Our chickens provide us with entertainment, company and fresh eggs – and lots and lots of poo! While cleaning out the Eglu might not be the most fun part of chicken keeping, those droppings can be turned into what gardeners sometimes refer to as “black gold”, one of the most desired fertilizers out there – and you can get it for free! There are however a few things to think about when it comes to getting chicken manure right. Keep reading to find out more!
It can all be used
Unlike some other types of manure, chicken manure is too strong to use straight on your flower beds or vegetable patches. It will burn the roots or other parts of your flowers and crops, and can also contain harmful bacteria that can cause illness if ingested. This is why it needs to be composted!
While you can put the chicken droppings straight on a bed in autumn and cover it with dry leaves that will moult through the winter, your best shot is probably to be patient and let it mature in a separate place. Whether you do a weekly clean or pick up droppings in your Eglu every day, everything in the coop can be put straight onto your compost, including the bedding. Adding the bedding helps create the correct ratio or carbon (bedding) and nitrogen (droppings) needed to break down plant matter and waste. As chicken droppings are extremely high in nitrogen, you will probably want to add a larger ratio of other plant matter than you would in a normal compost. Dried leaves from the garden will make a great addition.
We recommend having a sealed container for your compost rather than a heap in a corner, as the latter can attract rodents and pets that should not be ingesting chicken poo.
Composting chicken droppings
Apart from carbon and nitrogen, your compost will need air, moisture and heat. This is easily done, all you need to do is to water your mixture thoroughly and turn the heap every few weeks to get air flowing through. This will automatically heat the compost, breaking down the plant matter and burning off unwanted bacteria.
If you want to speed up the process and become a composting champion, you can purchase a compost thermometer at a local garden center and keep an eye on the temperature in the middle of the heap. The ideal temperature is 50-65 degrees Celsius (130-150 degrees Fahrenheit), and this should be maintained for about 3 days, after which you will need to turn the matter completely and start over.
This is however not necessary, you can just leave the compost to do its magic, just turning it regularly. How long it will take depends on the conditions, but to be sure everything is properly composted you should leave it for 9 months to a year.
Adding black gold to your garden
Once composted, chicken manure adds organic matter to your soil and increases the soil’s capacity to hold water, as well as returning nutrients to the soil. It’s also an amazing fertilizer that provides your plants with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in much higher levels than other types of manure. Chicken manure can be spread on top of your vegetable patch or flower bed, or worked into existing soil. You can also put a handful of manure in a watering can and let it mix for a while before giving your flowers a very nutritious shower.
If you have composted the manure properly all the harmful bacteria will have been burned, and there is very little risk of you getting ill. However, if you’re on the worried side of things, make sure you clean your veg properly before eating them, or use the chicken manure on crops that are not touching the ground, like sweetcorn, peas or tomatoes.
Eggs are truly amazing things, and sometimes we might take them for granted. For something that only takes the hen about 24 hours to make, they are eggstremely well engineered and cleverly constructed, as well as really delicious! Here are some cracking egg blogs that will hopefully make you appreciate the humble egg a bit more!
Why are chicken eggs different colours?
The ancestor of all chickens is the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus, a native of South-east Asia. All Junglefowl eggs have shells of a creamy white colour. And yet, as any chicken keeper knows, the eggs of domestic… Read more
As long as your chickens are laying and there’s a cockerel in your flock, you can hatch and incubate chicks all year round. However, traditionally the most popular time to breed your own chickens is in the spring. Hatching and rearing your own chicks from eggs… Read more
Why chickens hide their eggs and how to stop them doing it?
If you’re keeping chickens in your garden, you’ve probably become accustomed to your morning routine: wake up, drink a cup of tea or coffee and collect fresh eggs from your flock. Of course it’s an unpleasant… Read more
Make Easter more colourful with this super fun craft for the whole family – marbled eggs! Watch the video or follow the instructions below.
You will need:
Take an egg and gently poke a hole at one end. Poke a hole at the other end of the egg which is slightly larger than the first.
Empty the egg by carefully blowing through the smaller of the holes, pushing the inside of the egg out into a bowl.
Set aside the egg mixture.
Add a tablespoon of food colouring to a bowl and mix with a splash of hot water and a tablespoon of vinegar.
Put the empty eggs in the bowls and let them sit there for a while, regularly turning them to get an even coating.
When the eggs has got some colour to them, drain and put on the side to dry.
Add a few drops of a different food colouring to a plate and mix with some water and a drop of vegetable oil. Roll the eggs on the plate to cover them in the second colour. They don’t need to be fully covered.
Repeat with a few different colours, adding more layers.
Let the eggs dry on a piece of kitchen roll.
You will now have some beautiful and truly unique marbled Easter eggs! Wash your hands thoroughly and scramble the eggs you put aside earlier for a delicious lunch!
A: “Home is where the heart is”, as I always say. That’s where I feel the happiest.
B: I love exploring new places, and I’m always looking for a new place to visit.
C: I like the occasional holiday as a treat, but I prefer going places where I’ve already been.
D: I love going somewhere warm, but while there I mainly spend time by the pool.
How do you feel about children?
A: I LOVE children, they are so CUTE. And they say the funniest things!
B: Kids are like small adults really: I like some and find others quite annoying.
C: I don’t love babies, but once you can talk to them they are quite fun to be around.
D: Honesty, I don’t think they are worth the effort.
What’s your role in a group?
A: I normally stay in the background and let other people decide – it’s easier that way.
B: I tend to bond with the people who I have the most in common with and stick to them. I’m not really a people pleaser.
C: I often get the leader role without actually asking for it. Maybe I give off assertiveness? I don’t mind though, I quite enjoy it.
D: I’m normally the loud one who tries to make sure everyone is happy and that there is no awkwardness.
Would you say you’re friendly?
A: I get on with most people, and it’s important to me to be liked.
B: Yeah I suppose so. I’m extremely generous to people I like, but I don’t spend time and energy on being nice to people who I don’t like.
C: Yes, definitely. I’m curious, so I like meeting new people.
D: I can be a bit suspicious in the beginning, so maybe I don’t always come across as the friendliest of people.
How clean and tidy are you?
A: I really don’t like being dirty, and I keep my home spotless.
B: I’d say the perfect amount, but I think others would probably say I’m on the slightly messy side.
C: Can I say medium? Medium.
D: I’m not super fussed, mainly because there is always something more fun to do than to clean.
What would you say is your greatest quality?
A: I’m very easygoing.
B: I stand up for what I believe in.
C: I’m very friendly.
D: I’m ambitious and proactive.
How would you describe your sense of style?
A: I’m quite interested in fashion, especially shoes. You could say shoes are a bit of an obsession of mine.
B: The most important thing for me is that the things I wear are comfortable.
C: Elegant and classic.
D: I like big bold patterns, but my wardrobe is mainly black and white with a few colourful additions.
Mostly A: You’re a Cochin
Just like the fluffy Cochin, you are humble and appreciate the simple things in life. Because of your friendly demeanour you tend to get on well with most people and pets, but just like the Cochin sometimes becomes the submissive breed in a mixed flock you need to work on standing up for yourself to make sure no one takes advantage of you. You’re not particularly adventurous, but prefer to spend time at home with family and friends over crazy nights out, just like the Cochin. These rather lazy chickens stay close to the ground and prefer not to get their feathered feet dirty. They also have a strong maternal instinct and run the risk of regularly going broody.
Mostly B: You’re an Old English Game
These beautiful small chickens are one of the oldest breeds around. Just like you they are active and confident, always on the lookout for new things to explore. You are family orientated and very generous to those close to you. This can however mean that you find it hard to forgive people who have hurt you or the people you love, and you are quite happy to fight someone who you don’t agree with. Old English Game are hardy and quite noisy, and don’t do well with confinement. They are small and very friendly to humans, but especially roosters have an aggressive side to them, probably due to the fact that they descend from cockfighting birds.
