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Cool chicks

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Winter isn’t the most pleasant time in the poultry yard, but JESSAMY MILLER has some hot tips for cool chicks.

Who would want to be a chook when it’s cold and rainy? Winter isn’t the most pleasant time in the poultry yard, but fowls have the advantage of those highly insulating feathers, so are more likely to be inconvenienced by mud than to suffer from cold.

Here are some tips for winter poultry care.


Expect poultry to eat more in cold weather, as digestion creates warmth. Traditionally farmers fed cracked corn and other whole grains to chooks in winter, as they take longer to digest, but these need to be part of a balanced ration as grains have varying levels of protein and nutrients.

TIP: A hot mash will be appreciated and can be as simple as wetting layer pellets with warm milk or water. Alternatively, buying premixed mash available from produce stores saves you storing and grinding a range of ingredients.


Rainy days can leave poultry runs muddy and slippery. Covering the roof and windward side of your run with Laserlite will make it suitable for use in all weathers.

Worm eggs require moisture for development, so worm burdens can increase in winter. Manage conditions by adding woodchips and coarse bark to the mud to make a firmer surface. Hens kept inside on dry and friable deep litter have fewer worm problems.

Feather-legged breeds get muddy feet and those with crests and beards may become waterlogged. These fowls may be best on litter indoors until weather warms up.


Keep the poultry house well ventilated so that smells from manure and moisture from condensation don’t build up. Of course, it also needs to be draught free; fowls won’t enjoy an icy wind. Ideally, position henhouse facing east or north-east so birds get morning sunshine, but are protected from southerly winds. Site roosts off the cold floor, but not too close to condensation on the ceiling. When weather permits, air out the henhouse, and turn over or remove any damp litter to avoid smells and mould.

If chooks are locked up, prevent boredom and bad habits by providing plenty to do. Hang a cabbage or a bunch of greens from the roof and throw grain on the floor to encourage scratching. Birds will enjoy a bale of pea straw to pick through and perch on, and a peck block for a vitamin boost. A litter tray of soil will provide a temporary dust bath, and you can even grow the birds some sprouts or microgreens when it’s too wet for them to range.

Keep your birds and their run from getting waterlogged in winter, and you can enjoy your armchair and open fire with a clear conscience.