Chicken Coop Ventilation: How and Why It’s Important

When you are first setting up a chicken coop, you know you have to find a safe location and figure out a doorway. Most people overlook the importance of ventilation. Often, chicken coop ventilation is forgotten until problems occur, and chances are, you’ve made some mistakes along the way, bringing you here.

You’re in good hands. Today we’re going to talk about chicken coop ventilation, including what it is, why you need to ventilate, and how to set up the ideal system without any drafts.

Let’s get started.

Why Chicken Coop Ventilation is Important

chicken coop with window
Photo credit: Depositphotos

You want to take care of your flock. It’s not enough to build a coop for your chickens to sleep in and let them free-range throughout the day. The chicken coop needs to be safe, secure, comfortable, and, most of all, well ventilated. Check off all those boxes, and you have yourself a flock of chickens that continuously gifts you with eggs.

Can’t ask for more, right?

That’s the good news. The tougher part of this is getting chicken coop ventilation down pat.

This might surprise you, but chickens produce a lot of heat and moisture as a byproduct of their breathing and excrement. This is why ventilation is important. You must ventilate a chicken coop so that all the heat, moisture, dust, ammonia, and carbon dioxide can escape while fresh air comes in.

Chickens are hardy when it comes to cooler temperatures, but they can’t handle stale, damp air.

Furthermore, the size of your flock dictates just how much ventilation you need. The more chickens you have, the greater the size of the coop. You will need more head space and significant ventilation to ensure the air remains fresh.

Let’s Talk About Ammonia

We’ve established that chicken coop ventilation is essential. Now, it’s time to talk about some of the factors that make ventilation a necessity. First up, ammonia.

Without ample ventilation, ammonia in the air will become hazardous to the health of your birds. The instant poo hits the floor, there is ammonia wafting up into the air. It’s unavoidable.

Furthermore, there doesn’t have to be an overwhelming amount of ammonia in the air to damage a chicken’s respiratory tract. If the coop is dirty and there is a presence of ammonia, there is a chance that your chickens will fall prey to respiratory diseases and viruses.

If you can smell ammonia in the coop, it means there isn’t enough ventilation and that your flock’s lungs are suffering.

What About Dust in the Chicken Coop?

Where there are animals, there is dust. Like ammonia, this is a fact of life when you have chickens. Numerous studies have found that dust created from organic material, such as bacteria, fungus, dung, pollen, danger, urine, and so on will have a negative impact on your chickens’ health.

Chickens fall victim to respiratory disease because of unkempt conditions and coops without ventilation. Unfortunately, chickens cause their own problems. Feather dander, bedding, and droppings all contribute to the amount of dust in the air.

Without the right ventilation and proper bedding, your flock will suffer. Sadly, most of the bedding materials out there also cause dust. The only two that help keep the coop clean are straw and sand. These two materials create very little dust, keeping the air free of particles.

Pair decent bedding with ventilation, and you’ll have yourself a much healthier coop.

How Moisture Affects The Flock

High moisture, as mentioned earlier, is a common issue in chicken coops. Yet, it’s another problem created by the chickens. Ranging between 55-83% water, chicken droppings are considerably high in moisture. Since chickens also breathe fast, they are using up a lot of the oxygen in the coop rather quickly, while also releasing a good amount of carbon dioxide.

We all know what happens when there is too much CO2 and not even oxygen, yes?

This is why chicken coop ventilation can’t be overlooked. You need consistent circulation to keep new air coming in, so your chickens can breathe. Plus, well-circulated air will remove a lot of the moisture in the air.

Microbes flourish when there is high moisture. Bacteria grow rapidly when there is humidity, too.

What are Chicken Coop Vents?

So how do we combat issues like carbon dioxide and moisture buildup, excess ammonia, and harmful dust? By adding ventilation to the chicken coop. How do you do that? With chicken coop vents.

