Caring for hens in winter

Hen in the snow
Hen in the snow

We have hens waiting to be homed all year round and the vast majority cope with the environmental change with no trouble at all. In order to give new hens the best care in winter months here are our top 10 tips which will ensure your new birds are comfortable. (NB: Established hens should have sufficient feather coverage to provide ample protection.)

  1. Ex-bats may need physically picking up and putting under shelter for the first day or two if the weather is bad, as well as lifting into their coop at bedtime. (Newly released ex-bats can easily catch cold if they stand out in the cold and wet.)
  2. If the weather conditions are extreme and you have an outbuilding with an electricity supply, heat lamps or oil filled radiators can be used to provide extra warmth, but only do this for feather bare birds and do not make the environment ‘warm’, just lessen the chill.
  3. You can cover the coop overnight with an old carpet, blankets, bubble wrap or flattened cardboard to give extra insulation. Deep (10cm+) dry bedding of chopped straw or wood shavings on the floor will help keep birds warm.
  4. If you have just a few girls in a large coop/stable or converted shed, putting a large cardboard box on its side, half filled with chopped straw/wood shavings in a corner within the coop/stable will help conserve body heat. Check after dark that they are all sleeping together in the box.
  5. Smearing combs with Vaseline will help prevent them getting frostbite, especially if they have large, floppy combs.
  6. Access to fresh water is vital. Drinkers will freeze if left out overnight and may split when you try to defrost them in the morning, (do not use a kettle of boiling water on frozen plastic). Bring drinkers in at night and refill in the morning with warm water which hens enjoy, topping up with more warm water during the day.
  7. Give your hens extra corn in the afternoon as this will heat them up internally as they digest it overnight.
  8. Give them a warm meal using Smallholder Range crumble or pellets mixed with hot water. Just feed enough to ensure it all gets eaten within 30 minutes and repeat the process as necessary.
  9. Ensure the hens have shelter in their outside run, they dislike the wind chill and driving rain as much as we do. Erecting wooden boards/plastic sheets/tarpaulin/straw bales against the windward side of their run will help, as will providing some cover above to keep them dry.
  10. Cold weather and snow means other animals are hungry too; make sure food is stored safely away from rats and mice, especially at night, and regularly check fences and coop security; hungry foxes are more daring and determined in winter.

Finally, look on the bright side, if it’s freezing, at least it’s not muddy!

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