With the passing of the Autumn Equinox, the sunlight fading and winter on it’s way, now is an ideal time to give your chicken coop a thorough clean out. Chickens aren’t difficult to look after, but they do need a clean, draught-free coop to protect them during the colder months. Doing the hard work now will save you a deep clean in January/February when it is too cold.
Here are some top tips to keep your hens happy during the colder months.
1. Pick a dry day (easier said than done), start early and take everything apart. Remove the roof if possible and the roosting bars, droppings trays and nesting boxes if you can, and brush out any nesting material. Using a special spray, such as Barrier V1 disinfectant, give everything a thorough scrub, remembering the corners and inside the top of the coop; places where mites like to hide. I like to use a bucket of warm warm, a squirt of poultry disinfectant and a Bucket Brush and paint scraper to get to those fiddly areas. The roosting bars are easily cleaned with a pressure washer as these tend to be where the most caked in droppings are. Pay particular attention to the corners and joints as these are the most likely places for beasties to lurk!
Once you’ve scrubbed everything, rinse clean with a watering can or hose pipe and allow everything to air dry. Reassemble the coop and give everything a good sprinkle of Red Mite Powder, especially the ends of the roosting bars.
2. Next, it’s time to look at the feeders and drinkers. Empty the food and water out and give those a scrub too. Rinse them very thoroughly and allow them to dry. The plastic Grub and Glug can be placed into a dishwasher (top shelf) and they come out good as new (but maybe do this at night when your hens have gone to roost). Consider investing in a spare set of feeders and drinkers as this makes cleaning out easier and they aren’t too costly.
3. Check the structure of your wooden coop and look for damage. Make sure all locks are secure, oil the hinges and tighten any screws that you can see. Consider treating the coop with a wood preservative if necessary.
4. Look at the ventilation of the coop. Omlet plastic coops have special air gaps built in as do most wooden coops. Good air flow is vital for the health of your hens, so don’t be tempted to block up ventilation holes for the winter to keep them warm. Hens have a higher body temperature than us and as long as you feed them well, they won’t suffer from extreme cold in the UK. However, if you do want extra peace of mind, you can buy an Extreme Temperature Jacket to fit on your Eglu.
5. People assume that keeping chickens means you will have rats. Rats aren’t interested in chickens, only the feed. With food supplies low in the winter, rats come closer to civilisation in search of food. Making sure you use feeders will help reduce spills and that should prevent Mr Rat from visiting. Keeping the feeders in the run will stop vermin entering and making sure you always feed treats in bowls or scatter feed inside the run should stop any nocturnal visitors.
6. To prevent your chickens’ water freezing, consider investing in a water heater for your drinker. These are usually a plastic disc that your drinker sits on and they are mains operated. They use a low voltage, so they are perfectly safe for your hens. This saves you changing the water every few hours when the temperature plummets.
7. Consider moving your coop to a more sheltered part of your garden, away from prevailing wind, if possible. The location of your coop can have a huge effect on your hens. If this isn’t possible, make sure you have suitable run covers to prevent rain and snow entering the run and coop.
8. Your hens will spend more time in the coop in winter due to the longer nights. With their increased feeding (to help them keep warm) there will be increased droppings, so you will need to clean the coop out more often. I tend to ‘poo pick’ every couple of days to keep on top of things. Adding extra bedding material to the droppings tray will also help keep the coop warmer.
9. Giving your hens a handful of mixed corn an hour or so before dark will also help keep them warm overnight, as will making up a bowl of pellet porridge. Simply pour boiling water over pellets and stir. Allow to cool and give this to your hens. You can add Poultry Spice as well to give them extra vitamins for the Winter.
10. In the winter, your hens won’t have as much access to your lawn, so give them greens to supplement their diet. Half a raw cabbage hung up in the run will keep them occupied for hours and it will also prevent boredom. Stuffing a wild bird cage feeder with kale or greens is also a good idea.
11. With limited access to the garden, give your hens a purpose made dust bath to help keep themselves clean. Fill it with dry compost, cold wood ash from your fire and a sprinkling of mite powder.