Water Is Essential, but Can It Be Harmful?

Providing clean, free choice water 24/7 is the most essential aspect of management when keeping your poultry healthy.

As those of us in cold climates know very well, it is a challenge to keep water liquid during harsh winter temperatures. Poultry will actually need more water in the winter because of the dry air. There are many options for you to choose including:

  • Hauling warm water multiple times a day and breaking ice
  • Heated buckets and waterers
  • Heated bases
  • Keeping the coop above freezing

All these solutions have their benefits and drawbacks. Keep in mind that anything involving electricity provides a potential cause for shock and fire. Be safe!

Can water be potentially harmful?

Yes. Water, in vapor form from breath, evaporation from wet litter and water sources can cause unsafe conditions inside your coop. It seems counterproductive to have a well-ventilated coop when you are trying to keep it warm, but this is one reason airflow is important.

High humidity in the coop can cause condensation and a wet environment causing these potential problems:

  • Wet feathers that lose their ability to insulate; especially in fancy breeds (Silkies, Frizzles, etc)
  • Icing on perches, windows, electrical outlets
  • Frostbite on wet combs and wattles
  • A breeding ground for bacteria and microorganisms that can cause disease

How can you tell if you have this problem? Check windows for ice accumulation on the inside, this is a sign that the humidity in your coop is high. Also, check your birds’ feathers for ice accumulation and to see if they feel wet. Birds who are wet will be cold and more susceptible to sickness.

Brave the cold. Keep water where it belongs, fresh liquid in your birds’ waterers!

For more information on air quality in coops, read our post about Ventilation in Chicken Coops.

Poultry Winter Care for Varying Climates

We all know the importance of preparedness for winter, especially for our feather friends, but sometimes that means different things to different regions of our country. Winter can sure mean something else to a Minnesotan in comparison to a Texan, so read on (and reference our handy map!) to find the best winter readiness tips for your portion of the US.

 

Zone 1 – Coldest Region:

  • Heated waterers. Dehydration can happen (yes, even in winter) if your chickens don’t have an adequate water source.
  • Eliminate coop drafts. Plug cracks in walls or around windows with caulking or bits of fiberglass insulation that can be pushed into gaps with a screwdriver. Bits of cloth work in a pinch.
  • Avoid metal perches. (Think of your tongue to a metal pole on a cold day, same discomfort can apply to your chickens).
  • Keep feeders filled and treat the hens to some extra grain. Corn and scratch are low in protein but high in cold fighting energy. Chickens also eat more when it’s cold.
  • Put a coating of Vaseline on combs and wattles. These are the body parts most likely to be frostbitten. (Thinking ahead, consider buying breeds that have tiny pea combs, which are much less likely to freeze than breeds that sport large single combs.)
  • Warm the birds – slightly. There is an enormous difference between zero and 25 below zero.   It’s not necessary to make the coop warm but it is important to take the edge off extreme cold. Warming the interior of the coop to zero on very cold nights will help the birds come through the chill in good shape.
  • Coop ventilation. Obviously you want to prevent drafts in your coop, but a small vent in the top corner can help to keep air fresh in an otherwise tight, sealed up space.

Zone 2 – Middle Region:

  • Water source. Again, making sure your chickens have an adequate water supply that isn’t freezing is key to overall health and egg production.
  • Safe outdoor option. In this middle region of the country, you might consider outdoor options for your chickens during the day. A great consideration would also be an automated pop hole door set to a timer that allows your chickens that outdoor time during the day, while still keeping them safe and warm at night.
  • Back-up plan for power outages. Consider the possibility of loss of power due to ice storms or other weather conditions. Take extra precaution during these times to make sure your chickens still have access to water.

Zone 3 – Warmer Region:

  • Keep coop clean and dry. This is always an important consideration, but wintertime in the warmer regions might mean more moisture build-up, thus requiring a little extra care in the way of coop cleanliness.
  • Wind protection. Although the temperatures might not warrant extreme measures of protection, it is worth noting that wind and cooler temps can leave your ladies feeling a bit cold. So keeping an eye to the forecast and planning accordingly can help in coop comfort.
  • Chick preparation. The southern regions of the US will likely be receiving chicks much earlier than in the north, so planning for their arrival will be part of your winter checklist.

