Feeding your chickens scratch grain? Listen in as Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, explains what scratch is, and some tips on best practices for feeding to your chickens.
By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
Sometimes your coop can get a little smelly, which can be a little embarrassing. What’s the scoop on coop odors, and how can you help your hens live their best lives by reducing odors in their home?
Causes of Coop Odors
Although chicken poop can be stinky, the most likely culprit for coop odors is the colorless gas ammonia. A combination of hydrogen and nitrogen, ammonia has a sharp, pungent smell, similar to vinegar.
Chickens that are exposed to this gas can develop permanent damage to lungs and eyes and will avoid the coop if levels are too high. Ammonia can cause damage at very low concentrations, which are below the level that the human nose can detect. So, if your coop smells like ammonia, clean it immediately!
Fixing a Stinky Coop
While cleaning is a quick solution, there are several longer-lasting measures you can take to eliminate odors and make your coop a more pleasant place for you and your birds.
A dry coop will lead to happy, healthy hens. Moisture in the coop not only can contribute to ammonia odors, but also lead to conditions that favor parasites and bacteria. To keep moisture low, use the following tips:
- Every few days check for and replace damp bedding.
- If you use the deep litter method, clean out the upper layers several times a year, keeping the lower layer, which contains helpful microbes that break down bedding and waste.
- Repair any leaks in the roof of your coop immediately.
- Turn the litter if your chickens don’t do so on their own.
- Add high-carbon materials that don’t pack easily (e.g., kiln-dried wood shavings), ground dolomitic limestone, or products containing zeolite.
- Provide good ventilation. An air-tight coop might sound like a good idea, but air circulation will help dry out litter and prevent odors.
Choose Feed Wisely
Your choice of feed can also reduce coop odors. Odor can be caused by waste protein from undigested feed. You can combat these smells by choosing feeds with the following plant extracts and essential oils:
- Saponins: Additives called saponins, which include yucca, reduce ammonia production in a chicken’s body. As a result, they can increase the bird’s nutrient absorption and reduce the amount of proteins your chickens excrete.
- Phytogens: Yucca is also a phytogen, one of a number of plant-based compounds that are increasingly being used in animal feeds. Other phytogens include essential oils, herbs, and spices. These compounds work with yucca to reduce waste protein by increasing digestibility, balancing gut microflora, and reducing gut inflammation, again contributing to better use of feed.
- Proteins: You can also choose feeds that are more easily digestible, such as processed feeds available in pellets or crumbles, rather than whole grains blends. Feeds that are lower in crude protein can also help reduce odors; however, remember that your laying hens need 16% crude protein to stay healthy.
Choose NatureWise to Help Combat Coop Odors!
Nutrena NatureWise feeds can be part of your efforts to combat coop odors. NatureWise uses all-natural ingredients: essential oils, spices, bitter substances, and saponins that
- support healthy enzyme production,
- promote crude protein and nutrient absorption, and
- aid in the control of ammonia odor.
Remember that if you make a change to a new feed, switch slowly from your current feed to ease the transition, and help your birds feel more comfortable with the change.
Wondering why your chickens are picking each other’s feathers? There are several things that can cause feather picking. Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert details the top reasons in the short video.
Looking to learn how to help your chickens through molt, an annual event, listen in as Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart explains what molt is and how to help your hens through this lifecycle and back to laying eggs.
Let’s bust some myths on meat birds also called meat chickens. What are meat birds? How do you feed meat birds? In this video Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert will debunk the top 3 meat bird myths.
Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
You may have seen the words amino acids on labels of human dietary supplements that claim to build healthy muscle, lower blood sugar, or improve skin condition. What are amino acids, and why are they also important for your chickens?
What are Amino Acids?
You may remember from science class that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They consist of about 20 different organic compounds that combine in chains to form complex proteins. These proteins, in turn, perform essential roles in living things. They form the cells of our bodies, transport materials to and from cells, help us move, protect us from disease, and determine the activity of our genes. Proteins and amino acids are essential to life itself.
There are two kinds of amino acids:
- Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body and do not need to be part of the diet.
- Essential amino acids, however, cannot be made by the body and have to come from food. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Of the essential amino acids, lysine and methionine play a vital role in feather growth. We’ll be looking at those in detail later.