Mostly C: You’re a Leghorn
You are an ambitious and hardworking person, and you tend to be the center of attention in any situation. Just like the Leghorn you’re not fussy and can handle most things life throws at you, but don’t like losing control. Due to their independent nature, Leghorns are difficult to tame, and if given the opportunity they will roost in trees. They are not natural sitters, but will care for their own children. They produce plenty of eggs and will be assertive but friendly towards humans.
Mostly D: You’re an Ancona
Just like these beautifully spotty birds you are independent and assertive, and will always be busy with something. You are open and friendly and take the role of the joker in a group, but it can take a while to get close to you as you only open up to those who you really trust. Anconas are happiest if they get to free range and forage for food during the day, but then return to the safety of a comfy coop. They produce a good amount of eggs, but are notoriously famous for their inability to sit on the eggs – just like you they don’t find babies that interesting.
Here’s why the Peck Toy is the perfect choice for your chickens…
The Peck Toy ensures a slow rate of feed release which is perfect for use with treats to prevent your chickens having too much at once, while keeping them satisfied throughout the day.
The Peck Toy is also a great way of keeping your chickens entertained throughout the day, especially ideal for wet or windy days when they would prefer not to leave the protection of their run, or if you are unable to let them out to free range. The Peck Toy offers an interesting, reward-based game for them to play with all day long.
Available in 2 designs to suit your coop requirements and chickens, the Peck Toy can either be hanging from your run so it swings as your chickens peck at it for treats, or free standing, placed in the ground in their run or anywhere in your garden.
Use for any of your chickens’ three nutritional needs – treats, feed or grit. The number of Peck Toys you need will vary depending on the use, for example 1 peck toy is suitable as a treat dispenser for 4 medium sized chickens, or as a feed dispenser for 2 medium sized chickens. 1 peck toy is also enough for 6 chickens if used as a grit dispenser.
Placing treats or feed in a dispenser also helps to improve run hygiene as it prevents the ground being covered in more treats and feed than your chickens need or want. This is most beneficial for preventing rodents becoming interested in your coop and run.
You can save 50% on the Peck Toy this weekend only when you sign up to the Omlet newsletter. This is an eggcellent opportunity to snap up a great deal and treat your chickens to a new toy for the spring. Get your unique discount code on the Peck Toy page here.
Now available from £7.99, or £3.99 when you sign up to the Omlet newsletter.
Terms and conditions This promotion is only valid from 05/03/20 – midnight on 09/03/20. Once you have entered your email address on the website you will receive a unique discount code that can be used at checkout. By entering your email you agree to receive the Omlet Newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any point. This offer is available on single Poppy and Pendant Chicken Peck Toys only. The offer does not apply to Twin Packs or Twin Pack with Caddi Treat Holder. Offer is limited to 2 Peck Toys per household. Subject to availability. Omlet ltd. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
Time to revamp your chickens’ hentertainment? Get 50% off the Peck Toy when you sign up to the Omlet Newsletter for a limited time only. 🐔
Terms and conditions: This promotion is only valid from 05/03/20 – midnight on 09/03/20. Once you have entered your email address on the website you will receive a unique discount code that can be used at checkout. By entering your email you agree to receive the Omlet Newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any point. This offer is available on single Poppy and Pendant Chicken Peck Toys only. The offer does not apply to Twin Packs or Twin Pack with Caddi Treat Holder. Offer is limited to 2 Peck Toys per household. Subject to availability. Omlet ltd. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
Chickens have a well-defined hierarchy. Every hen knows who’s boss. This, indeed, is where the phrase ‘pecking order’ comes from.
In everyday chicken life, the occasional peck and minor tussle is perfectly normal. But when the pecking gets out of hand, you will soon have semi-plucked chickens looking thoroughly miserable on their perches.
Bullying will always break out when new birds are introduced to a flock. This is all part of sorting out the new pecking order, everything will be calm and back to normal in a few days, usually.
Hens may peck themselves, too, with the same result – feather loss. However, you’ll be pleased to hear that in both cases – self-plucking and plucking others – the problem can be addressed and solved quite easily.
Overcrowding in the Chicken Shed
Whenever there is insufficient space, hens will begin pecking each other. The only time they’re content with cramped conditions is when they’re settling down side by side for a cosy night’s sleep. Overcrowding causes stress, and stress leads to violence. It begins with the pecking and general bullying of any chicken that sits lower down in the henhouse pecking order.
Providing more space is always the answer here. The minimum space required per chicken depends on the size of the breed; but it is always best to give the birds as much room as possible. As a general rule of thumb, you will need 2 to 3 square feet (0.18 to 0.28 square metres) per chicken in thecoop, and 8 to 10 square feet (0.74 to 0.93 square metres) per chicken in a run. This is the bare minimum, though. If you own an Eglu Go that accommodates up to four hens, six is clearly too many. Two, however, is absolutely fine.
An overheated chicken shed may also cause pecking and plucking, as the high temperatures make the birds’ skin itchy and uncomfortable. Too much light has the same effect; although this is a problem that only really afflicts birds kept in artificial light to boost egg production.
When Chickens See Red
A hen may become the victim of pecking if she is unwell. Sometimes the other chickens will turn on an ailing companion. She will usually find a quiet spot to hide, and you will be able to intervene before things get out of hand.
If a wound is involved, however, the other hens will literally see red. Blood acts as a magnet for the birds, and they will pursue and peck at the wound, plucking surrounding feathers and making the injury worse, with obvious dire consequences. Deaths are not uncommon in these circumstances, and if the wound is combined with overcrowded conditions, cannibalism can occur.
The injured chicken must be isolated from the rest of flock until her wound is healed and she’s in top shape again. If you have a Walk in run for your chickens, partitions is a great solution that will prevent the other chickens from bullying the injured hen.
You can assist the healing process by applying anti-peck and healing lotions and creams. There are many types available in the Omlet shop.
The Chicken and the Vampires
In 99% of cases, a hen who pecks and plucks herself has parasites. The culprits are usually mites, tiny vampires who leave the chicken’s skin scabby and itchy. Lice and fleas have the same effect. An infested hen will not only look untidy and threadbare, she will also have a drooping comb and will be listless.
One type of parasite, the depluming mite, eats away at the roots of the feathers, causing them to fall out without any intervention from the hen. All these chicken-nibbling nasties can be deterred using spray-on or rub-on medicines.
If your chickens’ diet is low in protein (which will never be the case if their food revolves around good chicken feed pellets), they will look for it elsewhere. Insects and other invertebrates are good sources of protein; but so, too, are feathers. If feather pecking afflicts your flock, diet is another thing to add to the checklist when getting to the bottom of the problem.
When Pluck Runs Out
If your hens lay brown eggs, evidence suggests that you may have more problems with pecking and plucking than someone whose birds lay white eggs. This sounds bizarre, and the science is not conclusive, but observational studies have come to this conclusion. It is, however, largely a problem among chickens kept in large numbers for commercial purposes, and not a consideration the average backyard hen owner should worry about it. It’s certainly intriguing, though…
In most cases of pecking and plucking, you will be able to solve the problem by simple intervention. Give the hens enough space, and keep the chicken-sucking creepy crawlies at bay, and in most cases the problem is solved.
The ancestor of all chickens is the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus, a native of South-east Asia. All Junglefowl eggs have shells of a creamy white colour. And yet, as any chicken keeper knows, the eggs of domestic hens can vary widely.
Many years ago British chicken egg producers realised that shoppers favoured brown eggs, and turned their noses up at white ones. It was even said that brown eggs were more nutritious (which is not the case – all chicken eggs have the same nutritional value).
This tyranny of supermarket brown eggs continued until about 20 years ago, when a niche market was created for eggs from specific breeds. Chocolate browns, blues, and even the much-maligned whites, all began to appear on the shelves.
