Keeping Chickens In Winter – A Guide to Healthy, Happy, Hardy Hens
If you’re a regular reader of the blog (not sure if I have regulars, say hi if you’re one!) then you’ll know I talk about my chickens a lot. I make no apologies for it, my girls are fabulous and I adore them! They offer the best return on care given of any animal I’ve ever owned. However during the winter it’s nice to offer them a little extra TLC.
I am by no means an expert, in fact I suffer from advanced Hen Hypochondria (self diagnosed, naturally), and regularly panic and assume they are on the verge of death or depression. This is advice I have gleaned from the local and online chicken gurus who regularly solve my chicken related woes.
If they haven’t started by late Summer then the moult will come in Autumn and hopefully not Winter. During Autumn chickens lose their feathers, their combs generally tend to be paler and can sometimes shrink. There is no need to panic! The moult is quicker for hybrids than it is for pure breeds. We have pure breeds and our moult started in late August and is just coming to a close now in late November.
Through their moult it’s nice to offer your chickens extra protein. Feathers are mostly made of protein so they need all the help they can get as they grow a fresh set. Your chickens should stay on their usual diet (mine eat layer pellets and greens) throughout the winter with these being offered only as snacks or supplements.
Safe sources of protein for your hens include;
- Cooked eggs, it’s best to cook them because raw ones may encourage them to eat their own!
- Sardines tinned in oil, any fish is suitable but sardines are always a big hit with my girls, avoid anything preserved in brine.
- Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds, avoid any salted varieties
- Dried meal worms – buy reputable brands ONLY, in the past some worms were raised on derivatives of human faeces, you eventually eat what your chickens eat so be cautious!
- Oats – while not hugely high in protein they are loved by chickens, cheap and readily available in your press!
- Catfood – another cheap option that your girls will love
- And as an added extra…Apple Cider Vinegar – all they need is 5ml per litre to keep them bacteria free and fight any infection they may pick up
There’s a lot of meat in that list because contrary to what I had assumed before our hens arrived chickens are carnivores! They are even pretty good at catching mice which I hope to never have the misfortune of witnessing.
Chickens will adapt to the changing seasons themselves, mine are usually in bed by 4:30 and don’t start asking to get up until about 8.
- Morning – I give warm porridge first thing. The oats need to be soaked in water as chickens are intolerant to dairy. On especially cold days I warm up their water too. This is a good way to warm them up after a chilly night.
- Evening – the girls enjoy a snack of seeds or worm at about 3:30pm, a snack at this time is a good way to keep them warm through the night.
Yes I am aware how spoilt my chickens sound!
Chickens are better evolved to deal with cold weather than they are to deal with the heat. For this reason it’s not advisable to offer them hot water bottles or heat lamps.
- Extra Bedding – give your girls extra thick layer of shavings or straw to keep them toasty just make sure to keep the doorways clear so they don’t soak it by carrying in water on their feet.
- Seal up draughts – draughts are a bigger problems than low temperatures, try to ensure your coop is well sealed.
- Extrapoopscoops – as they’ll be spending longer in their coop it’s going to get a bit grubby, scoop out anything unsavoury in the morning. I keep gloves beside their feed bag to make it quick.
Until this winter I’ve never used straw as I’d heard it was an ideal habitat for the dreaded Red Mite however I’ve now added some to the coop to help bulk it up and offer more insulation. If you’ve had no red mite all summer then it’s unlikely you’ll start an infestation in winter as this is when they are usually dormant and not breeding.