The seasonal elements that Winter brings with it, can be somewhat irritating to my feathery pets. They seem to prefer the heady, sunny days of Summer. With plenty of dry soil for dust bathing and endless sunshine for sunbathing, wings akimbo. But as we live in the North, they unfortunately get more of the wintery weather, even during Summer, than they want. So although they are Geordie girls, and should be able to withstand subzero temperatures, without resorting to using a coat, I do adapt my hen routine slightly, to allow for the colder weather.
One of the most important things, as far as my girls are concerned, is food. Rain, hail, sleet or snow, they can cope as long as food is forth coming. My hens appetite really increases during the cold weather and they eat their way through the pellets, at a rapid rate. Mine can help themselves constantly throughout the day, I just keep topping it up as necessary, as they are using lots of energy, just to keep warm. The feeder is on feet above the ground, with a wide, sheltering lid, to keep the rain off and prevent food getting soggy. I feed them corn first thing in the morning and then again at bedtime. The corn is important, as it keeps them warm at night, as they digest it. I provide mine with vegetables and fruit each day. During this season, the hen run looks like a barren wasteland, without a hint of green. So it is essential that I provide them with a source of greenery, to keep them happy and healthy, as well as aiding in tasty egg production. I will admit to my hens being a tad indulged and each day they have a lunch. Porridge, made with water not milk, is good for warming them up on really wet, rainy days. Pasta, rice and sardines, seeds or wholemeal bread. They rush to the run door as soon as I dash in on a lunchtime, knowing I’m making something for them. I haven’t found the extra treats discourages them from eating the pellets, we still get a decent amount of eggs being laid.
At night the water container is brought into the house, so each day they start with fresh, unfrozen water. On really cold days I keep a check on the water situation, in case of it freezing. No food is left out, as you don’t want to encourage hungry rats, to start thinking you want to feed them as well. This is the first year that my hens have been in the run and during the horrendous rain we had, we discovered a flaw. The poor things had very little shelter available, so at the moment, they are using temporary shelters, until we can sort out different solutions in the Spring. The shelter gives them somewhere to go, to keep dry and out of the elements. Hens are not too keen on the wind whipping up their feathery undercarriages, during the really bad windy weather, they mostly stayed in the sheltered areas.
We sited our hen house near to a fence and under trees, so that it had some protection from the elements. This does help during really windy weather, which we’ve had quite a bit of recently. The hen house has had a full maintenance check, before we got the new hens. So all windows fit securely, its watertight and draught free. So they have a dry place to live, without the North wind whistling through, to disturb their dreams. During the Winter months, the hen house still needs its weekly clean, but it also requires more frequent maintenance, as they are spending much more time in there, due to there being less daylight hours. So that means more poo picking and changing of straw, as they are often trailing dirty, wet feet inside and a soggy, damp hen house, could affect their health. As we have the sheeted, stainless steel flooring, to stop evil beasties gnawing through, I worry about it getting too cold for them to stand on, when the temperature drops. I use sawdust and layers of newspapers, as extra insulation under the straw to keep them warm.
Although the hen house should be draught free, it isn’t a good idea to seal every opening, the hen house still needs ventilation for fresh air, otherwise it will become like a teenage boy’s bedroom, when they have their friends around for days, sealed in one room for an Xbox marathon and the stench, when you open the door, is like a brick wall hitting you. At night the hens will all roost close together, providing warmth for each other. Agatha is quite a cheeky hen at night, she waits till they have all settled on the perches, then climbs up on top of the middle pair and wriggles in between them, much grumbling takes places, but every night she smugly settles in one of the warmest spot. If you are particularly worried that your hens might be cold during a cold snap, adding an extra layer of carpet and waterproof covering over the hen house, should ensure they stay cosy and warm.
The cold weather also means that foxes might be feeling hungrier as well. Collie has had a run in with a fox, checking out the run one evening. Making sure they are safely locked up as soon as dusk falls, should keep them out of the reach of predators and keep them safe. Spending time when you are feeding and caring for your hens, checking on their health and dealing with any worries straightaway, should help your hens manage in the cold weather. They still need to be wormed and vigilance about mites etc doesn’t take a break for winter. My hens quite like the snow and head off to explore, although they do prefer it when my husband clears them a pathway around the run, when the snow gets deep.