Many chicken owners think ventilation in a chicken coop is only important during the hot summer months. However, as the mercury drops, the need for proper air circulation and vents inside the coop becomes even more critical. Designing a coop with adequate ventilation is about keeping the air inside the coop fresh, dry, and healthy throughout the year.
Four types of chicken coop ventilation include roof vents, windows, mechanical, and wind turbine ventilation systems. The simplest method is to create vents high in the roof to let moisture, dust, heat, and fumes escape. Windows can work during the warmer months but may cause icy drafts in winter.
Anyone who has traveled in a stuffy car or train knows how uncomfortable being inside a space without sufficient air circulation feels. Add a good amount of ammonia and dust from bedding, and you will understand why proper ventilation must be a key consideration when raising poultry.
Chicken Coop Ventilation
When designing a chicken coop, a lot of attention is often focused on what it will look like and the layout details regarding perches and laying boxes. While those considerations are important, it is essential to ensure that the space will be adequately ventilated.
When winter rolls around, it is natural to want to batten down the hatches to ensure the chickens stay cozy and snug inside their coop. However, sealing up a chicken coop to keep it warm can be hazardous to the flock’s health.
To keep a chicken coop at a comfortable temperature for the birds during cold weather, it helps to insulate the coop. Using deep litter on the floor also helps to provide padding to the coop.
Insulation and ventilation should never be confused. Insulation refers to providing a draft-free space, while ventilation is the process of removing spent air, moisture, and hazardous gasses. An ideal chicken coop should be well-insulated and well-ventilated at the same time.
The best ventilation for chicken coops are vents positioned in the roof, high above the chicken’s perches. That way, the birds are shielded from icy drafts, but dangerous ammonia gas and moisture can move up and out of the coop.
While providing ventilation is essential, it is equally important to ensure that vents don’t become entry points for predators. All openings must be securely covered with mesh or wire to keep the feathered inhabitants of the coop safe.
Winter can be a particularly tricky season to maintain healthy air quality inside a coop since most owners are naturally reluctant to open the coop doors and windows. The higher the roof, the easier it is to create vents to the outside that won’t cause chilly blasts on the chickens below.
Do Chicken Coops Need Vents?
Unlike regular stuffy human spaces that feel uncomfortable or suffocating, a poultry coop that does not have sufficient ventilation is downright dangerous. Chicken coops must be ventilated throughout the year, as gas and moisture buildup can be fatal for the inhabitants.
While everyone agrees that chickens are delightful, they do, unfortunately, produce vast quantities of poop and moisture from breathing.
Reasons Why Chicken Coops Need Ventilation
There are several reasons why it is essential to provide adequate ventilation to chicken coops, but the four main factors include:
To Prevent The Buildup Of Dangerous Ammonia Fumes
As chicken droppings decompose, they produce ammonia gas which is extremely hazardous for almost every life form. Chickens exposed to highly corrosive fumes can experience symptoms including respiratory distress, blindness, paralysis, and death.
Ammonia fumes are lighter than air, so it naturally rises. If there is sufficient ventilation in the roof, the harmful gas will escape without becoming trapped inside.
Vents Are Important To Allow Moisture To Escape
As chickens respirate, they produce a lot of moisture. That, combined with evaporation from their poop, means that there needs to be plenty of places for dampness to dissipate if the environment is to stay dry.
Most chicken breeds can cope remarkably well with cool weather – as long as they stay dry. A damp chicken is far more likely to succumb to cold or end up with frostbite, so providing enough vents is critical to ensure that moisture does not build up inside the coop.
Ventilation Is A Way To Keep The Chicken Coop Cool
Temperature is one of the first things most poultry owners think about when considering ventilation for their coops. Chickens do not cope well in heat, so having sufficient airflow through the space on hot days helps to keep them cool.
Windows can work well to create a through-breeze, but they can also create drafts. Since chickens constantly produce heat, conditions inside a closed-up coop can quickly become uncomfortably warm.
Vents Facilitate The Flow Of Fresh Air
Fresh air isn’t only necessary because it makes a room seem fresher. In the case of a chicken coop that is shared by many birds, providing sufficient ventilation can prevent the spread of airborne diseases.
In addition, hens love to scratch and frequently kick up dust. Vents allow the dust in the air to escape rather than being inhaled, creating a much cleaner, healthier environment.
