So many thoughts run through our minds about fall chicken care as the weather starts to get chilly. We have to make decisions and take care of routine things before the harsh winter weather arrives. Using the nice fall days to ready the coop, check the health of the flock and feed the chickens nutritious treats will help them weather the winter.
Fall Chicken Care Tip #1 Feed pumpkins to your flock
What does a pumpkin have to do with chickens? Actually, pumpkins are a nutritional powerhouse and chickens love the taste. Every fall, if we haven’t grown our own pumpkins on the farm, I will buy pumpkins for all the farm animals. Every species here will eat it in some form or another but the chickens probably enjoy a good pumpkin more than any others animals.
Why Feed Pumpkin to Chickens and other Fall Chicken Care Tips
- Pumpkins have a richly colored flesh that contains high levels of beta carotenes. The beta carotenes are the precursors to Vitamin A. In addition, fresh pumpkin is a great source of Vitamins C and E and contains most of the B complex vitamins. Feeding pumpkins should be part of the fall chicken care And, if you can get a hold of some free pumpkins from neighbors or friends after the holidays, take them! If they haven’t been carved into jack o’ lanterns, they will store a long time in a cool area of your home or basement.
The seeds from the pumpkin are also packed with good nutrition. High in protein, pumpkin seeds are a smart choice for a chicken flock treat right in the midst of the fall molting season. Increasing protein during molt helps your birds grow in their glossy new feathers with less metabolic stress. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 fatty acids.
Another reason to feed fresh pumpkin is the possibility that the seeds will help your chickens avoid an overload of intestinal worms. The seeds of pumpkin and other squash contains cucurbitacin which acts as a paralytic agent on tapeworms and round worms. In a mild intestinal worm situation, the pumpkin seeds may be enough to paralyze the worms so they can be excreted.
Fall Chicken Care Tip #2 – Feed Healthy High Protein Treats
- Meal Worms are always a welcome treat and these little goodies are bringing a protein punch. Great for helping your chickens recover quickly after a hard molt and a great training tool. Chickens will cooperate better when meal worms are involved!
- Seed blocks, peanut butter treats and other commercially available boredom busters are good to keep on hand for times when the chickens have to be cooped up. If you don’t normally purchase scratch grain, fall and winter are a good time to have some on hand. Scratch grains help increase the chicken’s body temperature while being digested. I feed a small amount to my flock in the evening during cold weather to help them keep warm overnight. The key is to keep the amount of scratch or seed treats at a treat level. This should not become a major part of your chickens’ diet. Seeds are high in fats and can lead to obesity and internal fat deposits. The key is to use the treats as a tool, to get the flock to go where you need them to go.
Now that you have taken care of buying lots of pumpkins and treats for the fall and winter, what other fall chicken care steps should you take?
Fall Chicken Care Tip #3 – Managing the Annual Molt Mess
Molting makes the dust and mess in the coop even messier. I recommend doing a thorough coop cleaning while the weather is still nice. Scrape out old bedding. Inspect for rodent holes, insect evidence, and wet areas. Take care of any structural problems now so you don’t have to take care of building maintenance during a winter storm.
- Clean the roost bars and treat with DE powder (Diatomaceous Earth) . The DE powder will kill off any mites trying to take up residence on the roost bars.
- Check for leaks in the roof, or other parts of the building. While you are checking for leaks, also check that your ventilation is optimal. Ventilation refers to the air flow circulates air inside the coop and keeps it from becoming stagnant. Ventilation is very important in winter because stagnant air can also lead to moisture collection. Moisture in the presence of sub freezing temperatures can lead to frost bite on combs, wattles and feet.
Fall Chicken Care Tip #4 – Decisions about Heat and Additional Light
I can’t speak about every area of the country but I will say this. Chickens are extremely cold hardy. If the coop is draft free, has good roof ventilation, can be closed securely at night and during storms, there is little chance that you need additional heat. After the chickens go through the molting, they grow in healthy new feathers and downy under feathers for winter. Chickens will go to roost at night, fluff up their feathers and cover their feet on the roost bar.
Chickens are built for cold weather
It is amazing to me, how much heat is generated by my chickens during the night. The coop is usually very comfortable inside when I arrive in the morning. The chickens are happy and there is less chance of fire. Only once in our chicken raising have we used additional heat. Now, perhaps you live in a particularly frigid area during the winter. I can’t make this decision for you. Draft free goes a long way to keeping the chickens warm enough. Don’t rush to heat the coop just because you are feeling the chill of winter. Another thing to consider is what happens during a power outage. If your chickens have not been allowed to acclimate to the seasonal change in temperature, they are more likely to succumb to cold if it occurs suddenly.
Should Lights be Added to the Coop?
Adding light may in fact keep the hens laying eggs longer into the winter. I prefer to let them have a natural rest. We use lights only for a short time in the evening while we are cleaning up and feeding/watering the animals for the night. This extends their light by possibly an hour and is not really a factor in their egg laying. Naturally, egg laying slows down during the cold, darker months. This gives the hens a rest and allows energy to be used for warmth. I still collect enough eggs for our use during the winter.
If your coop is a distance away from your home as ours is, you will need to plan ahead. Empty the hose after each use. Filling containers of water to keep at home will help you avoid frozen water when you are feeding in the morning. I refill gallon jugs and sit them by my back door. In the morning, I grab the water jugs and refill the water bowls with room temperature water from home. The chickens all run to get a warm drink!
With just some foresight and minor upkeep, repair and fall chicken care, you, your chickens and the coop will be ready for winter weather.