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How to keep your chickens warm in rainy season or winter

As wet season approaches, finding ways to protect your flock from the elements can be difficulty especially for smallholders who do not farm poultry on a large scale.

While it is true that chickens are hardy birds, if they are not kept warm enough laying hens will stop producing eggs, while weaker members of the flock will become sick and find it difficult to recover in the cold weather.

While some farmers use heat lamps to keep their coops warm, these come with the risk of starting fires if they malfunction or are not properly maintained.

Here are some of the steps to help ensure your birds are protected from cold weather.

Minimise drafts
Wind chill can increase the rate of heat loss from your coop. Because of this, as the nights draw in you need to make sure any air leaks are sealed well. If your coop is new you should not find many gaps, but if it is more than five years old then chances are that parts of it will have started to rot and will need to be repaired.

Keep your coop well ventilated
Although you should not have any large holes in the coop to let cold air in, you also have to remember not to reduce the air flow too much, as this will lead to serious problems like ammonia build-up. To guard against this you should ensure you have an adequate ventilation system in place.

Vents should be placed towards the roof of the coop, where the cold air is not able to flow directly onto your birds. By venting out the warm, moisture-laden air and replacing it with cooler, drier air, you will be able to keep the humidity down and prevent mould from growing in your birds bedding.

Use the Deep Litter Method
The Deep Litter Method is not only a sustainable way of managing the litter in your chicken coop, but it can also help to insulate your flock during cold weather. To start off with, simply layer pine shavings or similar organic matter over the floor. Instead of cleaning or replacing the waste your chickens accumulate, all you need to do is stir up the bedding with a light rake, and allow the natural movement of your flock to do the rest.

If its made properly, and regularly topped up with pine shavings, the litter will begin to form a compost layer that welcomes good microbes in, and allows them to consume the unhealthy bacteria in the chickens waste. Not only does this help to insulate your coop in the winter months, but it can also help prevent infestations of lice and mites as well as being a far easier way to manage waste

Use sunlight to trap heat
The days may be shorter in winter, but you can still use sunlight to capture heat during the day and help the coop stay warmer for longer during the darker hours. Well-insulated windows can act as a sun trap, especially if you have a dirt or dark slab floor, or if you make use of the Deep Litter Method.

Increasing the amount of thermal mass your coop contains will also allow it to retain heat for longer. Thermal mass is a measure of how well a material absorbs heat for later release. The more thermal mass is incorporated into your coop, the more steadily it will release heat after the sun has gone down. Materials like the compost floor, stone, or even concrete will retain more heat during the day, and release it throughout the night.