Fall Chicken Care Tips For a Healthy Flock

fall chicken care tips

Getting ready for fall starts in the late summer. Fall chicken care thoughts begin to run through my head. Chilly weather will require some changes to routine, and buildings need to be checked for repairs. Using the days with pleasant weather to get these things done keeps us from repairing and scrambling during a storm. Are you preparing now? Here are some of the things we begin to do.

Health Check – Beak to Tail Chicken Checkup

Making sure that your individual flock members are ready to weather the upcoming changes is important. Some minor ailments can be treated successfully when found early. Are any chickens showing loose runny droppings? How about bony breast bones or crop issues? Is the flock eating a healthy whole grain organic layer feed? Quality ingredients help your backyard flock maintain a healthy digestive tract and resist parasites and other diseases.

Molting season has begun here. The flock requires an increase in protein during the feather regrowth period. You want to support this nutritionally with a well balanced feed and tasty supplements such as grubs, cooked meat scraps, and even scrambled eggs if you have any to spare. Help your feathered friends get fluffy before the snow falls and the temperature drops.

fall chicken care tips

What about Pumpkins and Chickens?

The facts about the health benefits of feeding pumpkin seeds and flesh might surprise you. We have all probably heard that pumpkin seed can help your birds repel internal parasites. While there is a tiny grain of truth to this and I have even said it before myself, there is more to the story.

Pumpkin seeds, in fact the whole pumpkin supplies a powerhouse of nutrients for the flock. Chickens love fresh pumpkin and it’s a great nutritional boost.

Pumpkins have a richly colored flesh that contains high levels of beta carotene. The beta carotene is the precursors to vitamin A. In addition, fresh pumpkin is a source of Vitamin C and E and contains most of the B complex vitamins.

Do Pumpkin Seeds Repel Internal Parasites?

Feeding pumpkins is a good part of fall chicken care And, if you can get a hold of some free pumpkins from neighbors or friends after the holidays, take them! If they haven’t been carved into jack o’ lanterns, they will store a long time in a cool area of your home or basement.

The seeds from the pumpkin are also packed with good nutrition. High in protein, pumpkin seeds are a smart choice for a chicken flock treat right in the midst of the fall molting season. Increasing protein during molt helps your birds grow in their glossy new feathers with less metabolic stress. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Fall Chicken Care Tips

Another theory on fresh pumpkin is the possibility that the seeds will help your chickens avoid an overload of intestinal worms. This is a partial truth, so be careful not to count on it. Especially if you have birds that are suffering with internal parasites.While the seeds of pumpkin and other squash contains cucurbitacin which acts as a paralytic agent on tapeworms and round worms, it is a very mild treatment. In a mild intestinal worm situation, the pumpkin seeds may be enough to paralyze the worms so they can be excreted. But don’t count on it. In order to use the pumpkin seeds most effectively, a tincture should be prepared, and then used to dose each animal by adding it to the water.

Feed Healthy High Protein Treats as Part of Fall Chicken Care

Meal Worms are always a welcome treat and these little goodies are bringing a protein punch. Great for helping your chickens recover quickly after a hard molt and a great training tool. Chickens will cooperate better when meal worms are involved!

Seed blocks, peanut butter treats and other commercially available boredom busters are good to keep on hand for times when the chickens have to be cooped up. If you don’t normally purchase scratch grain, fall and winter are a good time to have some on hand. I feed a small amount to my flock in the evening during cold weather.

The key is to keep the amount of scratch or seed treats at a treat level. This should not become a major part of your chickens’ diet. Seeds are high in fats and can lead to obesity and internal fat deposits. Use the treats as a tool, to get the flock to go where you need them to go. It’s a great incentive for getting the chickens to go to the coop in the evening.

Coop Upkeep for Fall and Winter

Now that you have taken care of buying lots of pumpkins and treats for the fall and winter, what other fall chicken care steps should you take?

chicken on a nest

Managing the Annual Molt Mess

Molting makes the dust in the coop even messier. I recommend doing a thorough coop cleaning while the weather is still nice. Scrape out old bedding. Inspect for rodent holes, insect evidence, and wet areas. Take care of any structural problems now so you don’t have to take care of building maintenance during a winter storm.

