Preparing your Flock for Winter
As the seasons shift and frost, perhaps even some early snowflakes, begin to blanket the grass every morning, it’s time to prepare your feathered friends for the colder weather. In order to keep your flock, happy, healthy, and productive throughout the chilly months of winter, there are a few things to keep in mind to provide a cozy and warm winter wonderland for your birds. The most important things to keep in mind while preparing for winter are preparing the coop, being ready for molting, and selecting the right feed for your flock.
Creating a Cozy Coop
Birds can be sensitive to dropping air temperatures but also require fresh air for proper health and to prevent smells from accumulating in their coops, so it is important to create and maintain a balance of air exchange vs temperature maintenance.
When the mercury drops on the thermometer, it’s best to seal up some of the openings in a coop to keep your flock from bitter cold drafts that could cause dangerous temperature drops inside the coop. Care should be taken during this process to make sure that no condensation is allowed to build up inside the coop, because the excess moisture will also cause the birds to get chilled.
To get started, Runnings carries a variety of insulation products for a flock owner to get creative with, including foam insulation, window insulation kits, and insulation tape can be useful to help seal up any drafty spots in the coop for the season.
While applying your insulation materials, remember to leave some non-draft prone areas ventilated to maintain proper ventilation in your coop and to eliminate the possibility of ammonia odor build up.
Just as humans tend to get sleepier and might need that extra boost of coffee to get through the extra-long and dark winter months, so too will your flock need a little extra encouragement and care. If you want your hens to keep producing eggs all winter long and to be productive, it is wise to add an artificial light source into the coop to help give the hens a little more spring in their step and to keep them from turning into bed with the early sunset.
A 25-40 watt bulb is recommended, and incandescent CFL, or LED equivalents are suitable for usage in a coop. Runnings has a wide variety of lighting to chose from for your particular coop’s needs. A timer is recommended to help maintain a consistent light source. 16 hours of light total is recommended to keep your hens productive.
In addition, the flock should always have constant access to feed throughout the winter. A constant intake of feed will help keep their bodies warm during cold days. Also, care should be taken to make sure that the flock has access to water 24/7, even in freezing temperatures. If chickens do not have access to water, they often will not eat, which can lead to low body temperatures and possibly a loss in flock members. To prevent water from freezing, a heated fountain or heated base should be used.
As the seasons change, flock owners should keep an eye out for changes in their flock that come from a natural process called molting. Molting is a process that birds undergo often in preparation for colder weather. This process allows birds to replace damaged feathers with brand new and warm ones for the upcoming cold weather. Mature chickens will go through their first adult molt around 18 months of age and can undergo molting from anywhere from 8 weeks up to a prolonged 6 months. A variety of factors contribute to causing a molt, including decreasing day length, poor nutrition, stress, lack of water and/or feed, and malfunctioning lighting. During the molting cycle, birds may lose weight during this period, but it is no cause for alarm.
By providing a warm and cozy coop setting, maintaining a proper food, water, and lighting set up, and being prepared for the molting process, anyone from a backyard chicken hobbyist to a chicken farmer can keep their flocks happy, safe, and productive during the winter months.When birds go through a molt, it is important to provide them with nutritional support that will help meet their needs and to support proper feather regrowth. Purina’s Flock Raiser, which can be found at your local Runnings, is recommended to help provide the correct nutrition needed for hens. Flock Raiser has a 20% crude protein content and contains no supplemental calcium, which will encourage birds to stop the egg laying process during the energy consuming molting process.