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Raising Chickens in January.

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20 tasks to keep your chickens happy and healthy into the New Year.

Tasks around the chicken coop in January - save and Pin for later!

So the days have drawn in, the weather has got colder, the wind chill is, well, chilly, and your flock is looking a lot less happy than they did in the balmy days of summer!

If you've been following along with my "chicken care through the seasons" articles, you'll know we've been planning for this since early autumn.

We've made sure the flock has a secure coop, protected from draughts and damp, and secure against predators.

This month, the weather is getting colder, windier and wetter. So that's where we'll start.

Beat the Wind Chill!

It's this simple: your chickens like to be outside but the wind chill makes it unpleasant for them (as well as freezing your own nose off!).

You may notice chickens squatting, squinting or blinking in the wind as they try to minimise the wind's effects and stop getting grip in their eyes, if it's that kind of soil!

Although your flock will be able to withstand very cold weather by fluffing up (see this section of November's to-dos), wind whistling through their top coats to the skin underneath is a different matter. They can quickly become chilled and, if that's combined with damp, the danger is increased.

The answer is not to stop your flock enjoying the great outdoors - chickens love being able to forage, even in a limited space.

But it may be wise to limit them to areas which are more sheltered.

My chickens like to roost in any available bushes to get out of the wind - this is Henrietta in our bay tree!

What to do.

1. Allow them access to the outside, even if you think it's too cold. They will make the decision for themselves and you'll find as long as they can get to shelter, or back into their coop, that's exactly what will happen. Mine will venture outside for short periods but head for more sheltered parts, or give up and go back into the coop.

2. The exception to this is young chicks who are not yet fully feathered. They do not have the capacity to keep themselves warm. Keep youngsters inside safely under a heat source until they have their adult feathering and the weather is warm enough for them.

Chicks in the brooder until they are old enough to go outside.These chicks are mostly down - too young to go outside. Keep them under a source of warmth.

3. If you have a very large run, which I do, you may want to block off some of it so that the area you make wind-proof is less large. Then protect the rest from winds by using hay bales along the inside of the run. Cardboard is another good wind-break. Save up those packing cartons during the rest of the year and tie them to the run once the winter sets in.

If you don't have any cardboard, try your local recycling bins. Especially in the days after Christmas, there's often a generous supply of free cardboard to be had!

4. If your run doesn't have any natural protection like trees or bushes, try making a simple "lean-to". And make yourself a note to plant some in the spring. Mine has a large fig tree and several bushes which I've planted to allow shelter when necessary.

5. Remember that cold plus damp can equal big problems for chickens, especially frostbite. If you see any signs of it, take action straight away - see this article for more details.

And if you're concerned that the cold and damp is something you really can't control, be on the safe side and keep your flock inside, making sure they have some boredom-busters. A favourite for mine is "kill the swinging lettuce". 

Better safe than sorry.

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Think before you heat.

I've said before that heating the coop in winter is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to warning against it.

Yet every year, chicken-keepers tell me it's too cold in their area not to heat.

What to do.

6. Resist dressing your chickens in cute sweaters. I talked about this in last month's to-dos, but if you missed it, here's a link.

7. Don't use exposed heat lamps in the coop. They're prone to burning out and sparking fires. Heat plus feathers is a recipe for disaster. Heat lamps cause more coop fires - and chicken deaths - than any other source (apart from commercial chicken farms, obviously).

8. If you really can't be persuaded that chickens do not need additional heat even in quite extreme temperatures, look at something like this flat panel radiator. 

It raises the temperature by just a few degrees and has no exposed bulbs.

9. Always make sure, when using any electrical product in your coop, that wires are kept in excellent condition and not exposed. Bored chickens will peck at just about anything they can find.

10. Should your electricity suddenly fail when you're heating your coop, your chickens will immediately be plunged back into freezing temperatures. Make sure you have an alternative to hand.

See this article for more tips about keeping your flock warm in winter.

Add some yummy garlic to feed!

Nothing much is growing in garden for chickens to eat in the winter months, so it's important to look at taking over the garden's job by providing the goodies for chickens ourselves.

A great way of doing this which is easy, inexpensive and an amazing source of nutrients is to grow our own sprouts. Granted, they're not my flock's first choice when it comes to yummy food, but at this time of year beggars can't be choosers, as they say!

Bear in mind, I live in Italy. Garlic is a staple of the diet - even for chickens! But I don't add anything to my chickens' food unless I'm sure it's not harmful, and preferably has evidence that it's beneficial.

There's no doubt that garlic does have benefits. Gail Damerow is an acknowledged expert in the poultry field, and her books take pride of place in my chicken-library.

This article by Ms Damerow, excerpted from the Chicken Health Handbook, provides evidence of the benefits of garlic for your flock.

Does it make eggs taste of garlic? Research suggests not - unless you're going to add massive amounts to food or water. But in the quantities we're talking about below, the answer is "no".

Planting garlic for chicken health!Planting garlic - an easy, inexpensive way to boost your flock's immune system.

What to do.

11. Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow, but don't expect supermarket bulbs to do well. Even if they're not treated to prevent growth, the type may not be suited to your area, or may be prone to disease. Buy bulbs from your local garden centre or nursery instead, or from a reputable online supplier.

12. Although it's best to sow the cloves (narrow end up!) in the late autumn (fall), it's still possible to plant now as they prefer to start life in a colder soil. Our soil is clay, and garlic prefers a light soil, so I use a planter box with garden compost.

13. Gail Damerow suggests feeding small amounts of crushed garlic to new chicks twice a week as a support to their immune system. This is something I'll be trying out in the Spring, when I hatch another brood.

14. For adult hens, crush four cloves and add to one gallon of water as a support to your chickens' immune system. 

15. Not keen on adding fresh garlic, or don't have anywhere to plant it? Try a garlic powder mixed into their feed instead. Make sure it's organic and preferably non-GMO for the best quality.

A bag of this size is enough for around 50lbs (20 kilos) of feed.

Plan ahead for Spring chicks!

It seems that as soon as Christmas is over, everyone's thoughts (including mine!) turn to hatching chicks. Thoughts of the Spring and new life provide welcome relief from the cold and wet of winter.

But cute, fluffy chicks soon turn into noisy, smelly chickens - and roosters. And the sad fact is that more chickens are ending up in re-homing centres than ever before.

So before you decide to incubate, make sure you're in a position to keep whoever hatches.

A newly hatched chick.One of my newly hatched chicks - male or female? You won't be able to tell for several weeks. Are you prepared?

What to do.

16. Check that it's legal to keep chickens wherever you live. This article will give you ideas about where to find the information.

17.Are your family ready to take on the responsibility of a flock of chickens - no matter how small? Take my quiz to find out.

18. Once you've decided you absolutely do want to start a flock - or add to your existing chickens - ask yourself whether hatching or buying makes more sense. Remember: hatching means you may end up with males. Take a look these links for the pros and cons of having roosters in your flock - if your area allows you to.

19. If you decide to go the incubating route, remember the equipment can be expensive. I review incubating equipment here - but you'll also need brooding equipment.

20. If you'd like to incubate and hatch with advice, and in a group, think about joining my hatching course which opens for registration in March. You'll find more information here, and updates will always be in my newsletter - sign up here.

More seasonal pages to help keep your chickens happy and healthy.

Raising Chickens - step-by-step, month by month tasks - link.
Winter in the chicken coop - link.
How to keep chickens warm in winter - link to article.
How to grow garlic - link.
All about chicken runs - link.
The amazing hatching chicken eggs section - link.
Link to Raising Happy Chickens home page.