Tips for a free range WIN­TER

The Poultry Bulletin - - BIOFILM AND WATER QUALITY -

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

Strong eggs

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.¡

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