Chicken Coop Chatter©
If you have properly prepared your coops for winter to be draft free, yet good ventilation, your chickens will weather these deep cold temperatures that so many are experiencing right now. Provide extra bedding, which helps to emit some warmth, but it also provides an area they can snuggle into.
All animals are equipped to handle the cold. What they are not equipped to do is handle wind chill. Just as humans can bundle up, but wind chill goes through that warm clothing as it goes through the feathers and fur of animals.
When it is below freezing, the most important thing you can do is block the wind. This can be done with bamboo shades, plywood, tarp, or heavy plastic. Just as you might put plastic over your windows to keep out drafts, you want to do the same for your animals. Make sure all are well secured so they are not tearing loose in the winds.
When it is so cold, keep your animals in their shelters. They will stay warmer and out of the wind. Chickens or fowl of any kind fluff up their feathers to put an insulating barrier between the cold and their flesh. Fowl will also scoot closer together for warmth from one another.
Sadly we've done a disservice to animals by coddling them. All animals started out wild at one time including chickens, and they knew how to protect themselves from the elements. Observation of animals in the wild will tell you this. They will stay in dens or shelters during storms and only venture out when the sun provides some warmth and there is no wind to chill them. They do not have heat lamps, or heated water containers, but because our animals are coddled and many are not able to free-range, then it is up to us to protect them and provide for them in the best ways we can to keep them from succumbing to the cold.
I have been seen sad story after another on various sites, with cold spells that farm animals are succumbing to the weather. It is so unnecessary if you will just keep them out of that wind chill and provide extra bedding. You do not need fancy shelters, but you do need shelters. You do not need fancy wind barriers, but you need something to block the wind.
If the chickens are cooped up, they often get bored and you may witness behavioral issues such as pecking or squabbling. Provide some activity even if it's in the form of fresh bedding they can scratch in to keep them entertained. Prior to bedtime give them some scratch for the same reason. A high protein scratch such as corn will not only keep them warmer, but the activity also keeps them warm
Never allow snow build up on the coop roofs, this can and does cause collapse of the roof which can crush or injure your birds. Do not use tarp covers that can collect water or snow, those will collapse with the weight causing injury or death to the animals beneath them.
Some people have heated coops, while we won't tell you it's wrong, we will caution you, that by doing that, you are setting your birds up for illnesses by going from a warm coop to the bitter cold outdoors. So be prepared to deal with any and all illnesses the moment you see any kind of head shaking, coughing, lethargy, shivering, lack of appetite, or an active bird that suddenly is not active and not responsive. These are only a few of the signs to be watching for and any of them will require that you begin treating them. You cannot just treat one, you must treat all. Illnesses in fowl, run rampant through a flock if not treated immediately and all treated at the same time even if you do not see signs of illness in all of them. Illnesses are contagious and spread quickly through the flock.
We do understand that some of you have show birds, or Mediterranean breeds, and of course you want to protect them the best way you can and many of those birds are not equipped to handle the cold as well as a general flock would.
Provide plenty of fresh water during the freezing weather. The cold dehydrates just like heat does and your chickens and all animals need as much water in winter as in summer months. Increase the protein in their feed. Game bird feed and turkey feed are both high in protein, along with calf manna, alfalfa, meats, and peanut butter. The extra protein provides a thin layer of fat so their is cushion between the body and the chill. When it warms up, reduce the protein, they do not need extra fat in warm months.
IF you notice shivering, lethargy etc. pick those birds up, wrap in a towel to warm them and get them into a protective shelter. Do NOT warm them too quickly or they may be harmed or sent into shock from the drastic temperature change. Have your medical kit prepared ahead of time and easily accessible, with the following contents and make sure the contents are replaced as they are depleted so you are always ready to treat in emergency situations:
VETrx-colds, respiratory issues, mites, eye worm, many uses.
BAG BALM-antibacterial ointment-scale softening, frostbite prevention
Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly--frostbite prevention
BLUE KOTE-for pecking issues, treatment of frostbite and other wounds.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
SUGAR, BAKING SODA and SALT for homemade ELECTROLYTES (see the link below for our homemade recipe)
HEMMHOROID OINMENT- for wound healing (Vet recommended)
duramycin-10 (brand name) it is tetracycline hydrochloride, Antibiotic
agrimycin-343 which is oxytetracycline hydrochloride-Antibiotic (We use this product when necessary because we feel it acts faster and works better)
CHICKEN DIAPERS (useful if the chickens need to be kept indoors)
TOTE BAG (for first aid contents or large fishing tackle box works nicely for this as well)
PET CARRIER OR CAGE (to isolate injured or ill animals)
IN ADDITION: Have on hand:
EXTRA FEED: You never know how long a storm or serious weather will keep you from the ability to re-supply as needed. Having at least an extra bag throughout winter weather will bring peace of mind.
ALFALFA-High in protein and essential nutrients AND Ideal for bedding
CALF MANNA-High in protein and Calcium and essential nutrients-increase protein and encourage laying
HOT PEPPER FLAKES-High in Calcium and other nutrients-encourage laying and helps for the heat index of the body in chickens.
Though it is winter now, if you are in a typically cold region, it might be best in the future, to have birds that are known to be winter hardy. Those are typically large fowl with heavy feathering such as the Brahma and Orpingtons. We all have favorite breeds that may not be suitable for our own regions and special attention is required to provide their needs. By researching the many breeds, you will find a nice variety that are considered hardy breeds. If in your research hardy is not mentioned or if they are Mediterranean breeds, you must know that these birds are not suitable for your colder region.
Though here at Just Fowling Around, we talk most about Chickens and other Fowl. Everything I point out in this article applies to all outdoor animals. Shelter, extra bedding material, Wind and Draft Barrier, Fresh Water, and high protein feed. With all of these things in place, you should not have to worry about your animals succumbing to the freezing weather. In addition, we recommend that you use Bag Balm or Vaseline on the birds with large combs and wattles to prevent frostbite. Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, and many others have the large combs and wattles and they will succumb to frostbite if you do not take steps to prevent it.
Armed with the above information, you should be able to get through winter successfully without undue losses.
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