With temperatures not rising above freezing for days, it's fair to say that it's a bit parky. The boiler is being put in to full time service and I for one am beginning to wish we had a fireplace. Bloody modern houses and their lack of chimneys. Still, I am keeping warm with various oh-so-stylish layers, many hot drinks and a hot water bottle. These options are not open to the hens, sadly.
So, I thought this might be a good time to make some husbandry suggestions. Chickens can tolerate cold, but they cannot cope with cold and damp. As long as their coop is dry and draught free they will be fine using each other for warmth. I always make sure that the nest boxes have extra bedding in at this time of year just in case the girls want to use them as bedrooms. So far they remain poo free, so I can deduce that all eight chooks are snuggling together on the roosting bars. I am still leaving the pop hole open at present, but it really depends on the design of your chook housing as to whether closing it would be of any benefit.
I cannot over emphasise the importance of making sure that your birds have access to fresh water in this weather. They will be drinking considerably less in the cold, but they still need to keep hydrated. My drinker is freezing over within three hours at the moment, so I am checking it regularly and defrosting it as required. I have a plastic drinker and my girls are just a short walk from the back door so this isn't a huge problem. However, if you keep your birds at a bit of a distance you will have to be a bit more cunning. If you have a galvanised drinker you could try placing a lit tealight under a upturned terracotta plant pot and standing your drinker on top of it. It should provide just enough heat to stop the water from freezing. Of course, this is best done outside of the henhouse. No one wants to call the fire brigade with the immortal words: 'My chickens have set fire to the house!'.
Your hens will be fine on their usual rations even in the depths of winter. However, if you're a softy like me you can make them warm porridge. I use one dessert spoon of basic porridge oats per bird, and mix it up with warm water. I generally add a teaspoon of poultry spice to this, and either a small handful of raisins or mixed corn. My girls go mad for this mixture, and I feel better knowing that they've had something warm. How beneficial this is to the birds is questionable, but it doesn't do any harm. If porridge is not on the cards for some reason, I do always throw some mixed corn in to the run for them to scratch at. My chooks are not laying now, so I'm happy enough to see them put on a little bit of weight (Little being the operative word. Fat chickens are not healthy chickens).
Lastly, even though it is bitterly cold and you'd rather be indoors (understandable) please don't neglect the weekly health checks. I certainly spend less time outside at this time of year than at others so actually handling the girls becomes more important. Spotting any problems early gives your chickens the best chance of making it safely through the winter.
Ok, lecture over. Back to writing the Christmas cards.