Tips for a free range WINTER
Warmth and feed for better yields ree range poultry run out, spill over or become producers who aim contaminated. to maintain egg production this winter should keep their birds as warm and dry as possible – and providing indoor housing for their flocks is a good place to start.
"Producers should insulate housing, provide heat, make sure water is kept unfrozen and keep hens inside on extremely cold days to avoid frostbitten combs and wattles," says Patricia Hester, professor of animal sciences at Perdue University.
FKeep bedding dry
he most important thing for laying birds when it's cold out is to have an area where the birds can get out of the elements so they can get to dry bedding, be able to roost up and not have a draft running through their area," says Michael O'donnell, a free range poultry producer. For this purpose, a small coop, shed or barn are ideal housing options that will allow birds to escape the elements and provide space for them to move around,
Above single-digit temperatures
Perches are also recommended to keep birds comfortable. Shelters should be kept above singledigit temperatures to avoid frostbite. To minimise the risk of accidental fires, producers should pay close attention to indoor heaters.
O'donnell recommends straw, wood chips or shavings to use as indoor bedding, while sand, dirt and mulch are good for dust bathing that birds need to keep clean and limit pest infestations.
Heating drinking water
Poultry also need access to water at all times because they are constantly breathing out moisture, using it in egg production or passing it through waste. If the coop temperature dips below freezing - and Gauteng for example is renowned for this - but stays above singledigit temperatures, it may be necessary to heat drinking water using a base heater or an electric heater that can sit inside a water dish. O'donnell advises checking the water often to ensure it does not
Producers may also need to provide more feed for their poultry and keep feeders filled because birds use more energy in winter to regulate their body temperatures. If the birds don't have enough to eat, they might lack the energy needed to produce strong eggs and maintain good health.
"Laying hens eat more feed in cold weather," says Professor Hester. "When they are outside, they have access to roughage in the field, but when inside, they tend to eat more feed and less roughage due to lack of availability."
It is also important to make sure the birds get enough of the calcium they need to produce strong egg shells. One solution is to provide them with a diet that includes crushed oyster shells.
O'donnell says laying hens may not produce as many eggs as daylight dwindles. "Laying cycles can be triggered by light exposure, so a light source on a timer may be helpful in that case. Just have a light turn on before the sun is up to mimic a longer day," he says.¡