Extreme cold & Winter chicken care
There are a few things that we can do over the Autumn molt period and into the cold Winter weather to look after our backyard chooks well.
Winter in the ‘Chookouse’
Ventilation in the chook house is essential for your flock throughout the whole year including Winter, so don’t be tempted to block up every hole in the chook house to keep the gang warm when winter comes along.
Chooks will spend a longer time roosting due to the shorter daylight hours. During this time they will still need a flow of air through the house. Roosting birds produce a lot of moisture and if this is allowed to form, condensation on the walls and ceiling of the house will create cold and damp conditions…bad. So you need to make sure there is a way for warm air to depart and fresh air to enter.
Litter should be of an adequate depth to provide a level of insulation but don’t be tempted to stuff the house full of straw thinking it will create a cosy house. Straw can look clean and dry, but it is not particularly absorbent and has a habit of “sweating” when soiled with droppings or muddy feet. This can quickly give rise to fungal growth and the resulting spores can lead to respiratory illnesses in the chickens. If possible it’s far better to use shavings, pine needles, shredded paper or ideally a mixture.
This should be at least weekly due to the birds spending longer in the house (and therefore fouling the litter more). If you are unable to increase the frequency of your cleaning regime then try a quick spot of ‘poo picking’ each morning or place a sheet of newspaper under the perch. This can be removed when you let the birds out each day. It will prolong the life of the litter and help keep the house clean.
Are some of your chooks still looking pretty ordinary? Still molting? Slowed egg laying? None!!? These events usually go hand in hand. Given the fact that feathers consist of 85% protein, feather growth puts a big demand on chooks energy and nutrient stores. As such egg production is likely to drop or cease completely through molting and into winter. Our chooks are now putting a lot of energy into growing new feathers so they stop laying.
Eggs are made up mainly of protein and it is too much for a hen to produce new feathers as well as eggs.
Molting usually happens when the days get a bit shorter as we move through Autumn to the chook rest period over Winter.
It usually takes about 7-8 week from start to end of molt but can take as little as 4 or as much as 12 weeks.
The thing to remember is that molting is actually a regenerative process as they get a whole new coat of feathers which helps protect them from the elements and, apparently once they’ve molted, they’re more resistant to disease. So it’s a good, healthy thing even if they look terribly bedraggled.
Keep the flock fairly constant and settled over the late Autumn and Winter months to reduce any stress new additions may cause. If you need to handle your chooks do so very gently because they are quite vulnerable when molting with little protection around them.
Apart from their monthly treatment of Super Mash increase their protein intake through Autumn to recover from molting – give them access to bugs, worms etc. that will help them with feather growth. You could feed them some special treats such as mealworms, alfalfa or lentil sprouts, peas, beans and sunflower seeds or sardines! but only a spoonful per bird each day.
Then as Winter comes your hens’ dietary requirements will change as they prepare for the cold, dark winter whilst their body recuperates for next spring. Their winter feed consumption is typically around 1.5 times their summer feed consumption. During this period they will require more carbohydrates because the carbs help to keep them warm.
A handful of corn or other “slow-burn” grain given as a scratch feed an hour or so before your flock goes in to roost will provide some extra energy to keep the birds warm during the night.
Scratch grains are a great treat, although they don’t provide as much nutrition as corn. But…don’t overdo the amount you give them.. a fat chook is not a happy or healthy chook. Scratch mix is also NOT a substitute for a high protein daily feed which needs to be up around 16-18%
A bit of cooked barley through winter is a nice treat for your chooks but not too much as it contains a lot of roughage.
A bowl of porridge on a cold morning is a very popular peck!
Remember… Your chickens need constant access to water as even on cold days they will drink a significant amount
As the amount of daylight starts decreasing your hens egg production will slow down, but why?
The amount of daylight tells your hen when to release a yolk and produce an egg. So when the daylight is reduced, chickens don’t receive this light ‘cue’ to tell them to release a yolk. It is a survival instinct, because chicks won’t survive during the winter, so a hens body stops sending eggs from their ovaries.
This state of repair during winter is crucial for hens, because laying eggs throughout the summer places a huge amount of stress on their body and without this break they will eventually burn out. This is why battery hens are culled within 2 years because their bodies have simply burned out through constant egg laying with no rest.
So give your gals a break!! Don’t force your hens to lay during the winter months, Read how to preserve your eggs during the summer months so you have a supply for the winter months.
Oh and keep Super Mash up to your chooks throughout the Winter months.
Super Mash is a monthly treatment to help keep chickens healthy. It’s a natural antiparasitic that contains ACV, nutrients and probiotics to boost and re-vitalise your chickens in a natural way.
Find out more and order online at https://naturalchickenhealth.com.au/
Natural Chicken Health – Super Mash is a natural feed supplement to help keep your chooks healthy all year round.