Last week, I wrote about how we have basically two different kinds of winter weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and how each one presents its own unique challenges with regards to the animals. Today, I wanted to go over a few things that I find helpful in keeping my chickens in good shape through the colder months, no matter what kind of weather rolls in.
Dry Bedding. This is probably the most important thing, in my book. I make sure I always have a bale of wood shavings on hand in the coop through the winter. I’ll toss a few handfuls down under the roosts each morning when I open things up for the day, to help absorb moisture and odors from their night droppings, as part of my deep-litter maintenance. I also add some, when needed, near the door to the run to help minimize the mud that gets tracked in.
VetRx. This is a great product that can be used in a number of different ways, according to the package directions. I keep a bottle in the coop and, around once a week, l put a few drops on their roost bars in the evening. This way, the birds can breathe in the essential oils while they’re sleeping for the night. The idea is to help keep their respiratory systems in good health – I’d rather go the prevention route than have to deal with illness in the coop. (I believe the oils are also mite-repellant – so if you have issues with mites in your coop, you should check this out.)
Apple Cider Vinegar. Whether homemade or store-bought, live apple cider vinegar (the kind with the mother in it) is a probiotic powerhouse. A tablespoon or two in their gallon waterers each day is enough to keep their digestive systems in good working order, and also keeps the slime down in the waterers themselves.
Soaked grains. Once a week or so, I’ll soak a cup or two of their scratch grains overnight in some water (about twice as much as the grains). If the weather has been particularly gross, I’ll add a tablespoon of either ACV or whey from yogurt to the soaking liquid. Again, all I’m really doing here is boosting their probiotic intake (friendly bacteria and yeasts) and getting some extra nutrients into their systems. Since they’re not out foraging as much as they do in the summer, I feel it’s important to supplement their diets whenever possible.
Protein. Along the lines of supplementing diets, chickens are omnivores, and they need protein in their diets to keep everything functioning at optimal levels. When winter rolls around – particularly in freezing spells – the bugs and worms are scarce. So things like canned tuna, canned pet food, and even table scraps can come in handy if the flock looks like they’re starting to drag a little bit. My girls go absolutely bonkers for canned tuna (in oil, no less) with some dry rolled oats mixed in. Meat scraps are great, too – chopped up nice and small – the chickens always appreciate extra protein. (As an aside: I don’t feed my chickens chicken. They’d totally eat it, though, but the idea just weirds me out, so ... no.)
Ventilation. If it’s not windy, I’ll open one or both of the windows on our coop every morning. If it’s particularly cold, then I’ll make sure to close them up ahead of sunset so the coop can build some heat up before nightfall, but by and large I want to keep the air flowing through the coop as much as possible, to make sure things are staying dry inside. Chickens, depending on breed, can withstand some very cold temperatures – but excessive moisture in the air or the bedding can cause issues, like frostbite on combs and that sort of thing. Even with both of the windows closed on our coop, we still have covered openings in the roof that allow air to circulate to help keep things dry.
At the end of the day, it’s not a whole lot of extra work, nor is it anything particularly difficult. I find that taking a few extra steps this time of year keeps everyone happy and healthy through the chilly months, and that’s a fair trade, in my book.
What about you – what tips or tricks do you have for winter chicken care?
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