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Proper Care and Protection Tips for Your Chickens During the Winter

Egg Production, Hobby Farm, Keeping Chickens

Keeping chickens on your small acreage or hobby farm during the winter can be accomplished and may even reward you with egg production year-round. While chickens are much more susceptible to predators, cold, disease and stress in the winter, with some careful planning and a little extra work you can minimize the chance of loosing your flock. Some areas to highlight of winter care include protection from predators, proper air flow in their coop, lighting, heating, water and feedings. Since winter is stressful on all farm animals, many of these same precautions will need to be taken for the other animals you are housing on your land.

First of all, if you do not protect your flock from predators, your flock will disappear rapidly. All wildlife animals are stretched for food during the winter, so almost anything becomes their prey. Be sure that your chicken coop does not have any holes in it. If there are holes, be sure to fix them sturdily and check them often that they are not being opened up again. If your coop is made from wood, you will want to reinforce the wood with some other material. A great option is to use screen mesh to cover the outside of the wood on the bottom portion of the coop. This will prevent any animal from being able to chew their way into the coop. Screen mesh will also not prevent air from flowing through the cracks of the coop.

Another method of keeping your flock safe from predators is to raise the coop off the ground. Just raising the coop 6-12 inches from the ground will prevent any animal from burrowing under the coop and taking up a residence there. Rats especially love to do this as do raccoons, wood chucks, and opossums. All animals you do not want near your chickens. You will also need to be sure that all entrances to the coop are very well secured and cannot be opened easily. Raccoons are well known for their ability to open gates and many types of latches. Place the latch high on the door to deter them from tinkering with it until they get it.

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After you are sure your coop is secure from predators, you can move onto the other categories. Even though in the winter you will want to avoid drafts from passing through the coops, you will need to allow for enough air flow to provide your chickens with enough fresh air. Ventilation is very important for your chicken’s health. The over hang of your chicken coop where the walls meet the roof is a great place to place a screened window to increase ventilation and light as well. Windows can all be screened so that the coop can be vented during the day but during the night the windows can be closed to keep the heat in. Be sure to vent well so that disease does not dominate inside your coop.

If you wish to ensure egg-production in the off season, you will need to provide artificial light for your hens. Hens need at least 14 hours of light to produce eggs. You can easily set a timer to have the lights turned on in the early morning, and in the early evening. This will extend the light long enough so the hens can keep producing. Remember that chickens often molt during the winter and during a molt no chicken can produce eggs, so you need to plan for that.

As far as heating goes for a chicken coop, many people do not heat them. The chance of fire is too great of a risk to take. Chickens can withstand very cold temperatures; their egg production will just drop.

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Water will need to be provided to the chickens during the winter. If you have an indoor barn, keep a water trough filled with a ramp for the chickens to get to it. In the coops, use plastic water containers and be sure to check them at least two times a day and be prepared to break the ice and fill the water container with fresh warm water. Never use hot water, but you can use slightly warm water to prevent it from freezing a little bit longer.

In general bedding needs to be deep and changed often. Wet living conditions for chickens can bring upon disease and death within a few days. If you choose you can offer your chickens a high density vitamin filled feed during the winter, but you can also just offer them a little bit more of the feed you have been currently using. During cold spells, the chickens may need more food to keep their systems going.

Winter care for animals is tedious, but with careful preparation during the fall months, you can minimize the winter stress to your chickens. Even though the winter egg production will be low, the chickens will reward you with ample egg production as soon as spring arrives!