cover it up or close it off. It’s more damaging to have too little ventilation than too much. Typically frostbite occurs from too much moisture and lack of ventilation than from the cold itself.
2. Where to place ventilation?
This is a really important question. In cold climates where sub-zero temperature winds are blowing, you don’t want that cold air passing through your chickens while they are roosting or in the nest boxes. You want that air exchange to happen above their heads, which means above the roosting area. Chickens do quite well in consistent cold, but not real great when exposed to drafts. So make sure that where you place your ventilation will not expose your flock to drafts. Additionally, placing your ventilation up high will ensure that the warmest air {and with it the highest content of moisture}will makes its way up and out of the coop.
Ideally, add ventilation to the tops of all four coop walls. The reason for this is then in the extreme cold/blowing snow/blizzard weather, you can close off the vents most susceptible to those extremes. That way, you can keep the majority of your vents open, even in the worst of weather. Second best is cross ventilation through venting opposing walls. But if {for whatever reason} you are unable to do multiple sides {and perhaps can only ventilate one side}, your best bet is to add ventilation to the south side of your coop. 
3. How to add ventilation?
If you’re not a carpenter, chances are the idea of altering a building in any way is a scary thing. I get it. But even the most green DIY-er can add ventilation to a chicken coop. You will need some basic tools, however:
-power drill {I suggest an electric drill as you might need the extra muscle, depending on your coop walls}
-round drill bit, preferably 4″ or larger {though 3″ will suffice in most cases}
-hardware cloth
-screws and washers
-optional: vent covers
We experienced a little bit of trial and error when adding this type of ventilation to our coop. I was really excited about vent covers, especially one that would open and close for easy vent management- and they were even backed with 1/16″ hardware cloth. But as it turns out, moisture escaping the coop combined with -20 temps brought about some issues. 
Here is what to do {and what not to do} when adding ventilation to your cold climate coop:
-The larger the hole, the less you will be fighting the frost. Smaller holes will quickly plug up as the exchange of moisture and cold air results in rapidly formed frost. Hence, the suggestion of a 4″ or larger round drill bit.
-I was planning on using metal vent covers with the 1/16″ hardware cloth backing. We drilled five holes {the maximum number of holes that would fit under the vent cover}. I quickly discovered, however, that the hardware mesh {with its tiny holes} plugged up with frost almost immediately. I’d chosen to add vents to both the north and south peaks of my coop. So I ended up removing the vent completely from the south side and covered it with 1/4″ hardware cloth secured with screws and washers {to prevent predators from tearing the cloth off}. I would suggest two different things here: (1) place your hardware cloth over the holes on the outside of the building rather than the inside {it’s easier for a predator to push in on the cloth than to pull it off}, and (2) if you do not have predators which can crawl through a 1/2″ hole {like weasels}, go with 1/2″ hardware cloth. It won’t frost up quite as quickly as the 1/4″ stuff will.
 View of the south side {peak} of our chicken coop from the outside. 1/4″ hardware cloth has been secured over and beyond the holes to supply a healthy amount of protection from possible predation. This photo was taken after two days of brutally cold {-25 and colder air temp; -50 and colder windchill}. There was little frost buildup on the mesh over the holes, but as you can see there is a little bit of ice built up between.
-On the north side of our coop, I simply removed the 1/16″ hardware cloth backing that the vent came with and placed the vent back over the holes {on the outside of the coop, secured with screws}. This way, when the cold north wind blows, it cannot as easily blast right into the coop, but it still allows that warm, moisture-laden air to escape. I still have had a little bit of frost form on the vent, but I simply brush it away in the morning. The vents will be a non-issue once we’re out of winter.
View of the north side {peak} of our coop from the outside.
It really is that easy. 
This is just one simple way to add ventilation to your coop. There are endless options out there for other ways if you do some research, but I hope I was able to provide a relatively easy fix to those DIY’ers lacking in carpentry confidence and/or experience. 
Thanks for coming by 🙂
Raising Poultry the Modern Way {Revised & Updated Version} by Leonard S. Mercia

About yellowbirchhobbyfarm

Hi! I'm Erin, a 19th-century homesteader at heart. Here at Yellow Birch Hobby Farm we practice self-sustainable living by way of organic gardening, canning & preserving, raising a variety of livestock, hunting, foraging, and cooking from scratch. And here at our blog, we share it all with you! So glad you've found us.

7 comments on “How-To Monday: Successfully Ventilate the Cold Climate Chicken Coop

  1. Great post! You described the need for ventilation very well. I used to be one who thought you wouldn’t want to get rid of all the warm air in the coop, but now I realize that’s the air that has the moisture in it. So it makes sense to have it escape through the top of the coop so the whole coop stays dry. The round drill bit works out great for adding extra ventilation!

  2. You’ve provided such detailed information about proper ventilation, Erin. I’m impressed by your knowledge of that. It’s really helpful to have them all in one post, so we don’t have to go from site to site to know all of that information. Also, I’ve never really tried having cross ventilation on multiple sides before. I’ve only been putting up ventilation in coops on one side. Would you recommend them better? Thanks in advance!

    Natalie Baldwin @ Envirotech Insulation

    • Hi, Natalie! Thanks for your comment :). I would definitely suggest cross ventilation for better air circulation, and also as mentioned, it is beneficial to have ventilation on multiple walls so on extremely windy/cold days or nights, you could close off a vent or two against those winds (for example, if you had a strong north wind, you could close off the north vent while leaving the others open). I hope this makes sense!

      Thanks so much for visiting,


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