Top Tips for Chicken Winter Care
As winter starts knocking on our doors, it’s time to consider your outside pets. Chickens are fairly hardy in the winter but there are still plenty of things you should be considering and organising so that your chickens are safe and comfortable.
Chickens are social birds who often feel safer and more relaxed in smalls flocks. One cockerel to a group of hens is ideal and you will find that they all huddle together when roosting at night producing lots of heat.
Housing & Bedding
Now is the time to make sure you give your coops/sheds a MOT! Check they are water tight, that roofs are properly felted and if wooden, check that it is in good condition and not taking in moisture which can cause rot.
If you have coops/pods, raising these off the ground and providing your chickens with ramps will instantly take away some of the chill and risk of frost (see photo below for example). Having a raised coop and lifting the ramps at night also offers security against vermin and predators.
Although temptation may kick in to shut all the windows and wrap the coop up ventilation, it is exceptionally important to prevent respiratory problems for your chickens. Ventilation shutters often have vents allowing air flow without drafts.
Making sure you have plenty of large perches for your chickens to sit flat on will help cover their feet and keep them warm. If using a shed, extra pods and nesting boxes can be placed in without effecting the air flow.
It is also worth considering the area outside your coop/shed. Stable matts or rubber grip matts are great for laying down and placing the coops on top to keep the immediate floor area free from damp muddy conditions. If your chickens are in a coop with a run attached, you will find the grass will quickly turn to mud and become very water logged. Moving these onto hard standing is an option, providing them with rummage boxes filled with old leaves and soil will still allow them to express they scratching behaviour.
If you have contact with a tree surgeon, safe tree chippings can be great for placing on the ground as a base. Gravel can be laid first then the chippings which will allow water to drain. Using some plastic sheeting over the top of any runs will help protect the ground and reduce snow and mud build up giving your chickens some nice areas to enjoy.
It is important to make sure you are using bedding that isn’t going to become damp or mouldy which may cause health issues. Bedmax horse shavings, card cubes or easichic are great products for the base, a nice thick layer should be placed down to insulate. As your chickens will be most likely choosing to stay in the coop for longer periods its important to poo pick regularly to prevent a build up of ammonia. Straw can be used to line the nest boxes.
Although many addtional heating options aren’t safe due to fire risk, a good option for extra warmth is a snuggle safe which is a microwaveable heat pad and stays hot for around 8-9 hours.
Feed & Water
Hopefully your chickens have had a good summer of foraging for tasty treats and been feeding well meaning there weight is at a good level. If they are a little lighter than planned then upping the corn with their pellets can put a little weight on them. Also choosing a good quality supplement like Keep-Well can help.
With winter, comes vermin. Removing your feed as the chickens goes to roost will discourage them, along with making sure your feeds are well secured in feed bins.
Whilst most chickens won’t drink much through the night as they are roosting, available water is still required. Care should be taken when choosing drinkers; it is very important that they can’t easily tip over or leak causing damp cold patches or condensation all having an effect on your chickens. Water should also be checked first thing in the morning in case it has frozen during the night.
Our charity has three rehoming centres Huntingdon, Heydon nr Royston and Northampton that specialise in rescuing and rehoming thousands of small pets. Our charity is dedicated to educating all pet owners including future pet owners by offering many community support programs.