Winter chicken care

At Myhills, we are passionate about supporting our customers and all of their pets and animals. Chickens are a very common sight for smallholders across Norfolk and we have put together our tips for coping with the winter temperatures.

Its paramount that your birds are getting enough calories on particularly cold days. Their core feed should be increased by 10% – as well as giving any additional vitamins and minerals for certain birds that may need help in the extreme weather.

Before the cold sets in, check your coop to make sure there are no draughts as these really affect the heat retention in the coop. Be sure to check whether your coop’s ventilation holes suit the size of the bird you have. For larger birds such as cockerels, their heads can be directly in line of the cold air which is likely to cause them to catch a chill and become ill.

However, it is critical that the coop is still well-ventilated. A lack of air flow can cause ammonia to build up, so be sure to place vents towards the top of the coop. Ammonia is highly irritant and can damage eyes and lead to blindness. This irritation can cause the birds to scratch at themselves too, causing further injury. Excess ammonia can also affect their windpipe and leave them vulnerable to respiratory diseases, which is why respiratory disease is much more common during winter.

Remember that the bedding is likely to need changing more frequently during winter. Aside from the mess from the poultry, the damp during the winter can cause the bedding to grow mould which can cause further respiratory issues. Also, rather importantly, egg quality can be affected by poor conditions in the coop. The last thing you want is dirty next boxes and dirty eggs.

As much as chickens enjoy being outside – even in the cold, remember that on the coldest and wettest of days, they are likely to appreciate staying inside in the warm. Birds such as Silkies can get wet very easily and often catch a chill rather quickly.

Do not use salt in your drinkers. Although common to prevent freezing, it is very easy to give your birds salt poisoning, which can kill them. Try insulation on piping, placing balls in the drinkers or purchase heated troughs.

If you want your chickens to continue laying through the winter, you will need to provide additional lighting. This ensures egg production will be maintained at optimum levels for the whole year. Chickens need 12 – 14 hours of daylight to keep production running, and the only way to provide this daylight during the winter is to use artificial lighting.

Be sure the bulb you choose isn’t a fluorescent one. A 40W bulb produces enough light for a 10 x 10 coop. It should be fitted securely with either a wire or chain mental so pests such as rats cannot chew through it. Check that it is kept out of reach from the chickens and away from all bedding to prevent a fire risk.

Throughout winter you need to match the sunset time to your artificial lightbulb timer to make sure your hens’ daylight stays at around 14 hours. As we get closer to February and the natural daylight starts getting longer, you will want to reduce the length of time you leave the lightbulb on for.

For any additional winter tips for winter chicken care, pop down to one of our stores to have a chat with our friendly staff.