Chicken Keeping – 10 more tips for the winter

Last year I blogged some hints and tips to help your chickens get through the winter, and whilst it’s true that they can survive without very much additional care, it is with little more attention to the husbandry of the birds that you can ensure your stock comes back into lay in peak condition. These next 10 tips take a closer look at the outdoor living space, winter pests and how to give the birds a bit of health boost.

  1. Standing water, boggy or poached areas in the run should be avoided as chickens can’t resist drinking from puddles and these could be contaminated with droppings. Remove the temptation by digging over patches that become overly muddy or sodden and add some sharp sand or grit to aid the drainage.
  2. A sheltered area in the run where the birds can get out of the rain, wind and snow is essential. A piece of corrugated roofing leant against a fence or wall facing towards the prevailing wind will work quite well if weighted into position. Alternatively if you have an old table simply remove two legs to create a freestanding shelter.
  3. Ornamental bark chippings might seem like a good idea to put down in the run to help with wet conditions but don’t do it. They decompose quickly and as they rot down fungi and mould grow on them. The resulting spores can cause respiratory problems for chickens. The classic example is aspergillus which thrives on bark, if ingested by poultry it can cause aspergillosis which is difficult to treat successfully and will cause the slow death of the infected bird. Instead use hardwood chippings with as little bark present as possible.
  4. A moveable ark is a good compromise for the winter. It can mean the chickens are a little more restricted in terms of the space they have to range but it does mean that they can be moved to fresh ground regularly.
  5. The Red Mite might be a pest of the summer months and whilst it may not be active during the colder weather be sure to clean the coop thoroughly as they can survive for over 6 months without feeding.
  6. Northern Fowl Mite is active during the winter and unlike the Red character, these mites do live entirely on the birds. The first signs can be greasy looking feathers on the back around the base of the tail. This is caused by excrement from the mites and is a sure sign your chicken is carrying passengers. If the birds remain untreated it will result in fatalities. (Take a look at my Guardian blog for a case in point)
  7. Rats often seek out a cosy chicken run during the winter. They are looking for food, water and shelter so make sure that’s not available for them. Don’t leave feeders outside, empty the drinkers each night and refill in the morning, and if you can raise your coop off the ground by at least 8 inches you stand a good chance of removing the shelter option (and the bonus of providing outdoor shelter for your chickens).
  8. Multivitamins for poultry come in many different types and each poultry keepers have their own preferences however all agree that these natural vitamins and minerals definitely give the birds a boost both during the moult and throughout the winter.
  9. Frostbite can be a problem, particularly in birds with large head gear. If a prolonged period of sub-zero temperatures is forecast then a coat of Vaseline on the comb will help protect it.
  10. Oregano is an excellent source of antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic and anti-oxidative help, and has an all-round positive effect on the immune system of poultry. Hanging a bunch of fresh oregano up not only provides the health benefits but also provides your chickens with some greens and entertainment.



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