A chicken coop vent is a hole in the wall or roof that is covered with weldmesh or hardware cloth and allows for air circulation throughout the coop. Chicken coop vents are often pairs of small or large vents (depending on the size of the coop) that are positioned high and low. The vents face the less exposed section of the coop to keep air moving gently.

There are two kinds of ventilation for chicken coops:

  • Passive ventilation – Air flows naturally through the chicken coop without any assistance aside from wind, such as wind turbines, open windows, and doorways.
  • Active ventilation – Using electricity, you can force ventilation by turning on a fan or using solar-power throughout the day. This method is often far more expensive and requires some skill to install.

Depending on where you live, you may only need one kind of ventilation. For instance, if you live somewhere hot, humid, and prone to strong winds, you might want to install both active and passive ventilation to keep air flowing throughout the day.

Keep in mind that most coops have too little ventilation. What you think is enough probably won’t be, but more on that later.

Types of Chicken Coop Ventilation

Now that you’ve gotten the definition of chicken coop ventilation down and know why it’s important, let’s talk about what ventilation looks like. Where does it go? Where is the best place for a vent? Some types of chicken coop vents work perfectly for one type of coop and none of the rest, so you might have to do some thinking on your part to decide which vent system is best for you and your hens.

But there is always going to be a way to ventilate the chicken coop.

Here are some of the most common forms of chicken coop ventilation, including chicken coop doors:

  • Doorways, including pop doors, sliding, and human entrances
  • Windows
  • Walls
    Open roofs
  • Floating roofs
  • Wall-roof gaps
  • Skylights
  • Turtle vents
  • Cupolas
  • Turbines
  • Soffit vents
  • Gable vents
  • Roof ridge vents
  • Fans

Do All Chicken Coops Require Vents?

chicken coop ventilation
Photo credit: Flickr

Yes, chicken coops of all shapes and sizes need a vent of some kind, even during the coldest winter months. In fact, ventilation is even more essential in the winter, because those months can be exceedingly damp. If the coop becomes wet, you will need ventilation to dry it out.

High humidity will cause illness in your chickens. Humidity also increases the chance of frostbite in the winter.

When you install ventilation, make sure you can reach it. All vents, including the mesh screens, will need to be dusted and cleaned throughout the year.

How Much Ventilation Do I Need For My Chicken Coop?

So far, learning about chicken coop ventilation has been pretty easy. Time to put an obstacle in the course. When it comes to deciding how much ventilation a coop needs, you always want to lean towards more.

Some people do this with a combination of vent styles. An example is drilling holes along the walls of the hen house and covering them with welded wire mesh. You do this only on one side to avoid creating drafts then repeat the process near the apex of the roof.

But there are dozens of ways to go about this. Before that, there are some things you need to consider: location, drafts, and temperature.

Where to Install Ventilation on a Chicken Coop

The best setup is cross ventilation. This means that you need to install ventilation in such a way that, when fresh air comes into the space, it will interact with the moisture and gases before moving through the other vent in the coop. Doing so will remove the gases and moisture trapped inside.

You can set up a lateral flow in the coop. For example, if you have a north-facing window, you can add a south-facing window at the same height. You can also choose a vertical set up. Add a window on the top and bottom of a wall. This can even be in the form of the pop door and a soffit vent.

If you plan this correctly, you can save yourself a lot of worry. Your chicken coop ventilation will be optimized, so you will need less vents to do the same amount of work.

Won’t Ventilation Make The Coop Drafty?

Chickens need ventilation, but they also don’t like a drafty coop. What to do? The easiest way to prevent drafts and cold air from coming in is to fit your ventilation with covers or flaps. For example, an open door that closes for the  night or properly positioned soffit vents. This is why positioning is also important.

If you decide to put the holes and vents higher up, such as a window, you can also shut them during inclement or extreme weather with shutters or sliding covers. Remember, you never want the holes to be so big that the chickens can escape or so small that no air can circulate. Where necessary, cover gaps and seams with wood or caulk the cracked seams.