So remember, with a little foresight and planning, winter is sure to be a lot more comfortable this year for both you and your chickens. No matter where you’re located!

Coop Upgrade – Automatic Pop Hole Doors

People forget but hungry raccoons never do. Keeping predators from decimating a flock is the best reason for installing an automatic pop hole door on the chicken coop.

Sunset signals bed time for chickens. As daylight dims they’ll leave their outdoor run, enter the coop through the pop hole and hop up to a roost for a good night’s sleep.   Unfortunately, just as chickens tuck themselves in for the night, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes and even mink wake up hungry and begin seeking dinner.

Wise flock owners tighten up their coop so nocturnal predators can’t enter, but the weak link in predator defense is the pop hole. Forget to close it even once and odds are good sleeping chickens will become a tasty meal for a hungry wild creature.

Manually closed and clasped pop hole doors work fine for keeping predators at bay but they require someone to always be available to close it at sunset and open it the next morning. That’s not always possible for forgetful people or those with busy schedules who might not be home when chickens doze off and predators waken.

Automatic pop hole doors close without the need for someone to physically be present.  They frustrate hungry raccoons but save flocks. Automatic pop hole doors don’t do anything that human fingers closing a manual door do, but they work when no one is around or someone forgets to close the pop hole. Controlled by either a timer or light sensor automatic devices close the door at a set time and reopen it the next morning.   There are generally two types and each works well.

Timer Controlled Doors

An electric motor closes and opens the door controlled by a timer plugged into an outlet. This requires the owner to set the timer to close the door just after sunset and reopen it after sunrise. Because day length changes with the seasons, resetting the timer five or six times a year is necessary so the door closes and opens around sunset and sunrise. Not too early in the evening to avoid having a chicken left outside, and not too late in the morning so chickens are not unnecessarily cooped up.

Sensor Controlled Doors

Some doors are controlled by a light sensor so they close as light dims and open after the next morning’s sunrise. They eliminate the need to reset a timer as day length changes but often are more expensive than timer operated doors. Some users have reported that the light sensor controlled doors have closed on dark cloudy days with the chickens still outside, but generally they work fine.

Some sophisticated doors can be opened and closed remotely with a smart phone and they can be fitted with a battery so the mechanism works during a power failure. A solar photovoltaic panel can be fitted to keep the battery charged. These may be appealing options for people who love technology and aren’t concerned about cost.

Automatic pop hole doors aren’t foolproof and need occasional attention. Sticks can blow into the opening and snow and ice can form. Either can keep the door from properly closing. Power failures are threats to auto doors that don’t have battery backup. However, these problems don’t happen often and doors generally work flawlessly.

A Few Things to Consider

Automatic pop hole doors are ideal for busy families. Often, no one gets home until after school or work hours, which can be several hours past sunset. Having the device close the door gives peace of mind. Pop hole doors aren’t completely free of the need for a person to visit the coop daily. Someone should collect eggs, fill feeders and waterers and make sure the pop hole door is working properly every day. Nothing beats having a neighbor, friend, or relative available to care for the flock during vacations or long weekends away.

Automatic doors of many types can be purchased through the internet, and kits are also available that offer some cost savings. A few inventive people have designed and built their own.

Automatic pop hole doors save chickens owned by people who forget to close the door or who simply love the convenience of sitting indoors on a cold morning and watching the chickens troop outside when the door opens by itself. They make life a little easier and keep hens safe.

The Buddy System – Horses and Hens as Companions

Have you ever wanted to diversify with companion species? If so, do you find yourself wondering, ‘What species go well together?’ Well that answer can be as simple as horses and hens! Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed separately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

Breezes and Drafts – Proper Ventilation Keeps Chickens Comfortable and Healthy

The only difference between a breeze and a draft is temperature.

Both people and chickens savor a cool breeze on a sultry summer evening but that pleasant summer air transforms into a knifelike January draft that slices through the coop and chills hens.

It can frostbite tender combs, freeze water containers quickly and make life miserable for the coop’s occupants.

