Winter weather and small flocks (Backyard Flocks)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Jonathan Moyle is a poultry Extension specialist at the University of Maryland.)
As the weather gets cooler and winter approaches, it is important to make sure that your small flock is ready.
By being prepared, your birds will be healthier and safe all winter.
The following are a few suggestions to help you get ready.
Housing protects your birds from the weather.
Check poultry housing before winter sets in and fix any leaking roofs that will allow wind or moisture into the coop.
Remember, moisture in the coop can lead to increased levels of ammonia, as well as make it more difficult for the birds to stay warm.
Look for and fix any cracks or holes that will allow wind to blow into the building as well.
Holes that allow fresh air to blow directly on the birds can chill them and lead to problems.
Holes can be filled with spray foam insulation (do not use in areas birds can eat the insulation), or by hanging a thick plastic sheet or tarp over problem areas.
Small openings and cracks that do not allow air to blow on the birds will allow fresh air in but not cool the birds.
Additionally, if positioning the coop so that sunlight enters during the day and heats it up will help keep the birds warm and healthy.
Perches allow the birds to get off the ground and feel safe while they sleep.
Avoid materials like metal and plastic pipes when constructing perches as they will conduct the cold to the feet of the birds and can result in frostbite.
Instead, use wood as it will not conduct cold. Preferably, perches should have a flat surface (like a 2-by-4) that will allow the birds to cover their feet with their feathers when on the perch to keep them warm. While insulation is not necessary for small flocks here in the Mid-Atlantic region, it can help keep the heat generated by the birds in the coop and keep the coldest weather out.
If you are adding heat to a house, then insulation is a cheap way to get the most heating for your money.
While adult birds are protected from the wind and wet weather, they should not need any additional heat even during the coldest time of year; however, young birds will need a source of heat in order to survive and grow.
While not necessary, adding heat to older birds will help them maintain egg production throughout the winter.
Fresh air is important in order to provide oxygen for the birds as well as to remove carbon dioxide and moisture.
Make sure that fresh air entering the building mixes with the internal (warmer) air before it gets to the birds.
While water consumption typically declines in the winter, birds still need water to survive and to be productive.
Water that is frozen is not available to the birds and they cannot break through the ice to get to the water.
It is important to check the water several times a day and make sure that it is not frozen and is available to the birds.
Another alternative is to keep the water warm by using a heater that goes under the waterer.
This will then heat the water and keep it from freezing, but it does require an electrical source.
If you use a heat lamp to keep the water warm, be careful not to splash cold water on a hot heat lamp as the bulb may shatter.
Good quality feed needs to be available at all times.
This will help them to stay warm and to continue to grow and or lay eggs. Feeding them a treat in the evening (corn works well) helps to keep them warm all night as they digest the feed.
Limit treats to about 10% of their total feed so they continue to get a balanced diet.
Remember, the wellbeing of your birds is your responsibility.
Make sure to provide them with a safe place that is out of the weather and have food and water (not frozen) so that they can make it through this difficult time of year.