Feeding Chickens in Winter

The days are getting shorter, the girls are finishing up their molts, and you are getting less eggs as winter approaches. You might be wondering, “is this normal?” The answer is, yes, it’s perfectly normal.

Chickens need about 16 hours of light per day to produce eggs, with the exception of some over-eager first year hens who may lay throughout winter. But with the shortened daylight hours, and the cold weather requiring more of their energy resources be directed to keeping their body temperatures where the need to be, egg production will go down.

Chicken in the snow

Just because your ladies have slowed down on their egg production, or even stopped, however, doesn’t mean they need less nutrition. Continuing to feed a quality, nutritious, energy-providing diet, just like you would through the warmer months, will help your girls continue some egg production and provide them the energy reserves they require to stay warm and fit. It will also help them show up next spring in prime condition to start laying regularly again.

You may hear some chicken owners say they feed a cheap layer feed, or even nothing but scratch in winter, because it is cheaper and “they aren’t laying anyway”. If you pay attention, these are often the same folks that lose birds in the winter, or their birds look pretty rough come spring time. Scratch grains should never make up more than 10% of any birds diet – or what they can clean up in about 5 minutes.

Don’t forget to provide grit throughout the winter as well, as they may not be able to find it on their own due to snow and mud.

Duck Tales – the Adventure Continues. Owning ducks.

The following series will take you on a journey with Nutrena Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart and his wife as they navigate the ins and outs of owning ducks.

The duck adventure is progressing along, with these guys really growing fast.

At 6 weeks of age, we moved them to their own separate coop, complete with a pond (plastic kiddie pool)!

I cannot stress how much they love the access to water.

It needs to be changed daily, and they make a muddy mess, but it is so entertaining to watch, so we forgive them pretty quickly.

Speaking of entertainment, these guys are vocal! As I say, they talk to my wife and yell at me.

As the temperatures dropped this winter, a few challenges have arose. Obviously the pond had to be removed.

Additionally, we’ve had to provide water access to them throughout the day, as their location doesn’t have running water.

We’ve provided some straw for bedding, to keep them warm and that seems to keep them content.

As much as us humans are anticipating Spring, I’d venture to guess these ducks are counting down the days until they see the return of their pond and sunshine!

Also read: Getting my ducks in a row!

Nutrition For Ducks: Duck Tales – Nutrition Know-How

The following series will take you on a journey with Nutrena Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart and his wife as they navigate the ins and outs of duck ownership and providing the right nutrition for ducks.  

There’s a wealth of knowledge to gather when thinking about nutrition for your ducks.

One surprise for us right out of the gate, was we noticed these little guys REALLY put the groceries away.

A feed that has worked great for us is Nutrena Nature Wise 18% Non-Medicated Chick Feed, free choice, meaning as much as they want.

We also supplement with vitamins, electrolytes, and brewers yeast for birds. Baby chicken feed does not have quite enough Niacin for ducks as they can have leg issues if not given enough.

This was the reason for the additional supplements. It’s important to note, you do NOT want to use medicated chick feed, as the medication Amprolium is not approved for waterfowl.

Our ducklings will stay on this starter for about 6 weeks, then we will switch them over to a 16-18% Layer Feed.

Most waterfowl breeders recommend not exceeding 18% protein to avoid a condition called angel wing.

Many also like to dilute the feed with some scratch or oats.

Additionally, it’s recommended to continue to supplement with brewers yeast.

As with any birds, water access is important. I was reminded how much ducks love/need to keep the mucous membranes in their nostrils wet at all times, hence the continual mess in and around the water bowl.

This serves as a great reminder to not try to brood baby chicks with ducklings.

Changing out water often and allowing an absorbent surface for the waterers are very helpful tip for new duck owners.

Check back next month for more duck tales adventures as we dive deeper into the winter care for ducks.

Duck Tales – Newbie Confessions

The following series will take you on a journey with Nutrena Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart and his wife as they navigate the ins and outs of duck ownership.  

Recently, my wife and I were at the Local Tractor Supply Co. and we heard chirping. Wait, scratch that, quacking.

As we followed the sound, we discovered 2 lonely ducklings left in the brooder. First, let me give you a little background.

I have been presenting poultry seminars for roughly 6 years, about 50-60 per year. When asked how I feel about ducks, I would usually give a colorful answer.

