As the winter is fast approaching I like to spend a little time in early November making sure that the chickens will be as comfortable as possible throughout the colder months. I have six Buff Orpingtons and one Light Sussex, collectively known as ‘my ladies’. I keep Buff Orpingtons primarily because they are beautiful. They are large, heavy birds with stunning feathers and a very fetching fluffy skirt around their legs and bottoms. Athough not prolific layers, Buff Orpingtons are one of the friendliest breeds, easy to pick up and happy to follow me around the garden. I added the Light Sussex last year to boost egg production. Whilst she is very pretty and lays an egg a day without fail, she is extremely unfriendly and will peck if she feels cornered.
After a long summer of egg laying and broodiness my Buff Orpingtons go into an exhausted moult in late August. By November their tired and sun bleached summer attire has been replaced by beautiful golden feathers. The egg laying does not restart until after Christmas. Rare breed chickens lay fewer eggs per year than commercial hybrids and Buff Orpingtons lay fewer than most rare breeds. The eggs we do get are delicious and the ladies did well this year keeping us supplied from January through to September.
I start the winter preparations by giving the old stable that they live in a very good clean and treating all the nooks and crannies with a red mite powder. Cobwebs are cleared away and the windows cleaned to let in as much light as possible throughout the dark days. As the stable is large I also bring my two rabbits into here for the coldest months.
The chickens are let out during the daylight hours in the winter, but usually return to the stable well before it is properly dark. Buff Orpingtons are too heavy to sleep on a perch and like to huddle into some old rabbit hutches that I fill with straw. The chicken house is cleaned out every week, so that the beds stay fresh and the floor dry.
Buff Orpintons are know for their friendly nature. They are happy to follow me around the garden and are easy to pick up, which makes caring for them simple. Being heavy birds they cannot fly, so there is no need to clip their wings.
The girls have access to layers pellets all day and in the afternoon they have a snack of corn mixed with sunflower hearts. In the winter I also take out a regular treat of brown bread spread with a little cod liver oil to boast their immune system and I add a dose of apple cider vinegar to their drinking water.
Once a month I treat their drinking water with Verm X to make sure their digestive systems are clear of worms and I dose each of the ladies with a light dusting of louse powder to keep their skins clear. I also keep a watch out for a condition called scaly leg. This is a very uncomfortable infestation when mites burrow into the scales on their legs, causing them to become raised and inflamed. At the first sign of any inflammation I have a thick cream which I coat their legs with and this seems to do the trick.
The cockerels you can see belong to my neighbour, but (not surprisingly) like spend their days with my ladies. Despite the cold the ladies seem to really enjoy the winter months. Their new feathers keep them warm and dry and as the breeding season has ended they have a rest from the cockerels more amorous attentions. With a little extra TLC they should make it happily through to the spring.
If you keep chickens I would love to hear about any tips you have on caring for them.