FROM OUR BLOG

How to Prepare Your Flock for Extreme Winter Weather

It’s almost the middle of December and here in southwest Minnesota, we still have no snow! Usually by now, we’re all singing “White Christmas” and wearing loads of winter gear out and about. While us Minnesotans are all enjoying this weather, we know what’s coming. The snow always comes and usually without much warning. We have lived through many blizzards, but each year it still takes us by surprise.

I was born and raised here and now we’re raising our family here. I love every season. But, there are certain things we do to prepare for winter, and preparing our coop and flock for this extreme weather is at the top of our to-do list every year.


One of the most asked questions by new backyard chicken keepers is,“Do I need to heat the coop when the cold weather sets in?” It usually comes to surprise to them when I say that we don’t heat our coop and I’ll tell you why.

Chickens are actually able to handle cold weather a lot better than hot weather. The reason for this is that they essentially have a built in winter jacket! Also, chickens don’t have sweat glands so hot summers are actually tougher on them.

Heating your coop can be tough because of the difference in temperatures going in and out. Chickens do better if they can remain in a similar temperature range as opposed to fluctuating temps.

And, lastly and probably most importantly, heat lamps are the largest cause of coop fires! I’ve read horrible stories of people losing their entire flock due to a heat lamp fire.

Our girls have withstood temps far below zero in their draft-free yet well insulated coop without a heat lamp. We also use the deep litter method which provides more insulation and warmth. We manage our deep litter with Coop Recuperate. It has been a total game changer for our girls. I can sit out there with them and walk out smelling like lemongrass and eucalyptus as opposed to chicken poop! If you want to learn more about the deep litter method, check out this short video below or my blog post on how I do it! Coop Recuperate is also available on Amazon now!

Extreme weather changes can be stressful for chickens. So, when a storm’s coming or while it’s here, I supplement our girls with Flock Fixer. Flock Fixer is a vitamin rich water additive that helps hydrate, restore vital nutrients and support immunity of your birds. It contains electrolytes, prebiotics, and probiotics. It gives your chickens everything they need to support their cute little selves in times of stress. And Minnesota blizzards can be pretty stressful! Flock Fixer is also now available on Amazon if you want to give it a try. I highly recommend!

Bottom line, I love knowing that our flock is getting all they need to thrive in the extremes. Our girls have survived 2 intense winters now and we’re thankful this one seems to be a bit more mild than usual. However it’s 2020, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised it’s a little different! Haha!

As always, but especially when the temps drop, you need to make sure that your chickens have fresh water that isn’t frozen as well as adequate food. I like to give my girls some scratch with cracked corn in the afternoon before bed. It helps keep their bodies working and helps keep them warm. These simple things can help keep your chickens comfortable and healthy even in the middle of a blizzard.

Come back next week to find out how we handle the stress of winter blizzards…we make Christmas cookies!

Until Next Time,

–The Wing Lady

Keeping Chicks Warm When the Power Goes Off

When an unexpected storm shuts down the power grid people are lucky.  We can put a comfy fleece jacket over long johns and snuggle under a toasty quilt. Baby chicks can’t.   In the old days their broody mom would welcome them into her fluffed up feathers, where they’d be warmed and comforted by her.  Today, most chicks rely on brooder heat that usually comes from electricity. If they get too cold, they’ll perish. So, how do you keep them warm when the power fails?   Fortunately, there are several ways to do it.

Move the Brooder to the Warmest Place:  On even the coldest days sunshine can warm a house or brooder. When the power fails, if possible, move the brooder to the warmest place in the house.  That often might be inside a south facing sunny window.

 

Grandma’s Secret:  In the old days before modern central heat grandma stayed warm by filling a bottle with hot water and tucking it under her bed’s quilts. Although called a “bottle” most were actually rubber bladders that gradually released heat from the water inside. It works as well today as yesterday, but there’s a problem.  Many people have an electric stove, so how do they heat water when there’s no power?  An inexpensive camping stove is the answer. Even folks who never go camping benefit by keeping a stove and fuel at the ready to cook their own meals and keep the chicks warm. Fill a glass or metal bottle with hot water and put it in the brooder. Replace it as soon as the water cools.