I am NOT a duck guy. Messy does not begin to describe them.

They are tougher than nails but carry all sorts of diseases that will kill my precious chickens, or so I thought. So, when my wife says, “Oh honey, we need to take them home!” My answer was an immediate “NO! Never!” So as it goes in marriage, we compromised, and I found myself driving home these little ducklings.

To my wife’s credit, she researched brooding ducks extensively. The first step was to put a doggie pad down under a thin layer of shavings. This helped a lot.

In her research, we also discovered ducks need for their mucous membranes to be wet for them to eat. Although it still just looks like they are playing in the water.

My wife bestowed them the names Steve and Bob, as I knew we had 2 drakes (males). They go through feed like crazy, so be prepared. Also, as a side note, do not use medicated chick feed on waterfowl.

Additionally, we discovered that they need more Niacin then baby chickens, so we gave them vitamins and electrolytes that contained Niacin.

Eventually, my wife bought some specialized Brewers Yeast online to mix in their feed for little expense. She cleaned the brooder every day, and while it was being cleaned, Bob and Steve went for a swim in the sink.

Initially we had the water shallow enough they could stand up. After the swim, we bleached the sink out for biosecurity purposes.

I have to say, they are tons of fun and they are starting to grow on me, though I wouldn’t admit it. They have grown like crazy, and at 4 weeks we moved them outside.

Check back next month for more duck tales adventures as we dive deeper into the nutritional needs of ducks.

Why Do Hens Stop Laying Eggs? Nine Reasons Hens Stop Laying Eggs

It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?

Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.

Why do hens stop laying eggs?

  1. Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
  2. Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
  3. Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
  4. Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
  5. Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
  6. Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
  7. Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
  8. Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
  9. Illnesses/parasites. The reasons above may likely be the cause but parasites or illness can also cause stress on a hen.

We’ve got a whole section on our blog dedicated to diseases and disorders of chickens.

Pecking order and water care, what do they have in common?

In any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, ALPHA on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone in between. Basic flock psychology, is the flock is only as strong as the weakest member. We see this initially with baby chicks, if there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island”, so to speak.

They may do this as adults as well, there may be a bird that they sense needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. This may be a healthy, egg producing hen. One of the ways they do this is to not allow the hen in question to drink. In hot weather they expire pretty quickly. I get phone calls from customers every summer, after the birds were posted, in most cases they died of dehydration. Adding a few extra water stations can easily prevent this, by allowing more options for birds to drink from. This simple step can be the key to keeping the entire flock healthy.

 

The importance of water for your flock

Keep fresh clean water available at all times.
Keep fresh clean water available at all times.

Like all living things, chickens need water. It’s essential for digestion, egg production, and regulating body heat. On oppressively hot summer days hens, because they lack an ability to sweat, spread their wings and pant. Water evaporating from their mouths and throats cools bodies but must be replaced by frequent drinks. Chickens don’t drink as much in winter but they still need plenty of fresh water daily.

Owners have many ways to keep clean water constantly accessible to chickens. The simplest and least expensive waterer is an old fashioned bucket. Those made of heavy duty rubber never dent and are indestructible. The downside of buckets is their relatively small capacity, the ease birds have tipping them over, and a large water surface, which allows dirt and feces to enter.

Commercially built waterers work well. Most hold three to five gallons and have a relatively small surface area, tending to keep water clean, thus reducing evaporation and spillage. Because they hold more water than buckets they need to be refilled less often.

Hauling heavy buckets from a distant tap is a time consuming chore. Rain falling on the coop’s roof and channeled through the gutters into a rain barrel puts plenty of water right where it’s needed without pipes. Typical rain barrels hold around 50 gallons and fill during a light shower. Filling buckets from a spout at the bottom of a rain barrel is easier than hauling it a distance.

Fortunate chicken owners have a hose tap near their coop. They can use automatic waterers hooked to the hose. These systems refill by themselves. There’s no chance of running out and spillage is minimal.

Winter challenges all types of waterers, but there is a simple solution. Electrically heated chicken and pet waterers can be purchased. All are thermostatically controlled to keep ice from forming. The downside is that birds can easily tip over some electric water dishes. A simple cradle made of scrap prevents the problem. Even on the coldest days the heating unit keeps the water liquid and the birds happy.