Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter Care: Chicken Edition

Hell no, we won't go... out. (February 2014)
If the weather keeps going the way it is, this year will go on record- and by 'record' I mean our kitchen calendar- as having the latest frost since we moved here 9 years ago. Our 10-day forecast appears to be holding steady with highs in the 50's and lows in the 40's for the forseeable future. 

While I'm not complaining whatsoever, I do find it a little bit weird. After last year's mild-ish winter (minus that ridiculous freezing spell we had) I've had the feeling that we are in for a chilly/snowy one. The Farmer's Almanac disagrees with me, calling for a wetter and warmer winter... which, so far, is precisely what we're getting. 

Winter weather brings a whole new level to taking care of the animals, whether it's freezing cold out or just soggy- there's no one-size-fits-all solution in our maritime climate. Each weather system brings its own set of challenges: freezing weather means extra food, breaking ice and monitoring for warmth, and the dampness means wet animals, soggy bedding, and the increased potential for respiratory issues. 

While I personally dislike freezing cold temps (they aggravate my fibromyalgia) I think that for taking care of the animals it makes things a little bit easier. The way our weather patterns set up, freezing means dry: we'll have sunshine during the day and icy cold nights with almost no humidity whatsoever. This helps keeps the bedding in the chicken coop nice and dry, which makes for cleaner conditions all around. 

When we have extended periods of rain, however, things get messy really fast. The chickens don't want to sit outside when it's pouring, so more time inside the coop equals more manure to deal with. Good ventilation is essential here- not just for keeping things from getting super stinky, but chicken poop is high in ammonia- those fumes can make the birds sick, if the air isn't moving around enough. 
I find it's necessary to put down additional wood shavings pretty regularly, to help manage the increased manure load. This year, I'm also trying an enzyme product that is supposed to help break down the manure faster and keep the odor level down. (More on that later, once I've had some time and experience with it.)

Depending on how warm our temperatures stay, I also have to watch for mold and mildew in the coop, which can some on really fast with all that extra moisture in the air. From basic respiratory irritation like coughing and sneezing, all the way to life-threatening fungal infections like aspergillosis, chickens definitely need to be monitored for illness during the soggy months. Good hygiene in the coop can help minimize problems with respiratory issues. Clean and dry... it's easier said than done, but really, it's what has to happen. 

In tomorrow's post over at GRIT, I'm going to talk about some additional steps I like to take, in order to keep my flock happy and healthy over the winter. I hope you'll check it out! Until then- what challenges do you face with regards to weather and your animals, during the winter?

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