The days may be getting longer, but we still have a lot of days ahead of us that will prove to be both chilly and cold. As it happens, you may have already noticed a subtle change in both your flocks routine and personalities. These changes in your flock are those of being not so happy as they are in the summer months.
However, being the attentive and kind flock keeper that you are, you have prepared for the cold days to inevitably come. In preparation for the winter weather, you have worked to secure your flock’s coop, making doubly sure that they will not experience any type of draughts or dampness, and that they are safe and will not have to worry about any possible predators.
With all that said, January is one of the colder, wetter, and much more windy months of the year. So, we will now look at how we may keep our flock healthy, safe, and warm during this most brutal of winter months.
Dealing With The Chill!
Chickens are hard-wired by nature to want to be outside, foraging, and free-ranging. But, let’s face it, there are some months of the year that the cold and wind can make that very unpleasant for them. They will still want to venture out, but they may not, in actuality, stay out very long.
To compensate for the cold and wind, chickens will often squat, lying on the ground, as this is their coping mechanism for dealing with colder temperatures.
Keep in mind that your flock will be able to withstand some pretty cold and frigid weather. They manage this by fluffing up their feathers, which then allows them to trap air under them, allowing them to keep warm.
Do not be mistaken though that they can, and on occasion will get cold. When the wind has the opportunity of moving through the protection of their top coat of feathers, and reaching the delicate and vulnerable skin underneath, they will become very chilled, very quickly.
And for some reason, they are damp as well, the danger of a fatal end will be drastically multiplied.
What it all comes down to is this—do not keep your flock from the world outside their coop. Again, they are natural foragers and free rangers, and that is when they are at their happiest.
If you are concerned as to the safety of their health, try limiting them to those areas that will offer them more shelter from the wind, cold, and elements.
Chickens are much smarter than most people give them credit for. Allow them to leave their coop, even on those days that you feel may be too cold.
Let them make their own decisions as to whether or not they want to stay outside. If they have access to shelter or a means of getting back into their coop, they will go back in on their own, if it is indeed too cold for them.
Now, with all this said, the rules are very different for young chicks. As they still have not fully feathered out, they are unable to regulate their temperature in order to keep themselves warm.
It is best to keep them inside and provided with a warm source of heat. Once they have fully feathered out with all of their adult feathers, and the weather is warm enough, they will then be able to join the rest of the flock in the great outdoors.
You can also provide your flock with a place out of the wind by setting up windbreaks in their run. In this fashion, they will be able to be outdoors but will have a place they can go to and not have their feathers so ruffled by the wind.
This can be achieved through the placing of hay bales along the inside walls of the run. If you are in the market for something a little more cost-effective, you can save all your packing cartons throughout the year, and then tie them temporarily to the walls of the run.
It is better to be safe now than sorry down the road. It is also crucial to remember that cold, coupled with dampness, can often prove fatal for your flock.
There is also a change of frostbite setting in, so make sure to check your flock’s feet, combs, and waddles frequently to head off any possible problems. If you suspect frostbite or illness due to the cold or damp, it is vital that you act on it now, rather than later.
Think Twice About Heating
Simply put, it is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous to heat your chicken coop. Nature designed your flock members to be able to take care of themselves and keep themselves warm during winter.
There are chicken-keepers who, thinking it is in the best interest of their flock, will choose to heat their coop. These situations, more often than not, unfortunately end in deadly consequences.
Heating your coop is not the only ill-advised step to take. One such choice is that of dressing your chickens up in sweaters. We have all seen those cute YouTube videos, with the hens waddling all over the chicken yard, wearing sweaters, and just looking so stinking cute.
However, when you put them in sweaters, you are doing more harm than good. The sweaters constrict and hold their feathers against them, and they are not able to fluff them up, using the natural coping mechanism against the cold that nature provided them with.
Do not place any type of exposed heat lamp in your flock’s coop. No matter how pricey or how well made one is, they are all prone to burning out and resulting in sparking a deadly fire.
In the overall scheme of things, heat+feathers=major disaster! Each year, there are more reported chicken coop fires-and chicken deaths from heat lamps than any other known source.
If you are intent on providing additional heat for your flock, make sure that any electrical wires or products are kept in excellent condition with no wires dangling or exposed. When chickens get bored, and they do, they will tend to peck at just about anything they can find.
