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Winter gardens for chickens

Winter gardens for your girls

What on earth is a winter garden you might ask? Surely we’re not talking about sitting outside on a freezing cold day with gloves on, sipping a cup of tea, just to enjoy some fresh air?! 

Not quite, thankfully. Instead, a winter garden refers to creating a safe space for our hens which doubles up as protection from the elements and provides shelter should a housing order come into play due to Avian Influenza. 

There are many ways of doing this, and no one method is right or wrong; it’s down to your preferences and the space available in your back garden. 

Where did the idea of winter gardens come from? 

Winter gardens or verandas first came into play across Europe when commercial farmers looked for ways to offer safe undercover space for their birds as a bridge between their inside accommodation and the wider outdoor area. Commercial hens quickly took to this concept preferring the veranda’s dry, wind-protected area than the chilly outdoors. 

If we take this idea into a backyard setting, there are some great, inexpensive tips to make your run safe and secure as well as compliant with any housing order regulations that may be brought in. 

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Ideas for winter gardens

  • An enclosed area such as a large garage, outbuilding or greenhouse makes a perfect winter garden 
  • A house within a netted outdoor area, using netting small enough to prevent wild birds accessing, and a cover or tarpaulin over the top to prevent droppings falling through into the coop makes for a nice conservatory for your pet poultry 
  • An existing fruit cage covered with a tarpaulin to prevent droppings falling through and / or a polytunnel can be used to provide a covered exercise area for your birds and they’ll enjoy scratching around the undergrowth 
  • Any existing wired hen run can be made compliant by adding small gauge mesh or netting sides and providing a cover to prevent droppings falling through 

As with anything, the cost of setting up a winter garden can be as cheap or as expensive as your budget allows. 

If you have access to a free ads page online, or Facebook Marketplace, it’s worth keeping an eye out for a second-hand greenhouse or polytunnel, both of which are great for winter gardens. 

Any freestanding hen house can be adapted with the addition of a greenhouse frame which, when covered in netting, creates a cheap and easy set up for your hens.  

Once you’ve got your winter garden created, you’ll need to consider some enrichment to keep your girls happy while they aren’t able to free range. 

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Boredom busters for your hens

  • Pecking blocks – these make great treats for your hens, but take care you don’t overfeed them, pecking blocks are fattening! 
  • Straw bales –  these provide a good nesting spot as well as scratching activity, but please don’t use hay as they may be tempted to eat it and it could impact their crop 
  • Grit in litter or on the ground – grit is always great for scratching around 
  • Perches – these are always useful for a spot of preening, daytime snoozing and socialising 
  • Coloured string hanging up so they can peck and tug it –  this is great fun for hens! 
  • A dust bath – this can be made from a child’s sand pit, a plastic storage box, or a large litter tray. Use dry soil, sand, wood ash, diatomaceous earth, or ideally all these mixed together. 
  • A cabbage hung up – fresh veg is good for pecking at,  but don’t overdo it otherwise you’ll upset the balance of their diet and of course, it can’t have come through your kitchen due to Defra regulations on household scraps.  A cabbage that has been bought specifically for your hens and not seen the kitchen is fine. 

If you’re looking to get your own winter garden set up, check out the winter essentials section of our shop for housing, boredom busters and more. 

Have you got your own tips for a great winter garden? If so, we’d love to hear them and see some of your photos! Submit your ideas to  

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