Chickens - Things to do this Month - February
CHICKENS (Laying Hens):
Continue to do regular health checks on all your birds:
Signs of good health:
- Full, bright and velvety ‘headgear’ (comb & wattles)
- Full, round and bright eyes, not sunken or cloudy
- Dry nostrils
- Good, smooth feathering with a shiny appearance
- Clean, fluffy feathers around the vent
- Neither thin or over-fat
- Steady respiration, no panting or wheezing
- Active, moving freely
- Laying well and producing regular, perfect eggs
Routine & Care
- By now it’s likely that the entrance to the chicken house has become a bit swampy, and chickens really hate mud and wet – especially the breeds that have feathered legs and feet, so think about either giving them a little paved ‘patio’ area or use wood chips (Easibed, sold for horses, works really well as it doesn’t turn to mush or blow away as shavings can).
- Although the cold weather will have given your chickens a welcome relief from red mite (although they can still be present in the coop, they won’t be breeding at this time of year), lice can still be a problem. As lice live on the chickens (feeding on dead skin and feather debris) throughout their life cycle, they aren’t bothered by the cold weather, and will reproduce even at this time of year, causing intense irritation to their host.
- To check whether this is a problem in your flock, pick up one of the hens and gently part the feathers (on the back and under the wings) to expose the skin; you’ll see lice as small 1-3mm yellowish-grey insects which will scurry away from the light. Next, look around the vent area, where if lice are present, you’ll find their eggs (‘nits’) in clumps at the base of the feathers. To treat, use louse powder (which most usually contains Pyrethrum) all over the bird, parting the feathers as you go.Treat all birds in the house at the same time, and repeat weeklyfor at least 4 weeks as their breeding cycle, from egg to adult, is 3 weeks. An alternative, organic, treatment is to use diatomaceous earth, applied to the chickens in the same way as louse powder. If you continue to have problems, your vet may prescribe an Ivermectin based treatment (eg. Frontline) that you apply to the back of the bird’s neck, but do be aware that this product is not licensed for use in poultry, and you will probably need to discard eggs for the duration of treatment. Once you have cleared up the infestation, provide your hens with a dust bath, which will enable them to keep free from external parasites naturally, and enjoy the process at the same time!
- RATS and MICE spread diseases, including Salmonella; so continue to be vigilant for any sign that they are visiting your chicken house or run. If you’ve been laying traps but not caught any vermin, try wearing rubber gloves when you set the traps – the smell of humans can linger on the trap and make rodents wary.
- Clear away all feedstuffs every evening so there’s nothing to attract rodents, and change water at least daily.
- By now, as daylight hours start to increase, your hens should begin to come into lay, and this is often the time when any underlying problems become apparent: soft-shelled eggs, and eggs with misshapen or rough shells can be a sign of nutritional imbalance, disease or stress.
- Check regularly for eggs, if left too long it may encourage egg pecking or eating – and once the habit is formed it’s very difficult to stop.
- Commercial egg producers regularly weigh their hens, and this is a good practise to adopt; loss of weight can indicate ill health, while excess weight can predispose a hen to become ‘egg-bound’.
- Pick a warm sunny day to Spring clean the hen house. If you switched to a ‘DEEP LITTER’ system to save time during the festive season, set aside some time now to give the house a really good clean as soon as the weather improves. Clear out all muck and old bedding, brush out cobwebs (vacuum if you’re able, especially in nooks where pests may have over-wintered), clean off all perches, and sprinkle a powder disinfectant (such as Stalosan) onto all surfaces. Then put in plenty of fresh bedding.
- And finally, if we get another cold snap, have a look at last month’s ‘Things To Do’ for some tips on keeping hens happy in cold weather.
If you’re just starting out with hens and can’t decide which breed will suit you best, have a look at our Guide to Chicken Breeds. If you decide to get a mix of different breeds, it’s best to choose those that are roughly the same size to prevent the smaller ones getting hen-pecked.
For more information on keeping chickens and increasing your flock, visit our Basic Principles of Rearing and Management of Chickens.