Winter can be a trying time for all animals. Limited food sources, dropping wind chills and copious amounts of snow all contribute to a miserable winter for animals. Yet in all actuality, your flock would rather be cold than hot. That’s not to say that don’t require at least some help staying warm and illness free in the winter. So, I will highlight a few things you can do to keep your flock warm and healthy during these cold winter months.
First of all, one’s first instinct is to go out and provide heat lamps or some sort of heating device for your birds. This is fine but keep in mind the potential fire risks. Many a time, fires have been started with birds accidently hitting the heat lamb and it falls into some try hay or is placed too close to a wooden structure. I’m a huge worrier when it comes to heat lambs even for brooding baby chicks. My recommendation is, your hens should have nice insulative feathers so they shouldn’t need heat lamps. Following the items mentioned later on in the article will facilitate ensuring the hens stay warm.
The biggest thing to consider when keeping your birds warm is preventing drafts. Make sure all cracks and holes are plugged up to prevent the cold wind from entering the coop. Yet, some ventilation is required to prevent ammonia build up and condensation. Excess moisture causes respiratory problems and can contribute to other negative health issues for your flock.
Having enough dry bedding in a deep litter system can help keep the birds warm. As for litter material, I’m not a huge proponent of straw in the winter as manure tends to become matted on the surface of the straw. You can manually turn the straw to ensure the manure drys and does not become matted. Pine shavings are a better alternative.
Feeding your flock in the winter is of utmost importance. Making sure your birds have a balanced diet is key to healthy birdd. Adding a handful of high energy grains such as corn or wheat can help boost the metabolism and increase heat for your birds. Additionally, I’ve found adding a little vegetable oil increases the energy content of the feed. increasing the heat output of the bird. Increasing the bird’s blood flow to help keep them warm and decrease the likelihood of combs getting frostbitten is also a possibility. This is achieved by adding slight amounts of ground cinnamon and/or cayenne pepper to the feed. Due to the limited amounts of taste buds, the birds cannot recognize the bitterness and heat of either additive.
Frostbite in chickens generally is seen in males with large combs. Combs begin to freeze at around 28 degree F. Adding a liberal amount of petroleum jelly to the combs helps create a barrier between the bitter cold and the comb and also helps trap in the heat of the comb. Additionally, petroleum jelly helps keep the comb moist and prevents it from drying out. This is another leading cause of frostbite in combs. Adding the above mentioned feed additives as well as adding a little sugar to their water can aid in the prevention of frost bite. Although these are only helpful measures. If the temperature dips below 28 degrees for multiple days or in cases of extreme wind chill, then other measures may be needed to ensure combs do not freeze.
With the cold winter months upon us, it’s imperative that steps are taken to keep the flock warm, dry and comfortable. Chickens are extremely hardy but do require a little help sometimes.