Roost & Chill: Prepping Backyard Chickens for Cooler Weather

Autumn is upon us and that means pumpkin spice lattes, bonfires, and prepping your backyard coop for cooler weather! Now is the time to begin creating a winter wonderland to keep your chickens snug and warm before the cold weather arrives. Whether you’re new to owning backyard chickens or a chicken aficionado (cat ladies were so 2018), take a look at our short list of essential care tips for raising chickens in the winter months.

THE COOP & RUN

Get your fall projects underway by patching any holes, gaps, or cracks in your coop. This will minimize drafts and fortify the enclosure against rain and snowfall.

Although no one likes a drafty coop, it’s important to maintain adequate air flow, even during the cooler months. Lack of appropriate ventilation can lead to ammonia build-up and respiratory ailments for your friendly flock. Mold can also grow in bedding due to warm, moist environments.

A good way to manage temperate while reducing humidity is to place vents near the roof so that the chickens are kept out of direct air flow (brrr!). Try a mesh vent with a hatch for easy venting during the day and convenient closure for the chilly night hours.

Looking to upgrade your coop to a chicken mansion? Consider adding a sunroof! Well insulated windows are great for trapping heat in the winter months and keeping your birds comfortable.

BEDDING

If you’ve never heard of the deep litter method, you’re in for a game changer. This technique provides a sustainable way of managing litter, while insulating your flock. Layer pine or aspen shavings over the floor of the coop. Stir the litter daily with a rake rather than removing or replacing the soiled bedding. This creates natural movement and aeration and the dispersal encourages scratching and pecking as well.

Top the litter off weekly until a healthy compost layer forms. This allows good microbes to flourish in a self-cleaning environment while bad bacteria is readily consumed, keeping the coop insulated all year round.

FEEDING TIPS

Chickens, like humans and other animals, expend more energy in the cold. This means more calories are necessary in the winter to maintain health and wellness. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to feed 1.5x more than you would over the spring and summer. In cooler months, chickens are recovering from egg laying and require extra carbohydrates and protein.

Supplement your chickens’ normal feed with tasty snacks like oatmeal, mealworms, scratch, nutrient dense leafy greens, and even a drop of yogurt. Healthy treats are a great way to show your chickens some extra love while looking after their seasonal needs. Tis the season after all!

BEST BREEDS FOR COLD WEATHER

If you’re in the planning phase of your backyard coop, consider the top 5 chicken breeds best suited to cold climates:

Australorp

Not only does this breed have a thick plume of feathers to ward off the chill, but Australorps are excellent egg layers that will provide you with year round omelettes for breakfast!

Silkie

Everyone loves the fluffy, crazy haired Silkie! These chickens aren’t just adorable; they’re even tempered, easy to care for, and perfect for beginners.

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rocks are the classic chicken that remind us of white picket fences and country fields. These chickens are a solid choice for colder climates and sure to delight owners with their goofy antics and colorful personalities.

Dorking

The Dorking is the dolly of the flock—they are sweethearts! Dorkings are extremely friendly, great mother hens, and feel right at home in chilly climates.

Cochin

The first thing you may notice about Cochins is their built-in “snow boots.” Like the Silkie, they’re cute, fluffy aesthetic and sweet personality makes them a favorite for backyard coops. They aren’t the best egg layers, but they’re ideal for a small, family flock.

MOLTING

Backyard chickens molting can be stressful for both owners and hens. Don’t be alarmed if you enter your coop and see feathers everywhere – your chickens are just molting. Most chickens molt in the cooler fall months, in response to decreased light as summer ends and winter approaches. During molting season, your hens will generally stop laying eggs and redirect their energy to regrowing quality feathers for the winter season.

If you notice your girls are looking patchy, increase their protein supply with mealworms, peanuts, dried grubs, or treat them to a fun and tasty seed mix like Pinata Party Mix. Next, fortify their straw and bedding. This will ensure your chickens are comfortable while she rebuilds her feathery coat.