Pop door letting in too much of a draft? Hang a curtain. As long as you have vinyl strips or another heavy material, you can easily do up a makeshift curtain.

Hot vs Cold Weather Setup

This is where installing ventilation gets confusing. Not only are you told to add more ventilation than you think you need, you also need to deal with the potential of drafts. As mentioned above, drafts can be mitigated with proper positioning, but it won’t take you or your chickens long to figure out that enough ventilation sometimes leads to drafts.

So here’s how you figure this all out. You need a lot of ventilation in the hottest months. The more air circulation, the better. Once the cold months hit, you need to reduce the amount of ventilation, or else your chickens freeze.

The best way to do this? Focus on ventilation above your chicken’s heads. Heat rises, after all. In the winter, that will suffice. When summertime comes around, you can open up vents that are level with or below your chickens, such as wall vents.

How to Ventilate Small Chicken Coops

chicken coop ventilation with windows
Photo credit: Flickr

Do you have only a few chickens in the flock? Then you don’t need anything too complex. Open ceiling, holes, and floating roofs are your best options for ventilation. An open ceiling is exactly as it sounds. The ceiling is a mix of mesh and hardware cloth to allow for air to flow in and out.

Since the coop is small, you can relocate it during the winter, such as an overhang of a bigger building and put some metal or rubber over sections of the open roof. Otherwise, an open is to keep the coop under a covered section of a run, carport, or pavilion of some kind.

Another option is the floating roof. You don’t need to use a covered run with this option. The floating roof is constructed above the framework of the coop, essentially forming a platform. Floating ceilings are then covered with hardware cloth to keep out predators and wild birds.

Ventilation Options For Any-Sized Chicken Coop

Regardless of your chicken coop’s size, there are two options that truly shine: soffit and ridge ventilation. If you know anything about residential roofing, these two concepts might sound familiar. Soffit vents are tiny windows that are installed underneath the eaves of the roof. On the other hand, ridge vents are installed along the peak of a sloped roof.

These work in conjunction with one another. Air enters the coop through the soffit vents then exits out the ridge vent.

Why is it so great? You don’t get any drafts with this setup. Plus, soffit and ridge vents excel at removing carbon dioxide and moisture.

One word of caution: Never pair ridge vents and gable vents together. Gable vents don’t work harmoniously like soffit vents do. Rather, they will cause a reverse in air flow, pulling air through the ridge vent first and causing more of it to remain trapped in the coop.

Using Adjustable Windows For Hot and Cold Temperatures

Do you live somewhere that experiences summer and winter weather? You might have realized that open-walled chicken coops, as well as open-ceiling coops, aren’t ideal for places with four seasons. Instead, you will want to make use of soffit vents, ridge vents, and wall vents. The best wall vent for this situation is a window.

In the summer, you can open the window then close it in the winter against drafts. You can do this with holes in the walls, too. Leave the holes (protected by mesh) open during the summer then shut them up with coverings or plugs in the winter.

Screen Doors

A screen door can triple as a window, entrance, and ventilation method in the summertime. During the hottest months, that door stays open, letting in fresh air. Then, all you have to do is close it during the colder months. Bigger, more luxurious coops may even have enough space to install a wooden door and storm door in the same frame, if desired.

Optionally, purchase a magnetic screen door to fit inside the door frame for the summer.

The only downside to the screen door is predators. Most screen doors are constructed to deal with claws or hungry animals. If you want, make your own screen door using hardware cloth and install a durable latch.

Wrapping Up

Chicken coop ventilation is important because it gets rid of toxins, carbon dioxide, and dust that can make your chickens sick. The key takeaway from all this is that there are plenty of ventilation options and dozens of ways to set up vents throughout the coop. Just make sure you are adding enough. Think about the design of your hen house, be it big or small, and choose the options—like the ones mentioned in this article—that will work best for the situation.

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