Caring for your flock during the winter months
In the poultry keepers year, all weather conditions bring 'pros and cons'. Episodes of freezing conditions do give us a brief respite from the often miserable autumn to winter mud! A good blast of icy weather will go a long way in reducing numbers of the various forms of mites - particularly the dreaded red spider mite, and any help there is always appreciated! A few simple steps can help to make your poultry care easier during the winter, and maintain the health of the flock.
Frozen Drinkers and Feeders
Bringing in the drinker overnight in winter, (especially when sub-zero temperatures are likely), saves a lot of time in the morning, as opposed to finding a drinker frozen solid! The only safe way to thaw it out being in a bowl of warm water. Pouring hot/boiling water over a frozen plastic drinker won’t do it any good at all as this can crack it and will certainly aid in the breakdown of the plastic over time.
Whatever type of drinker you have, it is a good idea is to have a second ‘spare’ drinker, then its ‘one in and one out’ during freezing weather. This works well on the extremely cold days, as a fresh drinker put out first thing in the morning can be frozen solid in just a few hours – or less! Drinkers can be put out with warm (not hot) water in, just to slow down this process a bit.
Hanging your drinker and feeder is also an advantage, so preventing them becoming frozen to the ground, making it almost impossible to top up without the top breaking off in your hand, the bottom still welded to the ground – end of the drinker!
During the worst of the weather it can also be a good idea to bring in the feeder at night, not just because of the increased interest from rats as they struggle to find food in the frozen conditions, but also because the feed can freeze. The feed, although generally thought of as dried food, does have a moisture content, and can end up as a solid lump in extreme cold weather. (In addition it is also a good idea to place a few rat bait boxes around the perimeter of the poultry run).
Poultry Pen Flooring:
When the winter rains or frozen thaw comes, everything can turn to mush, particularly the pen floor, Provided it’s not too deep (if it is you’ll need to shovel some out!), you can then tip in some fresh wood chippings, this is great for soaking up the mud and re-stabilising the ground. The first layer to go in is often sacrificial, the mud soaker, then the following layer(s) will provide a great substrate and new poultry run floor.
Woodchip can be raked and forked over as necessary to prevent clogging, it forms a free draining layer and is a long lasting, natural flooring. Woodchip attracts many bugs and crawlies providing interest and instinctive forage for our birds. We always recommend pure (native) hardwood chips (no mixed in greenery – this causes the chip to rot faster).
A sprinkling (just 1 cup per square meter) of Bio-dri over the floor of the run is a great idea in winter as it can help to extend the life of the flooring. It is a fresh smelling, super absorbent powder, non-hazardous and extremely effective in absorbing liquids and ammonia gas, inhibiting the growth and spread of bacteria and other harmful organisms.
Protecting your Birds from the cold:
With most poultry, it’s only when temperatures reach the minuses, (and even then only when those temperatures persist for a week or more), that they start to feel the effect, as they are quite hardy. It always seems a nice idea to provide some sort of heat during the toughest times, and even to insulate their house, but beware of doing so as sadly these measures can promote winter breeding of mites.
Maintaining good ventilation in the poultry house is essential to prevent ammonia build up from the droppings causing possible respiratory problems. Cold winds and sometimes snow blowing through vents in their house can definitely be a problem, though it’s not a good idea to completely block them up. During these times it is better to shield these vents from the outside to stop direct blow, whilst maintaining ventilation. The birds generally always huddle up on the perches at night to keep warm, so make sure there is no draught blowing on the birds at perch height; vents should be above the hens roost.
Although it is not often a welcoming thought in the winter, it is essential that the poultry house is kept clean and dry; so continue to clean the house regularly. We always recommend you continue to use both Poultry Shield and Diatom though these months, as although the mites etc generally go dormant through the cold weather they can still be in the house and so winter treatment it is a good chance to kill any overwintering bugs.
Also, consider giving your flock a boost by adding a supplement to their feed. Our preferred product is Poultry Pep; a mineral supplement containing a blend of spices and vitamin C to maintain condition during cold weather.
Just a quick note to quail keepers (particularly first timers), quail are regarded generally as not being ‘frost hardy’. I would recommend bringing them into a shed or garage for the winter. Ensure there is enough light and ventilation. To attempt to maintain egg production around 14 hours light would be necessary, this can be achieved with timers, though avoid plunging them into darkness at the end of each day, use dimmers to mimic dusk.
Lastly, don’t forget to spare a thought for birds seeing snow for the first time!
To wake up one morning, to look out and the ground has gone!, it’s now some sort of weird stuff, not grass, mud or woodchip, but a strange cold stuff that your thin little legs disappear into! Some will just refuse to walk on it, in fact for some it can cause quite a panic, leading to stress. You can help by at least clearing the way to the feeder and drinker, if not clearing part or all of the run for them. Feed a little extra mixed corn or kibbled maize around mid to later afternoon to provide them with more energy to keep them warm at night. And don’t panic – the birds are tougher than you might think, they are kept successfully in many of the worlds’ cold places!