Importance of Amino Acids During Molt
Chickens will generally begin to molt, or lose and regrow their feathers, in the fall. This is a natural process that begins after a chicken reaches the age of about 18 months. Old feathers drop out, new feathers grow in, and the whole process usually takes anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months. Molting allows chickens to replenish worn-out feathers and ensure they have a warm, protective coat before the cold weather comes. During this time, egg laying will slow down or cease altogether.
Chicken feathers are about 85% protein, so chickens need extra protein in their diet during this time to support healthy feather regrowth. Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it is important to ensure your birds receive the right amino acids in their feed.
Amino Acids in Feeds
Your birds need a high-quality diet with sufficient proteins (16% to 18%) and amino acids during molt. During the molt, you should eliminate scratch grains from their diet; this provides primarily calories with limited nutritional value.
The bulk of the necessary amino acids in feeds come from the protein in the feed; however, a quality feed will contain two additional essential amino acids.
- Lysine: The amino acid lysine is vital for overall growth, optimal digestion and use of feed, and balanced nutrition.
- Methionine: Methionine is necessary for the development of the digestive tract, overall growth, feather development, and immune system performance.
NOTE: It is possible to have too much lysine/methionine in poultry diets, which leads the birds to eat less. Choose a commercial feed that is balanced to meet your flock’s needs.
Healthy Skin Helps Feather Regrowth
The health of a chicken’s skin also affects feather regrowth. Feather Fixer provides a combination of increased protein and fat levels along with chelated trace minerals to keep the skin healthy.
As soon as your birds show signs of molting, switch them to a commercial feed like Naturewise® Feather Fixer, formulated specifically for feather regrowth, to ensure they receive the amino acids and other nutrients they need to support healthy feather regrowth and get them back to laying.
As you consider your feed choices, think about amino acids and the needs of your birds. Naturewise® Layer and Feather Fixer provide all the nutrients your chickens require to live their best lives with optimal health, whether or not they are molting!
It’s disappointing to find broken eggs in your coop. If you are looking to learn about some of the causes and what you can do to prevent them look no further. Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert will help you understand what might be causing this phenomenon and how you can prevent it.
By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
At Cargill we’re working hard to help your hens live their best lives—and lay great eggs! Our new and improved NatureWise feeds now contain more Vitamin D3. What is this vitamin, and why is it important for your birds—and you?
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium. It also aids in muscle movement, strengthens the immune system, and improves nerve function. The two main forms of Vitamin D are
- Vitamin D2, which comes mainly from plant sources, and
- Vitamin D3, which is produced by animals (including humans) in response to sunlight.
Although the liver can convert both of these into forms that the body can use, it processes Vitamin D3 more easily. That’s why we’ve chosen Vitamin D3 for our NatureWise feeds.
Human adults should get 800 IUs (20 micrograms) of Vitamin D per day, which is the same amount found in 1 Tbsp of cod liver oil or 3 ounces of farmed trout. Other natural sources of this important vitamin include salmon, red meat, liver, canned tuna, and egg yolks. Because egg yolks are a source of Vitamin D, let’s look at how this vitamin affects your chickens.
How Your Hens Use Calcium and Vitamin D
Just like humans, hens need Vitamin D, too, and their bodies use it in similar ways. In a chicken’s body, Vitamin D does the following:
- Aids absorption and metabolism of calcium
- Improves quality of bones and eggshell
- Helps calcium move quickly through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream
Decreases early embryo death by up to 30%
The blood carries calcium to the shell gland, which secretes the calcium onto the outer membrane of an egg to create the shell. The blood also transports calcium to the rest of the body, where it contributes to bone health and helps power the muscles, including those that expel eggs.
Appropriate levels of Vitamin D can improve the hardness of eggshells, resulting in less breakage and a longer shelf life for your eggs. In addition, your older hens can benefit from Vitamin D. As hens age, they lay eggs with thinner shells. A little boost from Vitamin D can result in thicker, more healthy shells.
Chickens and Vitamin D Deficiency
So what happens if hens don’t get enough Vitamin D in their diet? A deficiency in this nutrient can reduce calcium absorption, which results in the following:
- Brittle bones: Hens without enough calcium pull the mineral from their bones, reducing bone strength.
