Chickens Coop Care Health Issues

10 Tips on Controlling Humidity in the Coop

controlling humidity prevents frostbite on combs and wattles
Olive’s comb looks pink and healthy despite temperatures that dipped into the single digits last night.

During the winter, it is very important to the flock’s health that the chicken coop remains dry. Humidity in the coop is one of the number one reasons that chickens become ill during the winter. Humidity can quickly become an issue in quite a few ways.  Therefore, controlling humidity in the coop should be a winter goal for all chicken owners.

Let’s talk about humidity first. Humidity is simply how much water vapor air can hold. The lower the temperatures the less water vapor that can be held by the air. During normal temperatures in the 60s and 70s comfortable air humidity levels are usually around 40%. When heating our own homes in the winter, the humidity levels can drop causing us to become uncomfortable with dry skin and dry noses. This is typically when humidity levels dip below the 30% range. On another health note, molds, mildews and bacteria need decent humidity to survive.

I must mention that as temperatures drop the humidity, or moisture, in the air drops as well. This is why frost can sometimes occur on the inside windows of your chicken coop even though the air’s humidity is only 25%.

High humidity levels in the coop can lead to frostbite, illness and even death. This is why controlling humidity is key.

There are two ways that chickens add to or increase the air’s humidity levels.

  1. Normal breathing (respiration)
  2. Droppings
Kiln dried pine shavings help in controlling humidity
A thick layer of kiln dried pine shavings helps to keep the coop insulated and freezing temperatures from coming in contact with their feet.

So what can we do about controlling humidity in the coop?

  1. Be sure the coop has adequate ventilation to allow the excess water vapors in the air to escape. Usually this is accomplished by placing shed vents into the eaves of the coop. As always, the coop should be draft-free.
  2. Check to be sure the chicken coop is not leaking. Snow, ice and rain can seep into the coop’s structure. During the winter, it is difficult for the wood to dry out. Simply having a coop that is not weatherproof can add to the air’s humidity level.
  3. Clean out the droppings everyday. With a kitty litter scoop, simply scoop them into a 5 gallon bucket each morning then add them to the compost pile. It takes minimal effort and time.
  4. If you are using the deep litter method, be sure you have the correct balance of droppings to shavings.
  5. Consider replacing straw with kiln-dried pine shavings. Or you can simply use a mixture of two. Pine shavings absorb moisture much better than straw.
  6. Winter bedding should be thick. Summer coop bedding only needs to be a couple of inches whereas winter bedding in places where temperatures regularly dip below freezing should be kept at least 6 inches deep.
  7. Consider using a product like Dookashi– this helps to speed up the composting process in the coop- especially during the winter. It works wonderfully when incorporated with the deep litter method.
  8. Do not allow snow to build up in the run. Melting snow contributes to muddy run conditions that can cause chickens to track unnecessary moisture into the coop.
  9. Add a roof, cover or shield your run from rain, snow and sleet.
  10. Consider painting the walls, roosts and nesting boxes inside your coop with a low VOC latex paint. This keeps the wood from absorbing any excess moisture that is in the air and keeps mold levels down.

Do you have any other tips that you do with your flock? Please share them in a comment below.

Sunlight can help to control humidity in the winter.
Natural sunlight in the coop helps to keep the coop dry, warms the air and also provides a great place for sunbathing.

 

Disclosure: Dookashi is a sponsor of Tilly’s Nest. The thoughts I have shared in this post are all my own. I have not been paid by Dookashi to give a positive review.

Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest

Hello friends, welcome! Follow along on our chicken, beekeeping, gardening, crafting and cooking adventures from Cape Cod.

  • Susan Long

    Thanks for the info, Melissa. I am going out to put another layer of pine shavings in the coop/run. I wrote you earlier about my Henrietta having a kind of hoarseness. You had good suggestions at that time. My coop is a Garden Coop design, which means that the little henhouse is elevated, within the run, and the entire roof is hardware cloth with a clear corrugated sunroof a few inches over that. The designer of this coop is based in Oregon, which has a much different climate than here in the mountains of West Virginia! We should have considered that, but being first time chicken keepers, we did not. So our problem has been almost too much ventilation. Our hens are Buff Orpingtons so they are a cold hardy breed. They have survived three winters so far with minimal frostbite. In fact, I have stopped covering their combs with Vaseline. We do use a flat panel heater on the wall behind their roost. We only turn It on When the temps dip to single digits, and it keeps the roost area about 5 degrees warmer than outside temps. I scoop their litter every day. So I am really puzzled about Henrietta’s croup sound. She did this last winter too. No discharge from eyes or nostrils. I have been putting VetRX on her nostril, beak area and under her wings. It seems to help a little. The cold returns this Sunday, so I hope she will be okay. Of all my hens, she always seems a bit listless or reserved in the winter. She typically has a hard molt, but is fully feathered out now. Perhaps, she just does not like winter?