But for anyone familiar with backyard chickens, this was nothing new. Pearly whites from the Sussex and Leghorn, lovely blues from the Ameraucana and Cream Legbar, red-brown beauties from the Barnevelder and Welsummer and the dreamy greeny-blue of the Araucana and Favaucana are all in a day’s egg-collecting.
But why, given the fact that those ancestral chickens all laid creamy white eggs, do these different colours exist?
Egg Painting – the Natural Way
An egg takes around 26 hours to fully form inside a hen. Twenty of those hours are dedicated to toughening and colouring the egg shell. Layers of calcium carbonate provide the toughening – which is why hens need plenty of calcium in their diets – and the colouring is down to pigments. Calcium carbonate is naturally white, so any other colour has to be ‘painted on’, from the inside.
Breeders have created hundreds of chicken varieties over the centuries, and each of these has distinctive plumage and colouring. The pigments that give feathers colour sometimes go hand in hand with specific pigments for colouring egg shells too.
For example, the Ameraucana carries the blue pigment biliverdin, and this is painted onto the shell in the later stages of the egg’s development in the oviduct. Both the outside and inside of the shell have the same blue colour.
This is not the case with a standard brown egg. Crack one open and you’ll notice it’s white on the inside. The pigment responsible for brown colouring is protoporphyrin. This is present to a greater or lesser degree on the majority of chickens. Even eggs of a creamy colour have a hint of protoporphyrin in their shells. Hens carrying an excess of the pigment – such as the Delaware and Marans – produce fabulous chocolate brown eggs.
Many hens lay brown eggs dappled with darker brown spots and streaks. The Neera and Welsummer are good examples of this. The effect is causes by the egg turning as it makes its way through the oviduct, and it is a common feature in the eggs of many wild bird species. It is details like this that enable owners to recognise eggs from their individual birds (in a small flock, that is!)
When the two types of pigment – the blue and the brown – are mixed together, the result is a greenish blue or olive colour. If the brown pigment is light, as in the Favaucana and Araucana, the eggs are a soft greeny blue. With a darker brown in the mix, the olive colour is increased, as in the aptly named Olive Egger.
What Colour Are Your Chickens’ Earlobes?
It can come as a shock to learn that chickens have earlobes. Even more surprising to hear that these lobes give a clue to the colour of egg shells.
The earlobes are obvious, once they’ve been pointed out. Chickens have three types of ‘wattle’ – the red crest, the wobbly ones on the throat, and the ones on the side of the head, towards the back – the earlobes.
White earlobes are found on hens with white or otherwise pale plumage. These birds have relatively small amounts of pigment, hence the light feathers. The same rule applies to the eggs – no pigment, and hence white eggs. Meanwhile, hens with brown or reddish earlobes lay brown eggs, and ones with a creamy, pearly, shiny white earlobes lay blue eggs.
These days, ironically, it is the non-standard-brown eggs that command the higher prices in the shops. And yet once you get a clutch of golden-yoked, grass-fed, free range chicken eggs cooking side by side in a pan, you can’t tell which shell produced which egg. When it comes to chicken eggs, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder – and the earlobe of the chicken!
Watching chickens scratch at the frozen ground or strut through the snow, you might wonder how they manage to keep their feet and legs warm. After all, this is one part of their body with no feathers to keep it cosy (unless you happen to have a feathery-legged breed such as the Cochin, Brahma or Silkie).
Surprisingly, the simple answer to ‘How do they keep their leg warm?’ is ‘They don’t!’ Those skinny, bare legs have scales, which retain heat to a certain extent, but they will still get very cold if the bird stands still for too long.
And that’s the important detail. A chicken keeps its legs warm by moving, and by not keeping all its toes on the ground for too long. These parts of their body lose heat rapidly; but the solution is quite simple.
Perching is the most effective way of retaining heat. A hen hunkers down when roosting, and her legs are tucked into her warm body. If space allows, install a flat perch too. A piece of wood with a 10 cm width will enable the hens to roost without having to grip the perch, which in really cold weather will prevent their toes freezing. (The lucky ones will simply snuggle down in a nesting box, which is the chicken equivalent of a thick quilt!)
But of course, a hungry hen doesn’t want to waste the whole day perching, so even in the coldest spells she will make a lot of contact with the ground.
Like many other birds, chickens often adopt the ‘one leg’ look, tucking one of their limbs up into the warmth of their bellies. This reduces overall heat loss and stops feet and toes from freezing on the icy ground.
An upturned pot, a log, pallet or other slightly elevated space – cleared of snow or ice – will help the hens get the circulation going again, without having to catch their breath on the frozen ground. Like all birds, chickens are warm-blooded, just like us, and their own body heat soon works its magic. Indeed, with an average body temperature of around 41°C, chickens can remain active in the coldest weather.
The leg-warming process is helped by other tricks, too. Fluffing up the feathers retains body heat, by trapping small pockets of air which are then heated up by the bird’s warm body.
Some owners give their hens a supper of corn and grains, which take longer to digest than a standard pellet or other chicken food. Part of the digestion process involves producing heat – a kind of internal hot water bottle!
In general, hens will eat more food in the cold months, as more of their energy is spent keeping warm. Some owners like to supplement the birds’ diets with extra protein or a little suet, to increase their fat levels for the winter. Fat retains heat, and the whole bird benefits – not just the legs (which will remain as thin as ever!)
Help With The Heating
You can help your hens keep their toes cosy by making sure the coop is clean and dry. Clear out any snow dragged in on the birds’ feet, and keep an insulating layer of straw on the floor. You can give the birds extra protection by insulating the coop – although there should still be some ventilation, to allow the gases released from the birds’ droppings to escape.
You can install an automatic door to help keep the living quarters snug. Heaters are also available – but never use anything other than a heater designed specifically for hen houses. It’s also best to use these only if the temperature gets below -5°C, otherwise hens may get used to being cosy all the time, and that could be disastrous if the heater fails and the birds are suddenly exposed. Heat-pampered poultry can die of cold shock.
A coop should be draft-free, but not completely sealed, as ventilation is important for healthy hens. During the day, a sheltered spot in the run or garden will help them take a breather and warm those long-suffering legs.
Chickens are amazingly hardy, and although not exactly warm, their legs will be able to cope with anything the average winter throws at them. As long as they can toast their toes on a nice perch every now and then…
Is your chicken’s coop strong enough to survive the winter?
Is it time I upgraded my wooden coop?
These are all questions many chicken keepers ask themselves when facing the reality that their wooden coop may not be up to another winter.
Take this short test to see whether your wooden coop is suitable for the winter.
Wood absorbs water, does it seem heavier to move in the winter?
A = Yes, either I’m getting weaker or my coop is definitely heavier in the winter
B= Yes, but I solved it by getting someone else to move the coop for me.
C = I’ve given up trying to move it.
D = Nope, I spent the summer sanding and varnishing my chicken coop and now it’s more waterproof than a Norwegian fisherman’s beard.
Have you had to pour boiling water onto locks to get them to open?
A = Yes, my coop deicer kit is more comprehensive than the one I use for my car.
B = Boiling water would have been a better idea than the brick I used to hit the sliding bolt which slipped and went straight through the greenhouse.
C = I religiously grease all hinges and bolts every few weeks to keep things moving.
D = I have very carefully aligned my coop to the morning sun so that the bolts and hinges have defrosted by the time I get out. On cloudy days I resort to the kettle.
Has your wooden coop grown over winter?
A = It’s funny you should mention that, yes the doors all seem too big for the frames and nothing opens or shuts properly any more.
B = Yes, all the panels seem to have swollen a bit and I’m a bit worried about what will happen when they all shrink again because I filled all that extra space with another couple of chickens.
C = Mostly seems fine, but the bottom sections are looking a bit soggy.
D = Thanks to my painstaking varnishing and siting of the coop on some free draining pea shingle it’s in tip top condition.
Is the roof leaking?
