Chickens are becoming more that simply farm animals; they are becoming favorite pets. With chicken keeping becoming more and more fashionable, many people are wondering how to care for chickens in cold weather. One of the first things to consider is what breed of chicken is most suitable to your climate. There are several popular breeds that tolerate cold weather well. Some of these are Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, and Orpingtons. These are considered hearty dual-purpose birds and Wyandottes are considered good winter layers.
During cold weather, a chicken's caloric intake should increase. They simply burn more calories trying to keep warm than they do in summer. Make sure the feeders are always full. You can also give them some extra scratch grains in the late afternoon, before they roost. Sprinkling scratch in the litter accomplishes several things, it keeps your chickens exercised, provides extra calories and prevents boredom, which can lead to pecking. For good egg production they will have to have enough calories to keep warm first, egg production is second.
Make sure the birds have access to plenty of fresh, unfrozen water when it's cold. You can get a heated watering system or simply switch the frozen water for fresh. Many people have several dishes, usually rubber or galvanized steel and just change them throughout the day. Others buy heated water dishes which ensures the water does not freeze. This last option requires running electricity to the coop.
Just as essential as shelter is ventilation in cold weather. The chickens must be provided with a place which is protected from wind and drafts, but they also must have proper ventilation. Chickens produce a great deal of moisture when they breathe and their droppings have a great deal of ammonia. Humidity and ammonia build up should be avoided at all cost. While it is tempting to tightly seal all openings in the coop doors and windows it is not advisable to seal the coop so tightly there is no air circulation. Too much humidity can increase chances of frost bite to your birds. Too much ammonia build up can create lung problems.
Egg production does drop in cold weather. To maintain production many people install lights which go on a few hours before dawn or stay on a few hours after sunset.
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