    • Perhaps you are right, most birds do better in colder temperatures than warm ones. It is not impossible for chickens to catch viruses like us too. She could have a little “cold”. Sounds like you have a good handle on things though. In the spring, you might consider planning to better equip your coop for your winters. If she does not improve a trip to the chicken vet might be worthwhile. Keep me posted!

  • Mrs Sinapius

    Can you help me we have fleas on the heads of our hens, what can you spray them with, to get rid of them, apart from chopping their heads off.

  • Helen IV

    Dear Melissa,
    Your photos are so beautiful and I love reading your blog! This post was nice to read, even though I didn’t need the info, because it dose not snow in the city I live in, and it’s summer here. Your blog is very beautiful and helpful to me.

    • Thank you Helen! I am so glad to have you with us. I’m also glad to see that you are learning. It’s good info to know about. You never know when it might come in handy to help out a friend with chickens.

  • peggy

    i have ten chickens in a 6 by 8 resin shed. I will have to say this has worked great for me. my husband built two roosting poles and I have three nesting boxes for them. my husband attached a chain from the metal roof frame for water and food. they have ample room to move about the coop and they also have a chicken run 3 ft wide by 60 ft long. my coop stays very warm in the wintertime, I don’t have to worry about drafts, we have screen wire over the door windows and this gives the coop adequate fresh air. my hens are in the coop at night, I lock them inside due to raccoons, etc. in our area. I don’t free range but I have a 60 ft run. I let them out every morning about 7 and they go in just before it gets dark. if the weather gets in the teens with a wind chill I will put an overhead light on for warmth. I am not sure they don’t need it, but it makes me feel better. they have access to water all the time. if the weather is extremely cold it is a challenge to keep it from freezing. I think I finally have a handle on that. I purchased a black rubber container from tractor supply. it is probably about 5 or 6 inches deep and about 12 ” round, I have 1 hen that loves to stand on the rim and drink, she tipped it over and I had the whole coop a water mess! I solved that problem, I placed a brick inside the tub and it’s just heavy enough with the water in it to keep her happy and me too! I have a tub inside the coop and one in the run. this has been great. I take fresh water to them in the mornings and if the water is frozen I just pick the tub up and throw it on the ground! the water-ice dumps out and the container is still like new! water doesn’t seem to freeze as quickly in one of these. very cheap too! I always check on their water 2 or 3 times a day during a very deep cold snap. everyone is surprised my chickens are still laying! I get around 6 or 7 eggs a day! I continue to give them fresh veggie scraps and their pellets with treats of corn 3 times a week. they love their dust bath! simple enough I have a large plastic tub in their run- I mix fireplace ash and sand-make sure their is absolutely nothing but wood ash in your ashes! I keep the top close by if we have snow! oh I forgot to mention on my run I cover with tarps I picked up at harbor freight, I use the smaller version 5 by 9 or something like that. I attach the tarps with clips
    I also picked up at harbor freight!! in the summertime I replace the tarps with pieces of cheese cloth, light and airy and cheap. I hope I have been able to help someone. chickens are fun and a great learning experience for my grandchildren! they love cleaning out the coop and gathering the eggs

  • Greenwood Nursery

    I remember the first year I ever had chickens, I made the mistake of keeping the water source in the chicken coop. It gets extremely cold here (think zone 3 and 4) and I thought that my chickens would need their water source as close to their roost as possible. I have to use heated buckets and bases for founts to keep water thawed in the winter here, so they release a lot of water vapor into the air constantly in the winter. I didn’t lose any chickens that winter but I had frostbite on combs and wattles and it broke my heart. It also didn’t help that I chose chicken breeds with large combs and wattles.

    I know better now. The water sources are outside of the coop area proper but my flock can access them any time they want to- and they easily make the journey outside of their comfy roost, even on the coldest of days for a drink. I am also transitioning my flock to breeds with smaller combs or no combs, such as pea combs and breeds like the Breda Fowl, Appenzeller Spitshauben, Hamburgs, and more common breeds like easter eggers and rose comb versions of the Rhode Island Red and the Leghorn. All of these breeds are still wonderfully hardy and great layers, and they don’t have all that extra flesh on their heads that has to stand out and become exposed to extreme cold.

    Thank you for the great info on winter coop care and routine, and comparing it to summer coop care. I use the deep litter method too and it’s really the only method I can use up here. It works wonderfully, but you have to be careful. I remember also learning the hard way with straw. I now only use shavings or if it’s straw, finely chopped straw. No more giant heavy clods of whole straw or hay! Having to pull it all out was a 3 day chore in my coop and was extremely hard work.

    Thank you again for this great and informative post!
    -Anna
    Greenwood Team

    • Thanks for sharing your chicken stories! Yes! I agree with you. I too keep the waterers outside the coop. I use a 3 gallon heated waterer in the winter time. Warm waterers in the coop can lead to added humidity and even potential fires in chicken coops too if left unattended. Smaller combs are the way to go for sure. I especially love the small combs on my Easter Eggers, Silkies and Wyandottes too. Kindred chicken spirits I’d say! 😉