A = I’ve already fixed the roof a few times this year, and it’s leaking again.
B = Yes, but this is the first time and I think it’s easy to fix.
C = At the moment I don’t have any troubles with the roof.
D = My wooden coop is brand new and I don’t expect to have any problems this winter.
Is it cold and damp inside?
A = Yes, it does feel cold inside and the bedding gets damp quickly.
B = It is a little chilly in there, but my chickens huddle together for warmth.
C = I have no problems with dampness, and I have a lot of chickens to keep each other warm.
D = The coop keeps warm well overnight once I have shut the door, and my chickens are outside during the day.
Did you have difficulties with red mites in summer?
A = Yes, I had to clean and treat the coop and my chickens regularly and I am dreading this summer.
B = No more than usual, I’m used to it and tackled the problem as best I could.
C = I did have some mite issues over summer but I have a solid cleaning strategy in place.
D = The red mites didn’t cause a problem in my coop this year.
How long does it take to clean?
A = It’s an all day task which I dread doing so it doesn’t get cleaned regularly in winter.
B = It does take quite a long time, so it’s not fun in winter but I know my chickens appreciate it.
C = It takes a few hours to do but the whole family helps.
D = It doesn’t take me long at all and I have a good system in place.
Mostly A’s = If you experience repeated issues with your wooden coop, like red mite, a leaking roof, or poor ventilation, then these problems are unlikely to disappear overnight, and will only get worse in poor weather conditions. Consider upgrading to a plastic chicken coop for faster cleaning and red mite removal, better insulation without compromising ventilation, and happy chickens all-year round.
Mostly B’s = You’ve done well to keep going with your wooden coop this far, and seem to be willing to overcome the problems involved in owning a wooden chicken coop. The coop itself may be able to survive another winter, but are you and your chickens happy about it? The most important thing for you to do here is keep an eye on any dampness inside the coop and ensure that the coop has plenty of ventilation to keep the water particles moving through without making your chickens super cold.
Mostly C’s = Sounds like you’re a veteran wooden chicken coop owner and know exactly what you’re doing! Keep an eye on the typical problems areas throughout winter, and make sure you’re keeping up with the cleaning, especially if you have lots of chickens sharing the coop. In spring, reevaluate how your coop held up during the colder months, if some damage is done, or some of your chickens got ill, consider why this might be and look to other housing options.
Mostly D’s = Your wooden coop is likely in its early days, or you have spent lots of time and effort in preserving it as best you can. It’s still worth checking around all the problem areas before the worst of winter hits, and looking at potential accessories which could improve your chickens’ home. For example, an Automatic Chicken Coop Door can be placed on the wooden coop door so that it can be shut earlier in the evening once all your chickens have gone to bed, even when you’re not yet home. This way your chickens can begin to roost in the warm with no blowy drafts, and they will also be safe from predators once they’ve gone to bed.
While most people check the weather forecast to help them plan their week activities or outfits, chicken keepers can also be using it to predict what accessories their coop needs to ensure their girls are as comfortable as possible.
From sun to snow, wind to wet, the breakfast time weather reports and the handy app on your phone are all giving you helpful hints that you might be ignoring.
🌡 TEMPERATURE 🌡
Firstly, the most obvious indicator: the predicted temperature for the coming 10 days. Depending on what time of year we are in, this can be super helpful or utterly confusing if it is varying drastically. But let’s think about what we can act upon.
In winter, if the predicted temperature is at below 0 degrees celsius for more than 5 days in a row or the temperature is near freezing and you have very few chickens in your coop, you may want to consider attaching the Extreme Temperature Blanket to your Eglu to give your chickens some extra help with keeping warm, without limiting the coop ventilation.
During hot summer months, when temperatures can be above and beyond 30 degrees celsius daily in some countries, it is wise to move your chicken coop into an area that is in the shade for as much of the day as possible. For your chickens, daily health checks are essential to ensure they are not suffering with the high temperatures. If your coop is attached to or inside a secure run, you can leave your coop door open to increase airflow at nighttime without your girls being exposed to predators.
☀️ SUN ☀️
When the sun is shining, it is tempting to cover your chickens’ run with shades so that it is completely protected from the sun inside. However, this can have the opposite effect on what you intended. Instead of shading and cooling the area, lots of shades create a tunnel which traps the heat, like a greenhouse.
It is best to keep them in a shaded area, and protect one side of the run from the sun. If your chickens are out free ranging most of the day, make sure that they have access to shady patches in the garden, and that their food and water is also in shade.
❄️ SNOW ❄️
Exciting for some, but for others a weather warning for snow can be very disappointing. You may want to consider sheltering your coop’s run with clear covers to prevent as much snow getting on the ground inside the run as possible. If snow is predicted for the foreseeable future, you may want to prepare for long term icy conditions and bring your coop closer to the house so it is easier to check on your chickens, and they can benefit from some of the shelter your house might provide. During the snow, be sure to dry off damp feathers and remove any chunks of ice from claws. Increase the amount of bedding and food you are giving your chickens too as this will help them stay warm.
If you have time, it might be wise to consider how effective your chicken coop will be against the bitter cold. If you have a wooden coop, check if it is water-tight and well insulated. If you are not confident in your wooden coop, consider upgrading to a sturdy plastic alternative, like the Eglu Cube. It’s twin-wall insulation works in the same way as double glazing to keep the cold out of the coop, and the heat in during winter. The plastic material is waterproof and super easy to clean out quickly (especially important on chilly winter days).
☁️ CLOUD ☁️
The most boring of all weather forecasts, but often a rest bite from other more extreme conditions. During winter, a few cloudy days should raise the temperature slightly and give you a good opportunity to clean out your coop and thoroughly check on your chickens and make any changes needed for whatever the forecast predicts for the coming days.
🌧 RAIN 🌧
Some weather reports are more helpful than others when it comes to the exact timing and chance of there being rain. But if you’re looking at days of 90% chance of heavy showers, it would be wise to act fast and get some protective clear covers over the run. If the ground under your chickens’ coop and run is already extremely muddy and wet, you might want to consider moving them to a new patch of grass, and maybe even laying down a base material, like wood shavings, to prevent it developing into a swamp!
💨 WIND 💨
How you react to a windy forecast completely depends on the wind speeds predicted. Light winds, less than 25 mph, shouldn’t cause much of a problem. You might want to add some windbreaks around the base of your Eglu and a large clear cover down the most exposed side. However, in extreme high winds, the worst thing you can do is completely conceal your run, particularly a larger Walk in Run, with covers from top to bottom. In a large run, the mesh holes allow the wind to flow through without causing any issues to the structure, and a clear cover round one bottom corner of the run will provide chickens enough shelter. If you cover the run completely, the wind will be hammering against it and is more likely to cause the structure to lift or move.
If your chickens are in a smaller run attached to their coop, we recommend moving it to a position where it will be most protected from the wind and any falling debris, for example, against a sturdy building wall. The Eglu’s wheels allow you to easily move the coops around your garden to suit the conditions. If you are keeping your chickens in their Eglu coop and run, and not free ranging during dangerous weather conditions, consider adding some entertaining toys and treat dispenser for them to prevent boredom, such as the Peck Toy or Perch.
Backyard hens usually spend their entire lives outdoors. This means they have to cope with everything the year throws at them, from blazing summers and sub-zero winters to year-round downpours.
Being hardy birds, they take much of this in their stride. But there are still ways of helping your flock through the changing seasons.
This is the most challenging time of year for any animal living outdoors. The cons outweigh the pros, but with a little bit of help from their human friends, chickens can shrug off the excesses of the season.
Although chickens cope well with the cold, they don’t thrive when it’s both cold and raining. Protecting the run with extra weatherproofing will help enormously. Keeping the birds in an insulated Eglu is a good place to start.
Keep the hens’ feet dry in wet weather by lining the run with wood chippings.
