Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feathers, Frost and Fun

Image courtesy of
Keeping Chickens as pets and for eggs is an extremely rewarding hobby, what's more is that they make for a fantastic addition to the garden - eating pests, weeds and producing a fantastic amount of manure to give back to the soil.  Andy at has kindly offered up a few tips for keeping your hens happy and healthy through the tough winter months.  I met Andy via Twitter and he will be supplying me with two new pullets next Spring.  To say I'm excited is an understatement!  Enjoy the post!

Winter can be a challenging time for your poultry.  Not only is the weather predictably cold and wet, but the daylight hours are at their shortest, in all this means that your flock will have less time to forage for food and will be under a level of stress so it should come as no surprise to find that egg production drops and in many cases stops altogether. Here are a few tips to help keep your birds safe and healthy during cooler months:
  1. Ventilation: Your birds will spend significantly longer roosting due to the shorter day lengths but don't be tempted to seal the house from the elements. At this time of year ventilation is absolutely essential to avoid health problems. Ventilation allows fresh air to be drawn into the building by the warmer air leaving the building, a subtle but important difference to a draft which should be avoided.
  2. Pests: Red Mite is a pest of the summer months and whilst it may not be active during winter be sure to clean the coop thoroughly as it can survive over 6 months without feeding. More importantly, be sure to check your birds for Northern Fowl Mite. These pests appear during the colder months and unlike Red Mite, they live on the birds. They can prove fatal in a short period of time if not treated.
  3. Water: Birds will need to drink during their foraging time. Ensure that the drinkers are free from ice by emptying them during lock up the night before and refilling in the morning. This is far easier than wandering around with a kettle trying to defrost them. Alternatively use large dog bowls; these are usually designed to be difficult to flip over, though they are also easy to ‘knock out’ if they are frozen. Remember though they will need topping up more frequently.
  4. Frost protection: Breeds with large head gear such as Leghorns are susceptible to frost bite. A smear of Vaseline can work wonders against this. It will save discomfort to the bird.
  5. Evening treats: You don't need to change your current feeding regime, however, feeding a handful of split maize to your birds during the afternoon will help them generate some internal body warmth for a long cold night ahead. Remember, only feed it as a treat, the flock will still need the balance of its staple diet.
  6. Nutrition: Adding a vitamin supplement to either the birds food or water can give the flock a boost. Supplements such as poultry spice are cheap to buy and easy to administer, simply add some cod liver oil to your usual dry feed stuff and then add the spice. The cod liver oil helps the spice stick to the feed meaning the birds get the full benefit.
  7. Substrate: Don’t be tempted to add straw or hay to the litter in your poultry housing in an attempt to keep things warm and cosy. Both give the impression of being dry and clean when they are not and both sweat when soiled which promotes the growth of fungus which can lead to respiratory problems for the birds.
Did you find these tips useful or do you have any tips of your very own?  If so, please leave a comment below and don't forget to enter this years Christmas competition!


  1. Nice post. I like your blog very much.

  2. Nice blog Ryan.Managed to clean my chickens out today,thank goodness.Couldnt get into the Egloo,lock had frozen!!My chickens have not laid for three days,thought it was the cold weather,good hear that it probably was.

  3. Thank you Garden Tips! Really glad you like the blog!

    Michelle: Didn't know you had chickens?! What do you have and how long you had them? Strangely enough all my girls are laying on a daily basis now. Then again it's probably mild here in comparison ;)

  4. Nearly two years,lost my first two to a fox.My girls are from the Battery Hen Welfare trust.Getting on a bit but still laying,most of the time,they would have never seen snow before so I think it freaked them out.

  5. Ah sorry to hear that! I've just lost one of my girls. She got out one morning and went for a wander never to be seen again. I'm assuming she was eaten but who knows.

  6. Great post Ryan with helpful tips! And now we find little Ms Wheeler has chickens too, wonderful!!

    Geoff :D

  7. Wow!
    There's a chicken coop full of info on fowl keeping here!
    I am much too lazy to do any of it, but I like that others do.
    I especially like that people like Plantpassion do the rescue stuff.
    Sorry to hear you've lost one - that would break my heart!
    Best Wishes

  8. Love your blog! I keep hens and have for years. I find that a lightbulb protected in a cage and set on a timer will keep my hens laying all winter long. I have it set to start up at 4am and run thru 8am by which time the sun is up. This gives them a full 12 hours of daylight and a little additional warmth on really cold nights. Works great, the flock is happy and we have plenty of fresh eggs.


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