Proper ventilation is critically important to keep chickens comfortable, safe, and productive. Well-made coops enable managing airflow to welcome summer breezes yet bar frigid drafts.

Managing a coop’s air starts with litter and manure. Almost as soon as litter gets wet odor permeates the coop.

Soggy litter, caused by leaky roofs or tipped over water buckets, generates ammonia that no amount of ventilation can transport outdoors.   Well managed coops don’t smell.

The secret in preventing odor is to make sure no rain can enter and that any damp litter is immediately removed and added to the compost bin. It also helps to keep chicken density low. Crowded coops are more likely to be pungent than those where chickens have plenty of individual space.

Managing Coop Airflow

A well-designed coop has at least two windows on opposite sides for cross ventilation.  Ideally the chickens’ roost is located between them so the birds enjoy summer breezes while snoozing.

Windows should be easy to open and close so the volume of air that passes through them can be adjusted depending on the temperature.

During summer’s inferno, they should be wide open but cramped shut in winter.

Spring and fall bring mild temperatures and windows only need to be open an inch or two to let enough fresh air in.

Windows do more than admit air and light. They can be the entryway for raccoons, opossums, and even mink dreaming of a tasty chicken dinner. Windows should be configured to exclude predators while welcoming fresh air and light.

Good coop windows have three layers. The first is the glass that permits or excludes breezes depending on how far they are opened. The second is mosquito netting to keep biting bugs outside.

Insect screening is not strong enough to even slow a hungry raccoon, so the third layer is a mesh of wire strong enough to deter powerful predators.   A heavy-duty mesh screen can be made of 2X2 lumber with wire stapled onto it.

The frame is then screwed over the window. One half inch square hardware cloth will even keep out lithe mink.

Glass plus netting plus wire screen let in a summer breeze while frustrating hungry bugs and furry predators.

Breezes and drafts don’t just enter at windows. They discover every crack and hole in the coop and enter uninvited.

Even in the coldest weather fresh air entering through a few cracks brings the oxygen chickens need and voids moisture coming from their breath and manure.

A few narrow cracks are good but too many let frigid air in and can be an entryway for weasels.

Filling most cracks with caulking or expanding foam every fall helps keep both the cold and skinny predators outside.

Chickens have a high heat generating metabolism and feathers, nature’s best insulation, to keep the warm. In an uninsulated but draft free coop body heat raises the interior temperature a few degrees on the coldest nights.

When nature’s mid-summer furnace is going full bore roosting chickens pant to increase cooling evaporation from their throats, and they often hold their wings outward to void body heat.

Having plenty of roost space allows them to partly spread their wings. That and a cooling breeze helps hens enjoy a good night’s sleep. On the hottest and stillest nights hens may appreciate an artificial breeze from an electric fan.

Managing coop ventilation keeps chickens comfortable, clean and productive and is an important task of any flock owner.

Molt 101

chicken molting 101. What is chicken look like and why?

Are your chickens looking a little bare right now? It’s likely the result of molt, a naturally occurring process in chickens from August through December.

In the molting process, chickens lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molting process to be complete.

But fear not, there are options to help speed the process along. Products like, Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer can help your birds get through molt quicker.

Additionally, educating yourself on the process of molt will help you and your flock get through this transition period seamlessly.

Take a look at the following resources to reference during molt:

 

Chicken Predators – What You Need to Know

Humans aren’t the only animal that enjoys a delicious chicken dinner.

Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, mink, owls, and some hawks also find chickens a meaty, easy-to-catch meal.

Discovering chickens killed by a mink or carried off by a fox is frustrating. Fortunately, predators can be foiled.

Predators are everywhere. No flock is completely safe from some carnivorous species that would like to eat them.

Raccoons and domestic dogs probably kill more chickens than any other animals and live in both rural and urban areas. Raccoons are surprisingly abundant even in New York City!

Often the first reaction a flockowner has when birds are killed is to seek revenge.

Shotguns and traps are sometimes used but killing a chicken-eating fox or raccoon can be both illegal and dangerous. Preventing predation is far more effective than shooting or trapping an animal or two.

Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl.

The best defense against night shift chicken snatchers is a sturdy tight coop. Chickens come inside at dusk and are almost comatose when sleeping. Once they get inside predators can easily pluck a plump hen off the roost.

The solution is making entry nearly impossible. That can be easier said than done, since a mink can ooze through a one-inch diameter hole while weasels can fit through even smaller cracks.

Some ways to keep predators out of the coop include:

  • At dusk and when you plan to be away until after dark, close and securely latch all doors, especially the pop hole door.
  • Cover all windows with sturdy wire mesh. Raccoons can tear through hexagonal chicken wire, so stronger wire is essential. One half inch square hardware cloth thwarts raccoons and even keeps mink out.
  • Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or around doors with concrete, caulking, wire, or expanding foam.
  • Watch for signs of animals digging tunnels under the coop walls. A concrete coop floor prevents this type of entry, but wire mesh placed on a dirt floor beneath litter and tacked to the coop’s side walls also works.
  • Eliminate predator hiding places near the coop. Piles of firewood, debris, old vacant sheds, and brush piles offer predators a safe haven as they approach. The fewer places they have to hide the less likely they are to invade.
  • Install a sensor activated light that turns on as a hungry raccoon approaches.

Preventing daytime predators from snatching chickens is more challenging as the birds are often outside.

Dogs are probably the major daytime chicken killers, but several species of hawks may also prey on hens.

Mink, foxes, and weasels are occasionally active during daylight hours but raccoons, opossums, and skunks rarely are. Preparing the run in two ways will reduce predation.

First, confine the flock with a sturdy fence that keeps chickens in and dogs out. Usually a stout four-foot-tall fence will prevent heavy chicken breeds from flying over it while excluding dogs and foxes. Light breed chickens are adept flyers and a six or eight-foot-tall fence may be needed to confine them.

Second, provide overhead protection. A sure-fire way to keep raptors from snatching an occasional chicken is to cover the run with wire mesh. Small outdoor runs can feature a roof that also keeps rain and snow off the ground.

Chickens, like rabbits and other prey species, recognize that danger can come from the sky. They are safer when the run provides some overhead cover.

A few shrubs planted in the run give chicken’s places to safely loiter beneath their intertwined branches. A picnic table placed in the run also gives birds a safe haven from the bright sun and overhead predators.

Predators are crafty and often catch chickens and their owners by surprise. Months can go by with no loss and then many birds can be killed in just a short time. Preventing predators from accessing chickens is the best way to keep them safe.

Bathing Your Chickens

For many young 4-H’ers, it’s that time of year where they are preparing to exhibit their chickens at local, county or state fairs. Whether you’re entering the show ring soon, or just think your girls could use a good washing, check out these simple tips on bathing chickens.

Vacation Time – Keeping Chickens Safe & Healthy When Away

Caring for chickens and enjoying their beauty and eggs are part of a healthy lifestyle yet it comes with everyday responsibility. Every once in a while, a flock owner needs a vacation or weekend getaway. Ensuring that the flock is safe while its owner is gone can be challenging. There are solutions.

Many aspects of chicken care must be done daily. These include filling waterers and feeders, opening the pop hole each morning and closing it at dusk, and collecting eggs. Other tasks include fending off a predator, keeping bird’s safe during extreme weather and, rarely, caring for a sick or injured chicken,

FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NEIGHBORS

Nothing beats having friends, family or neighbors as temporary chicken caregivers.   Few people have ever tended chickens. While they may be eager to fill in, they likely need training and coaching.  A wise flockowner lines up substitute caregivers well before the vacation so there is plenty of time to train the sub. Having a few volunteers ready to fill in is invaluable should an unexpected trip come up at short notice.

A trusty substitute should be comfortable around the flock and know what needs to be done and where supplies are. Here are a few tips.