- Thin-shelled eggs: A Vitamin D deficiency can result in less calcium in the eggshells.
- Higher feed consumption: Lower levels of calcium in feed lead hens to eat more, resulting in higher feed costs overall.
Mineral-deficient embryos: Hens fed a low Vitamin D3 diet produce embryos with low levels of calcium and phosphate.
Because of the close link between Vitamin D and calcium, your birds’ diet should include healthy levels of both of these nutrients.
Find Vitamin D on a Feed Label
You can easily compare the levels of Vitamin D in different feeds. Commercial layer feeds have a Guaranteed Analysis, like the one pictured below, on the back of the bag. Locate the amount of Vitamin D and compare NatureWise to other brands. You’ll find that the new NatureWise has 2500 IUs of Vitamin D3 per pound.
Get More Vitamin D! Feed Your Hens New NatureWise Feeds
If you’re feeding your hens our new NatureWise line, eating their eggs can increase your own levels of Vitamin D. In a recent study conducted by Cargill, eggs from hens fed the improved NatureWise 16% Layer feed contained 37% more Vitamin D than hens fed the standard layer feed as a control.
If you are a backyard poultry owner who values healthy eggs with optimal Vitamin D levels and strong shells, the new and improved NatureWise layer feeds are the best choice for your chickens. Learn more about our feeds with added vitamin D3 at the following links:
While there is still skepticism around the use of essential oils and more research to be conducted, some poultry farmers have integrated essential oils and other natural ingredients into their birds’ diets to promote flock health. Let’s look at these amazing natural compounds and how they can help your birds live their best lives.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots and can be combined with a carrier oil or other liquid. They can also be used in dried form. In humans, essential oils are used as liniments (external) or infusions (internal/external).
Essential Oils and Chickens
Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.
Essential oils are part of a class of plant extracts called phytogenics (FY-toh-JEN-ihks). Poultry farmers are starting to use phytogenics, including essential oils, in their feeds to prevent disease. They are also using phytogenics in feeds to support healthy growth. Proprietary research has shown that essential oils benefit the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems in laying hens. The following are a few examples of essential oils and their benefits.
Studies show that oregano oil extracted from two species, Origanum vulgare and Thymus capitatus, have antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. However, these oregano species are not sold in traditional grocery stores, so finding a source of the right varieties is important.
A member of the evergreen family, this common medicinal plant can protect poultry livers from toxic molds. Other benefits to chickens include high levels of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and manganese. Rosemary also contains carnosic acid, which protects the nervous system and promotes healing in the brain. It can be used to prevent (not cure) certain bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which causes bumblefoot. Its strong smell also acts as an insect repellent.
This member of the mint family is a medicinal herb in many cultures. In poultry it acts as an antioxidant that protects the intestine and boosts the immune system. As a hygienic environmental spray, it also has antibacterial properties, decreasing the number of Coliform bacteria. Other effects in poultry include improvement in growth and digestive and antioxidant enzymes.
Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen shrub native to China and Vietnam. It is commonly used as a flavoring and a scent for products such as candles. Oils extracted from star anise were shown to improve laying as well as growth. The use of star anise oils in poultry also increases antioxidants in the liver and egg yolk and stimulates the immune system. It also aids in production of digestive enzymes and increases liver function.
Nutrena Introduces Essential Oils in NatureWise
Nutrena is now offering new feeds that tap into the amazing powers of essential oils. Using a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise, these new poultry diets support the digestibility of crude protein, amino acids, fat, calcium, and phosphorus. Essential oils and other phytogenics will maximize your birds’ laying performance and reduce ammonia emissions. New research shows that layers that were fed oregano essential oil produced 13 more eggs per hen over a period of 81 weeks. The overall quality of eggs improved by 1.6 percent. Cargill’s own research has shown that nutritious feed with essential oils results in healthy birds who lay eggs with a healthy weight and strong shells.