 

Hand warmers to the rescue:  During the past decade warmers of many brands have entered the market and are sold where farmers, construction workers, and ice anglers buy supplies. Inside a plastic bag is a mixture of iron powder, charcoal, and a catalyst in a cloth-like paper bag. All the mixture needs is oxygen to begin emitting gentle heat.   Rip open the sealed, plastic outer covering. Shake the inner pouch to activate the warmth. Many warmers last upwards of ten hours. They are inexpensive and handy.

 

Whether using a hot water bottle or hand warmer to keep the chicks snug it’s best to not let them directly touch either device. Otherwise, they could get burned or peck the chemicals from a hand warmer. Fabricating a barrier in the brooder to physically keep the chicks away from the heat source ensures safety while letting them enjoy warmth. Wrap them in a towel is one option.

 

Safety, Thermometer, and Insulation

 

Some people keep their chicks warm using candles. They work but present fire danger.   The tips listed above don’t require flames so are safer but can be overdone and put the chick’s health in jeopardy.

 

Cold is lethal to baby chicks. So is heat. Newly hatched chickens love being in a brooder about the temperature of the human body, or just below 100 degrees.  Putting too many hot water bottles or hand warmers in the brooder could raise its temperature into the lethal zone. To make sure they are comfortable, look and listen.  Chicks communicate.  If they are too cold, they’ll huddle together and usually peep loudly.  If too hot they’ll scatter away from the heat source and also peep.   Remove or add heat sources to keep the brooder the right temperature.

 

A thermometer also helps ensure that the temperature is just right.  Insulation helps ensure that any emergency heat sources are most effective. An old blanket surrounding the brooder holds in heat. Just make sure enough air gets in for comfortable breathing.

 

Hopefully a power failure is short and welcoming electricity soon warms the house and brooder. Having a backup heat plan in case the power go out makes sense.

Where to Begin if You Want to Start Raising Chickens

Animal husbandry or livestock for agriculture. Chick eating food in the tray and two chicks that are sleeping Under the light bulb warmth on straw in the night.Which came first… the egg or the chicken? That’s what comes to mind when someone asks me what they need to do if they want to start raising chickens. And for the record, the answer is the egg. (Today’s domestic chickens are the result of breeding wild jungle fowl with other birds to create what would become the chicken. So, it seems to reason that someone at some point crossed two birds that resulted in an egg that would become the first chicken.)

But, where do you need to start when you decide that you want to raise chickens? Can you really have a small flock of chickens and fresh eggs for breakfast everyday?

You can, and getting started with chickens is easier than you may think. In fact, the chicken is often referred to as the ‘gateway’ animal. Chickens are so easy to raise that you may be tempted to start raising goats, pigs, or even your own cattle.

Make sure that you can have chickens.
This may sound silly, but if you’re living in a suburban or urban area, you may find that you can’t have chickens. Some towns and cities in the past have made owning livestock within city limits illegal. Luckily, many of these laws regarding chickens have been reversed. It’s always smart to ensure that chickens are ok where you live before you invest time and money into them. The same is true if you’re living in a community with a HOA.

If you’re living in the county, odds are that you can raise all sorts of livestock, including your chickens.
The basics of what you’ll need.
I always recommend that people jump into raising chickens if they are interested. Of course, there’s a learning curve any time that you get a new pet. Chickens are no different. It’s good to do your research, but you’ll learn the most about raising chickens by having chickens. Once you get the basic equipment, go ahead and get your chicks!

So what do you need to get started raising chickens?

The most important thing you’ll need for your chickens is a sturdy coop. This is the most crucial piece of equipment that your chickens will need, whether you decide to keep your chickens cooped up or free range them. A sturdy coop will keep chickens safe from predators, give them a place to lay their eggs and keep them warm and dry in bad or cold weather.

You’ll also need a good feeder and waterer for them. There are many options for feeders and waterers but there are only a couple of basic ones that you need. When you’re starting chicks, you’ll need a low lying feeder, like a snap-top style trough feeder. For older birds, you’ll want a feeder that is elevated off of the ground and holds more feed. A hanging feeder is ideal for older chickens.

Waterers that hold plenty of water are a must. Choose a waterer that is larger than you think you need. It’s always better to have more water than your birds need than not enough. For a flock of 4 hens, you’ll want a waterer holds at least 2 gallons. You can use small waterers for baby chicks.

