This is also a time when there will be more predators looking for some fast food; food they don't have to scrounge for and readily available. For the most part wild animals are opportunists, and will scope out easy prey. Having secure coops and chicken runs is imperative to prevent entry by would-be predators. Understand your environment and know what predators may be in that environment, even if you do not see them. Your area may have a population of raccoon, fox, weasel or wolf, coyote or even bear. You may also have aerial predators, such as hawk, owl or eagles, that can spot your chicken run from a very long distance. If they can spot it, they can also size it up for opportunity. Some hawks and owls are capable of flying through even small gaps at surprisingly rapid speeds to get inside a chicken run or coop if those are not secure. If you are not sure what predators you may have, it is beneficial to set up observation cameras, so that you can see what may visit your farm or chicken environment. Most of the cameras work to deter predators, however, raccoons are not easily deterred and will get used to the alarms and lights if nothing happens each time those are tripped. So moving those cameras periodically will help to deter even raccoons. Leaving them stationary for long periods of time, just gives them opportunity to skirt around those cameras.
We recommend using hardware cloth or small welded wire for your fencing. Chicken wire is not a secure wire, and can be easily breached by larger predators, including domestic dogs. Chicken wire is also easy to climb and no challenge at all to a raccoon. Coyotes and wolves can literally rip chicken wire apart for entry. If you already have chicken wire, reinforce it with welded wire to prevent easy access to your flock. If you have bear or wolves, you will need to use the heaviest wire you can obtain and use thick fence posts to adhere that wire, you will also need to reinforce all of your fencing. There are very few options that will discourage a bear if it is hungry, so you will need to spend some extra time and research to find what your best options are for building a strong enough chicken run that will discourage bears from entry. The chicken coop door must be secure with more than one heavy latch. Bear and raccoons are very intelligent and can figure out how to open latches. By having more than one latch and in fact latches that are completely different, makes it more difficult for those wily critters to figure out.
Before the weather changes, it is wise to take the time to go around your entire chicken run to check for broken posts, loose wire, or torn wire. In addition check the coop for gaps, broken boards and leaking roofs. Repair any and all wire and wood that is not secure and in good condition. Broken boards or boards that are not secure are opportunities for entry through those areas. If trees overhang the coops and runs, check to make sure there are no broken limbs that could come down in winds or heavy snow. Remove those before they become a jeopardy or cause damages during the winter weather. Refer to Predator proof fencing at the following link: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/predator-proofing-to-keep-your-chickens-safe
Weasels can make entry through tunnels whether in the ground or through the depths of snow, right into the chicken run or coop. If you have a known population of weasels you will need to lay hardware cloth or heavy mesh on the ground in the chicken run and the coop if you do not have wooden floors. That wire can be laid beneath the soil by several inches. This will also keep out snakes, mice and rats that can tunnel into those runs. Mice and weasels can enter very small gaps in wood and wire, make sure there are no gaps in the coop, in fencing, or between the boards, including floor if you have a wooden floor.
Before the weather turns bad check for any parasite infestations. If you find mites or lice, treat the birds and clean the coop. Winter time is an opportunity for a huge infestation that you may not even be aware of until spring. Treating for those parasites will prevent them from hibernating in the bedding, walls and gaps on perches. This is also a good time to de-worm if needed. If your chickens free-range they have more opportunity to become infested with internal worms, mites and lice.
Chickens love to dust bathe throughout the year. Those dust bath areas will become puddles of water from rain or melting snow. Fill those areas in and provide a dust bathing box in a dry environment so the chickens are able to dust bathe even through the wetter winter months. Dust bathing is an important activity to prevent parasite infestations.
If you find the chicken run has poor drainage, trench around the run to allow water to drain off. A trench directed toward your garden area, will serve two purposes. One obvious reason is to keep that water from settling in the run, and the other is to direct that run off toward your garden to help water during the rainy season or when it rains periodically through the warmer months. Good drainage in the chicken run is essential to good health in the flock. Standing water is a haven for bacteria that can make the chickens very ill and cause diseases that are very difficult to control.
If the chicken run gets muddy, provide objects within the run so the chickens are able to get up and out of that mud. Old ladders, tires, buckets, or wood pallets can all be used so the chickens not only have play areas to keep them active, but also a way to get out of mud and snow.
Purchase a couple of extra bags of feed. High protein feed is beneficial in winter to help keep the birds warm. Some winter storms can prevent travel. By keeping extra feed on hand you know your chickens can still be fed even if you cannot get out of your own driveway to bring in more supplies. As you prepare for your own household, prepare for the chickens and other animals. There is nothing worse than being low on feed or a full tank of gas when storms come through and you are not able to get out and about. While you are preparing for possible storms also stock your poultry first aid kit.
Things happen in storms that we have no control over, including illnesses and injuries that need tending. With a well stocked first aid kit you will be armed to deal with those situations and will take the worry out of what to do if first aid is needed. See our list of supplies at the following link:
Winter wind chill is hard on chickens and other animals, as well as humans. Chickens are equipped to handle the cold, however, wind chill is another situation that they must be sheltered from. Secure bamboo blinds to the fencing or other material to block the prevailing winter winds. Make sure that anything you use is fully secured to prevent them from being caught in the wind, which can cause severe damage to your fence and your chickens if they become air-borne. Even if it is cold outside, the chickens will usually do fine as long as they are sheltered from those bitter cold winds. Avoid tarps over the chicken runs. Rain and snow gets trapped in the tarps, and will often collapse, creating a dangerous if not fatal situation for your birds. If you do use tarps, use them over a securely fenced cover, not just stretched from post to post. If you find leaks in the coop roof, repair it immediately or cover with secured plastic sheeting or tarp to prevent rain and snow from entering the coop environment.
Check for drafts. You need good ventilation, however drafts can cause illnesses and those areas need to be repaired with sealant or other materials to keep the coop environment warm and draft free. Check especially on the side of the prevailing winds, to make sure all is in good repair. If needed, replace damaged boards and make sure those boards are set close together or overlapped to prevent drafts.
There is no need to heat the coops, and in fact it can be dangerous to heat the coops. This is an environment of flammable materials, that can go up in flame when using most heating or electrical devices. This includes heated water vessels. If you are using any electrical device within the coops you must check them frequently for frayed wires, damaged plug-ins and to make certain they are nowhere near any flammable materials. If you are using any extension cords, those must be checked on a regular basis. If you have mice, they very often chew through electrical cords and you may not be aware of this until it is too late, so check often from one end to the other to make sure all electrical devices are secure and in proper operating condition.
When it is very cold and damp, add extra bedding to the coops. The bedding adds warmth as it begins to break down into compost, it also provides a place to keep the chickens off the cold floors that can cause severe frost bite on their feet, when they are not on the roosts. See our link to Frostbite at the following link: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/treating-frostbite
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.
Preparing ahead, making necessary repairs before those needs get worse, will make the long cold and wet winter months so much easier to deal with and will keep your chickens happy and healthy and will help ease your concerns.
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