Dealing With Chickens In The Winter

If you live in the in the snow belt and own poultry, you know a winter can cause some significant problems. Chickens always lay less in winter, due to the cold temperatures and less sunlight. Cold can even be very stressful to some chicken breeds, which can even result in death, or a complication related to it.

The first step in preventing cold problems is purchasing the right breeds. A good breed to purchase would be Barred Rocks, which are some of the toughest little birds on the market. They rarely suffer from the cold, though their egg productivity may drop off fairly massively.

BARRED-ROCK

Barred Rock Hen

Another good breed to handle the cold is the Australorp. This bird is quite large with almost shaggy black feathers. It rarely dies from any kind of cold related problem, being too large to be affected by cold.

Black Australorp Hens

Australorp Hen

These two breeds are the most obvious options for cold hardy birds, but besides that, what are death preventing procedures for cold winters?

1. Feeding

Feeding corn to birds in winter helps significantly. Corn acts as an insulating layer of fat. It is, in effect, a fast food for chickens. Corn fattens up the bird and provides more warmth. There is only drawback to feeding your birds corn. If chickens are fed corn in excess, they’re feathers and skin turn a decidedly yellow tint. This is not good for showbirds, as the yellow color is rather ugly. When you go to the store and purchase a chicken to eat, you may notice a yellow tint to the animal’s skin. This is not the birds native color. It is a cornfed diet.

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Cornfed Chicken

2. Housing

Chickens in the winter must absolutely have a shelter to protect them from the wind. Wind is a killer, as it blows all body heat away. Some people make the mistake of buying the cart before the horse, or the chickens before the building. Or if they do, it’s a flimsy little coop that is solely built to house laying hens, with it being otherwise exposed to the sun, rain, and wind. A structure that houses chickens must protect them from the wind and not be completely stifling, so the birds won’t bake in the summer.

3. Buying

Be smart and make good buying decisions. A cute breed of bird may not be particularly hardy. I myself have known the pain of buying an attractive bird that survives until the first snow hits. Bantams are especially vulnerable to cold, as they are significantly smaller. Many people also make the mistake of buying chicks or young fowl right before winter. Cheap show chicks are usually sold at this time because the sellers don’t want to trouble themselves with winter chicks. Raising chicks over winter is a very frustrating process, but that’s for another post.

Standard Size or Bantam?

Many people are confused by the two terms. What is standard size exactly? What does Bantam even mean? Standard sized fowl are birds that are “normal sized,” or, in other words, a standard size of their breed. Bantams are “miniature,” or small versions of the same breed.

Now you may be thinking, which size is most economic? Bantam or standard? Here are the pros and cons of each choice.

Pros: Bantams

  1. Bantams eat much, much, less.
  2. They take up much less room
  3. They look more attractive to some people. (Smaller, cuter)

Cons: Bantams

  1. Bantams lay a bit less, on average, then the standard size counterpart of their breed.
  2. Bantams also tend to be more skittish, (but it also depends on the breed.)
  3. Many Bantams can fly quite well for short distances.

Pros: Standard

  1. Standard birds lay more, on average.
  2. They’re usually more domesticated.
  3. They’re larger, (and larger may be seen as better, depending on your preference.)

Cons: Standard

  1. They eat much, much, more.
  2. They’re larger, and therefore defecate literally everywhere they can in large quantities.
  3. Large aggressive roosters can be dangerous.

Based on this Pros/Cons post, you should be able to choose what type you want: Bantams or Standards.

Silkies: A Substitute For An Incubator?

The strange looking Silkie chicken is characterized by its bizarre feathering, which is almost fur-like.

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The breed originated in some region on Asia, and became an ornamental fowl, which eventually spread to the other continents. The Silkie, though not a great choice for laying eggs, is a great pet for children and adults alike. The breed has a very calm demeanor, and many types. The breed can vary from brown to black to white.

In fact, these days, Silkies are still seen as an ornamental bird. The breed comes in standard size and bantam. They don’t lay very much, but they do brood remarkably well. This is the main way they’re used in a flock. They sit on eggs and hatch them. Regrettably, this is rare thing among poultry these days because humans have inadvertently bred fowl to be disinclined to lay. But Silkies are not only used for hatching eggs. They are also great show birds, since they look distinctive and have good show temperaments. Lots of breeders become great Silkie fanatics.

But mainly, I recommend this bird for people who can’t afford an incubator. I know from personal experience that incubators aren’t the cheapest method of hatching eggs, since a decent incubator costs roughly $60. Silkies are perhaps not quite as reliable, but much cheaper.

 

Chicken Forums

When you’re a beginning chicken owner, it would helpful to have a knowledgeable community that could help you along with your questions and problems. And, thanks to the Internet, you can have that. Here are some great online chicken forums that you can easily join.

