Sunlight and Coop Design

There have been days this winter when the sky was the color of dirty socks. There have been many days when the chickens have been coop-bound, holed up, indoors, with nothing but some pine bedding to unenthusiastically scratch in. Today, thankfully, the sun glares on the ice crusted on the snow. I squint when I go outside. The chickens in the HenCam coop stand desultorily around in the sun for awhile,but it’s cold and a bit windy, so they spend most of their time inside, peering out the pop door. The girls in the big barn can’t go out at all. Their door is frozen shut and there’s no way to shovel the two feet of solid snow (what I imagine igloo walls are made from) on the other side.

These indoor days are part of winter in New England and I planned for them when designing the coops. A priority was to have windows. Sunlight is an essential element to keeping your chickens healthy, happy and laying. A hundred years ago it was understood that coops needed to be as light as possible. The book Productive Poultry Husbandry, published in 1913, has this to say, “Sunlight should penetrate every part of  the house as much of the day as possible. Sunlight is the perfect germ destroyer, purifying the parts of the house where it shines, besides adding warmth and making surroundings more congenial. It acts as a tonic to the birds during the short winter days and induces a heavier production.” So, why are so many of the prefab coops on the market so dark? I’ve seen coops disguised as garbage cans, others that look like space ships, some that look like dog houses. They’ll do in climates where chickens are out and about every day. They are not the right choice for places that have seasons of heavy rain and snowfall.

Also, those coops are too small! Chickens that are stuck indoors need floor space and roosts. I’m sure I’ll hear from people who have small box coops and they’ll tell me their chickens are fine. Chickens can survive lots of conditions, and with attentive care, they’ll be okay. But, if you’re planning on getting chicks this spring, please get a coop that lets light in and that provides a minimum of four square feet per hen of indoor floor space (nesting boxes don’t count.)

Having a sunny coop will encourage late-winter egg laying. Look what I found today from one of my Polish hens! (I won’t even complain about it being left on the floor.)

When your chickens are old and arthritic, like Edwina, here, they’ll thank you for giving them warm pools of sunlight to bask in. It looks nice, doesn’t it? I think I’d like to join her.


  1. Oh Edwina — What joy. Thank you, Terry, for speaking up for the birds. So many coop companies advertise tiny coops as being suitable for 6 to 8 hens, when they’re really only the right size for two. And the look in Edwina’s eye speaks better than words about how chickens adore the sunshine.

  2. I can’t keep chickens and have not located a supply of farm-raised eggs. Sometimes if I am lucky I can find some at Lull Farm in Hollis, NH and they are often light green and blue which is neat. My Plan B is to buy “Certified Humane” eggs. Is that just hype or does it mean anything? I just ordered your “Egg Cookbook” from Amazon. I can’t wait for it to get here!

  3. Here here, I see those prefab coops advertised and just want to scream when I read the number of hens they say they can hold, just a tad better than a battery cage situation.
    I couldn’t agree more with Terry on her comment on roosts. I have two coops as well and my hens have been confined for almost two weeks now. On the weekends when I can go out in the middle of the day I would say half of my flocks are sitting on the roosts. I believe they do they for two reasons, a way to keep their feet warm and a way to have a little piece and quiet away from the activity on the floor.

  4. I’ve heard of lighting to encourage laying, and for health reasons. Do you use any lighting?

  5. Thank you so much Terry! We are designing a coop and will definitely use this good advice! (More windows honey…!)

  6. I feel fortunate that my hens can go out every day of the year. I actually worry more about hot summer days since our temps sometimes reach 95-100. Shade cloth and misting helps but I still worry as I see them panting. I sometimes wish I could leave my hens in on days when it’s not convenient for me (rain, wind). I’m pretty sure there’d be hell ta pay!! Edwina is a lovely gal:-)

  7. Was that egg frozen when you found it in the corner ? Yes, sunlight covers a multitude of afflictions. Edwina looks very grateful for the warm sunrays !

    • Georgene – if eggs are left in the barn for too long they will freeze and crack and then only be good to feed to the dogs. So, I check a couple of times a day, hoping that there will be an egg for me to find.

  8. Denise, never lost a bird to the cold, but will lose at least one (usually an older hen) each year in the 95-100 degree heat with humidity to match. My years have taught me that the heat is harder on all livestock than the cold.

  9. What a wonderful picture of Edwina. It’s nice to see the girls in the big barn occasionally.