How To Ventilate A Chicken Coop
There are four methods to provide ventilation to a chicken coop:
- Roof vents: This is by far the easiest and one of the most effective methods to provide year-round ventilation to a chicken coop. Vents are positioned high in the roof or below the eaves to allow gas and moisture to escape while keeping the space dry during rain and snow.
- Windows: They can work during summer but are not an effective way to ventilate a chicken coop during cold weather. Since windows are usually positioned in the walls, leaving an open window can quickly cause cold drafts. Windows must be tightly closed during winter to prevent the birds from getting too cold, so an additional coop ventilation method would also be required.
- Mechanical fans: Electric and solar-powered types of coop ventilation fans are available. Fans are usually used in large setups as they work by moving the air around inside the space. Remember that the aim is to provide ventilation (to get dangerous fumes and moisture to escape) rather than simply move the air around, which may cause a draft in smaller spaces, so this option may not be suitable for everyone.
Fans are also more suitable to use during the hot summer months to provide some relief from high temperatures by keeping the air moving. They are helpful in moving spent hot air out the windows on windless days.
- Wind turbine ventilation: These large units are positioned on the coop’s roof. When the wind blows, the blades inside the unit spin and sucks noxious gas and fumes out of the coop. They can work well in conjunction with another method if you live in a windy area but remember the blades will only extract bad air when the wind blows.
How Much Ventilation Does A Chicken Coop Need?
Chicken coops need numerous vents to draw out toxic fumes, heat, and moisture effectively. There is no set formula for where the vents are located, as long as they are above where the chickens perch and wind from outside can’t blow directly onto the birds.
During temperate conditions, simply opening the coop door and windows is helpful to draw fresh air inside. However, when the weather is cold, it is essential to shield the chickens from icy drafts while still ensuring that plenty of fresh air is circulating inside the coop and ammonia fumes are drawn out.
Each situation is different, and there are many variables to consider when working out how much ventilation your coop needs. These include:
- How many chickens compared to the size of the coop?
- The breed of the chickens – this affects their size. A flock of bantams will produce a very different amount of droppings and moisture than the same number of Jersey Giant chickens.
- How hot and cold your area gets. In tropical regions, one entire coop wall could be chicken mesh and shade net as long as the birds have adequate protection from wind and rain.
- How often you clean the coop, or if you are using droppings boards to catch the nighttime poop. The more poop builds up inside the coop, the greater the amount of ammonia gas that will be produced.
- The type of bedding being used.
- Are the chickens confined to the coop permanently, or are they free ranging and only return to the coop at night? Leaving the doors wide open throughout the day helps to dry out the inside. However, moisture buildup on cold nights is still a concern even if your flock is free range, as it can still result in painful frostbite.
Although there is no hard and fast formula for ventilating chicken coops, the ratio is usually around one square foot of ventilation per ten square feet of floor space. During the cold winter months, when chickens are indoors for longer, all roof vents should be kept open.
An average-sized backyard chicken coop in winter usually needs between 3 and 4 square feet of ventilation overall. To get the ideal balance between shelter for the chickens and ventilation, owners can monitor the coop and check for signs of inadequate ventilation.
How Do I Know If My Chicken Coop Has Enough Ventilation?
Once you understand the importance of ventilation to the health of your flock, it is natural to become a little obsessed about the air quality inside the coop. Since poultry owners can’t spend long hours roosting with their chickens, they need to be able to make deductions using their senses.
When checking if your chicken coop has adequate ventilation, take note of the following:
- Condensation on the windows in the morning. This is a sure sign that urgent action is required to increase ventilation in the coop.
- Mold developing anywhere on the inside walls
- Damp spots on the walls
- Condensation on the roof
- You can smell ammonia when you open the coop door in the morning or stoop down to chicken level.
- Poorly ventilated coops tend to smell a lot more. If you find that despite your best cleaning efforts, the coop is often smelly, you may need to add a few extra vents.
Adequate ventilation is often overlooked when designing chicken coops. Unless dangerous fumes and moisture is able to escape through vents, poultry can become seriously ill, develop painful frostbite from moisture freezing on their exposed skin, or even die. A well-designed chicken coop must be well insulated to keep the chickens warm and away from drafts but also have enough ventilation to allow spent air and moisture to escape.