Keep in mind, when you choose to heat your coop, if the electricity goes out, your flock will not have time to adjust to the temperature. They will find themselves suddenly plunged into a state of freezing cold. This is why it is crucial to put in to place a back up plan for if and when your electric heat is no longer available.
Is That Garlic I Smell?
As is typical during the colder months of the year, the garden is pretty much barren of any of the usual goodies that your flock enjoys. As such, as flock keepers, it is put upon us to provide them with those goodies ourselves.
There is no better way of providng for them than the growing of sprouts. They are easy, inexpensive, and chock full of the nutrients that your flock needs. At first, your flock may not show much interest in the sprouts, but eventually, they will come to realize that beggars can’t be choosy.
You may also choose to add garlic to your flock’s regular feedings. I, personally, do not add anything to my flock’s feed unless I have thoroughly researched the pros and cons of the item.
In the case of garlic, much to my surprise, the benefits are numerous, the most important being that it helps to boost the immune system of your flock members.
If you would like to read up further on the many benefits that garlic offers your flock members, make sure to check out the Chicken Health Handbook.
I know what your next question is — does it make the chickens lay eggs that have a garlic taste to them? Research shows, unless you are planning on giving your flock massive amounts of garlic in their food or their water, then the answer is quite simply—no.
Garlic is another staple that you can easily grow yourself. It is not suggested that you use the bulbs purchased from your local supermarket.
More often than not, these varieties are treated to prevent them from being grown by gardeners. It is best to purchase your bulbs from a local nursery, garden, or a proven, reputable online source.
If you would like to grow your own garlic for your flock, it is one of the simplest crops to grow. It is suggested, for best results, to sow your cloves in late autumn/fall.
However, if you are getting a late start, you can plant them now, as they require and prefer colder soil. When planting the cloves, make sure to plant them with the narrow end pointed upwards.
In the book referenced above, the author, Gail Damerow, says that feeding a small amount of garlic, crushed up, to new chicks two times a week will help them to develop a stronger immune system.
For the adult members of your flock, specifically the hens, crush up to four cloves of garlic and add them to one gallon of water. This will benefit them by helping to support and boost their immune systems as well.
If you are just planting your garlic, and have yet to have any harvested, you can still provide your flock with its benefits. Take some garlic powder, preferably GMO-free and organic, and mix it in with their feed.
Just to give you ballpark an idea of how much, a 28 oz bag of garlic powder is enough for approximately 50 pounds of chicken feed.
Supplement Their Diet
Another method for helping your flock beat the cold is that of feeding them cracked corn. Your flock’s dietary requirements will change as the seasons move from warm to cold weather.
You will notice that your flock members will slow down somewhat, as will your hen’s egg production. This is when your hen’s body will, as directed by nature, move from a state of the production of their eggs to a state of both rest and repair. Your flock members need this time of rest from laying eggs so that their bodies will have a chance to repair and recuperate.
The hens in your flock are “told” by the hours of daylight when to release their yolk, and thusly produce an egg. As the days in winter months are shorter, the “cue” to lay eggs is not received, and as such, production slows down, if not stops altogether.
The slowing down, and stopping of production, is also a survival mechanism that nature built into your flock. If they were to go broody, and lay eggs, the resulting hatched chick would have little to no chance of surviving. They would not have time to develop their necessary feathers, and the cold winter weather would seal their fate.
The slowing down of production in the winter is crucial to your flock member’s overall health and survival. The continual stress of laying eggs the other months of the year can take its toll on a chicken. As such, if they are not given a break, they will, much like us humans, get burned out.
With the laying of eggs comes the need for protein. However, when they are in a state of repair and recuperation, they are in need of more carbohydrates.
This is where the cracked corn comes into play. Not only does it help your hen’s overall health, but the extra carbohydrates also serve as a means to keep them warm.
Typically, you will see your flock begin to eat as much as 1 ½ times more feed durig the winter than they do in the spring and summer months. This increased consumption is also a mechanism that helps aid them in keeping them warm during the winter.
If you decide to add cracked corn to their diet, there are a few essential things to remember. First off, your flock can not live on cracked corn alone.
