According to Purdue University College of Agriculture specialists, producers who rear pastured poultry and wish to sustain egg production during winter should keep their birds as warm and dry as possible.
Providing indoor lodgings for the flock is a smart first step. “To minimise frostbitten combs and wattles, producers should insulate housing, offer heat, ensure water is maintained unfrozen, and keep hens indoors on exceptionally cold days,” said Patricia Hester, professor of animal sciences.
According to Delaware County Extension instructor and pastured poultry producer Michael O’Donnell, providing shelter provides a lot of advantages.
“When it’s cold outside, the most critical thing for laying birds is to have a place where they can get out of the weather, get to dry bedding, roost up, and not have a drought going through their space,” he added.
Prof Hester suggested that birds be housed in a small coop, shed, or barn to keep them out of the weather and offer space for them to wander about. Exits to the outdoors should be located every 50 feet in big barns and should be 18 inches high and 21 inches wide, according to the Humane Farm Animal Care poultry housing guidelines. These exits may offer ventilation as well, but if condensation forms on the coop windows, more airflow is necessary.
Perches are also advised for the comfort of the birds. To avoid frostbite, shelters should be kept above single-digit temperatures. Producers should pay strict attention to interior heaters to reduce the possibility of inadvertent fires.
Indoor bedding, according to O’Donnell, should consist of straw, wood chips, or wood shavings. Dust baths made of sand, soil, or mulch are ideal for keeping birds clean and preventing insect infestations. Poultry also requires continual access to water since they constantly exhale moisture, use it in egg formation, or pass it through faeces. It may be essential to heat drinking water using a base heater or an electric heater that can sit inside a water dish if the coop temperature drops below freezing but remains above single-digit temperatures. Mr O’Donnell recommends often monitoring the water to ensure it does not run out, spill, or get polluted.
Because birds consume more energy to maintain their body temperatures in the winter, producers may need to offer additional feed for their poultry. If the birds don’t get enough food, they won’t have the energy they need to lay healthy eggs and be healthy. It is for this reason that feeders should be maintained full.
“In cold temperatures, laying chickens eat more feed,” Prof Hester explained. “They have access to roughage on the field while they are outside.” Due to a shortage of roughage, they eat more feed and less roughage when they are indoors.” It’s also crucial to provide the birds with adequate calcium so that they can build sturdy eggshells. One approach is to feed them crushed oyster shells as part of their diet.
Laying chickens may not produce as many eggs when daylight decreases, according to Mr O’Donnell.
“Since light exposure can stimulate laying cycles, a light source on a timer may be useful in that instance – you can have a light switch on before the sun rises to simulate a longer day,” he explained.