The temperatures have really dropped now, freezing at night and a max of 3degrees in the day here in the hills. Of course, if you are a daft hen, this is the perfect time to go through a moult!
Poor Bolshy looks a right mess. Her tail feathers have gone and patches all over as the rest of her body falling out too. I was worried that there was a pecking issue as I couldn’t find any trace of the feathers around the garden, but earlier today she had a good flap and I could see the feathers flying off then the wind whisking them away!
Normally a moulting hen doesn’t give me cause for concern. That is because they don’t normally pick the middle of Winter to do it! However, with it being so cold and her being so bare I’m having to look at ways to keep her warm.
Keeping Hens Warm in Winter
Thankfully my three tend to cuddle together in the back nest box on top of one another instead of perching. I normally try to pop them back onto the perches, but figure with the cold they can huddle together if it keeps them happy. It’s not as though we are getting any eggs in the nest boxes at the moment anyway.
I’ve given them a really good clean out, then a layer of bedding with a layer of straw on top under the perches and in next boxes. We also double checked to make sure there are no leaks or drafts in the coop itself. Keeping the coop drip and draft free is a pretty crucial Winter check, and something we do every couple of weeks when the weather is battering us.
Sadly my knitting skills aren’t up to scratch or I’d be tempted to pop her in a chicken jumper. There are lots of patterns around including this one which I liked. However, even if I did I fear with how much rain and mud we get here I would need a fair few to keep her clean, dry and warm!
I’m sure she will be fine, but you can’t help worrying about these daft little creatures. I’ll be sure to give her plenty of protein rich treats over the next few weeks to help her feather regrowth as well as some tasty corn before bed to keep her as warm as can be.
I have had a few emails following my last newsletter from people worried about the state of their run and garden with all the rain we have had. There are many things you can do to help keep your run mud free and make it a more pleasant living space for your ladies.
Firstly, if you have enough land try to have a moveable run. This will stop any one area getting over dug and muddy. Obviously if your birds fully free range and you have a lot of land mud won’t really be a problem, but for the average keeper in a back garden a little planning helps a lot. Try with a moveable run to rotate weekly, perhaps on clean out day, and don’t reuse the same area for 3 weeks to give it time to recover.
For those with fixed runs you will quickly find the area becomes a void for all vegetation with grass being a distant memory. Wood chippings or rubber chippings can form a nice scratchable run covering. With wood chippings digging them over and replacing them every 6 months or so is a good idea and the rubber chippings (provided you properly set them up with mesh underneath to stop them sinking into the ground) are easily washed over with a hosepipe or with this amount of rain they are self cleaning! I find that a good sprinkling of dry disinfectant once a month helps to stop and pongs in the run and also when it comes to summer months keeps down flies which are attracted to poultry poop.
Make sure you birds have places to shelter, whether that be under a tree or creating a canopy over the run for them. Not only does having some cover keep the birds happy, it also helps reduce the amount of water and mud in the run.
Over the years the forum has had many threads about winter-proofing and this one http://chat.allotment-garden.org/index.php?topic=26974.0 has some great tips such as that by Aunt Sally of using a fish tank heater in the drinking water to stop it freezing which is a major problem in the freezing months. Pop along, say hi, and get or share tips with other poultry keepers!