They will not get what they need, nutritionally, from the corn, and keep in mind that you need to control the amount they are fed. Corn will cause your flock members to put on fat, and weight, if they are fed too much.
Keep An Eye Out
With cold winter weather, there is another issue to keep an eye out for, and that is frostbite. Most often, those flock members who have somewhat larger wattles and combs are the ones that tend to fall victim to this ailment. The frostbite will most often occur during the day. If your flock is listed as cold hardy, then this may not become a problem for you.
If you are worried that your flock members may possibly fall victim to the ailment, there is something you can do that might head it off from the beginning.
When it is night, and they are on their roost, apply some Vaseline to their combs and wattles. The Vaseline is a fantastic resource for providing a barrier to protect the skin and cold. It works to trap in the heat, and thus preventing the forming of frostbite.
If your flock members do suffer from frostbite, it will be pretty obvious. They will show signs of yellow spots, as well as the area will appear to begin turning black.
If you find that your flock member has frostbite, many have had success by applying Neosporin and then covering that with Vaseline. If the frostbite is too far gone, or the use of Neosporin and Vaseline do not work, then the areas affected will eventually die and fall off due to the damage.
Think Ahead to Spring
Once the holidays wind down, and the Christmas decorations are put away, I don’t know about you, but my brain switches over into planning for the coming spring and summer.
And, nothing says springtime on the homestead like the hatching of some new baby chicks. Spring, much like nature, is a time of renewal and rebirth on a homestead, and as such, thoughts of the warm weather to come helps to relieve the cold, dark days of winter.
We all know how cute and fluffy baby chicks are, and how sweet it is to hear them peeping. But, after a while, that cute peeping becomes more of a noise.
And, as they grow, those cute fluffy chicks become smelly chickens and roosters. Studies show that even more and more chicks, once they are past the “cute fluffy” stage, are ending up being abandoned or rehomed. It is sad but true.
This is why, before you start thinking of incubating and hatching new members of your flock, make sure that you are able, mentally, physically, and most of all, financially to take on the extra added responsibilities.
If you have, up till now, never had chickens, then is it crucial you check into the ordinances and bylaws where you live. Make sure that keeping chickens is legal.
Keep in mind some locations will allow chickens, but will not allow roosters. So, make sure that you know what is and is not permitted where you live.
Next, make sure that both you, as well as your family, are ready for the responsibilities and time commitment involved in keeping a flock. No matter whether your flock is big or small, there will be a certain amount of time that will need to be dedicated, on a daily basis, in order to take sufficient care of them.
If you are not sure if you are ready, try taking this quiz to get a better idea. Once you are sure you want to start your own flock or perhaps add to the one you have, you need to determine if hatching is the way to go, or if buying your new chicks make more logical sense.
One of the drawbacks to hatching yourself is that you are somewhat spinning a roulette wheel of chance. You very well could end up hatching all males, which means in a few months, you will have an abundance of roosters. As such, you will find yourself either rehoming the males or culling them.
And then there is the cost of the equipment to incubate them. When a hen goes broody, she will hatch the eggs herself—as nature intended. However, what if you are wanting to hatch some chicks, and you don’t have a broody hen? Then you will need to go the route of an incubator.
Make sure you have thoroughly researched this endeavor, as if certain conditions are not followed correctly, your eggs will not hatch. Join a few groups, such as those on Facebook, where like-minded people can offer their own tried and true tested experience on what will and will not work.
If you decide to in fact start your own flock, you will find it a very rewarding endeavor. There is also the fact that chickens are funny, and studies have proven that by spending time with a flock will lower blood pressure. I know my own are quite the comedians.
Maintaining a flock requires due diligence and dedication. It is not something to enter into lightly. It is a job that carries through each and every month of the year, if you take the time to prepare in the fall, and continue to carry that preparation into the winter you are sure to keep your flock happy, healthy and safe.
Tracy lives with her furry baby, Chigger, in a small, quaint, country town nestled within the Appalachian Mountain range.
A mere four years into her homesteading journey to obtain a simpler, more self-reliant lifestyle, she finds that she always has something to learn, and there is always something to be grateful for.
When not researching or writing, she can usually be found working on one of the many tasks that always seem to be needing done on her homestead, tending to her garden, or laughing at the many antics of her chickens, whom she has affectionately named the “feathery five,” as well as Chigger himself.