Looking for more great backyard chicken tips for the fall season? Learn more about why pumpkin isn’t only great in lattes — it’s great for chickens too!

 

How to Start Your Backyard Flock

The current chicken renaissance has gathered momentum. It is now common to find coops in both urban and suburban backyards. This may be attributed to the surging interest in organic and local foods, and the fact that most people find chickens to be great pets. If you are considering bringing some farmyard into the backyard, then this short read will guide you on how to get started.

Why keep a backyard chicken?

Backyard chickens are increasingly popular because they are inexpensive, easy, and produce eggs!

    • You are in charge of what goes into them, which I’m guessing will not be the antibiotics, steroids, and other drugs that may be in store-bought eggs.
    • Chicken manure and eggshells produce fantastic nitrogen-rich fertilizer that is excellent for growing food.
    • They offer natural pest control by  scratching and pecking for larvae and insects to eat.
    • Most chicken breeds make great pets and enjoying cuddling and petting.
    • You can get the freshest eggs possible, mostly with fewer calories and fat than those bought in the store.

Important tips for starting your flock

Here’s what to consider before purchasing your first chick:

#1 – Understand the local regulations

The first step is to check the municipal laws or any homeowner association requirements on rearing backyard chickens. Some areas have limits for the maximum number of animals kept in each household. Most communities ban roosters, but this may not be a deal-breaker since hens can lay eggs without them.

Furthermore, some areas will require you to have permits and a signed agreement from your neighbors. You may also need to appear before the zoning board to discover restrictions on the placement and size of outbuildings. Some areas, however, have no restrictions at all.

By understanding the local requirements, you will be able to begin your project without any conflict with your neighbors or homeowners’ association.

#2 – Pick your breed

One advantage of rearing chickens is that you raise beautiful birds with a range of unusually colored eggs.

Most breeds come in two varieties: standard or large breed, and bantam (typically a quarter the size of the large bird). Both varieties do well in the backyard. However, standard breeds lay larger eggs than their counterparts.

When choosing your unique flock, consider the physical and behavioral characteristics as well as each breed’s climate suitability. Check out our comprehensive guide to find the right breed of chicken suited just for you.

#3 – Build the coop

Not only does it provide shelter for your chickens, but it also forms part of your backyard landscape. So when planning for your coop, consider the chicken’s needs and aesthetics.

You may build a stylish coop that complements your home, or even create a fancy customized coop that includes leaded stained glass windows placed above the nesting boxes. No matter what you choose, create the perfect space that you will love and with plenty of room to keep your chickens happy and healthy.

#4 – Feed and take care of your new pets

Your new chickens may be accustomed to digging up part of their food, but you also need to provide chicken feed. Their diet should be balanced and match their specific need such as if they are chicks, layers, or for meat. Moreover, growing birds, young chicks, and layers have specialized poultry feeds to keep them healthy. As a treat, you can feed Ace Hi or Kelley’s chicken scratch, or add vegetable scraps or grass clippings into the run.

Lots of water is particularly essential for consistent laying. If a layer goes for over 12 hours without drinking water, then this would mean weeks out of production.

Your birds ultimately become your friends and will appreciate the way you interact with them. They may get accustomed to a particular call or noise and will always flock around the gate with their cute ‘awk! awk!’ greeting noises.

#5 – Chicken health

As with any other animal, health problems also affect chickens. Therefore, you should always call your vet to help you with diagnosis and treatment whenever there is a health issue. Notably, you should monitor their health every day and you can even create immune support at home for your new flock.

Healthy birds are active, alert, have clean eyes, and silent unnoticeable breathing. Seek assistance if you notice dropping wings and tail, weakness, discharge from eyes and nostrils, paralysis of one or more limbs, or loss of appetite.

#6 – Gardening with your chicken

Although they are mostly kept for their fresh egg supply, backyard chickens can also benefit the garden. At the end of the gardening season, release your birds into the gardening space and see how they will go crazy! They will uproot the stalks and stems of weeds then gobble up the remaining overripe or damaged vegetables.

