Winter weather brings out all sorts of concerns about the health and safety of our flocks. Commonly asked questions include the following:
What should I feed them?
Are they warm enough?
Do I need a heater? Chicken sweaters?
What if it snows?
Here are a few suggestions from the NCO team:
Water: The #1 forgotten nutrient in any livestock operation is water. Livestock need access to plenty of fresh, clean, unfrozen water. While trudging water buckets up to the barn or out to the hen house may be tedious, this step should never be overlooked. For those in areas with harsh winter weather, this may mean more frequent water changes and/or the utilization of water bucket heaters. Poultry and other livestock are less likely to drink water if the ice has simply been broken.
Bedding: Plenty of fresh straw, pine or hemp shavings, or other bedding should be used in the coop and nest boxes to provide a warm environment for your flock. Bedding should be checked and/or cleaned and replenished every few days to prevent ammonia build up, as poultry are much more susceptible to respiratory infections during winter months. Exercise is another great way to prevent frostbite and chilly chickens. By putting the soiled bedding in the outdoor area for the chickens to scratch and break down, not only will your chickens stay warm but you will also have great compost.
Outdoor area: Frostbite is a concern for areas with snow and cold, wet conditions. One way to prevent frostbite is to provide multiple roosts, dry run-in shelters, and straw or mulch pathways to keep the birds’ feet dry. Roosts can be as simple as running tree limbs through the corners of fencing or providing tree stumps throughout the area.
Feed: Good nutrition is one of the best ways to keep your flock warm. Providing a complete feed such as our Classic Grind Poultry Layer feed will produce heat of digestion as the feed is broken down. This can be further supplemented by the addition of scratch grains, which is a mixture of wheat, corn, and oats. This also aids in producing heat of digestion. Some flock owners keep greenhouses in order to provide fresh greens for their birds throughout the winter when fresh forage is scarce. Treats such as Grubblies, which are dried black soldier fly larvae, can also be provided as an additional energy source.
Heat sources: There are a variety of opinions regarding heat sources for chickens. Our general recommendation is to avoid using heat lamps, as going from the warm coop to the frigid outdoors can cause temperature shock and lead to health problems. Chicken sweaters, while adorable, are also generally not recommended, as they restrict a bird’s natural movement and can get caught on fencing or other potentially sharp materials and lead to other risks. Poultry are better off if allowed to gradually adjust to temperature changes throughout the season. Following the aforementioned steps is sufficient for protecting your flock from harsh weather conditions.
For more detailed questions or concerns, please call our Sales Team at 540-469-0694 and they would be glad to assist you!
*Photo courtesy of Ready Nutrition