Chickens usually return to the coop at dusk. But in the winter you may find your birds trying to get more pecking time from the short days. If your hens are prone to wander in the dark, a high visibility hen coat will help you locate them – and also ensure they’re visible to anyone else, should they stray from the garden. The coats also keep the birds cosy, so it’s a double blessing in the winter. A coop light can also encourage wandering chickens to return to the coop for bed time.
Roosting perches enable chickens to cuddle up in the cold – something essential on a cold night. Roosting also prevents their feet from becoming too cold.
In sustained sub-zero conditions, rub petroleum gel (e.g. Vaseline) on the hens’ combs and wattles, to prevent them becoming frostbitten.
Keep an eye out for coughs, sneezes, lethargy, or other signs of illness. A chicken with a weak constitution may be vulnerable when the cold weather kicks in.
Egg numbers will drop – this doesn’t mean you’ll have no eggs for breakfast, though. Three hens should till deliver eight eggs a week in the coldest months, but this will vary somewhat.
Make sure the hens’ diet remains healthy, and add some extra vitamins and minerals to keep their immune systems up to scratch.
Their water will freeze, so be prepared to break the ice, and have some spare water dispensers ready in case things freeze up entirely.
On the upside, winter might kill off any lingering red mite in coops and runs!
As the days lengthen, your hens will start laying more eggs. The garden comes back to life, and the chickens will find things worth scratching for in the ground.
Foxes will be hungry after a long, lean winter, so make sure your coop and run are secure. Automatic doors will ensure the hens are in and out at the right times, and will prevent predators from gaining after-hours access. The door will also let your chickens out in the morning, so that you can enjoy weekend mornings in bed as the days get longer.
It’s amazing, having seen your chickens happily cluck and scratch their way through freezing winter, to now see them equally happy in temperatures 20-odd degrees warmer. The main problem in summer is too much sun – but with plenty of shade in the garden, your birds will love the warm weather every bit as much as you do. A chicken coop that provides shade in itself, like the space under the Eglu Cube or the Eglu Go Up, is ideal for the summer months.
Keep the water supply topped up, as hens drink more in warm weather.
Provide a dust bath – either a dry area of ground in the garden, or a tray in the chicken run. Cat-litter trays make good baths.
Daily egg-collecting will discourage hens from going broody – something they sometimes do at this time of year.
Although the summer has gone and winter lies ahead, this is actually a great season for chickens. There are lots of juicy bugs to scratch for in the still-soft ground and leaf litter. If you have any fruit trees, there are rich pickings for the birds in the shape of windfalls.
Hens often moult at this time of year, so they need a good diet to help them stay healthy and grow new feathers. Extra vitamins and minerals will help, and a little apple cider vinegar in their water will help ensure a healthy, glossy new plumage.
If anyone nearby is planning a fireworks or bonfire party, make sure the hens are safely in their coop before the fun begins – it’s not much fun at all for a chicken caught in the firework crossfire.
Chickens are a year-round commitment. Fortunately, they make it easy for you – these wonderful birds are pretty much happy whatever the time of year.
In winter, one of the biggest concerns we see from our customers is: “how well is the Eglu going to keep my chickens warm?”. In this blog, we explain the science behind the Eglu’s carefully designed features, which ensure your chickens are kept nice and toasty in the colder months.
Air is an amazing thermal insulator. Heat is conducted between an area of more heat to an area of less heat. The warmer molecules vibrate rapidly and collide with others, passing on energy. If the material the heat (in this case the body heat from the chickens inside the coop) is trying to pass through has few molecules in it then it will be harder for the heat to transfer through it. This is the case with air, and that is why it’s commonly used as an insulator in everything from walls and windows to cooking utensils and drinking flasks – and chicken coops! The Eglus’ unique twin wall system captures air in a pocket between the inner and outer wall, taking full advantage of air’s great insulating properties. This solution stops the cold air from moving into the coop, and retains the warm air in the coop. The same process also keeps the chickens cool in summer by stopping the warm air from entering the coop and making it too warm.
Perhaps even more important than the coop’s insulating properties, is how well ventilated it is. If the coop doesn’t have good ventilation, you run the risk of either having a nasty draft if the coop has badly positioned vents or large holes and openings, or a build up of moisture if the coop is too tightly insulated. Both will prevent the chickens from staying warm on chilly winter nights, and can cause unpleasant respiratory illnesses.
The Eglu coops are designed to let air flow through the coop, but without creating an uncomfortable draft for the chickens. The vents are positioned in such a way that your pets won’t notice the fresh air flowing through the coop, but the warm air evaporating from the animals and their droppings will move through the vents and prevent any moisture.
How chickens keep themselves warm
Chickens, like many other non-migrating birds, have a layer of downy feathers under their visible plumage that they can fluff up to create air pockets close to their bodies. This will retain the heat, and will keep them warm during winter.
Chickens also have a high metabolic rate that will speed up even more during winter, helping to keep their bodies warm. This is why you might have to feed your chickens a little extra during the winter months.
Chickens are also able to decrease the blood flow to their bare legs to minimise loss of body heat. The overlapping scales on their feet and legs trap some warm air, so walking on snow and ice rarely causes chickens any discomfort. When roosting in the cold, the feet and legs are tucked in under the warm feather blanket, and the chicken might also tuck its head under a wing to get some extra body heat.
From the latest smartphone to super clever hairdryers, we often hear and read about the top new gadgets that we need in our lives, and more recently we are beginning to see amazing tech products for our pets! But what about chickens? Yep, even our feathered friends are getting a look into the future, and this is not something to be missed.
If you buy one thing for yourself or your chickens this week, make it this.
This one simple addition to your chickens’ coop, can make a hugely significant difference to your life as a chicken keeper, and many users swear by it.
Secure the Autodoor to your chickens’ enclosure; this can be the Eglu Cube house, Eglu run, any wooden chicken coop or chicken wire, and use the control panel to set when the door opens and closes, based on a specific time or a percentage of light.
In the morning, the Autodoor will open with no fuss, allowing your chickens out of their coop or run to explore, graze and stretch their wings, especially useful in summer, when your chickens are wanting to get going far earlier than you. There’s no need to get up at 5am when you have an Autodoor.
In the evening, as the sun sets, the Autodoor can be programmed to close at a time when you know all your chickens will have gone into their coop to roost, so they can be secured and safe from predators. In winter, when it can be dark before you get home, you won’t have to worry about having to hurry back in time to shut them in. The Autodoor can do it for you.
Here’s 5 other reasons, you need the Autodoor…
Battery-powered. No need to keep your coop close to a power source.
Reliable in all weather conditions. This is a gadget that will take you from winter to summer, and back again.
Built in safety sensors ensure no chicken is harmed when investigating their new gadget.
Improves coop security and insulation. The horizontal door is far safer than it’s vertical, guillotine style competitors which can be easily lifted by predators.
Low maintenance and easy to install. Everything you need to get started is in one box!
Chickens are built to be outside, and they are known to withstand some pretty extreme temperatures. Under the visible plumage birds like chickens have a layer of downy feathers that can be puffed up to create an extra layer of insulation that will keep them warm.
Cooped up chickens will soon get bored and agitated, and even though you might be surprised that they choose to go out in freezing temperatures, you should definitely always give your chickens the opportunity to stretch their legs.
Ensure chickens have a dry and sheltered spot in a secure run or in an area of the garden where they can spend time outside.We have plenty of different covers that makes this an easy job. Clear covers are ideal for winter as they will protect your chickens from wind and rain while still letting the light in. Put straw on the ground to prevent a build-up of mud, and install a perch or two for the chickens to rest on during the day.
Close the door to the coop when all chickens have gone inside to roost for the night, or let your Automatic Chicken Coop Door do it for you. If you have chickens who are eager to stay out later you can use a Coop Light to encourage them up to bed.