Any seeds or insects in the soil will also be eaten. Furthermore, the hens will peck apart the vegetable remnants such as carrot tops, broccoli stems, kale, and chard. All this will be done with endless curiosity and enthusiasm.

There is a lot to consider when raising backyard chickens but ultimately you will be rewarded with lots of feathered friends that will save you money in many ways. If you have already checked the local ordinances and understand the necessary commitment, there is no better time to start your backyard flock than now!

Eggs with Blood Spots – Safe to Eat?

First of all, WHAT IS A BLOOD SPOT?!

Do not panic.  If you’ve eaten eggs from your own chickens before, chances are you’ve seen a blood spot.  If you’ve only eaten eggs purchased at the grocery store, and you’re making the switch to “homemade” eggs, then you’re in for a few surprises!  That’s because commercial eggs are screened for perfection, and any unusual eggs don’t make it to shelves.  In reality, eggs are individually made in an intricate and complex process, and sometimes come out looking a bit strange.  One of the many fun features of being a chicken keeper!

egg and egg yolk with a blood spot
The tiny red speck is a blood spot.

Blood spots in eggs are exactly that; tiny spots of red blood that you’ll see when you crack open a fresh egg.  All eggs, fertilized or not, contain tiny blood vessels that anchor the yolk inside the egg.  In a fertilized and incubated egg, those blood vessels will deliver nutrients to a growing chick embryo.  There is common misconception that seeing a blood spot in the egg means it is fertilized.  This is not true.  Both fertilized and unfertilized eggs can have blood spots.

Blood spots occur when one of those tiny blood vessels is broken during the laying process.  This is most commonly due to a hen being startled while laying her daily egg.

Blood spots are fairly common, and not cause for concern.  They are perfectly safe to eat, although you may want to scoop the discolored bit out with a spoon for aesthetic purposes.

If you notice quite a bit of blood, or blood spots accompanied with other unusual egg characteristics, you may want to evaluate your hen’s health.  Infrequent odd eggs are normal, but ongoing odd eggs can be an indicator of disease or nutritional deficiency.

If you are actively monitoring your chickens’ health, and feeding them a balanced feed like Ace Hi or Kelley’s lay feeds, designed specifically to meet the needs of egg laying hens, then you should have a happy flock!

 

 

Feeding Chickens Seasonally: Summer

What is best to feed your chickens in summer?

What we eat changes with the seasons, and our chicken’s diet will change with the seasons as well. Consistently offering a feed made specifically for your chickens, like Ace Hi or Kelley’s Lay feeds, is important to their overall health, but what we feed as supplements and treats will change based on seasonal needs.

Feeding your flock properly during the summer months will help them stay healthy during the heat, but also set them up for a successful fall and winter.

You may notice that your chickens consume less of their feed during summer. This is normal, as the heat causes a loss of appetite, just like in us humans. If your chickens are free ranging, they may eat less of their feed because there are plenty of other options like grass and bugs available to them.

chickens in a grass field

Make sure you consistently offer them a high quality ration. A balanced feed will deliver the proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your chickens need. In addition, you can supplement with summer time treats. Offering a little yogurt can deliver a probiotic boost. Careful not to over do the dairy. Watermelon is a terrific treat for providing cooling hydration on a hot day. Home made chicken popsicles allow you to get creative! Freeze herbs, fruits, and vegetables in some ice, and your chickens will get hours of refreshing entertainment.

chicken eating watermelon
a cool juicy treat!

During summer, you’ll want to limit the amount of scratch grains you feed. The high amounts of corn found in scratch can increase their body heat production, and make them feel even hotter in summer. Instead, encourage your chickens to scratch and forage by giving them leafy greens, grass, weeds, or dandelions.

frozen strawberries and weeds
a chicken popsicle!

