Winter can often be the most difficult season for backyard poultry owners. The mud and the manure can quickly turn your happy little run into a muddy and slippery mess. I often tell my husband that I wish the temperature would drop to about 25oF and then just stay there. I much prefer colder temperatures and frozen ground in the winter to 35oF and mud!
What to do when your Backyard Chickens are all cooped up
Winter is also the season that your birds will spend the most time in their coop. Here in Ohio, my birds are cooped up for about 14 hours a day. All that extra time inside can definitely lead to boredom in your flock and may require some extra management and creative ideas to keep your birds stimulated and healthy. Today, we want to discuss some winter boredom busters and fun and creative ways to make the most of winter with your flock.
Feather pecking is a common problem for many backyard poultry keepers. You may read that feather pecking is nutrition related. That can be true in extreme cases or when birds do not have consistent access to a quality complete feed. However, the vast majority of feather pecking issues are probably related to boredom and dominance. When birds are cooped up for extended periods of time, the less dominant birds and any slow-to-recover molters may be subject to bullying (i.e., feather pecking) by your dominant birds.
Poultry blocks are a wonderful tool if you have any of these problems. Poultry Blocks give your birds something else to peck on besides each other. You can keep blocks inside the coop or outside in the run or both! They really are wonderful tools to keep your birds pecking and active without causing damage to their coop mates. For a fun twist on blocks, check out our seasonal offerings of poultry blocks. I do suggest bringing outdoor blocks inside the coop at night. Rodents or larger predators could be attracted by blocks left outdoors and you definitely don’t want to invite these pests to your coop with a readily-available food source.
Another creative way to help your birds break the winter doldrums is by providing snack ropes. Do any of you remember stringing popcorn around Christmas time to use as decorations? Backyard poultry LOVE these types of treats. Any scraps or treats that you would normally throw out for your birds can be strung on rope and hung in the run for your birds to enjoy. Vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, small gourds, and leftover popcorn from your Christmas tins all make adorable and charming snack ropes. The birds love the extra treats and have a great time picking them off of the ropes. Of course, don’t overdo it. Treats and snacks should comprise no more than 10-15% of total feed consumption. A complete poultry feed should be the primary source of nutrients for your birds, especially in the winter season!
Free Range Time
Lastly, it’s a good idea to allow your birds to go outside and/or free-range as much as possible in the winter, too. Even if you only have 30 minutes to an hour between the time you get home and the time the sun goes down, your birds will enjoy the chance to get outside. Nearly every day of the season – even if it is very cold, I open the run door and allow my birds to free range. Without fail, they will head up onto the hill and start foraging. They probably aren’t finding too much to eat but chickens are expert foragers and will leave no leaf unturned.
I know many poultry keepers worry about the colder temperatures in winter and may be tempted to keep their birds cooped up at all times to conserve heat. If you can, resist that urge! Chickens are amazing and adaptable animals and can handle the winter season very well. Allowing them to go outside, get fresh air, and exercise has many of the same positive health benefits that humans enjoy when staying active all year. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy this season with your birds. Spring will be here before we know it!