  • Clean the roost bars and treat with DE powder (Diatomaceous Earth) . The DE powder will kill off any mites trying to take up residence on the roost bars. Another great product for pest control is First Saturday Lime. It is safe for children, pets, and your feathered friends.
  • Check for leaks in the roof, or other parts of the building. While you are checking for leaks, also check that your ventilation is optimal. Ventilation refers to the air flow circulating air inside the coop and keeping it from becoming stagnant. Ventilation is very important in winter because stagnant air can also lead to moisture collection. Moisture in the presence of sub freezing temperatures can lead to frost bite on combs, wattles and feet. 
Fall chicken care tips

Decisions about Heat and  Additional Light

I can’t speak about every area of the country but I will say this. Chickens are extremely cold hardy. If the coop is draft free, has good roof ventilation, can be closed securely at night and during storms, there is little chance that you need additional heat. After the chickens go through the molting, they grow in healthy new feathers and downy under feathers for winter. Chickens will go to roost at night, fluff up their feathers and cover their feet on the roost bar.

Chickens are built for cold weather

It is amazing to me, how much heat is generated by my chickens during the night. The coop is usually very comfortable inside when I arrive in the morning. The chickens are happy and there is less chance of fire. Only once in our chicken raising have we used additional heat. Now, perhaps you live in a particularly frigid area during the winter. I can’t make this decision for you. Draft free goes a long way to keeping the chickens warm enough. Don’t rush to heat the coop just because you are feeling the chill of winter.

Sidenote: Have you tried brooding chicks in late summer and fall? Read more in this post : The Best Time to Start Chicks

Another thing to consider is what happens during a power outage. If your chickens have not been allowed to acclimate to the seasonal change in temperature, they are more likely to succumb to cold if it occurs suddenly.

fall chicken care tips

Should Lights be Added to the Coop?

Adding light may in fact keep the hens laying eggs longer into the winter. I prefer to let them have a natural rest. We use lights only for a short time in the evening while we are cleaning up and feeding/watering the birds for the night. This extends their light by possibly an hour and is not really a factor in their egg laying. Naturally, egg laying slows down during the cold, darker months. This gives the hens a rest and allows energy to be used for warmth. I still collect enough eggs for our use during the winter.

As your hens age, they may lay very infrequently during the winter months. This is normal. If you can add more chickens in the spring, your young layers will carry you through the winter with enough fresh eggs.

Fall Chicken Care – Keeping Fresh Water Available

If your coop is a distance away from your home as ours is, you will need to plan ahead. Empty the hose after each use. Filling containers of water to keep at home will help you avoid frozen water when you are feeding in the morning. I refill gallon jugs and sit them by my back door. In the morning, I grab the water jugs and refill the water bowls with room temperature water from home. The chickens all run to get a warm drink!

With just some foresight and minor upkeep, repair and fall chicken care, you, your chickens and the coop will be ready for winter weather.

The Winter Chicken Coop

The Winter Chicken Coop – To Heat or Not and More Winter Concerns winter chicken coopOne question I hear a lot as cold winter sets in is, How do I prepare the winter chicken coop? As a longtime chicken owner, I understand the desire to give the feathered family all the best in accommodations. I mean, these birds give us healthy nutritious eggs and lots of enjoyment! I want to give my chickens the best of everything too. But, we also have to consider that the chicken is technically a farm animal, commonly placed under the heading of livestock and designed to withstand a certain amount of winter weather. I live in the mid-Atlantic area though where winters are not that extreme so lets break this down a little so you can make an informed decision on whether or not you need to add heat to your coop. Keep reading for more about the winter chicken coop.

Do We Heat Our Winter Chicken Coop?

