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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

5 Essential Ways to Prepare Your Chickens for Winter

Chickens are surprisingly good at keeping themselves warm, with around 8,500 feathers; a chicken will fluff them up, trap air under her down and keep warm and cosy for hours. However, extremely cold weather and damp will leave your chickens feeling chilly and uncomfortable so it’s important to prepare your chickens and their coop for the winter months.

This post, written by coop specialists Eggshell Online, will talk you through the best ways to keep your chickens happy throughout the winter:

Protecting Your Coop from Drafts

Contrary to common belief, your chickens don’t need insulated houses to keep warm in winter; keeping your coop closed up can make the air unhealthy and can lead to nasty respiratory diseases in your birds. What’s important is keeping your coops ventilated whilst still protecting your chickens from cold winds and drafts, so block up any large gaps and place vents up high, near the roof.

 Heating – It’s Your Call

Most chickens, particularly the hardy breeds will not need heat lamps. If you do decide to heat your coops you must do it correctly – by heating the whole coop. The problem with using just one heat lamp or only heating a section of the hen house is that the birds will only be warm when their under the lamp. Once they move to reach the food or water they can become very cold, very quickly as they won’t have their feathers fluffed up – it’s not good for them to go from one extreme temperature to another. The alternative is that you leave your coop completely unheated, birds will huddle together to keep themselves warm.

Keeping Floors Clean and Dry

It’s vital that cleanliness is still a priority in your chicken coop throughout winter, it must be kept as dry as possible; their droppings can create a lot of moisture so regularly shovelling out in your coop is essential. Make sure you have a good supply of shavings to lay on the floor to keep it nice and dry.

The ground where your chickens can roam around outside needs to be well maintained too, the cold weather won’t bother them too much but they don’t like walking in snow! Try to create a snow free space for them outside by clearing some of it away, if this isn’t possible then lay some logs down and they will use those to avoid the cold ground. Adding a layer of hay over the snow can also help cheer your birds up.

Lighting Your Coop

Chickens love sunlight and during the cold months it’s not unusual for you to see a significant drop in egg production, you can try to counter this by using light bulbs. Chickens needs fourteen hours of sunlight per day for optimal egg laying conditions so many people choose to use a light on a timer. This should be turned on in the early morning but it shouldn’t be used through the night, make sure it’s turned off before nightfall, this gives your chickens chance to naturally acclimatise to the evening light and settle into their roosts before dark. 

Food and Water Needs

Your chickens, just like any other animal, need a constant supply of fresh water at their disposal, this means you need to find a way of combatting freezing water in your coop. You can do this by placing your water containers directly on top of a base heater or you could invest in a heated water dish.

Your chickens will use extra calories keeping warm in the colder months so upping their food intake slightly will help keep them at a healthy weight. It can get a little boring for your birds with less room to roam so hide treats or hang veggies such as cabbages from the coop for them to peck at.

Although your chickens do need to be protected during the winter months it’s still important to give them their freedom, they’re tougher than people think - let them out regularly to roam around, if they don’t want to be outside they’ll soon head back into the coop on their own accord.

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