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Winter Flock Care

Winter Flock Care

Raising chickens in the winter can be a lot of fun. Some hens love wandering around the yard and their first snow sighting can be quite entertaining. A bird's thick feathers are a natural protective coat, so most breeds are well-equipped for winter.

Here are a few tips to keep your flock strong through the winter months:

Do not add heat lamps. Chickens, especially cold-tolerant breeds, can withstand winter temperatures without supplemental heat. A chicken's body temperature is around 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and they have their own protective layer of feathers to keep them warm. 

If you feel it is necessary to provide a source of heat, only provide enough heat to raise the temperature a few degrees. The hens will adjust to the cold temperature, but if it is 70 degrees Fehrenheit in the coop and 0 degrees Fehrenheit in the run, birds will not be able to regulate their body temperature.

Allow exploration. Birds can tolerate snow, cold air and ice water. There is very little muscle in the lower part of bird legs and feet. The movements are controlled by tendons that stretch from the upper part of the legs down to the toes. Secondly, the blood entering the lower legs and feet are cooled by the blood returning to the heart. The blood returning is thus warmed by the blood going to the toes. The tissue receives just enough heat to avoid frostbite while also being provided with enough oxygen to keep things functioning.

Collect eggs more frequently. Temperature below freezing results in frozen eggs. As the egg freezes, the contents expand and will cause the egg to crack. 

Keep the coop draft-free, but don't seal it completely. Some air needs to be exchanged to prevent ammonia build up. Open the top vent or higher windows slightly so fresh air can enter and stale air can exit.

Keep the coop dry. Remove any wet spots daily. Provide more bedding than you would in other seasons so birds have a place to burrow and stay cozy.

Continue offering coop activities. Hens will spend more time in the coop, so offer enrichment. Logs, sturdy branches or chicken swings can work well and place a Purina Flock Block supplement modifier in the coop for a nutritious place to peck.

Ensure feed and water isn't frozen. Consider heated waterers. Feed and water birds more often when it's below freezing. Energy needs increase in winter. Animals expend a considerable amount of energy to stay warm and will eat more feed. Complete layer feeds include all the energy hens need, the 90/10 rule still applies in winter. 

Oatmeal not needed. A common myth is to feed oatmeal to birds in the winter. This is not a beneficial treat for chickens. Oats contain fiber they can't digest and can cause the contents of the digestive tract to thicken. This leads to a reduction in the bird's ability to digest and absorb nutrients.

Greens unnecessary. Hens may pick at hay and spread it around, but they are not going to eat it. Feeding a complete layer feed will provide the necessary nutrition hens need to get through the winter.

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