As the days become short and the night’s cold, we all like to come home and turn up the heat but unfortunately this is not a luxury that your birds have.
Whilst their feathers should help keep them warm, frosts can damage your bird’s combs and wattles. You can apply Vaseline to the wattles and comb if you know it is going to be particularly cold and frosty to help protect them from harsh, cold weather.
On particularly cold days, your birds will burn more calories to keep warm. During these times you can give an extra 10% feed without doing any harm. This means increasing the amount of pellets or mash you give your birds - not an increase in their treats!! As always, we need to ensure their diet remains balanced.
Whilst our tendency during cold weather as owners is to completely shut the ventilation holes in the shed, this can be harmful as it allows gases such as ammonia to build up in the house. Ammonia is an irritant gas and can damage the eyes, leading to blindness. This can be temporary but can, in extreme cases, be permanent. The irritation to the eyes can cause your bird to scratch its eyes using its claws therefore potentially causing severe damage. Furthermore, ammonia can damage the windpipe (trachea) of your birds leaving them vulnerable to respiratory infections such as Infectious Bronchitis. This is the main reason for respiratory disease being more common in the winter than the summer. If your eyes sting when entering your poultry house, or you can smell high levels of ammonia, then it is at a level harmful to your birds, therefore keep the litter and house clean alongside increasing the amount of air entering your poultry shed.
All that being said, never expose your birds to draughts. It is common for many houses to have ventilation holes at the top of the sheds near to the perches. This is usually fine for small hens but in certain circumstances, your cockerels head will be directly in the line of fire from the cold incoming air, causing him to become ill.
Your drinkers can freeze overnight and many people have advocated putting salt in the water to prevent this – never, ever add salt to your bird’s water as you can give them salt poisoning very easily which can kill them. There are two options to deal with frosty drinkers - with tip out the drinkers after your birds have perched and refilling them first thing in the morning, or to get water pipe lagging to lag your drinkers to prevent them freezing over.
Cold wet weather can mean that your birds bedding becomes damp and dirty very fast. Unfortunately, this means that you need to replace it more frequently to keep your birds clean and dry. This is especially important if your birds happen to be laying as the last thing you want is dirty nest boxes and dirty eggs. Keep the run as clean as possible by placing down untreated bark chippings. This will hopefully stop your birds bringing mud into their house. Dri Bed (a drying powder containing disinfectant) can be added to damp areas of your poultry house to dry up moisture and to kill bacteria (see the Chicken Vet shop area).
Remember, during particularly wet and blustery days, that it might not always be the kindest thing to do to let your birds out as birds such as Silkies can get wet very easily, leading to them developing a chill rather fast.
Vitamins can be given over the winter time to boost your birds during these cold, stressful times. Chicken Vet multivitamins can be given as a general purpose vitamin in drinking water for 5 days, then repeat a few weeks later if necessary.
Alternatively, if you wish to give your birds a daily boost, consider adding Digesti-health to your poultry feed. It contains a low level of vitamins as well as Biomos to bind fungal toxins and harmful bacteria thus improving the intestinal health of your birds.