2. Don’t compensate for bad insulation by blocking up the coop
Well insulated coops, like the Eglus, will keep the chickens warm in winter by capturing the heat from the chickens’ bodies while not letting any cold air travel through the walls. They are also designed to let air flow through the coop to prevent a build up of moisture, without any nasty drafts.
Drafts and moisture are the two biggest winter enemies for chickens, as they make it difficult for them to stay warm and dry. If the coop is too tightly insulated the moisture evaporating from the chickens breaths and droppings will have nowhere to go. This humid environment – and the possible build up of ammonia – is really bad for chickens, and can lead to unpleasant respiratory illnesses.
Make sure that your coop is well ventilated, with vents that directs the air somewhere other than straight onto your chickens.
3. Don’t heat the coop
Chickens are hardy creatures that will gradually adapt to lower temperatures, and heating the coop will mean that your chickens never get used to the cold. This will also make them less likely to actually leave the coop and get that exercise, fresh air and entertainment that they require to stay happy and healthy.
Apart from the fact that heaters in the coop will always be a potential fire hazard, you also run the risk of your ill-adapted chickens getting a shock at a sudden drop in temperature if the power was to go off for some reason. This is much worse for them than having a slightly chillier coop.
If you’re worried you can always add a bit of extra bedding to the nest box, or put an extreme temperature cover on your Eglu.
4. Don’t leave eggs too long
Although the Eglu will keep your eggs warm and toasty, there is a risk that eggs laid elsewhere in the run or the garden will freeze in winter. Frozen eggs are not automatically dangerous to eat, but when the content of the egg freezes and expands, there’s a higher risk of bacteria entering through the cracks in the shell.
Collect the eggs every time you visit your chickens to minimise the risk of a frozen yolk.
5. Don’t ignore the water
As goes for all animals, you will want to give your chickens constant access to fresh water, even in winter. They won’t drink as much during the colder months, but here that’s actually a disadvantage, as the water is more likely to freeze if not touched regularly.
Bring the drinker inside overnight and take it out when you go to check on your girls in the morning. If the temperature goes below zero during the day, check the water as often as you can, and break the ice or change the water if it has frozen.
There are several water heating solutions available on the market. Omlet stock Eton Drinker Heaters that you can easily plug into an outdoor power source, but there are also battery powered heaters you can put in the water. Just make sure the chickens are not able to peck their way through the heater.
If the temperature stays around zero, you can put something floating in the water, like a tennis ball. As the floating object moves, it will break up surface ice as it forms on the water, which will stop, or at least slow down the freezing process.
6. Don’t put off cleaning the coop
Hanging out in the garden is not as tempting in winter, but you will still need to make sure the chickens’ house is nice and clean. It is likely that your chickens will spend more time in the coop in winter and produce more droppings there, so keep an eye out and change your routine accordingly.
7. Don’t limit the fun
The chickens might not venture as far out in the garden as they normally do, and the opportunity to forage for bugs and other treats will be limited when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. This can lead to chickens getting bored, which might result in aggressive feather pecking and egg eating.
You will need to make sure that they have plenty of fun things to do in their run. We have lots of boredom busting accessories in our shop. Put up perches the chickens can sit on and try the super fun Peck Toys or the Caddi treat holder for gradual treat-dispensing hentertainment. Or, if you feel your chickens might be the adventurous kind, why not put up a Chicken Swing they can enjoy together?
8. Don’t stick to the same feeding schedule
Your chickens will most likely eat more in winter, as they need the energy to keep warm. Give them some extra food, and make sure it doesn’t freeze in the feeder. For an extra snack, sprinkle some corn on the run in the afternoon to add both calories and some foraging fun. Or why not try this yummy chicken porridge that will warm their tummies on cold winter mornings.
Also make sure that you provide plenty of grit. As chickens don’t have teeth they need it do digest their food. The rest of the year they find and swallows little stones and pebbles as they peck around the garden, but if the ground is frozen this will be much harder.
9. Don’t ignore combs and wattles
All chickens, but particularly breeds with large combs and wattles, run the risk of frostbite on these sensitive body parts during winter. It’s not necessarily dangerous as it’s normally just the tips that get affected, but can be a bit uncomfortable. To prevent this, apply petroleum jelly to the combs and wattles during cold spells.
10. Don’t take covers off when the sun is shining
If you’re in the habit of taking the covers off the chickens’ run when it’s sunny, it might be a good idea to stop doing this in winter. Clear covers in particular will create a lovely sunroom feeling on the run when the sun is out, and your girls will love having a warmer spot to retreat to. Covers will also stop cold winds, so we would suggest keeping them on permanently in winter.
If you have a chicken keeping loved one who’s notoriously difficult to buy for, something for their chickens will probably be very well received. Take a look at our gift guide below and find something for every budget.
Eglu Cube – For someone very close to you this is an amazing gift that will surely go down a treat on Christmas morning. Whether they’ve been wanting to start keeping chickens for as long as you can remember, or perhaps already have a wooden coop which they can often be heard complaining about; the Eglu Cube is the dream upgrade for any chicken keeper. Suitable for up to 6 medium-sized chickens, the Eglu Cube is super quick and easy to clean. The house features twin wall insulation to keep inside the coop warm in winter and cool in summer, and draft-free ventilation to keep fresh air moving through the coop without exposing your chickens to a cool breeze. The secure run is predator resistant and gives chickens a safe place to scratch about when they aren’t able to free-range, and can be accessorised with run covers, perches, hanging feeders and more! Choose from a purple or leaf green house, available from £549.
Do they already have a Cube? These accessories are a great addition to their coop.
The Automatic Chicken Coop Door makes life just that little bit easier, especially in winter, and will go down a treat with tech lovers! The door can be programmed to open and close automatically by a certain time of day, so that chicken keepers can relax in the knowledge that their chickens are roosting in the safety of their coop even if the owners are stuck at work. With the light setting the door can be set to open at dawn and close at dusk, so the humans can have a well deserved lie in while the chickens start their busy day. The Autodoor can also be fitted to any wooden coop or run so makes a great gift for any proud chicken owner.
As if that wasn’t flashy enough, you can now get the Autodoor with Omlet’s new Coop Light. The light comes on shortly before the door closes and encourages the chickens to return to the run or the coop. It is also useful for checking on the chickens at night, carrying out daily chicken keeping tasks after dark, or for those early morning egg runs!
Save when you buy the Autodoor & Coop Light bundle, was £162.99, now £154.99.
The Eglu wheels are a practical present for Omlet chicken keepers who want to easily move their Eglu around the garden. If they already have wheels, run handles can make it easier to grip the run for moving, especially during the colder temperatures.
Unfortunately the end of the year doesn’t mean the end of winter, and all chicken keepers will appreciate some covers to put on the run, in preparation for the rainy months ahead. Not only will covers keep the girls dry and out of the draft, they will also prevent the lawn from turning into a mud bath. Choose the heavy duty covers for ultimate protection from wet weather, the clear covers to allow for sunlight and shelter, or the Combi covers for the best of both worlds.
Little gifts for any chicken keeper
The Ultimate Hentertainment Bundle, made up of a 1m Chicken Perch, Poppy Peck Toy, Caddi Treat Holder and Chicken Swing, contains absolutely everything a new chicken keeper would need to keep their chickens from getting bored. This eggcellent hentertainment package is now only £49.95 (RRP £59.95) in our Christmas Star Buys!
The new Limited Edition Hivis Chicken Jacket, designed to look like a traditional Christmas Jumper, will ensure chickens are safe and seen when crossing the road this December, while keeping hens super cosy – perfect for the festive season.
Egg skelter– For chicken keepers and keen bakers, this lovely kitchen eggcessory will go down a treat. As well as looking good, it is also incredibly practical and will help ensure eggs are used in date order! Shop the colour range here.
Caramel Quin and her children keep backyard hens in east London. This is their diary of introducing ex-battery hens to their older girl.
