Learn about the symbiotic relationship between hens and horses and how when raised together they both win. Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert, explains how hens can help prevent horses from getting colic and more.
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.
Free-ranging your chickens can seem idyllic and peaceful. Watching them roam in the backyard, pecking at bugs, can be soothing. But in reality, there are some dangers to be aware of. Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart offers some tips for the care and feeding of your free range flock in this video.
- Chickens will eat ticks as well as many other bugs that infest gardens
- Free range makes chickens more vulnerable to predators, so be sure to place them in the coop at night
- Egg Producer provides them a healthy balanced diet so they’ll continue to lay eggs
For new chicken owners, identifying when a bird in their backyard flock is sick can be a challenge. And knowing what to do about it can be even more daunting. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart what to look for, and what to do when you suspect an issue.
- Because chickens are flock animals, they try to mask their symptoms so the other birds don’t know that they are sick
- Some signs of illness include listlessness, loss of appetite, pale fact
- Check for parasites under the wings of skinny chickens
- Poultry dust can help to get rid of mites and lice
When it comes to bedding in the chicken coop, there are lots of options for backyard flock owners to choose from. Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares his thoughts on the most common types, and the pros and cons of each.
- Shavings and straw are the two most commonly used types of bedding
- Do not use sawdust as it can cause respiratory issues
- Avoid redwood and cedar as some woods carry toxins that can cause respiratory and eye issues
- Use natural dirt or sand to lay down underneath the bedding
- Your nose will tell you how often to change the bedding
In every feed store, you’ll find bags of grit and oyster shell near the chicken feed. Why is that, and what exactly do chickens need them for? Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart what the benefits of them are, and how you should feed them to your flock.
- Oyster shell and grit are not interchangeable
- Oyster shell supplements the calcium in chicken feed
- Grit aids in digestion of grain, plant materials, bugs, etc. – when in doubt, put it out!
If you are new to chickens, or are looking at upgrading your current coop, there’s a few key things to consider when building a home for your flock. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to keep your girls happy, healthy, and safe from predators in their coop.
- Use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire to keep chickens safe from predators
- Chickens need about 16 hours a day of daylight to get eggs
- It’s very important for chickens to be positioned so they are exposed to natural sunset
- Four chickens per nest box is a good rule of thumb
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated, but not drafty