Friday, December 17, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

The recent spate of abnormally cold weather didn't just make your fingers and toes frosty, it undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of your flock too. Most breeds do just fine in wintery conditions (bantams might need a bit more t.l.c., given their diminutive size), permitted you've bolstered up their environs. I've listed below some low-fi suggestions for warming your flock when Old Man Winter comes knocking.

-Now's the time to offer your flock scratch grain or straight corn. The fattiness of the scratch will allow the birds to pack on an extra layer of body fat, which aids them in better combating colder weather. The scratch or corn should be offered as a treat, though, not as the sole source of their diet. Continue them on their feed, tossing a few handfuls of scratch during evening rounds.

-Yes, most waterers will freeze. If you're fortunate enough to have electricity in your hen house, then by all means purchase an electric waterer warming base (to be used with double-walled, metal waterers). If, however, like me, your coop isn't electrified, you'll need to stay on top of supplying your flock with fresh water. One idea is to fill the waterer with hot water and then drop a chunk of ice or a good amount of ice cubes into the water to slowly cool it down over the course of several hours. If you work away from home, see if a neighbor might be able to check on your flock's water during the day. While they will drink less during colder weather, the birds still need to be able to drink water, period.

-Your coop needs to be fortified against the ravages of cold winds (not to mention chilly predators on the prowl for a cozy bed and a 'hot meal'). While chickens are pretty tough, being able to survive any number of challenges, they are particularly susceptible to wetness and wind. Insulate your coop with spray foam insulation and weather-stripping to keep wind and moisture out and dryness in. Remember that in the warmer months, though, your coop will need proper ventilation to allow dampness inside the coop to leave. We have a ventilation window in our coop for this very purpose, located up near the ceiling and covered with thick-gauge metal screening to keep our predators.

Outdoor perches & roosts:
-You'll want to keep your flock off the ground if necessary. Too much repeated contact with snow and ice can damage their feet, as well as chill them. Consider positioning an extra perch or roost outdoors so that your birds can both get out of the direct cold and have some exercise in the process.

Heavy bedding:
-If, like me, you use the heavy bedding method for collecting coop droppings, now is the time to add an extra heavy layer. Placed over existing droppings, heat will be generated from the composting manure, as well as the birds own body heat at night. It might only be an incremental climb in heat, but, well, all heat is welcome heat when it's freezing outside!

Combs & Wattles:
-A series of days with below freezing temperatures could result in damaging, painful frostbite on your bird's combs and wattles. My gauge is 4 days-if the weather is super cold for over 4 days, I'll rub some balm on my birds tender bits. I use Un-Petroleum jelly, as I like using natural plant oils on my flock.

A Clear Path:
-You don't want an intrepid flock mate deciding to brave a wall of snow. The snow will win, every time. Instead, if you've got over 3-inches of the white stuff, use a flat shovel to clear your birds a path. That way they'll steer clear of any potential damage to their feet as well as have continued areas to roam and exercise.

Gather Eggs:
-If you don't already gather up your flock's eggs on a daily basis, now is the time to begin doing so (and it's really best to already have this as an established habit, as doing so discourages egg-eating). Eggs left out in freezing and below-freezing temperatures can freeze and crack.

So, an ounce of wintertime prevention for your feathered friends is worth a dozen eggs, I always say. Put on your snow boots, toss on your mittens, and get your coop ready for the dip in mercury ahead. Winter officially commences in 4 days, so there's no time like the present to get crackin'!

*To view more images of our wintertime bolstering, go here.


Anonymous said...

I noticed some very black chickens with brown feathers in the top picture. What breed are they? We have a 12 week old hatchery chicken that is supposed to be a Welsummer female but is looking suspiciously now like a rooster. Our questionable chicken looks kind of like yours. He/she is a different breed from our other 3 giving us nothing to compare to...Any tips on sexing a 12 week chicken? BTW loved you chicken book- it led to our chickens.



bridgmanpottery said...

we had a few days of below freezing weather- keeping water liquid was the biggest issue for us - no precipitation, thankfully. Our coop got a sanford&son style tarp reinforcement for the winds, but I believe I'll get some weatherstripping in the near future.

Sue said...

I read somewhere that chickens can scald themselves on too-hot water, so that's always a caution if you decided to heat the water before putting it out.
I also recently saw this great, frugal idea for a waterer heater using a regular light bulb and an inverted cookie tin.
Thanks for the tips and the reminders. My girls get frostbite on their combs :( I'll check out the jelly.

Meredith said...

Thank you for the great tips! This is our first winter with chickens and I want to make sure I am doing everything I should to keep them healthy and happy.

Cindy said...

Love your chicken photos and tips! We run a heavy duty extension cord out to our little hen house and put in a heat lamp with an inexpensive thermostat. It's positioned over the water, so it keeps the water from freezing too. The little plug-in ($12) thermostat makes the heat lamp come on when the temp in the coop drops to 38F and shuts it off at 50F.
Yes, we do have spoiled chickens!

ashley english said...

LN-the birds you ask about are black sex-links, meaning they're hybrids that were sexed at birth. might be what you have. i've heard of plenty of folks ordering one type of breed and then finding their birds to be conspicuously different from what they are supposed to be.
as for sexing, at this point you might just have to wait it out and see if your female begins crowing. if it does turn out to be male and where you live has a prohibition on rooster-keeping, see if you can find it a suitable home outside of city limits.
so glad you like the book! i'm super pleased with how it turned out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! He is definitely a he as some antics this weekend revealed. We are presently working on finding a new home for "Anabeth" :) Our other chickens are red sex links as will all our future chickens ;)

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