We started out with two hens and an Eglu Cube. A friend who had kept chickens for eight years needed her garden back and we’d been thinking about henkeeping, so she kindly passed them on to us. We named them Buffy and Britney (I make no apologies for brainwashing my tween kids to love late nineties pop culture).
That was just over a year ago. Buffy’s still going strong, Britney only lasted a few months. By then, we loved the girls and were already on the waiting list to collect ex-battery rescue hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust. We went as soon as possible: Buffy needed more chickens for company, or at least we did.
We drove to a nearby rehoming day and collected six birds, bringing them home in a couple of cardboard boxes. They looked sorry for themselves, skeletal, anaemic. Their crests were pale and floppy. The dog, shut inside the house, pressed himself against the glass door and salivated like a cartoon hungry dog, even though they didn’t have much meat on them. The hen with fewest feathers was nicknamed Necky and looked more dinosaur than bird. The boldest was nicknamed Dora the Explorer as she sought out every nook and cranny in the garden.
A garden! It was hard to imagine that these birds had never been outdoors before. Everything was new as they exhibited natural behaviours for the first time, like scratching and pecking at the soil for bugs. We let them explore while Buffy looked on from the chicken run. Then we swapped them and they ate while she was free range. Later we put them together in the run and watched excited as the first made it to the top of the ladder and found the Eglu.
On the first night, they didn’t all find their way upstairs to bed. A couple roosted under the Eglu Cube, so I went into the run and put them in by hand in the night. From then on, they knew where home was and made it into bed before the Autodoor closed to keep them warm and safe.
We gave them plenty of free range time. We also doubled up on feeders and drinkers, so nobody got bullied away from dinner. The hanging feeder proved best because all seven birds could get around it at once. I swapped layers pellets for smaller layers mash for a couple of weeks because the birds were used to smaller food when they were commercially laying.
On their second day we found eggs laid randomly all over the garden, cutest was the one in the hollow of a dust bath. But within a week they had all figured out where the nest box was. Having never had more than two eggs in a day, it was a thrill to get five or six (and on one remarkable day, seven). Ex-battery hens tend to be good layers, they were bred for it after all.
On day two, I remember them freaking out when it rained: they had never experienced these tiny water bullets from the sky. Then there was a brilliant moment when I threw a handful of cherry tomatoes into the run and they dived away as if I’d lobbed a grenade into the trenches.
Bullying wasn’t as bad as I’d feared though. Buffy was outnumbered 6:1 by the newly named Willow, Betty, Mercury, Dora, Chirpy da Hen and Mango Buckbeak. (Listed in order of the age of the family member who named them… youngest last, as you can tell.) We added coloured rings on their ankles early, before it was hard to tell them apart as their feathers grew back, though the feathers came in slowly because we adopted them in April. Apparently if you adopt in the winter they get feathers faster because they need them for warmth.
Chirpy and Mango were the least feathered and most picked on, sometimes bullied away from food, but we gave them plenty of free range time so the bigger ones got out in the garden while the smaller ones ate. Gradually the bullying pecks gave way to polite pecks between all the girls, preening each other after a dust bath and freeing new feathers from their protective sheaths.
Seven months on, we still have Buffy and four of the new girls. Willow and Mercury didn’t make it: one died suddenly the other was unwell for a few days first. But we’ve also nursed others back to health: my signature banana porridge is now famous for bringing ill chickens back from death’s door.*
The star of the show is Chirpy da Hen, who I swear will live longest. She might outlive me. She gave us a scare a few months ago with a backside protrusion of epic proportions. We cleaned and examined it and were convinced it was a tumour not just a prolapse. We separated her in a pet crate so her sore bum wouldn’t get pecked by the others. We fed her banana porridge and gave her painkillers. Over a week, her bad butt gradually improved until we could miraculously pop it back in again and reintegrate her with the others. She’s fine now. No, she’s more than fine. She’s badass.
BHWT is careful to manage expectations: the lifespan of ex-batts is hard to predict. Instead they say “your hen has at least experienced kindness outside of the commercial system which is more than she could have ever hoped for”. If you think pets are a good way for children to learn about mortality, try ex-battery hens. They’re fun, their eggs are yummy and it’s easy to feel positive about the good life you give them, no matter how long or short it is.
Ours have a great life with free range time every day. They eat well, even jump up to eat roses and fuchsias from the bushes and I don’t mind. The dog is used to them now and can go out at the same time without him acting like a cartoon hungry dog.
My luxury is upgrading to a Walk-in run with rain cover, which is as much for me as it is for the birds. I got it mostly so I can muck out the run without kneeling down. It also gives the girls plenty of space and lets the children and guests visit them any time.
We’ve gone full circle as Buffy is going through her first hard moult, she’s half bald in cold weather, while the ex-batts are nearly fully feathered. Next year we’ll probably add more ex-batts to our brood. I guess we initially got them thinking of the eggs but now it’s more than that: they’re part of the family… who just happen to lay delicious eggs.
For more information on battery hens and maybe opening up your home to some check out the ‘British Hen Welfare Trust’ for upcoming rehoming dates.
*We recommend only feeding your chickens treats occasionally. Always make their food outside of your kitchen to avoid cross contamination of food.
You might not think it necessary to actually make a dust bath for your chickens. They seem to do it for themselves. Whenever there’s a dry spot of earth they’ll peck and scratch at it, and then crouch down, fluff out their feathers and shake their wings to cover themselves in dust.
That’s fine. But there are ways of making the dust bath even more enjoyable, and more effective too. A bit like trading in a bucket of cold water for a power shower!
Why Do Chickens Need Dust Baths?
Just like a human bathtub, a dust bath is all about cleanliness. It’s not only chickens who like to hit the dirt – you may spot other birds such as sparrows and blackbirds taking a dust bath too. The dust or sand absorbs surplus moisture and oils on the skin. It also deters parasites such as mites and lice by coating the insects’ breathing pores or simply driving them away.
Once fully coated in dust or sand, the chicken will have a shake-down, just like a dog after a dip in a river. A quick preen of the feathers, and they’ll be all done and dusted. Literally.
In addition to these physical benefits, dust-bathing is also thought to be mentally rewarding for hens. It helps them relax, and is a way of socialising too, when a group of hens bathe together.
Things To Add To A Dust Bath
Many owners convert an old cat litter tray, or the base of a disused bird or small mammal cage, into a chicken dust bath. These can be a little shallow though, resulting in the bath contents being scattered around. An old tyre can be used, or an old crate or wooden box. It should be 20 to 30cm high, which is enough to contain 10cm of ‘dust’ plus extra height to prevent the stuff spilling out.
The dust bath should be placed in a sunny spot. This seems to be an important detail, and chickens will seek out a sunny dust bath even in the winter. The bath tub should be filled with non-clay-based, chemical-free soil (sandy is ideal), and kept dry. It will become fine and dusty in no time.
Wood Ash – One of the best things to add to the soil is wood ash. It contains vitamin K, calcium and magnesium, which is great for the birds’ health. It also absorbs toxins from the pores, so acts as a kid of medicine. Chickens will usually eat some of the ash too. This is fine – those nutrients work inside as well as out.
Diatomaceous Earth (Food Grade) – This natural, silica-rich powder has powerful anti-parasite properties, killing mites, lice, fleas and ticks. Hens will bathe in it, and it can also be added to their food.
Fine sand – Even if you have sandy earth in your area, adding fine sand will improve the dust bath. It cleans feathers very effectively, and also helps deter those pesky parasites.
Dried herbs – While very much optional, herbs bring health benefits to hens. Lavender, rosemary and thyme and mint are gentle insecticides, helping yet again with chicken parasites. Rosemary and thyme are also anti-inflammatories, and are thought to help keep hens’ respiratory systems healthy. Oregano and sagehelp boost their immune systems, and parsley provides a vitamin boost. Mint can help the birds keep cool in hot weather, and is also, due to its strong smell, thought to deter rodents and insects. And all that green stuff helps produce brilliant yellow egg yolks too.