  • Leave a cell phone number and other contact information in case the sub needs to be in touch.
  • Before leaving fill all waterers and feeders.
  • Post in the coop in a plastic sleeve to keep it clean a written list of daily tasks.
  • Have plenty of extra feed in storage near the coop so the caretaker doesn’t have to buy any when you’re gone.
  • Welcome the caregiver to take eggs home to enjoy. Leave extra egg boxes handy to make carrying them easy.
  • Assure the caregiver that every once in a while, a chicken dies. Be sure he or she understands that this happens and is not his fault. Let the caregiver know how to dispose of a dead bird.There are ways to legally and safely dispose of a dead chicken. Burying is an option. Many communities allow homeowners to place dead animals in the trash if the body is placed in double or triple plastic bags. Check with your town’s sanitation department to learn the procedure. If it’s hot and trash collection won’t occur for several days it may be wise to triple bag and seal the dead hen and put her in a freezer until trash day.
  • Show the caregiver how to open and latch windows in case of severe weather.
  • Offer to care for their own chickens, pets, or home when they are away. If appropriate offer to pay them and bring them a small gift from the trip.

A WEEKEND GETAWAY

For a very short absence during mild weather it’s possible to set up a coop so the flock is fine without daily human attention. Having supplies on hand and the coop prepared for a couple of days absence makes leaving them untended possible even though it’s always best to have a substitute visit daily.

There are two possible problems in leaving hens without daily care. One is egg collection. Ideally eggs should be collected every day. When uncollected so many eggs can accumulate in the nest that some may break. Nests designed so eggs roll out for easy collection solve the problem. A second problem is opening and closing the pop hole. Solar or timer controlled devices can be purchased to automatically open and close the door at the proper time. Or, simply leave the hens inside for a couple of days.

Redundant waterers and feeders are important. Have at least two waterers in the coop just in case one leaks when you are gone.

Chickens should never be left untended if extreme cold or beastly heat are predicted.   Cold freezes drinking water and eggs, and chickens can die if left in a stifling coop without relief.

Everyone needs to get away once in a while. With a little preparation and good friends, the flock will be healthy and productive while its owner sits on a distant beach or enjoys a weekend in the mountains.

Keeping Your Chickens Cool This Summer

Summer is an exciting time for your chickens, they likely have more freedom than the winter months and enjoy exploring in the warmer weather. But it can also be a time where vigilance is key as a chicken owner. The extreme temps can take a toll quickly on your feathered friends, so taking proper heat precautions is extremely important. Here are a few tips to make sure your chickens have a comfortable summer.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • Lethargic and not actively moving around.
  • Open beaks with wings spread out. The birds look similar to a dog that is panting.
  • Little or no intake of food and water.

Water

  • Make sure your chickens always have fresh and clean water. It is a good idea to give fresh water at least every 24 hours. Stagnant and dirty water attracts mosquitos and acts as a petri dish for holding diseases. Old and lukewarm water will not be appealing to your birds and it will cause them to stop drinking, which can lead to lower egg production, forced molt, dehydration and possibly death.
  • It is a good idea to put ice in your watering system. Chickens may stop consuming water if the temperature of the water rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shade/Coop Ventilation

  • Have your coop in an area that is covered and protects the flock from the sun.
  • Make sure the coop has several open windows that allow air to flow through the structure. Windows can be added to the coop by cutting holes in the sides of the structure and covering the holes with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth should keep predators out of the coop, but it will allow more air circulation and ventilation for the birds.
  • Consider letting your flock free range in the summer. Free range chickens can have more opportunities to find shade and cool off in dust bathing areas. There are certainly risks involved in letting your chickens free range, but it can be a great option for keeping them cool in the summer time.

Treats

  • Melons and squash are great treats for the summer.
  • Chickens love watermelon as a treat and it naturally increases water intake, since watermelon is about 91% water.

AC for the Flock

  • You can freeze gallon jugs of water and place them in and around your coop. The jugs of water can lower the temperature in the coop and perform as a makeshift air conditioner.
  • A small baby pool gives chickens the option to cool off in the summer time. (You only need to fill the pool with a few inches of water).
  • Purchase a mister attachment for your hose. The mister attachment can reduce the body temperature of your birds as well as the ground temperature around the coop.
  • Consider placing fans in and around the coop. There are battery and electrical powered fans available at your local hardware store (make sure the fans are not close to any water, as this can potentially be a fire hazard).