Chickens - Things to do this Month - November
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
- Good smooth feathering
- Steady respiration, no panting or wheezing
- Active, moving freely
- Laying well, and producing regular, perfect eggs
Getting Ready for Winter
Domestic fowl are generally a lot hardier than we give them credit for, so don’t try to wrap them in cotton wool for winter! However, during the shorter days, they will be spending more time inside, so now is the time to give the hen house and their run a really good clean – and ideally to ‘rest’ the ground they’ve been on all summer:
- Start early in the morning, so the house has time to ‘air’ following cleaning
- Wear overalls, gloves, and a mask so you don’t inhale dust or chemical sprays
- Clear out all muck and old bedding from the nest-boxes and the floor of the house (compost the muck in a bin, or burn – don’t leave on an open compost heap as this will attract vermin)
- Thoroughly disinfect the housing – either use a liquid such as Sorgene (read the instructions carefully, and dilute as directed) with a power-washer, or a powder, such as Stalosan (approved in organic systems), spread liberally inside the nest boxes and floor areas
- Make sure you also disinfect your boots at the same time to prevent carrying droppings back into the clean house!
- Scrub and disinfect all water drinkers, and feeders (Milton, used for sterilising baby utensils, is ideal for this job)
- Dust or spray all the nooks and crevices where mites or pests may hide using an appropriate pesticide; read the instructions carefully as some products require several days before birds are reintroduced. If your production system is organic, there are a number of suitable products available, or try using food grade diatomaceous earth (fine particles of silica which penetrate the epidermis of mites causing them to dehydrate and die) on a regular basis.
- If you can divide your chicken run into two or more parts, this is the ideal time to ‘rest’ one section; the cold winter weather will help kill off gut worm larvae, and spreading garden lime on the fallow section will address the problem of the ground becoming too ‘acid’
- The shorter daylight hours also mean the flock-keeper has less time, and as an alternative to daily ‘skipping out’ and a weekly clear out, you could consider adopting a ‘deep litter’ system for your hens. This means the bedding is left in the coop throughout the season, but is carefully managed by the addition of fresh bedding material (a source of carbon) as required – the hens themselves will scratch around, turning the bedding which prevents the build-up of harmful ammonia that might otherwise damage their airways. An ideal deep litter bed works as a biological cycle: micro-organisms feed on the nitrogen in the chickens’ droppings, which breaks down the carbon in the bedding and leaves fresh-smelling compost for your garden! This system requires your nose to be the judge of when you need to add fresh bedding material to keep the biological cycle in balance!
As the weather gets colder, the rats get bolder as they start looking for an easy source of food!
- Clear away all feedstuffs every evening
- Set ‘nipper’ type traps: site wherever you can identify a ‘rat-run’ and cover the trap with an upturned trug to prevent accidentally trapping wild birds.
- If you chose to use ‘humane’ cages, be certain you will be able to humanely kill the rat you have caught (drowning is not a humane manner of killing; a sharp blow to the back of the head/neck is the quickest method – wear thick leather gauntlets)
- If you plan to use poison, go on a Campaign Against Illegal Poisoning course first, to make sure you do it safely, effectively, and don’t accidentally harm pets or wildlife (sadly, many owls are killed by secondary poisoning when they eat mice that have taken bait)
Chickens will appreciate a little more carbohydrate in their diet as the weather gets colder, but don’t overdo this – monitor their weight regularly and feed accordingly.
- Suitable winter foodstuffs (which are best give in the afternoon after they have had the chance to eat their regular protein ration of pellets or mash) include: wheat, corn, rice and pasta – and they will still appreciate plenty of greens (cabbage, apples, etc.)
- Check WATER regularly to make sure it hasn’t frozen.
Don’t be tempted to block off ventilation – stale air will increase the risk of respiratory disease, but do make sure there aren’t any howling winds blowing through the house.
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.