Q. With low night-time temperatures, is there anything I need to do to keep my hens healthy?
A. There is no need to provide heating in hen houses – hens are pretty hardy and will bunch together in colder weather to keep warm. Ensure as far as possible that there are no leaks and drips from the roof of your coop and that doors close properly, but do not cover air vents to keep out the wind. During cold or wet weather hens may spend a lot more time inside the coop, so fresh air flow is important to keep your hens healthy.
Q. What about food and water?
A. Frozen water bowls are the main problem when temperatures are low. Hens need a constant supply of fresh water, so check water bowls first thing each morning and if frozen, refill with fresh water. Alternatively, if you have a power supply nearby, heated drinkers can be purchased to get round this problem. Hens do not like to venture far in the snow, so if necessary consider moving outdoor feeders and drinkers closer to the door of the coop.
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Q. What Should I feed My Hens
A. A good quality layers pellet or mash should contain all the nutrients, vitamins and grit that a hen needs to lay an egg with a strong shell, inside the egg the contents will be good as well - but if you would like to make the contents even better with a deep yellow / orange yolk then let them have access to some grass, they will enjoy pecking at the grass and eating it.
Q. Treats -- to feed or not
A. I am asked quite often about feeding treats - such as sunflower seeds - yes, why not, but as I say to people, remember your hen(s) are working hard to lay you eggs, so not too many treats which could affect their appetite and so reduce their required intake of layers pellets.
Treats are also a good way to train your hens, should you wish to get them to come to you or you want to shut them in the coop -- put some treats / seeds in a tin, shake the tin, give them some 'treat' -- in a short period of time they will come to you when they hear the tin being shaken -- bribery & corruption works well !!!
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Q. I've noticed my hens are laying less eggs. What can I do?
A. There are a number of things you can do to improve your egg supply, starting with choosing the right type of hen. Hens such as the Hyline, Lomond Brown and Isa Brown have been specifically bred to ensure a good egg supply. At the other extreme, traditional pure breed hens can be more inclined to go off lay particularly in the winter months.
Replacing your hens at the right time is also important - if you want to maintain a good egg supply, Hylines need to be replaced every 2 years if you want to get 4 - 6 eggs per week, per bird. In that time frame the birds will most likely moult (old feathers fall out, new feathers grow) the birds will most likely stop laying whilst they moult.
Light - Hens lay eggs because of the amount of light that enters their eyes, so in the winter months when there is less light, the hens may well lay less or stop. You can encourage the hens to continue laying by providing artificial light - LED lighting is best - but any light is OK, mains electric or solar powered. For max egg production a hen needs 14 - 16 hours light per day.
Q. I've heard that sometimes hens need their wings clipped. When is this necessary and how do I do it ?
A. The only reason to clip a hen's wings is to prevent it flying out its pen, so if you have a large covered run, a high fence or docile hens that don't try to escape, there is no need to clip the wings.
If you do find certain hens have a tendency to fly out the pen then clipping will solve this. Only one wing needs to be clipped and as only the flight feathers are clipped this will not spoil the appearance of the hen. Clipping a hen's wing is like cutting toenails - it does not hurt the hen at all.
To clip the wing, if you are right handed, hold the hen against your legs using your left hand, at the same time using your left hand push the left hand wing of the hen out - so that it appears to look like a fan (fans out) - you will now see the primary flight feathers and secondary flight feathers - it is the primary flight feathers you need to trim, the longer ones (the ones at the front of the wing, outer edge, nearest the birds head) using a pair of scissors, cut about 80% of the feather(s) off, it will not hurt the bird, it is like cutting your toe / finger nails. Job done. If you are left handed hold the bird in your right hand and fan the feathers out with your left.
There are some very good videos on U Tube showing wing clipping.
Q. Can I mix together hens of different breeds and ages?
A. Yes you can mix hens of different breeds, it is best if all the hens are approximately the same size, otherwise you may find that smaller hens get bullied.
You can mix hens of different ages, provided the new / younger hens being introduced are fully grown (or nearly) , otherwise likely to get the same problem as mentioned earlier - bullying
Q. What is the best way to introduce new hens?
A. Bullying is the issue we are dealing with here, you will most likely get some, if lucky none.
There are various ways / things you can do - introduce the new hens to the coop when it is dark, the other hens will be at rest.
If you have a large run / enclosure and a spare coop with run, put the spare coop with run in the enclosure and put the new hens in the coop with run - this allows the old hens and the new hens to see each other but not make contact - leave new hens in coop with run for about a week.
If you can move all the hens, old and new, to some temporary location - where none of them have been before - shed, garage, out building - because it is a new place the older dominant hens will feel less dominant.
If the hens can free range or you have a large enclosure this can help, any one being bullied can run away.
Put in another feeder and drinker, spaced apart, makes it more difficult for dominant hen(s) to guard
Don't let bullying put you off getting new hens -- I am mixing hens all the time!