Winter Flock Health and Our Chickens
Currently on property we have about 100 chickens. The majority of them are egg laying hens, a handful of roosters and the rest are our meat birds. They were in an outdoor space of 400 square feet, giving each chicken 4 square feet of outdoor space. During the summer, the chickens were let out of their space during the day to explore the entire property and during the warm months, forage was abundant. They had the ability to roam over the whole property with plenty of forage and they pretty much stayed within the area of their pen. As winter approached and the weather got colder, forage became more scarce and the chickens started moving further away from their pen and inevitably finding my fall garden. Many unsuccessful attempts at keeping them away, left me no choice but to lock them up in their 400 square foot outdoor space all day until I had another plan. Daylight fading, temperatures dropping and molting (shedding of feathers which causes hens to cease laying eggs) all make for a recipe for an egg laying disaster.
The photo above and below is what the pen looks like in the summer. The warm weather and sun keep the pen nice and dry and the chickens are happy to be inside dust bathing or outside wandering the property and returning for water and shade. Toward the back left of the photo is a door to their nesting boxes and their roosts. That all is mostly enclosed except the front area to keep it dry and clean. Their indoor space is approximately 120 square feet and they have full access to inside and outside at all times with a grand total of about 520 square feet a complete safe enclosed pen. Lately the cold temperatures and sunlight changes however, have kept the pen damp and cold which is no place for a chicken to be. The flooring of our pen is thick fresh shavings and mulch, but in the winter, keeping it clean and dry has been a challenge as even a light rain doesn’t dry quickly enough.
Now that we are almost at December 1st, the hens are barley laying and the pen is a mess, it was time to do something different. I couldn’t just let the hens free anymore because they completely destroyed my garden and I just finished planting new winter vegetables. So this past weekend we invested about $300 in an additional 300 feet of fencing. The photo below show you what the pen looks like currently with the cold temperatures and very little direct sunlight. It’s no place for a healthy chicken flock.
We used 2 inch x 6 foot poultry netting and 8 foot T Posts. We keep a dog on property that helps deter predators and at night the chickens are locked up completely in the fully enclosed pen. So for daytime use, a 6 foot fence will deter the chickens enough from flying over and it will also keep most predators like stray dogs away. The one thing to remember with poultry netting is that it is difficult to work with. It’s hard to get it to lay perfectly flat and if you’re running it on ground that isn’t perfectly level, you’re going to have to dig out some areas to lay the fencing so that it is flat. We also take 12 inch tent stakes and stake down any areas that are slightly raised.
I couldn’t be happier with the finished product. Well I think if we had gotten 600 feet of fencing then I’d be really ecstatic. But the thing about this type of fencing is you can easily move it and expand on it which I know we will be doing when the chickens have outgrown this space. For now, it’s awesome. My veggies get to flourish and so does the health of my flock!
Every night I walk the pasture with a flashlight checking to make sure all the birds have made it in for the night and there are no rogue eggs. I then lock the large enclosed pen and we start it all over again in the morning! I’m hoping to see a difference in their egg productivity soon!