Good nutrition is also key for healthy chickens. Choose a high-quality, balanced feed for chickens. Don’t give chickens scratch grains as their main diet. Always provide a small dish of grit and oyster shell. Chickens need grit to digest their food properly and oyster shell will help to provide the extra calcium needed to make egg shells.

There are a bunch of things that you may think you need to get started raising chickens, but their needs are simple. To get started you’ll need to give them a coop, food and water. The rest can wait.

Raising Chicks in the Winter Part 1

Most people think of spring as the ideal time to raise chicks, but chicks are available all year from Hoover’s Hatchery. There are some good reasons you might want raise chicks in the winter and this post is the first in a three-part series on the topic of winter chicks.

 

This first post will talk about pros of winter chicks, the second post will talk about some considerations (or potential cons) of raising chicks in the winter, and the third post will talk about how to keep those peeps warm in the event of power outage.

 

Benefits of Raising Winter Chicks

 

First, let’s look at some of the benefits of raising chicks in the winter. I think there are four main benefits to winter chicks.

 

  1. Potentially a Better Selection of Birds

 

Fewer people are shopping for chicks in the winter. Since most people equate chicks with a springtime endeavor, fewer people are looking for chicks in winter months. This can be a benefit for you if you are looking for a specific type of chicken. The old saying goes, the early bird gets the worm, and in this case, early chick purchasers might have better luck finding the types of chicks they want.

 

  1. Eggs in the Spring

 

Most chickens take four to five months to start laying eggs. Combine that with the timing of less light and colder days, and those spring to late spring chickens might not begin laying eggs until the following spring. Staring chicks earlier in the year is a way to potentially get eggs sooner. A December or January chick that takes four to five months to lay could start laying eggs in April or May!

 

  1. Better Timing for Chicken Showing

 

Since chickens need to be a certain age for showing and spring chicks won’t be old enough. If you children are interested in showing poultry for 4H fairs, they will need to take the chicken’s age into account and count backward. Most breeds should be at least four months old, but six to seven months of age is even better. If your chicken show is in July, starting chicks in December or January is a good idea. Your winter birds will be larger and have better plumage than spring birds and may do better in the show ring!

 

  1. Spring Gnats

 

This is a hope for and not a sure benefit yet – but gnats are a real problem in Iowa in late spring / early summer. They’re especially deadly for younger birds. While my adult chickens seem to handle the gnats better, I have lost several younger chicks to these horrid pests. By starting chicks in the winter, I’m hopeful that they will be better able to handle the gnats because they are bigger and stronger. I’ll keep you posted!

 

These are few of the reasons I decided to raise winter chicks this year for the first time! I’m curious if you’ve also raised winter chicks and why you may have decided to do so!

 

 

 

 

The Right Bedding for Your Coop

One of the most common questions a new chicken owner asks is, “what is the right bedding for my coop?”

 

Although a common question, the answer might surprise you, even if you are an experienced chicken owner!

 

Not much scientific research has been devoted to the right bedding for backyard flock owners. Most research has been poured into industrial sized chicken broiler farms. At these farms, heavy bodied Cornish Cross meat chickens eat, poop, and sleep all in the same place-on the ground. Since they sleep on the ground, the material they lay in is technically called bedding. These chickens are slaughtered at about 2 months of age, so long term health studies are inconclusive.

 

Your backyard chickens, however, do not sleep on the ground. The ideal setup for them is an enclosed coop with roosts for them to sleep off the ground. They will still spend time walking around on the floor, but will not be sleeping where they defecate. Therefore, the material used in your coop should be referred to as litter, instead of bedding. (all technicalities, but call it what you like!).

At the end of the day, you need a litter or bedding that will remain dry the longest to slow the growth of bacteria, while still being healthy for the chickens to live in.

There are two types of bedding that are ideal for your coop floor. (A coop refers to the walled off, interior space the chickens go to roost, not the open air fence of a run.)

The first is the best and most hygienic type of litter: medium grain sand!

Medium grain sand reigns supreme in cleanliness and dryness when compared with all other litter/bedding options.

Medium grain sand is coarse, almost like small bits of pebble and rock.

(It is very important to note here that fine, playground sand is NOT a safe choice for your chickens. It has a fine, silicate dust that can be harmful to your chickens and your family. Fine sand can also cause crop impaction if your birds eat it).

