Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Raising Chickens in Cold Weather
Is this your first winter keeping chickens? When the temperature drops, it's important to know how to properly care for your backyard flock. Here are some common problems, along with must-know tips for preventing them:
Frostbite. Shows up as white spots on their combs and wattles; the spots eventually blacken and the affected part falls off. Not a huge worry unless you have prolonged periods of subzero temperatures. Gobs of petroleum jelly will protect frosbitten parts and encourage healing. Also, a 100 watt bulb or heat lamp on a timer works wonders for keeping small coops above freezing.
Dehydration. Avoid this by making sure your birds always have fresh, non-frozen water to drink. Instead of a plastic waterer, put out a galvanized or rubber bucket of warm water each morning, replacing the previous day's bucket (which has probably frozen overnight). Electric warmers also work well, if you can afford the additional electricity.
Breathing problems. Don't try to warm your chicken house by closing up all the vents! Remember, chickens put out tons of moisture through breathing and in their poop. Humidity and condensation (which can lead to frostbite) get worse when the air doesn't circulate. Also, deadly ammonia from their manure will build rapidly.
Few or no eggs. Given a choice between staying warm and laying eggs, chickens usually divert most of their food energy toward making body heat. If your chickens stop laying, try to get them to eat more. An old trick is to pour some warm water over their feed.
Low light. Winter days mean less daylight -- which leads to fewer eggs. Another source of winter blues: Chickens won't eat in the dark. Fight this with artificial light: Use a 60-100 watt bulb on a timer to maintain about 14 hours of light each day. Early morning is a good time for the light to be on, since those are the coldest hours of the day. (Remember to turn off the light after sunrise.)
We've covered some of the important things to think about when keeping chickens in cold weather. Egg production may suffer, but health usually isn't an issue unless your birds will be exposed to subzero (F) temps for weeks at a time.
Do you want to learn more about keeping chickens, and how to properly manage and care for your flock? Visit Harold's Web site at http://chickenhousesonline.com
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