Giving Your Flock the Good Life
Our new product line with essential oils offers you and your chickens multiple benefits:
- Better feed taste and resulting in better feed consumption
- Enhanced freshness
- Healthy digestion from increased enzyme production and nutrient absorption
- Support for a healthy, strong immune system
- Higher feed-to-meat conversion ratio in broilers
- Support for healthy growth and bone formation
- Promotion of healthy egg weight and size
- Aids with maximum egg production
- Stronger eggshells
You can read more about our new product line that includes essential oils at the following links:
 “Rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/rosemary; Jonatas Rafael de Oliviera et al., “Biological Activities of Rosmarinus officinalis L. (rosemary) Extract as Analyzed in Microorganisms and Cells.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 242, no. 6 (2017): 625–634.
 “Thyme: Thymus vulgaris,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/thyme.
 Caiyun Yu, et al., “Effects of Star Anise (Illicium verum Hook.f.) Essential Oil on Laying Performance and Antioxidant Status of Laying Hens.” Poultry Science 97, no. 11 (2018): 3957–3966.
New to chickens and wondering what to expect when your hens start to lay? Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert, lays it out in this short video on what to expect when your hens begin to lay.
Poopy eggs are gross, take time to clean, and have a higher risk of exposing you to germs. If you’re having this problem and looking for solutions listen in as Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, Twain Lockhart explains the number one reason and how to put an end to it.
Let’s bust some myths on laying hens. The internet is filled with lots of information on hens, some are true some are opinions. In this video Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, debunks the top three myths on hens.
Are you a chicken keeper who would like to add some ducks to your flock? Learn about the nutritional needs of ducks.
Chickens and ducks have similar dietary needs, with some important differences. Free-ranging ducks may be able to eat a multi-poultry diet, but they will do better on a feed formulated to meet their specific nutritional requirements.
- Niacin: Ducks need higher levels of this vitamin than chickens. Too little can result in leg deformities.
- Protein: Ducks are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant matter. A diet for ducks should be about 18% protein, some of which should come from animal sources.
- Calcium: Compared to chickens, ducks need less calcium. Too much can be harmful.
- Balanced diet: Laying ducks need certain vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. Also, an imbalanced diet can cause a condition called angel wing, which causes the flight feathers to twist upwards.
- Prebiotics and probiotics: These elements are important to the health of both the digestive and immune systems.
- Quality feed: Ducks are sensitive to mold toxins (mycotoxins) in their feed. To prevent mold growth after purchase, store your feed in a cool, dry location.
- Hard, small pellet: Ducks love to dabble, or dip their food in water while eating. Smaller pellets are easier for them to swallow than large pellets. Harder pellets hold together in water, which means less mess in their drinking water!
James Konecny of Royal Oaks Farm and owner of Lake Barrington Feed and Supply near Chicago breeds award-winning waterfowl by following these requirements in his feeding strategy.
You can give ducks a multi-purpose poultry feed, but why not choose a feed formulated especially for them? Country Feeds Duck Feed is a complete, wholesome, balanced diet with the following important elements:
- A guaranteed minimum amount of niacin
- Prebiotics and probiotics to support digestion and immunity
- Vitamins and minerals for healthy egg production
- Small, hard pellets that are perfect for dabbling
Help your ducks live their best lives with their own specially formulated diet: Country Feeds Duck Feed!
If you raise chickens for meat, you know the importance of diet in getting your birds to harvest weight in as little time as possible. Because meat birds (for example, Cornish cross or broilers) are harvested between 6 and 10 weeks of age, it’s important to rapidly maximize growth. A diet containing 22% protein may support this rapid development. Probiotics are another important key to high yield in a short time frame.
History of Poultry Probiotics
Protein and probiotics didn’t always go hand in hand in meat-bird feed. In fact, probiotic technology is relatively new in the world of poultry farming. In the late 1940s, farmers fed antibiotics to meat chickens to further increase their size and prevent disease. These birds grew 2.5 times faster than chickens on a normal diet.
However, 40 years later, Dr. Leighton Linn, a livestock veterinarian from South Dakota, questioned this practice. He believed that correctly formulated probiotics would be superior to antibiotics.
Linn moved to Missouri in 1974 to found Star-Labs with partners Cliff Boyer and Gary Jones. Through careful research, they created a combination of probiotics to colonize a chicken’s entire digestive system and demonstrated through scientific trials that birds fed with the proper combination of probiotics experience significant growth.