 

Medium Grain Sand Pros:

  • Stays dry the longest.
  • Bacteria cannot thrive in it, cutting down on harmful ammonia.
  • Cleans chickens’ feet. When walking through it, the medium grain sand helps wick off feces. When the hens hop up into the nest boxes, they have less bacteria on their feet, meaning less bacteria gets onto the eggs.
  • Provides grit. If you have the right type, it can be safely consumed by the chickens and dual purpose as grit.
  • Offers safe dusting bathing material.
  • Easy to clean. Simply scoop out the poop that gets clumped in the sand regularly. There is less waste, as the remaining sand can be used again and again.
  • Good fly repellent and not conducive to larvae growth.
  • Low mold count
  • Inorganic, slowing spread of dangerous organisms.

Medium Grain Sand Cons:

  • Inorganic, slowing spread of GOOD organisms.
  • Cannot be reused as compost material on your garden.
  • Must be dry when adding to the coop
  • Difficult to find. This is perhaps the biggest thing keeping people from using it! Medium grain sand can often only be found at your local quarry. It is important to go and see the grain size for yourself so you do not end up with fine sand. Then the task of figuring out how to get it home begins. Most quarries can deliver for a fee.

While medium grain sand may be the best litter for your coop, it is not without its’ challenges. The next best option is: pine shavings.

Pine Shavings Pros:

  • Easy to find. Offered at just about any feed store.
  • Economically priced.
  • Absorbent
  • Drier than hay or straw, but less dry than sand.
  • Can be used to create compost.

Pine Shaving Cons:

  • Dusty. When stirred up, the pine shavings release tiny particles of wood. These particles contain abietic acid , which is dangerous when inhaled. Sawmill workers who inhaled abietic acid over time have been found to develop cancer.
  • Grows mold.
  • Organic, so breaks down and holds bacteria and moisture.

 

 

The key to good litter or bedding for your coop is cleanliness.

Regardless of the bedding you chose, it is important to clean your coop often, keep it dry, and allow for some ventilation.

Sprinkling a little diatomaceous earth (cover your airways when doing this, and make sure chickens are out of coop) on top of the litter you chose, will provide a natural insect repellent and bacteria repellent.

 

One last important tip to add, is hay/straw does NOT make good bedding. Living on a little farm myself, we always have some chopped hay laying around. In the past, I have used this hay on the floor of my coop. It all seemed fine, until about 3 days later. Feces clumps quickly in hay, matting it down into one huge, nasty mass. It gets wet, heavy, and a real pain to clean. Hay grows mold quickly and bacteria very soon start emitting high levels of ammonia. Flies also LOVE laying their eggs in wet hay. It is my recommendation, that no matter how tempting, avoid using hay as bedding/litter.

Cedar shavings are extra high in abietic acid and plicatic acid and should never be used in coops; they are highly toxic!

Nurture Your Birds with an Expanded Line of NatureServe Flock Feeds

Nurture your flock from chickens to ducks and turkeys/gamebirds with NatureServe® feed that contains the same essential oils that we feed our birds at Hoover’s Hatchery.  NatureServe is the preferred feed brand of Hoover’s Hatchery and we encourage carrying on the tradition of feeding your flock at home with essential oils found in NatureServe feed to help keep your birds healthy.

Previous to 2021, NatureServe offered only poultry feeds for chicks and chickens.  Starting this Spring 2021, look for NatureServe’s expanded product flock offerings at retail stores:

  • NatureServe Chick Starter/Grower
  • NatureServe Layer Pellets
  • NatureServe Duck Starter/Grower (new)
  • NatureServe Duck Pellets (new)
  • NatureServe Turkey/Gamebird Starter (new)
  • NatureServe Turkey/Gamebird Pellets (new)

 

There are more benefits to NatureServe feeds than just essential oils because these feeds contain probiotics to promote digestive health as well as prebiotics too.  Additionally, the ingredients of calcium, vitamins, enzymes and minerals are included in all NatureServe flock feeds to support your flock in many ways such as bone health and growth.

NatureServe is a proud partner Hoover’s Hatchery, Strong Animals and Flockjourney.com.  For more information and to learn more about NatureServe feeds, connect with NatureServe online visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/NatureServeFeeds or Web page at NatureServeFeed.com.

 

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