Let me start with the temperate climate that I live in. We rarely have extended periods of time with temperatures in the single digits. Contrast this with my friends in northern Michigan, Canada, Maine, Upstate New York where weather may stay in the single digits during the day and dip below zero at night. In my area a fully enclosed well ventilated coop will not need extra heat during the majority of winters. Even during cold weather, when I open the coop in the morning, the water is not frozen solid and the coop is warm. The chickens have huddled close together on the roost and shared body heat. Last year, we had the exception to the rule and I did end up running a heat lamp in the coop for a couple of nights. The weather had been extreme for our area for an extended period of time. These type of extremes can stress the chickens and possibly lead to illness. So, I broke down and heated the coop with a heat lamp. This was plenty of heat for our coop and kept the birds comfortable and healthy. I was nervous about the fire risk and checked the bulb and cord frequently for signs of wear or hazard. I have seen extra safety measures taken using a metal chicken wire basket placed under the heat lamp to catch it if the lamp accidentally drops from where it is hanging. I take fire risks very seriously because every year you hear of tragedies resulting from heat lamps malfunctioning or being used incorrectly. Please take all possible precautions if using a heat lamp to warm the winter chicken coop. Read more on how to avoid a chicken coop fire

Always Use Caution 

If you live in an area with extreme weather, I recommend that you go cautiously into adding heat to the coop. Consider both the fire hazard, discussed above and the effects of added light during winter. Chickens feathers are made for insulating and trapping warmth. If a chicken has successfully passed through the molting season and regrown feathers, they will be able to keep warm if the coop is enclosed, has good ventilation and is not drafty. Of course there comes the point when a prolonged cold snap begins to take its toll and your birds may become stressed. I mention a different type of heat system for coops at the end of this post.

winter chicken coop

In addition to heat, the heat bulb  also provides extra light during the night. All that extra light can cause a chicken to produce eggs when it should be resting and recovering from molt. Letting the natural molting/no egg laying season run it’s course is what is best. This lack of egg production during molting season is nature’s way of giving the chicken time to build up again after feather production. It’s natural and should be expected. Some years our chickens molt quickly and will be laying eggs again during the winter months. Other years it seems that they take the winter off!

And lastly, if you do intend to heat your chicken coop, make sure you have a back up plan in place if your heat system breaks, or a power outage occurs. Chickens kept in a heated coop may not survive a power outage that takes out the heat source during a cold night. The sudden change in temperature can be deadly. I have talked to chicken owners who do heat the coop, but only to raise the temperature a few degrees. This way, if a power outage occurs the change is not drastic.

I am seriously considering buying the Sweeter Heater for our coop. It hangs on the coop wall and provides moderate heat using safer, low wattage power. The manufacturer recommends the Sweater Heater be side mounted for grown hens in a coop. I would only need to use it during extreme cold snaps here. You may need to use it more frequently where you live if your temperature frequently drops below zero.

Ventilation and Drafts- What is the Difference?

winter chicken coop

Ventilation is important even during cold months. Ventilation is air that freely moves in and out of the coop, gently. Drafts on the other hand, are air currents that blow directly on the chickens on the roost or when they are standing in the coop. Do not seal your coop up tight. The lack of ventilation will cause moisture to accumulate, causing condensation and this can lead to frostbite (Frostbite at first, looks like black spots on combs and wattles). Drafts on the other hand, will cause chickens to be stressed and cold. The difference between a draft and ventilation is the rate of air flow. If you see the chicken’s feathers lifting while they are on the roost, they are in a draft. Find where it is coming from and seal it off. Good ventilation will also keep the ammonia odor from collecting in the coop. Ammonia build up can cause respiratory problems in chickens. Ammonia builds up and gets worse in the presence of moisture and lack of ventilation. Air quality in the winter chicken coop is very important to your flock’s health, as they often will spend more time in the coop in colder months.

Keeping the Water From Freezing!

Water must be provided even during freezing weather. Luckily, once chickens go to roost, they don’t get up for a drink during the night. Make sure you provide plenty of water and keep the water bowl filled with fresh water during the day. During extreme cold weather here, I need to bring jugs of warm water from the house to refill the water bowls. I don’t use a water fount during the winter because the water freezes in the fount and it stays in there! I prefer to use the Fortex rubber feeding pans. They don’t break when frozen and the ice will break out easier.

If you have an electric outlet or electricity in your coop, there are heated chicken waterers available. If the power fails, the water in the fount will freeze solid and you will have a hard time getting the ice block out of the fount. The rubber feed pans have the advantage of being flexible so that the ice block can pop right out and you can refill the bowl. A lot of commercial products are available. The trick is knowing whether they will work for your situation or not.

How have you handled the winter chicken coop issues with your chickens? Do you heat your coop?

Until Next Time, Stay Warm!