For dust-bath maintenance, all you need to do is clean out the droppings each day, and refill the bath every week or so, depending on how heavy the usage is. If you provide your chickens with the ideal bath, you won’t see them for dust!
Most people decide to keep chickens because they’re looking forward to a supply of fresh eggs. So when the hens don’t deliver the goods, it can be worrying, baffling and frustrating.
In most cases, patience is the simple answer. There are a number of reasons why hens might not be laying, but the commonest are simply to do with age. They will not start lying until they are six months old and thereabouts. The exact timing depends on breeds. Some, such Australorps, Golden Comets and Leghorns, begin laying early, between 16 and 18 weeks. With some of the larger breeds such as, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes, you can wait up to eight months for the first eggs to appear.
Another complicating factor is the time of year. Hens that reach egg-laying maturity in the autumn or winter may not lay until spring. This underlines another common answer to the “Why are my hens not laying?” question – most breeds tend to stop producing eggs, or drastically reduce their output, in the colder months.
In the Mood to Brood
Sometimes a chicken decides to sit tight and wait for her egg to hatch. In this maternal mood, she is known as a broody hen, and will stop producing eggs. This is handy if you want to hatch chicks, as the hen will happily sit there for the three weeks it takes to hatch an egg. It’s less handy if you want her to produce more eggs, though.
The hen can either be left for three weeks, after which she will resume normal service, or you can gently discourage her. Placing a bag of ice cubes or frozen peas underneath her can do the trick. Some chicken keepers recommend placing the hen in a wire cage or dog crate, with food and water. This is a little uncomfortable, and will usually beak the brooding habit.
All Change – Moulting and Ageing
All hens have a time limit on their laying. On average they will produce eggs for three years.
Most hens take ‘time off’ for winter, and also for moulting. Many breeds undergo what’s known as a hard moult, losing their feathers over a few days and growing a new set quickly. Others may undergo a ‘soft’ moult, losing a few feathers at a time.
Keeping the hens well fed, and adding a little extra protein to their diet, will keep them healthy during this time. Their physical efforts are concentrated on growing new feathers, which is why the egg supply tends to drop during the moult.
This underlines another important point – a nutritious diet, centred on a fortified chicken feed and plenty of calcium, is vital. If hens are malnourished, egg production will drop.
Sick Birds Don’t Lay
If your hens are neither too young nor too old, not moulting, not brooding, and not hunkering down for a cold winter, the reason for the drop in eggs may be illness. Parasites – lice, mites, fleas, internal worms – can cause bodily stress that impacts their laying.
Stress can also be brought on by bullying, too much handling, injury, noisy children and pets in the garden, or poor environment. Making sure the hens have a space where they can stay happy and healthy is vital. A setup such as theEglu coop and run, along with suitable perches, feeders and other essential accessories, does the trick.
There may be other underlying health issues at play, though. Check out our pages onchicken health for more advice on diagnosing and – where possible – treating problems.
It’s just possible that your non-laying hens are laying – it’s just that you can’t find the eggs. There are two reasons for this. Free-ranging chickens often ‘go native’ and begin laying eggs in a spot in the undergrowth, rather than in the coop.
Check under shrubs, in long grass, and any secluded corner of your plot of land. If the AWOL laying has been going on for a long time, there may be a few eggs out there in the wilderness. Check their freshness by placing them in a bowl of water. If the eggs lie on their sides, they are fresh. If they are more upright (between 45 and 90 degrees), but still resting on the bottom of the bowl, they are not fresh, but still usable. Any that float have passed their sell-by date!
Eggs may also disappear if a hen acquires a taste for them. Egg-eating amongst chickens can be a sign of overcrowding or poor diet. Once she has acquired the taste, it can be difficult to stop a hen eating eggs, and she may need isolating to stop her pecking at her neighbours’ eggs. The isolation may also induce slight stress, just enough to interrupt her own laying, which may in turn break the habit.
Normal Egg Service Resumed
Don’t worry – unless a hen is very old or very ill, her egg-laying should soon resume. Owners can aid the process by making sure they’re giving the birds everything they need. They keys to a good egg supply are good food, a good space – and patience!
We can learn a lot from chickens. They go to bed early, and once indoors they snuggle up together to keep warm. No messing about after hours. As a result, they’re ready for a fresh start as soon as the sun comes up.
The problem is, there’s often no early-rising human around at dawn to open the door of the coop and let the hens get on with a busy day’s scratching, foraging and laying. Equally, you might not be able to be there to lock the door behind them after they’ve headed for bed early in the bleak midwinter.
An open door in the chicken shed lets in the cold, and unless your coop and run are secure, some very unwelcome night visitors of the four-footed kind might come calling…
“Someone Should Invent An Autodoor For Chicken Sheds…”
Fortunately, the necessary security-cum-draft-excluder has already been invented. Omlet’s Autodoor attaches directly to the Eglu Cube Mk1 and Mk2 chicken houses. But it’s not exclusively for those models – the Autodoor works with any chicken coop, with a unique and clever design that enables it to be attached to whatever des res your chickens are living in.
Like many ingenious inventions – wind-up radios and wind-up torches come to mind, or solar powered garden lights – Omlet’s automatic chicken coop door opener is very simple. It’s battery powered, with both a timer and a light sensor for maximum flexibility and control. The Autodoor won’t instantly seize up when the temperature plunges, either. It’s been tested to work down to minus-20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Autodoor is also very easy to install. Its LCD control panel is separate from the door itself, so it can be placed in the best position for the built-in light sensor to do its work.
The door, once closed, is also very secure. It doesn’t use a string and pulley system, so it can’t be lifted up by hungry creatures hoping for a midnight chicken snack. Nor will they be able to squeeze through the tight seal once the door is shut.
Attaching The Autodoor
If your hens live in an Omlet Eglu Mk2 Cube or a chicken coop made of wood, the Autodoor comes with all the fittings you need. You’ll need a few extra attachments if you want to fit the door to aMk1 Eglu Cube, anOmlet Run or a set up involving traditionalchicken wire.
The control panel and light sensor attach via a robust cable, so you can choose the best spot for registering the daylight. The sensor doesn’t mean your hens have to be home before the sun hits the horizon, though. You can set it to close an hour after sunset, to suit your birds’ routine. Equally, it can be set to open an hour after first light, if your chickens are used to having a bit of a lazy start to the day. This makes sense when the days are particularly cold – the hens might want to take advantage of their cosy place on the perch for as long as possible before venturing out into the cold frosty morning.
The door will not open in the night, even if passing headlights, a security light or a torch beam shine on the coop. It has been designed to ignore these temporary bursts of light, and only open when there has been consistent light for an amount of time fixed by you via the control panel.
So basically, that’s your chickens’ winter worries sorted.
It’s possible that you have a stoical family member who is willing to be on guard at dawn and dusk every day throughout the cold winter months to open and close the coop door. Lucky you –that’s real chicken dedication!
For everyone else, the Autodoor does all the work for you when you’re not around. Or, let’s face it, it gives you the excuse and peace of mind to enjoy a weekend lie-in without having to brave the elements on morning chicken duty!
A NEW Accessory for the Autodoor
Now your Autodoor can do even more to make winter chicken keeping that bit easier, with the NEW Coop Light. This practical light plugs into the Autodoor control panel and can be set to turn on automatically 5 minutes before your door is programmed to close, to encourage your chickens up to bed. So if you have some night owls among your flock who you worry about being left behind, this is the perfect solution.
You can also use the Coop Light on manual mode to supply light to your coop or run, ideal for checking on your chickens, or for those who are having to carry out their daily chicken keeping duties, once the sun has gone down. The cable between the control panel and the light is 2 metres long so that you can position the light in an optimal place for your set up.