Live Is Better
Star-Labs also found that the heat required for the pelleting process killed some of the probiotic micro-organisms. But they knew that meat birds gain the most benefit from feed with live, stable bacteria. With this discovery in mind, Star-Labs developed technology for poultry feeds that delivers live, effective probiotics able to withstand the heat of the pelleting process.
Effective probiotics may include the following strains:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Enteroccus faecium
- Bifidobacterium thermophilum
Why Probiotics for Meat Birds?
Simply put, the superior, research-based results speak for themselves. According to Dr. Gary Davis from North Carolina State University, quality probiotics “enhance nutrient utilization, uptake, and absorption…[and] an immune response in the bird’s gut. This is an excellent management tool to help birds fight off diseases.”
Diets containing high-quality, stable probiotics, such as NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, can boost the number of good gut bacteria, crowd out bad gut bacteria, increase nutrient absorption, and create a slightly acidic gut that favors good bacteria.
See for Yourself!
Ask for NatureWise® Meatbird Feed with probiotics. It will support your birds’ health, feed conversion, and livability—all without antibiotics. To maximize the potential of NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, follow the below feeding instructions:
- Provide as the sole ration from hatch to finish.
- Use a 12-hours-on/12-hours-off feed rotation to prevent overeating.
- Keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
- Clean feeders and waterers regularly.
For more information on these probiotics and their benefits, see the post “Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.”
Did you know that a quality chicken feed is more than just grains, vitamins, and minerals? While these ingredients are necessary, they are only part of a diet that helps your birds live their best life. Quality, higher-technology feeds include beneficial microflora, which are gut-friendly organisms such as bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the chicks’ digestive systems, aid in digestion, and strengthen the chicken’s immune system.
Let’s at look some of these added extras that contribute to a chicken’s digestive health. Then you’ll know what to look for when you’re looking for your next feed.
The next time you look at a feed label, check for the words yeast culture. Also called fermentation metabolites, this additive is composed of compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sak-uh-roh-MY-seez sehr-uh-VEE-see-eye). When fermented inside a chicken’s gut, yeast culture has the following functions:
- Supports the immune system and gut microflora
- Contributes to the health and strength of intestinal tissues
- Produces compounds that latch on to bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and prevent them from attaching to the cells of the digestive tract
Another fungal product involves the fermentation of Trichoderma reesei (trih-kuh-DER-muh REE-see-eye). This feed component is an enzyme source, and the compounds it produces help break down carbohydrates to make nutrients more available to the chicken.
You’ve seen probiotics intended for humans, but did you know that probiotics are also helpful for your chickens? Probiotics are live microorganisms that result from fermentation and aid in digestion. Around 70 percent of the bacteria in a chicken’s digestive tract is Lactobacillus strains. They support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and some protect against bad bacteria. Many of these microorganisms are found in several places in the digestive tract. Look for these probiotics on feed labels:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs a-suh-DAH-fuh-luhs): Helps ferment carbohydrates, produces chemicals that support growth, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
- Lactobacillus casei (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs KAY-see-eye): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
- Bifidobacterium thermophilum (bye-fih-DOH-bak-TEER-ee-um ther-muh-FIH-lum): Helps ferment carbohydrates, benefits immune system
- Enterococcus faecium (en-tuh-row-KAW-kuhs FEE-see-um): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
When probiotics form part of the chicken’s microflora, they support the immune system and reduce disease. They also help the gut better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea.
The prefix pre means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria. When they are fermented by a chicken’s body, they create compounds that stop the growth of harmful bacteria and keep them from sticking to the intestinal walls.
Prebiotics cannot be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system. After the chicken eats prebiotic material, some remains in the crop. However, most prebiotics travel into the lower parts of the digestive tract, including the ceca. Here they aid in fermentation and balance the acidity of the ceca for optimal health.
Some of these prebiotics might appear on the feed label, or you can supplement your chickens’ diet with these common sources of prebiotics:
- Dandelion greens
- Wheat bran
While technically not a prebiotic, yeast culture has properties that can be included in the prebiotic category. It assists with nutrient absorption and digestion and produces compounds that can improve growth and enhance the immune system.
What to Look for on the Label
The next time you buy feed, read the label closely. There are two main sections to every feed label:
- Guaranteed analysis lists the percentages of ingredients that the feed is certified to contain.
