Winter can be a testing time but, with a bit of forward planning, you can help them weather it without too many problems.

Check your chicken house for draughts and leaks as chickens hate both!  Don’t be tempted to put roofing felt over the top as this provides the perfect environment for red mites which are not good for your birds and are very hard to eradicate.  Whilst you don’t want a draughty hen-house, it should still be well ventilated, especially as the chickens are likely to be spending more time in it during the winter.  Make sure there is plenty of bedding for your birds too – shavings, hemp or straw, that you use for your horses, are all ideal but remember that more time indoors will mean more mess so be prepared to muck out more frequently. 

Mud & Wind
If you have a portable hen-house, move it regularly as the ground will poach more rapidly, especially when wet.  If your hens have a permanent run, consider taking the “strip grazing” approach and dividing some of it off so that it doesn’t all get worn at once.  Be aware of the prevailing wind too and, either position the coop to avoid it, or consider placing boards up as wind breaks to give you birds some shelter.  Chickens don’t like mud and, just as with horses, over-poached runs are a haven for worms which will also build-up in your birds.  They should be treated for worms, either with a proprietary wormer in March and September, or with a herbal preparation on an ongoing basis.  

Fewer Eggs
Shorter days mean fewer eggs and the only way to keep your birds laying is to rig up a light in their house which is operated on a timer to mimic longer summer days.  A heat lamp is also an idea but, as with any electrical installations, be sure it’s safe.  If you work full time and can’t be home to shut your hens in when it gets dark, consider installing an electric “pop hole” shutter/opener.  Your hens will put themselves to bed as darkness falls and the door-shutter will help keep them safe from any fox who turns up before you get home!

Feed & Water
Make sure your feeders keep their contents dry and are positioned out of the rain.  Pellets will soon clog up when damp so won’t flow from a hopper feeder and are more likely to go mouldy and become unpalatable.  Water containers should also be checked frequently and kept free from ice.  Consider having a couple of spares so that you can fill a fresh one if the one in the run has frozen solid overnight.  A little extra mixed corn at night will provide extra calories for your birds to keep warm, whilst vegetable scraps and other greens will be welcome to provide natural vitamins and a bit of variety during the day.