Caring for Chickens in Winter
As they say in Game of Thrones “winter is coming”. And for chicken keepers that means there are a few crucial tasks to undertake to care for your chickens in winter and keep them well and out of trouble in the winter months.
ChickenGuard is sold from Alaska to Australia, so we understand chickens have to put up with all weathers! You might know that chickens make their own heat in order to survive the colder months. They fluff up their feathers to create air pockets between the feathers and skin. These “pockets” hold in the warm air and use the warmth of their body – it’s like a chicken duvet! They’ll cuddle up to insulate themselves further.
You’re Unlikely to require an Additional Heater
Chickens are hardy animals who are (generally) used to living outdoors all year round, and therefore quite used to the cold, as well as hot, weather. Having said that certain breeds won’t like the winter months. It won’t be their natural habitat. So consider your own situation particularly if you have an unusual breed.
If you do feel the need to provide additional heat be careful. Heat lamps can be costly and carry a fire risk too. Also chickens adapt to the cold weather over time, their body metabolism changes with the seasons. So if you heat your coop the birds will never get used to the colder temperatures.
Check your Coop is Winter Proof
There are a few tasks and checks for your Coop to ensure your Chickens are warm, comfy and secure in winter.
• Eliminate Drafts but keep Ventilation
Drafts cause the air in those “chicken pockets” between their feathers and skin, to become cold, so your girls will feel any chill far more quickly. Try to eliminate drafts from your coop. Make sure the coop door is closed at night and on very cold days – a ChickenGuard will do that for you of course. Make sure to seal any large cracks and holes on walls and the door.
But the trick is to still allow good ventilation. Ventilation allows air to circulate but not to blow – that’s a draught and will make your chickens cold in winter. And Ventilation is essential to maintaining a healthy flock in winter.
• Keep Your Coop Secure & Keep Predators at Bay In winter months predators, like other animals, find it harder to find food. That means they are more likely to come closer to towns, villages and farms, and therefore to your chicken coop. So you need to ensure your chicken coop, and your run, are well protected. The most likely time, but not the only time, that foxes and other predators hunt is at night and early morning.
Ensure you lock up your flock at night. Use one of our Automatic Chicken Door Openers. A ChickenGuard closes the coop door at night and reopens it when it gets light. ChickenGuard has settings with a timer and / or a light sensor.
• Check all around your coop before winter really sets in. Predators will find any weak spots like a small hole in the corner of your coop or run, or an open door at night. See our article Protecting Your Hens from Foxes (https://www.chickenguard.com/protecting-hens-foxes/)
• Perches let your Chicks Cuddle Up Make sure that your perches are well above ground. Check that your hens are using them. You’ll hopefully see them cuddle up in winter. This helps them keep warm, using each others body heat. I’m sure you’ve seen a flock of hens on their perches, cuddled together in winter… or at least seen the picture!
Fresh Water & Plenty of Food
Always provide your hens with a good supply of fresh water. Whether it is cold or a hot summer day, your hens will want a supply of water. Keep it fresh and don’t let it freeze over either. You can even buy bowls that are very slightly heated so that the water doesn’t freeze.
Your chickens might be more loathe to leave the comfort of their coop in winter. And food will be scarcer anyway. So provide extra food and treats too for your chickens in winter months. Chickens actually eat more in winter. Food helps keep them warmer and gives extra energy too. A snack before bedtime is good too as it helps them keep warm at night.
Chickens Love Scratching
It is true chickens just love scratching. Scratching is perhaps their favourite pastime! In spring and summer your chickens will naturally scratch around the run and perhaps your garden. They’ll do the weeding, find fleas, ticks, grubs and caterpillars. They’ll eat fruit whether it’s something you’ve given them or older fallen fruit. In a recent survey by ChickenGuard, it was found that 41% of chicken owners keep chickens specifically for pest control, the second highest scoring reason to keep chickens behind having one’s own fresh eggs.
And it is good to have somewhere in winter that they continue to scratch. It keeps them active and therefore warmer. So if you can, provide somewhere that is covered and protected from winds, perfect for the winter scratch!
Watch for Chicks
Have an even more careful eye on chicks than normal. Just like any young animal a chick is more vulnerable to sickness in cold weather. You may need some special arrangements – a heat lamp, or to bring them inside.
We hope these tips are helpful. It isn’t an exhaustive list. So do let us know if you have more of your own.
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