Winterize your Chickens to Keep Them Healthy and Laying
As we are now well into winter, those who keep chickens may see a drop in egg production from your flock. Hormones produced by a chicken dictate the amount of eggs produced and as we get shorter days and overcast skies the chicken will produce less hormones, and thus less eggs. The colder temperatures can also stress a bird slowing egg production and even affecting overall health. If you are worried about your chickens being left out in the winter cold don’t stress, there are ways to protect your birds and keep the eggs coming.
When raising chickens, the basic needs are adequate food, fresh water, and shelter. This is true all year, but it can be a challenge when there is six inches of snow on the ground and the temperature does not get much above 0. If you free range your chickens, as I do, then obviously food can be a concern. There are less bugs, blades of grass or weeds for them to eat so food has to be supplemented.
A good layer feed with 16% to 18% protein will help keep chickens healthy and laying. An addition of cracked corn will give them energy to face the cold. Table scraps can also be used to supplement as chickens eat almost anything and things like carrot peelings, egg shells, and old bread will provide much needed vitamins and minerals.
Water is a problem in the winter as it will freeze and thus be of no use to the chickens. Freezing can also damage a plastic or metal watering can from the expanding ice. One thing anybody raising chickens in the winter should invest in is a heated water bucket or a submersible tank heater. Having to break the ice out of a watering bowl is not much fun and using a heated bucket will give your chickens a continuous supply of water. As many heated buckets are made for larger livestock, be careful that the bucket is not too deep or if it is deep, a platform for the chickens is provided. Smaller or bantam chickens will tend to roost on the rim of a taller bucket and stand a chance of falling in and drowning.
Shelter for your chickens should provide protection from the wind and cold but should still provide good ventilation. A heat lamp can provide extra warmth for chickens but be careful that it is high enough that it will not start a fire and the chickens, in a frenzy, will not knock it down. Straw or other bedding should be provided. A good rule is to provide much deeper bedding in the winter for both warmth and to absorb the increase in waste products produced by the chickens. Chickens will not go outside as much when there is snow on the ground and there should be a way in place to account for longer hours inside.
As I said above, chickens slow their egg production due to shorter days. Chickens evolved to produce eggs when the chance of a chick surviving is the greatest. When days are longer the weather is warmer and chicks have a greater survival rate. Chickens should have approximately 14 hours of light to produce eggs. You can trick your chickens into thinking that the day is longer than it is by providing light that mimics the daylight. I use a florescent light with a full spectrum bulb. You can get by with just an incandescent bulb as well. You just need to have the light on in the evening when the chickens are starting to roost.
Raising chickens can be fun and rewarding for anybody with the space to do it. And with a little extra care, your chickens will give you eggs all year long!