Lisa Mancell National Sales Co-ordinator at Farmgate Feeds, gives her top poultry keeping tips for the spring
As we reach spring many of us are breathing a sigh of relief and looking forward to spending the longer days in our gardens. This also tends to be a time where we feel invigorated and enjoy spring cleaning our homes, so why not challenge yourself to a poultry keeping spring clean too! Ahead of hatching and laying season it’s a great time to review, organise and clean up your set-up to ensure that you are supporting your hen’s health and wellbeing.
A happy hen house
When the March winds start, it’s always a good indication that warmer weather is on its way and more of our hens will be coming into lay. This is a great time to ensure that their housing and outside space is fit for purpose whilst supporting their health. As well as repairing any damage to the housing, early spring is perfect for a thorough clean.
Choose a warm, dry day and start early to allow plenty of time for everything to dry. This is also a good opportunity to check for damage and make any necessary repairs. Start by taking the hen house apart as much as possible, remove all bedding and scrape up any droppings before you set to work scrubbing the housing down. If you’re using a disinfectant, make sure that surfaces are clear before applying it, remember, you cannot disinfect dirt! Apply at the recommended concentration, and wash clean afterwards, if recommended. Sweep out any standing water and let the coop and nest boxes dry in the sun which will help the disinfection process before you lay fresh bedding.
Once your hen house is all set-up for the spring season, keep an eye on the weather outlook. Early spring rain can saturate the ground so use clean straw, coarse bark chippings or gravel around the coop, which will keep hens out of the mud and stop dirt accumulating on the eggs.
Just like in our own diets, a well-balanced feeding programme will provide your flock with the energy to support a healthy life and healthy egg-laying. A good feeding regime is imperative to provide your hens with the correct amount of good quality protein, vitamins and minerals. A lack of certain nutrients can affect egg production, shell quality and even the bird's health. The feed should also have the right balance between protein and fibre which is important to keep your hens full and provide good bacteria in the gut.
Hen owners take their time researching a well-balanced nutritional feed but what can often be overlooked is how we look after and store the feed. It is crucial to ensure that you have a storage solution which keeps your poultry feed in the best condition. We recommend that feed should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place – avoiding moisture, sun and rodents. Ensure the container is watertight and if you use metal storage, keep the feed in its bag unless the metal is food-safe with a non-reactive liner. Properly stored feed will then be in the best condition to support your hens egg laying.
Supporting positive behaviour
Hens can be more aggressive in the spring as they come into lay and seek to establish a new pecking order. Be prepared to set up a separate house should the need arise and one of the birds is attacked badly or needs separating – an upscaled rabbit hutch can make an ideal house to isolate or quarantine birds.
Keep the same routine every day. Start by letting your hens out as early as possible in the morning. Fill feed hoppers and drinkers before the hens emerge, then wait for all birds to leave the house, normally starting with the dominant hen – this is a good opportunity to spot birds in poor health – watch out for potential problems such as a bunched stance, bullying or feather pecking. Pay attention to how many eggs you are collecting and look for any signs of egg eating. This can indicate a lack of water or food as well as infrequent egg collecting. Check water levels and cleanliness as part of your egg gathering and feeding.
Year-round consistency is key
The best way to ensure your chickens thrive is to ensure a healthy routine throughout the year including supporting their health with a well-balanced feed, keeping the environment around them clean and well-managed and paying close attention to their overall health and wellbeing. As the seasons change, it’s an ideal time to review these factors to get the most out of your hens as we reach prime laying and breeding season.