Do you have mice in your coop? Those pesky little visitors stop by looking for spilled feed, a dry place to hang out (or even worse, to make a nest – and produce more pesky little visitors).
Many rat and mouse baits are toxic to cats, dogs, and chickens – and all of these animals will happily make a quick snack of a rodent who’s had a bit too much toxin. So what to do?
A few ideas:
- Put your feeder at the height of the chickens’ backs. This will prevent them from swishing food onto the ground.
- Switch to a pelleted feed to minimize spillage.
- Purchase a weight-activated feeder. These feeders will open for chickens — but not for mice, rats, or sparrows!
- Try keeping your feeder in the coop all the time – and make sure to close the birds – and their feeder — in at night. Rats and mice are nocturnal (out most often at night), and this will limit their access to prime-time feeding.
- Mix hot pepper into your feed. Birds cannot taste capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers “hot,” but mammals sure can! Just be sure you don’t breathe in the pepper dust or touch your eyes while handling the feed.
- Build a better (nontoxic) mousetrap. Check out this idea from Backyard Chickens: Drill a hole in the bottom of a soda can. Place can on a dowel rod so that it spins. Drill holes in the top of a 5-gal. bucket so that the dowel rod (with the soda can on it) fits in the holes and spans the diameter of the bucket. Smear peanut butter on the soda can. Place a ramp up to the bucket. The mice will smell the peanut butter, run up the ramp, try to get the peanut butter on the spinning soda can, and fall into the bucket. Dispose of rodents as you see fit!
Help your chickens beat this crazy hot and humid weather!
As the temperatures and humidity soar, you’ll want to help your hens keep cool. A few tips for helping your hens beat the heat. When temperatures reach the mid-80s, your birds will probably start panting. In temperatures above 100, your birds may suffer heatstroke. Here are some tips, excerpted from my class on chickens and heat, to prevent that.
1) Provide fresh, clean water – and lots of it.
2) Freeze 2-liter bottles and put them in the coop to cool it down.
3) Remove excess bedding, which traps heat.
4) Feed a crumble feed, rather than a whole-grain food. Grains generate heat as they are metabolized.
5) Provide shade.
If you notice that the birds are listless and lethargic (signs of heat stress), consider bringing them into a cool basement or to an air-conditioned mudroom (in a dog crate or portable cage).
As always, keep an eye on your birds and know what’s normal for them. This will help you catch problems before they become life threatening.
Sign up for a series of three classes (or pick and choose) at the Botanic Garden. I’m offering the following:
Raising Backyard Chickens Saturday, 6/4, 11am – 1pm
This class is designed for curious folks who are considering getting chickens, as well as for those who already have their own birds. Learn how to raise chicks, care for adult birds, and keep your neighbors happy!
Chicken Coop Basics Saturday, 6/4, 2 – 4pm
This class addresses what you need to know about building a safe and comfortable home for your hens. You’ll learn the basic needs of backyard birds. Find out the essential components of a coop, things to avoid when choosing construction materials, important construction tips, and see different coop styles. (Chicken-keeping class is a prerequisite.)
Summer Chicken Care Saturday, 6/11, 1 – 3pm
Many people worry about their birds getting through the winter. However, heat and humidity can also be rough for a chicken. How do chickens cool themselves naturally? Do you know the signs of heat stroke? What can you do to help an overheated bird? Find out how to care for your hens during the dog days of summer. (Chicken-keeping class is a prerequisite.)
Wondering how your four-legged friend will handle having two-legged, feather friends? Meet Ian and Kristy Dilworth, owners of Smart Dogs. They recently called me out on a chicken consultation and invited me to see their dog training and lodging facilities. They have worked with clients who have chickens and were interested when I mentioned that many of my clients ask about chickens and dogs. If you’re interested in boarding or training, give them a call!
Are there any burning questions about chickens you’d like to have answered? What practical advice would you appreciate? What aspects of chicken keeping are still challenging?
I’m working on pulling together a new class on chicken keeping, and I’d like your input!
Write me a message below with your ideas. Thanks very much!
We’re due for some VERY cold temps here in Chicago (in the negative degrees F, and windchills even lower), and a number of questions have come up about chickens and cold temps.