- Ingredients includes everything that is found in the feed.
Look for probiotics, such as Lactobacillus strains, in the Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredients. The fungal products will appear in the Ingredients section only.
The next time you choose a commercially formulated feed for your flock, remember to look for yeast culture, prebiotics, and probiotics. These important ingredients will give your chickens some extra love and help them live their best lives.
As George R. R. Martin loves to remind us, “Winter is coming,” and now it is almost upon us. While other folks might be worrying about preparing for the holidays or making the most of their limited daylight, chicken owners have their own unique set of concerns about the health and productivity of their birds.
One of these, as always, is predation, which remains a threat to backyard flocks year-round, even as many predators go into hibernation or migrate to avoid the colder weather. There are many simple steps coop owners can take to protect their birds from the weather and maintain their productivity in the face of dwindling daylight, several of which will also help keep winter predators at bay. In addition to those, however, there are always a few more things the cautious chicken owner can do to make sure their chickens make it through the winter unscathed and uneaten.
Install an automatic door on your chicken coop. An automatic coop door might seem like an unnecessary expense, but they’re worth their weight in gold once winter comes and the darkness starts setting in earlier and earlier. Getting the hens in by nightfall is probably the easiest and most important thing an owner can do to keep them safe from predators, and an automatic coop door is especially helpful in the winter. As a bonus, many automatic doors are light-sensitive, so they can adjust the hens’ bedtime with the changing hours of sunrise and sunset, regardless of when their owner gets off from work or back from the store. The one concern for people in wintery areas looking to outfit their coops with an automatic door is to make sure the motor and other hardware can withstand the inevitable freezing and icing that comes with high winds and subzero temperatures.
Clear the area around the chicken coop. Predators, especially ground predators, are masters of hide and seek, and the closer they can get to the chicken coop without being seen, the more likely they are to view it as a safe and regular source of food. Winter, unfortunately, increases these opportunities several times over, between the fallen leaves, accumulating snowdrifts, and growing piles of firewood and unused equipment. Keeping these handy hiding spots far away from the coop and trimming back high grasses, low-to-the-ground bushes, and overhanging tree limbs will all help encourage prowling predators to seek food and shelter someplace else, far away from your hens.
Maintain protection from above. Anyone with an outdoor run knows that hawks and other birds of prey are one of the biggest threats to homegrown chicken flocks, even in winter – while some species of raptor migrate, others do not. Fortunately, stringing some chicken wire or hardware mesh over the top of the run is usually more than enough to keep the swooping predators at bay. This remains true in the winter; however, harsher weather and heavier precipitation – snow, hail, freezing rain – means this high-strung chicken wire is one of the coop’s most vulnerable defenses. Owners should check its impregnability regularly, especially after a particularly heavy storm or other weather event.
Keep your coop clear of snow and ice. The annual battle against ice dams is a long, cold, exhausting one. However, chicken coops present another, smaller front in the war. After all, ice dams on the chicken coop present all the usual risks of warping and leaking, which is just as unpleasant for your chickens as it is for you, in addition to the question of that warping and weakening presenting the perfect holes to allow weasels, snakes, and other predators into the coop. These holes are especially troublesome in the winter, when the coop is more appealing to intruders, not only an all-you-can-eat buffet, but also a warm shelter from the harsh weather outside.
Clean up after your hens. Most predators will be dealing with a decrease in food sources in winter, which will make not only your hens, but their leftovers significantly more appealing to hungry predators, especially rats and other small creatures to whom some leftover chicken feed would be a significant boost in their diet. Making a pass at the end of the day, or at least every few days, to clean up any food scraps, feed piles, etc. lying around the coop and especially the run will go a long way in discouraging these foragers from making a habit of dinning at the Chicken Coop Market, which would inevitably escalate into stealing eggs and maybe even chicks.
There are many reasons winter presents a special challenge for chicken owners, from decreased egg production to the risk of frostbite. Unfortunately, predation is just one of these challenges, and one that doesn’t go away the rest of the year, either. The good news is that a little prevention goes a long way, and there’s no reason that, with a little foresight and a healthy vigilance, your entire flock of hens shouldn’t emerge in the spring, happy, healthy, and fully intact, ready to keep laying, playing, and living a happy hen life.