Electrolytes: Immune Support You Can Make At Home

Chickens are not well equipped to handle high temperatures. During hot weather, they are vulnerable to heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and are even at risk of death. They cannot sweat to cool themselves. They expel heat by panting and holding their wings out to increase air flow, which are not very effective during hot summers and heat waves. One strategy you can use to help your chickens stay healthy during heat waves is giving them electrolytes.

Electrolytes can be used to support your entire flock, or to treat a chicken in the sick ward. Electrolytes replenish the nutrients and minerals lost under extreme heat and stress. They boost immunity and support kidney and respiratory functions.

Electrolytes are also useful during times of stress, flock illness, or traveling. They give your chickens a little pick me up whenever one is needed.

Electrolytes are easy to mix at home with items you already have in the kitchen. The strength of the mixture will depend on its intended use. Dilute the mixture when giving electrolytes for general support, and give a stronger mixture to a sick bird needing more health care.

Make sure to only give your chickens electrolytes as needed, and only for a few days at a time. Make sure to have fresh, regular water also available at all times. Too much salt can be detrimental to your chicken’s health.

salt, baking soda, sugar, and a measure spoon are the ingredients needed to make homemade electrolytes for chickens
easy make-at-home electrolytes

Homemade Electrolyte Recipe for Chickens:

1 gallon water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together until dissolved.

When it comes to Chick Season, winter is the new spring.

Traditionally, raising baby chicks is a springtime activity.  Chicks fit right in with the sense of renewal and new life that Spring brings.  In years past, when mother hens raised their babies “the old-fashioned way,” spring was the perfect time to do it.  But nowadays, with tools like brooders and heat lamps at our disposal, chicks can be raised just about year-round.  Have you ever considered raising chicks in fall or winter?  There are some considerable advantages you might want to know about!

raising baby chicks
Chicks can be raised indoors in any weather!
  • Work with the weather, not against it.

If you live in a cold weather area, your chicks will be kept warm and cozy all winter long in their brooder under a heat lamp.  By the time they have grown big enough to live outdoors, it should be warm enough for them to thrive.  It is also said that chickens who finish maturing during a chilly spring are hardier throughout their lives.

If you live in a hot weather area, shipping day-old chicks is less risky during cooler months.  While chicks like to be kept warm, there is a real threat of overheating while being shipped in spring or summer.  Raising chicks in the winter also gives them more time to mature before the grueling summer temperatures hit.  They will be larger, more equipped to regulate their body temperature, and less at risk of dehydration.

  • Take advantage of fall “end of season” merchandise clearance sales

Do you buy your holiday decorations the day AFTER the holiday, in preparation for next year?  Same concept goes for all your chick raising merchandise!

  • Easy ordering from hatcheries

Spring is still the busy season for commercial hatcheries that ship chicks to backyard chicken keepers across the country.  By ordering during the off season, you can skip the spring rush and avoid breeds being sold out.  There could be a reduced number of breed choices, but the breeds they do offer will be tried and true, fan favorite, heritage breeds.

  • Be more competitive in the show ring.

If you are planning on entering poultry shows, getting a jump start on raising your birds could give you the advantage.  Shows are usually held in summer and fall, so a winter chick will be older, larger, and have better plumage than a spring chick.

show chicken
Be more competitive in the show pen with an older bird.
  • It’s all about the eggs!

Let’s consider 2 main points.  #1 –  With any hen’s laying cycle, egg production is at its peak in spring and summer, and at its lowest in fall and winter.  This is directly related to length of daylight.  #2 – Young hens begin laying egg at around 5 – 6 months old.  If you raise your chicks in spring, your hens are mature and ready to lay eggs at the end of the season.  This results in them laying a few eggs here and there until winter comes.  Sometimes, hens won’t lay any eggs at all until the following year.  If you raise your chicks in fall or winter, they’ll be ready to lay eggs as soon as spring comes around, and that means maximum eggs!  It is also said that since the hen will have had a chance to grow larger before producing any eggs, she will lay larger eggs throughout her lifetime.  What’s not to love about that?

All that being said, raising chicks in fall or winter sounds like a great idea!  Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!