CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — As days are getting shorter and temperatures are cooling it is time again to ensure that our poultry and facilities are ready for winter. With proper management, birds can remain as productive during the winter months as they are during the summer.
Now is a good time to walk the perimeter of your buildings and check for any holes or missing siding. Sealing holes and repairing any structural damage will not only prevent unwanted drafts but will protect poultry and small animals from predators. Sealing any rodent holes will prevent feed loss and keep out any parasites or disease that rodents can carry. Although not the most aesthetic methods, sealing rodent holes can be simple as filling holes with steel wool or spray foam. The roof should also be inspected to ensure that no leaks are present that will lead to wet bedding. While it is important to prevent any unwanted drafts, it is also necessary not to seal your structure so tightly that air quality suffers. In large, insulated buildings fans are often used even in the winter to maintain air quality. It is important that large buildings equipped with air inlets, are properly adjusted so that cold air will not directly hit birds when open. In buildings housing only a few birds, there is usually enough air leakage that supplemental ventilation is not necessary during winter months. Keeping bedding plentiful, clean, and dry will help protect birds from the cold as well.
Planning to ensure that your birds will have access to water, even in the event of extreme cold, is important. Frozen water will lower birds feed intake and will also be detrimental to their well-being and performance. If the poultry house temperature drops below freezing and water is not going to be checked regularly throughout cold days, it may be necessary to use a heater. There are many different heaters for poultry waterers depending on your preference and what type of waterers you use. A heat lamp is another option that can be used that can also provide some extra warmth for your birds. If using a heat lamp, be sure that it is mounted securely using chain or metal cable to prevent any risk of it being a fire hazard.
It is also important to consider light management for laying hens if you want them to remain in production throughout the winter months. Relying on natural light will expose your hens to shortened periods of light in the fall. This will result in the hen molting and ceasing egg production until spring when day length starts to increase again stimulating hens to return to production. To prevent loss in production artificial light can be used to keep day length at 15-16 hours per day. To accomplish this, an automatic timer can be used with your light source to create a consistent light schedule. Timers are useful for when you happen to be away or forget to adjust your lights so the lighting schedule will remain consistent. If possible, it is also beneficial to use a dimmer switch paired with dimmable bulbs such as incandescent or LED bulbs. Using dimmers allows simulation of sunrise and sunset in the chicken house. This is important especially at day end to give birds the opportunity to roost for the night and prevent any piling on the floor.
Proper winter preparations and planning now will ensure that your flock is productive and successful throughout the cold winter months.
–Russell Phenicie, Penn State Extension