1. Chicken Forum

This forum is probably the most informal, in other words, the friendliest, and that’s the best kind of forum for the beginning hobbyist. Chicken Forum answers basic health questions fairly quickly, and is a great place to connect with other chicken owners. You can look at other peoples chickens there, and get reviews of particular breeds.

2. Showbirdbid

Showbirdbid is a more show-related chicken forum. It’s more for professional breeders and breeders in general. In fact, you can contact many notable breeders through this forum. I recommend this site highly. It’s helped me a lot, and I’ve learned much from it.

3.  BackYardChickens

This site is a blend of the two above, being both informal and full of show information. This site may be the most user friendly, and probably hosts the most traffic of all the chicken forums.

These forums are invaluable, mainly for the reasons listed.

  • They answer questions that need to be answered. Such questions may relate to flock health or hatching problems.
  • You can contact great breeders to buy from.
  • It’s nice to have a friendly community to relate to.

Good Chicken Breeds For Beginners

I’ve come across several good chicken breeds for beginners… Especially for chicken beginners who plan to raise birds mainly for eggs.

1.

The absolute hardiest and toughest bird breed, that will give you copious amounts of eggs and a long life, is the Plymouth Rock chicken.

barred_plymouth_rocks

It is a medium sized bird, so it doesn’t eat an ungodly amount of food, though it would if you let it. This breed can stand a lot of weather fluctuation. I live in Indiana, USA, and the winters can get as cold as 0 degrees, with the summers as boiling as 105. Barred Rocks can withstand all this, and resist heatstroke remarkably well.

2.

The second best beginner breed is the Rhode Island Red.

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It isn’t quite as hardy as the Barred Rock, but it is a great layer, and possibly a handsomer bird. This bird is characterized by its “brick” shaped body, and its deep crimson feathering. It’s also a heavy bird, heavier then a Barred Rock. In fact, the Rhode Island Red is more of a meaty bird, sometimes used for meat consumption instead of eggs.

3.

A third good beginner breed is the Hampshire Red.

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It looks similar to the Rhode Island Red, and for good reason. The breed is an offshoot of the Rhode Island Red breed. It is a heavy bird; meaty. It is a fine egg layer, however, and nice looking.

Beginning chicken owners often just purchase hatchery birds that cost roughly 1.50 apiece. This may seem like the easiest & cheapest thing to do, but I urge you to buy from a breeder of birds, who raises breeds to the “standard of perfection.” It furthers the breed. The birds you buy from the hatchery are usually of poor quality, and never represent the breed properly.

Actually, chicken breeds are becoming undermined by the flood of their poor quality bird counterparts. So consider buying birds that continue their breed. They will be of better quality, meaning they will lay better, and usually be larger.

Hatching Eggs

Sometime in your poultry experience, you may want to hatch your own eggs. It’s a learning experience, and quite interesting. But usually quite frustrating as well… Be warned.

For the beginning individual who wants to hatch an egg, you should always start out with a fairly cheap “hobbyist” incubator. I use the Little Giant Incubator. It’s a satisfactory beginning incubator, and will furnish many eggs, if you use patience.

There are two ways to start a hatch. First of all, I always recommend putting at least five eggs in the incubator at one time. I say all the eggs at the same time because some people opt for a “staggered hatch,” which means you put in eggs at separate time periods, over a couple of days. This type of hatching can become quite confusing and sometimes disastrous, especially for the beginning breeder. I’m guilty of implementing the staggered hatching technique, usually because I’m impatient and want to get as many eggs in the incubator as possible… (I have to quit doing that.)

I have to warn you, the hatching process is full of death. Lots of chicks will die before they hatch, and it’s not uncommon that they die after they hatch. Staggered hatching does increase the death ratio, I’ve found… Sometimes there’s too many negative variables for the chick or embryo to live.

But I encourage everybody and anybody to raise their own chicks. It’s a fulfilling experience!

Heatstroke & Chickens: What to do!

The best time of the year for a chicken is Fall and Spring. Things are temperate. This “perfect weather” makes the Hens lay beautifully.

Summer on the other hand, is usually not a temperate part of the year, especially if you live in the American heartland. It’s not uncommon for your birds to contract heatstroke. 

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Heatstroke is diagnosed by the following signs. 

  • Is it excessively warm outside? Over 75 degrees Fahrenheit? 
  • Is your bird panting, or opening its beak up? 
  • Is your bird holding its wings away from its body? 
  • Is your bird dizzy and drunk looking? 
  • Is your bird falling to the ground uncontrollably? 

These four signs should help you determine if your bird has heatstroke or not. If the bird does, there a few ways to treat it. One thing you have to keep in mind is stress, however. If the bird has dire heatstroke, and you dunk him/her in a bucket of ice water, this might shock the bird to death. The animals body will simply shut down and quit working. But here’s what you should do.

  • Move the bird to a cool and breezy environment.
  • Encourage it to drink lots of water.
  • Use a chunky push syringe if you have to, and force-water the bird.
  • Do not stress the chicken.