Holy snow! Snowmaggedon… Snowpocolypse 2017… Call it what you want – but this is getting a bit crazy! I’m not a winter person and I’m of the firm opinion that my chickens aren’t either! I imagine that if they could choose, they would be pecking around some beach somewhere, terrorizing the tourists for treats, and pooping in someone’s tropical drink. Instead, they are stuck here in Idaho with me. In the snow… so much snow! We’ve apparently broken every record for snowfall that’s on the books. And it’s not stopping yet!
So, my chickens and I have been pathetically trying to deal with this snow. I mean, just look at that hot mess of a chicken – she can’t even stand straight in this! And the rest of my chickies weren’t doing much better! They weren’t used to be stuck in their coop and they became cranky little birds pretty quickly! I knew that the chicken “cabin fever” they were experiencing could easily lead to bad habits and unhealthy birds. I had to do something fast to get my ladies and gentlemen back to their normal, happy selves – even if I couldn’t get them the beach and chicken-bikinis (chicken-kinis??) that they certainly deserve!
After some trial and error, I’ve started to get pretty good at this winter thing! But winter can definitely be a struggle for both people and chickens alike! We gotta stick together on this!
So, I’ve created a 4 part mini-series to share aaaalllll of my tips and tricks to keep your backyard chickens happy and healthy this winter! Today I’m sharing (drum roll please!) my top four tips for making sure that your chickens stay as healthy and happy as possible this winter! So let’s jump right in and get started!
Tip 1: Perform regular health checks on your chickens
During the winter, it’s tempting to spend as little time as possible outside with the chickens because BRRRRR! But it is very important to get out there and spend some quality time with your flock, even in the winter. This will allow you to notice changes in behavior, attitude, physical appearance and appetite – all of which can be signs of illness. Just like people, it is easy for chickens to become susceptible to illnesses during winter months when the cold and snow impedes their normal food supply and lifestyle. Early detection is the best option for treating illnesses successfully. In addition to watching for signs of appetite and behavior changes, I regularly examine my chickens during the winter months. I perform a “Beak to Tail” examination by beginning at one end of the chicken and working my way down the chicken, examining each body area as I go. I begin by checking the chicken’s head, eyes, face, comb and beak. Then, I work my way down the chicken towards the tail, observing skin, feathers, feet, vent and overall body composition. Not only will you catch injuries and illnesses sooner, but you will also become more familiar with your birds. Understanding what is “normal” versus “abnormal” can really vary bird to bird, so regular examination will allow you to better understand each bird’s unique features and behaviors. This is one “ounce of prevention” that is absolutely worth the time involved!
Tip 2: Don’t stop checking for mites just because it’s cold outside
Believe it or not, these little blood-thirsty vampire pests can still be hanging out with your chickens even during the cold winter months! I know, it’s completely ridiculous, right?! The Northern Fowl Mite is actually more prevalent during colder months than in the heat of the summer. They take up residence on your chickens and feed on their blood. They especially love living in the vent area, which has the perfect temps and humidity for them to survive. This winter, I learned the hard way how important it is to closely check all of my chickens for mites and mite eggs! We noticed one of our newer chickens who was given to us by a desperate acquaintance who was moving to the city was looking a little rough. During one of their regular health checks, we discovered that these two new chickens came with some hitchhiking mites! Luckily, we were able to treat them before the mites affected our other chickens, but we certainly also learned what a serious condition mites can become. You can take steps to prevent your chickens from being bug infested over the winter by reducing the addition of new birds to your flock, limiting interaction with wild birds, providing dust baths, and making sure coops are kept mouse and rat-free.
Tip 3: Provide dust baths when the ground is frozen & covered in snow
As noted above, dust baths can be beneficial in helping your chicken stay clean and mite-free over the winter months. During the summer, our chickens have a natural dust bath area that we amend by adding wood ash and sand to the soil. Unfortunately, during the winter, it is completely covered with snow, along with every other patch of dirt that could be used as a dust bath. Once the snow melts, the ground is usually still frozen solid, making it making it essential to provide a man-made dustbath for our chickens. You can easily make a dustbath by mixing dirt, natural sand, and a little wood ash together in a container that is large enough for the chickens to bathe in. We use a large, shallow tupperware with a lid so that we can easily move and cover it during rain and snow storms in order to keep the dust bath chicken-ready at all times.
Tip 4: Check for frostbite when temps drop
Frostbite is caused from cold, moist conditions and is, sadly, very common among chicken flocks during the winter months. It usually affects the comb, feet or waddles of chickens. Keeping your chickens’ environment dry and well-ventilated is your best defense to frostbite. However, frostbite can still occur, even to the most careful of chicken owners. Discolored tissue, blisters, and limping can all be signs of frostbite. If you notice a chicken with frostbit tissue, monitor the chicken carefully for signs of distress and consult a veterinary professional, if possible. Depending on the severity, removing the chicken to a warm, indoor area may be necessary. Do not touch, warm, or apply creams/lotions directly to newly frost-bitten areas, unless directed to do so by a veterinary professional. We check our chickens regularly for frostbite and provide them with a dry, well-ventilated coop to protect them from wind, rain, snow and extreme temperatures. However, our rooster still managed to develop mild frostbite on his waddles. Frostbit waddles can occur in cold conditions when a chicken’s waddles become wet from drinking water or water drips from their beak onto the waddles. We are checking him everyday to make sure the area doesn’t become infected. If infection does occur (which at this point, luckily, I don’t believe it will), we will take him to our vet for further guidance and medication. Once we see the tissue start to heal in a couple of weeks, we will begin applying fresh aloe vera to help the tissue regenerate and to soothe the area.
Well, that’s a wrap for today! I hope you and all your chickens are staying safe and warm! Next week, I will be sharing my tips for keeping your chickens’ coop cozy and comfortable this winter!