Well, well, well, look who has showed up! FALL! Which means for us flock tenders we have to start the preparation for winter! From making sure we have a way to keep them warm, protecting their crops and feet, providing them with a healthy diet and making sure they will have plenty of snacks, now that the grass will be covered in snow soon!
Some states do not have to worry about the cold, but I am in Michigan and here we never truly know when it will snow or rain, basically our weather has a mind of its own and the weatherman/woman is never right (so funny…laughing out loud)! So where do we begin when fall comes? That is a good question. I tell people to start with heat, bulbs and heated water bowls or buckets, anything heat related.
If you are able to run an extension cord or have power in your coop many wonder, Do you want to provide a lamp? This is 100% your choice! You are the only one who understands your coop. On our farm, where the nest boxes are located inside, it’s heated with a heat bulb instead of a basic light bulb and it is insulated with power. My chickens live in the outside portion of the coop though (seriously such stinkers) so none of them care that heat is in there. They will always choose the outside. The outside is completely fenced off and roofed for winter because I don’t want them to only have an area with snow to run around in. I do allow mine almost every day, even in winter, to free range. They love playing in the snow. I will surely post some pictures this winter to show you! Eeee! It is ADORABLE!!
Back to what I was saying though, heat bulb or not, they should have a warmer space to get into and if your coop does not provide that, I have some ideas! To create a warmer space, you can add a denser bedding, such as straw. I do not recommend this in the same are you choose to hang a heat bulb, just because accidents can happen and fires can start very easily. To help insulate a lot of people will take a tarp (I recommend a vinyl tarp versus your average blue or black polyethylene tarps, these will last years rather than just one season) cover one side of their coop from top to bottom and use straw bales to stack up and create an insulated wall with it. This helps block wind and snow while creating a more winter proof living space.
BEFORE YOU BUY ANYTHING, BUY HEATED WATER BOWLS! I do NOT recommend buckets; I have had friends who lost some of their flock because they didn’t fill the bucket high enough and then hen fell in face first and could not get out and ended up drowning. So please avoid a regular bucket! I only say get a heated water bowl now, because when you want them while it is snowing, they are usually always out at supply stores.
Either a plug-in heated water bowl (do not keep in straw in case anything goes wrong with the cord, better to be safe then sorry!)
Rubber horse feeding bowls with a floating heater
These are great for chickens and ducks! If you choose to go larger like a short water trough for sheep or goats, it is not so as safe as you think for ducks. We had a duck last year jump into our water troth with the floating heater and tried to climb on it and knocked a wire loose on the top and it got electrocuted! So, lesson learned, we do smaller rubber bowls that they do not try to climb into! Or, simply add some reinforced electrical tape to the top of the heater where the wire goes in.
Once you have a way to block the wind and snow from your coop and provide clean, warm water for your flock then most of winter will be a breeze! I do have a few things that I do for my flock that I would like to share with you. Some people feel I do too much but I love my flock, they have saved me in a sense and have brought so much peace into my life when I didn’t feel like a person. Having 3 babies and going through post-partum depression can really get to a person, and my birds helped make me laugh, heard me cry, let my babies hand feed them, and help me teach how to be a loving pet owner to my children. They complete my world and I can not imagine a time when I didn’t have them. SO! I do like to go above and beyond to make them comfy!
When it gets very cold (below freezing at the end of the day), when my flock returns to the coop at night, I go in with Vaseline or coconut oil. I put it on their feet, crops and waddles to prevent frostbite. The coconut oil I like best because I can even rub it around their eyes, my hens truly appreciate this, ladies of all species like to try to avoid wrinkles! (hahaha that is just a joke, I am not going too crazy here, BUT it made u smirk!)
I love baking warm snacks for them, so taking seeds of any kind, I choose 4 kinds and mix them with some dried meal worms, molasses and peanut butter then bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. Some ovens take 35 minutes.
· 1 circle pan (like for cheesecake/pie)
· In large bowl mix
o 1 cup NatureServe Layer pellets
o 1 cup Sunflower seeds
o 1 cup Safflower seeds
o 1 cup of dried meal worms or cracked corn
o 1 cup Dried peas or pumpkin seeds
o 2 cups of molasses
o 2 cups of peanut butter
· Mix all ingredients well and then place into the pan
· Bake at 300 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes
· Let cool for 20 mins then take to the coop!
If you’re in a hurry, your chickens will surely love a hot feed drink, which is very easy! Get your goat’s milk (I purchase a fermented goat’s milk called ANSWERS from our local pet store) and NatureServe feed, then you’ll need:
· Large cooking bowl
· Some raw fermented goat’s milk, warmed up
· Some cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or a pumpkin spice
· In the large bowl, add 50% of the bowl size with your NatureServe Layer pellets
· Add the warm goat’s milk and spice and mix well
· Let sit while you get ready for the day
· When you leave, mix it up and take it outside and serve!
o THEY WILL LOVE YOU FOR THIS!!!
We do this for our barn cats as well, with no poultry feed though, just warm goat’s milk with some cinnamon. Everyone deserves a warm drink on an early winter morning!
You may feel I promote NatureServe in my blog because this is their page, but I have fed their food before ever writing blogs for them. I chose their food because it supported so much of what I was looking for in a feed: proper percentages for organ and body growth, support for their immune and respiratory system, and their feed SMELLS AMAZING!! So many companies’ feed smells like dirt or just old, but not NatureServe pellets. It seriously smells like soup or a rotisserie dinner. I love it!! I have great, bright orange egg yolks and strong egg shells, no issues with my hens not laying or being egg bound. It supports them where I am worried, sometimes free ranging can’t always. So, if you have not tried it, do it! You will love it and so will they!
One last thing that I started adding in the winter was a large dust bath area. I took an old wheel barrel that broke off the base and filled it with diatomaceous earth. Because we use a wood stove for the winter months, I add warm ash from our wood stove into the dust bath pile. The hens love it! They line up and usually 3 at a time can dust bathe, nothing feels better then some nice warm ash on a cold day when your outside 24-7.
I also like to sprout oat and sunflower seeds for them since the grass is gone, this is a fun snack for them. Beware, it is stinky, but they love it! Just soak seeds overnight, then rinse and drain, keep seed in an air available container and rinse daily to keep the seeds moist, and WOOWHOO, sprouted seeds full of amazing probiotics and gut health benefits! They sell sprouting kits online with jars and a cute stand on Amazon for very affordable. If you have kids or grandkids, it’s a cool science project to hand feed the poultry with!
I hope you loved these ideas! Please share them to your friends or send me pictures. I appreciate everyone who reads and follows them!