The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Essential autumn preparations for your chickens (part two)

Little white bantamHaving cracked the rat problem (see essential autumn preparations for your chickens part one, in the chicken category), it’s time to make sure that your chickens have every chance to pass the winter with health, happiness and warmth. And, even more important than this, that you have a good winter chicken wise.

The winter of the first year that we kept chickens was a steep learning curve for me. Even though I’d thought the set up through, I struggled. I realise now that everything needs to be in place before the real onset of winter.

If there are no warm eggs to collect in the morning it’s easy to sideline the chickens that enchanted you throughout the summer. But if you set up things properly, you can care for your chickens well with the minimum of effort. There are four aspects that you need to attend to:

  • Preventing chickens roosting in a draught
  • Providing water that is not frozen into a giant ice cube
  • Storing feed and bedding as near to the chickens as you can
  • Making sure that there is an adequate amount of shelter for all

Preventing chickens roosting in a draught
This doesn’t mean setting up a blow heater in their house.

Make sure that there are no raging draughts in the area where they roost and providing adequate cover during the day. Our chicken coop has a corrugated roof and there are gaps between this and the top of the house, these are above the heads of the roosting chickens and provide essential ventilation.

Downstairs, the house has wire mesh sides and in the winter we cover these with Perspex as driving rain can soak sheltering hens from the sides and also the layers’ pellets in the feeder can get wet and have to be thrown away. With the winter Perspex, we know that the chickens are warmer when they roost. And are not expending too much energy just keeping warm.

Bantams are delicate and prone to chest infections. Ours are lucky as they have a choice of shelers. If it’s snowing or pouring with rain, even the hen pecked Mrs Boss can creep in somewhere out of the cold. If you only have the one chicken coop, be a bit creative. Once I saw a hen happily settling into an old coal scuttle (turned on its side).

Providing water that is not frozen into a giant ice cube
When it gets very cold, the ice on the water fountains has to be broken every morning. We have two outdoor fountains that we swap over every day (the spare one is kept in the barn, where it doesn’t freeze overnight). This avoids the palaver of hacking out ice when you are late for work. If you only want to have one fountain, the plastic ones come into their own in the winter as the ice just slips easily out of them. The romantic Eltham fountains can freeze solid if left in the open.
We also keep a water fountain inside the hen house as the outside fountain freezes during the day in cold weather.

Store feed and bedding as near to the chickens as you can
Keep the store of feed in the pen in a galvanised rat-proof dustbin. If this isn’t possible keep the feed as near to the pen as possible to avoid too much trudging around. Keep the feeder inside the hen house as this prevents robbing by tiny birds and, if you shut up the hens at night, the food is there when they wake for breakfast.

Even though the mid winter hen house is not so smelly, I try and clean it out each week. It only takes 20 minutes and the droppings go straight onto the compost. If one of your hens catches a virus (and there are loads, discounting the bird flu) it can rage rampant through a small flock. Keeping then clean helps to alleviate the risk of disease developing. I keep the bedding in the chicken run and a cheap bucket with a lid for the droppings. This is only emptied when it is full. The chickens even have there own dustpan and brush, stored in the run.

Making sure that there is an adequate amount of shelter for all
If a chicken is being bullied she need a place to stand out of the rain if she can’t get into the house. If you only have one house be a bit creative. I’ve seen a chicken sheltering in a old coal scuttle, turned on its side.
With a bit of thought, the chickens can be set up so that the can be cared for with the minimum effort from you.

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  1. Hi everyone, I’m in trouble. I didn’t give enough thought to winter care since here in Western North Carolina, USA we haven’t had a severe winter in probably 20 years. It may be that this winter will make me a liar. My chicken coop is 10×12 and covered with a poly tarp. Inside are shelves and the chickens always use the top shelf. They insist on throwing the straw on the shelf onto the floor. Then they all huddle together as they have since they were chicks (6 months ago). I purchased this breed because they were bred in Ohio, USA where the winters are way more severe than here. However their water has been frozen two mornings in a row and it s snowing today. My question is . . . should I confine them to the coop where they can huddle and stay warm? Should I close in the end of the coop and provide heat? I am feeding laying pellets and giving them a mixed grain scratch feed daily. The pellets are available all the time in the coop but they don’t seem to go back there during daylight hours and hide in the underbrush up the mountain. I prefer them to free-range but I’m worried they will die or freeze. Appreciate you input. Thanks, Jean B.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sheila

    I’d always give water and feed to hens that are shut in overnight. Hens tend to graze rather than pig out.

    This means that they have supplies if something goes wrong and they are not let out in the morning.

    Re extra heat, I don’t know. I just keep hens – I’m no expert. We don’t provide extra heat in the SE of the UK. Might be worth checking on the chicken forums, if you are concerned but I suspect that you don’t need to.

  3. We have ex-battery hens and this will be their first winter, as we live up a mountain in North Wales, will they need heating in their bedding area or run?. Also when they go to bed at night the poop hole is closed so they cannot get to food or water until opened up in the morning which is normally about 8.30am. Should water be left in the bedding area, this was actually done when we first had the chickens but was stopped after being advised this was not necessary.

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