Here’s a list of ideas I’ve compiled. If you have suggestions, feel free to post.
- Keep bedding loose and dry. Deep bedding helps trap heat.
- Clear snow from bedding.
- Cover the coop and wire-covered areas (such as the run) with a plastic tarp, greenhouse plastic, dropcloth, or plywood.
- Fill in cracks and crevices in the coop with newspaper or cardboard.
- The coop should not be completely airtight; allow some air circulation to prevent frostbite.
- Stack strawbales around the sides, esp on the sides with northern/western exposure to act as insulation.
- Make sure roosts are in the least drafty place in the coop.
- Use wide roosts for toe coverage (2-4 inches in width)
- If ceiling is higher than 2 feet above the chickens, you may want to install a heat lamp above the roost that will turn on when the temp is below 35 degrees.
- Be sure that the lamp cannot be damaged by a flying bird and that it is not a fire hazard.
- If you bring the birds indoors, make a gradual transition to warmer temps – e.g., from 0 degrees to 20 degrees to 45 degrees, NOT from 0 degrees directly to 45 degrees.
- Note that overheating can lead to obese birds. If you supplement heat, set the thermostat to just above freezing.
- Watch toes and combs/wattles for signs of frostbite. A little petroleum jelly on combs and wattles can prevent frostbite *however* be careful not to overapply – petroleum products can coat the feathers, reducing their insulating properties.
- Do not allow them to be out in the snow for extended periods of time to avoid freezing their toes.
- Clear snow out of sections of the run so they don’t have to walk in it.
- If chickens do get frostbite, treat with aloe vera, can use aspirin solution for pain (three 325 mg tabs per 1 gal water), don’t massage, don’t heat up rapidly. Allow tissue to die/fall off naturally.
Food and Water
- Check water several times a day to be sure it’s not frozen.
- Feed mash mixed with warm milk or water. Some folks feed warm oatmeal. Make sure it is not hot, so the birds don’t burn themselves.
- Provide a few handfuls of scratch grains in the evening before the hens go to roost. Can also feed a handful or two of scratch in the AM.
- Extreme temperatures can stress the birds and cause hens to go out of lay.
- Collect eggs so they do not freeze and lead to egg eating.
If you got chicks this spring, you probably asked the question, “How do I take care of the hens over the winter?” Bringing them into the house is not a great idea, and unlike dogs, chickens generally aren’t given to wearing sweaters and booties. Nor are they given to fluid replacement.
Here are some tips for helping your chickens ride out the winter!
- Move your coop to an area out of the wind. You can also cover it with a tarp or heavy-duty plastic to prevent drafts – but be sure the coop is not airtight – moisture needs to escape!
- Minimize moisture in the coop. Moisture leads to frostbite. It’s more important to have a dry coop than a warm coop.
- Provide lots of bedding or straw. Bedding should be dry and fluffy so that it traps the heat.
- Stack strawbales around the run to hold in the heat and prevent snow from blowing in.
- A heat lamp is optional. Beware of fire hazards, especially with the dry bedding, and use a red, rather than white, bulb.
- If you want your hens to continue laying during the winter, supplement white light in the morning (not evening) so that the hens get 14 hours of light. You can also let their bodies rest and give them the winter off from laying.
- Make sure they have fresh, unfrozen water and give them more food – their bodies need it to stay warm. You can keep two waterers – one in the house and one outside – and swap them out as the outside one freezes.
- Use Vaseline on combs and wattles to keep them from freezing.
- Provide wide roosts that allow the down feathers on their bellies to cover their feet.
- If your hens run in the snow, watch feet for signs of frostbite – they will look swollen and puffy. They might become infected, and the chicken could lose toes or the whole foot.
- Provide extra protein for the birds during the winter months. A handful of dry cat (not dog) food will give an extra protein boost.
- You can provide a handful of scratch grain in the evening, before they head to the roost for the night. This will help keep their metabolism going during the night.
- Provide a head of cabbage, hung from a string or chain to keep them engaged and prevent pecking.
Contact Home to Roost if you’d like an in-home winterizing consultation!