Merv’s Monthly Top Tip

Winter Care

 

Chickens can stand very cold temperatures and most breeds will not have any problems surviving through a UK winter providing they have shelter away from the wind and rain and sufficient food.
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This is a brief guide on how to look after you chickens in the winter

Food.
The main difference in the winter months is how much more a hen will eat. Over the winter months they may consume up to 10% more then usual in order to bulk them selves up to provide a little more insulation. They also need more energy to keep warm. Most chickens will stop laying at some point over the winter month , even the most highly productive hen that are still laying when the day length is short may not have enough time to each sufficient food to keep their energy levels up to keep warm and lay eggs. Eggs are mainly protein so cutting back on rations or feeding cheaper feeds such as wheat tends to be a false economy. you may want to give them extra light first thing in the morning to give them extra time to top up their energy levels and so keep laying . We use a low voltage bulb on a timer giving the light in the morning ensures they have a natural end to the day at dusk. You may wish to give your chickens some greens or treats to make up for the lack of foraging time. you can buy pecka block  or and hang up a veg holder ( keep the greens off the floor ) to keep your birds occupied and fed. Feeding a little mixed corn just before roosting time can also help , keeping their digestion working over night can keep their internal temperature higher.

Frozen water
Hens need to drink water daily , but during the winter months water can freeze , and sometimes with plastic drinkers they can crack when you are trying to get the ice out. The solutions are either have two drinkers that you swap over whilst the other one defrost some where warm. Keep the water inside the chicken house out of the way of the wind chill , however this will too still freeze eventually. There are also water heaters that are now specially designed for poultry that keep the water from freezing. Chickens do need to keep hydrated , and will suffer if no water  for them so please make sure water is always available.

Keeping Chickens Warm inside and out
Chickens should not require extra heat during a UK winter unless it is very severe. Chickens roost to keep warm, they like to fluff up their feathers and next to each other, huddling together means they share bodily heat and insulate each other.  An important part of keeping hens is ensuring adequate housing including perch space. If you have an odd number of chickens you need to have one perch big enough for three other wise one hen will be on its own.  Do not be tempted to close all the vents to keep them warm, ventilation is essential . Fresh air must be allowed to circulate around the hen house to prevent the build up of ammonia and prevent condensation which can result in your chickens getting respiratory or other airborne infections. Ensure your hen house is positioned in a sheltered area out of the way of winds , or make sure the vent holes are positioned away from the coldest of winds . If you are really concerned about your hens extra insulation can be added to your hen house very easily and cheaply: a deep layer of straw or  chopped straw will hold the warmth and it not only protects from the cold but can be cleaned out and replaced once it gets soiled ( best of all it breaks down very quickly on your compost heap) If you have a wooden co op you can staple cardboard to the inside walls to add another layer to hold in the heat.
Out side , chickens are nt big fans of snow but most will go out side and forage if they get the chance , do not keep them co oped up , they will know what is best for them .

Mud control
Winter, wet and chickens makes for a messy chicken run, during winter when the grass is not growing this can become a major problem . Here at Moon Ridge we use lots of wood chip during this time of year . We use it in the high traffic areas before it becomes a problem so just outside the coop , around the drinkers and feeders and in the entrance / exit areas .
On small area lots of people tend to dig up the grass area lay a weed membrane down and then add layers of wood chip down on the whole run , the membrane is porous so the rain  runs through and the wood chip keeps the chickens off the ground so  the mud tends to stay under control. The wood chip breaks down over time and if put directly over grassy areas the grass will grow through in the summer . Raking the wood chip over periodically helps keep it fresh as does using a product such as Agrisec as it absorbs water, kills bacteria and keeps the run smelling fresh for much longer and also save money on fresh bedding all the time.  We sell wood chip here at the farm , but if buying from a garden center go for hard wood  chippings and not bark as these tend to hold the wet and rot and they can also harbor mould spores that cause aspergillous . Another great tip is to use pallets on the ground to give chickens some thing to get on to get off the wet ground. If possible cover an area of their run with some tarpaulin or provide an extra shelter out side have a look at our field shelter.

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