By Ken Koelkebeck
The time of the year has come to prepare your small or backyard poultry house or coop for the winter. It is especially important to consider proper insulation of your poultry house to make sure your birds are well protected from freezing winter temperatures. There are many other items to consider as well. However, if a poultry house is well insulated, this will go a long way towards making sure the birds are protected during the winter.
The information provided below is from an article written by Dr. Jacquie Jacob, Poultry Extension Project Manager, Department of Animal and Food Sciences, University of Kentucky. This information was written for the E-Extension Website for Small and Backyard Poultry.
Insulation is any material that reduces the transfer of heat from one area to another. Insulating a poultry house minimizes the transfer of heat from inside to outside and from outside to inside, helping you keep heat in during winter. As a result, using insulation that conserves heat will provide a more comfortable condition for your flock. Although insulation has these benefits, keep in mind that it also adds to the material costs of a building.
The need for insulation of a backyard poultry house will depend a lot on the climate. Chickens can withstand quite low temperatures as long as they are dry and out of the wind/draft. A well-constructed poultry house may not need insulation except in the most extreme of cold weather.
The most common types of insulation are soft materials, such as batt and blanket materials. These substances, however, are attractive to rodents and insects as nesting materials or food sources. If you use batt or blanket material, you should ensure that the insulation is tightly enclosed in a hard outer material. As an alternative, you can use a rigid insulation. Rigid insulation is made from wood by-products, cellulose, or expanded plastic materials, such as polystyrene.
Regardless of whether insulation is soft or rigid, it must be effective, which is indicated by its R-value. The R-value is a measure of the resistance of a material to conduct heat as indicated by the difference between inside and outside surface temperatures. Good insulating materials have R-values of greater than 10.
The effectiveness of insulation can be affected by climate. Moisture condenses on interior surfaces of the exterior walls or ceiling of a poultry house during cold weather if the temperatures of those surfaces drop below the dew point of the inside air. Some types of insulation lose their effectiveness if they get wet. Consequently, adding a vapor barrier of plastic sheeting to an insulating material (on the side of the material that faces into the poultry house) helps keep moisture from reaching the interior surface of the exterior walls or ceiling.
You can install insulation in the walls and in the ceiling or under the roof of your poultry house. Insulation installed in the ceiling or under the roof works equally well in insulating the building. However, when possible, such as when building a new structure, it is best to place the insulation directly under the roof, thereby providing fewer nesting spots for rodents and insects.
Your birds should not be exposed to or have access to the insulation or vapor barrier. You should cover any insulation or vapor barrier material with an interior sheathing. The interior sheathing should be durable and made of a material that can be easily fastened, painted, cleaned, and disinfected. Options for interior sheathing include wood, plywood, sheet metal, and plastic panels.
In summary, once you have your poultry house well insulated the effect of freezing temperatures on your birds will be diminished. Having a poultry building or coop that is well-insulated is necessary to keep litter and the inside conditions dry and comfortable for your birds.
Ken Koelkebeck, Ph.D., is a Poultry Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois.