As we move into the fall months, cool weather arrives and rain once again falls in western Oregon. There are special considerations for the poultry flock during these months of changing conditions.
First, make sure your birds have a place to get away from the rain. Chickens don’t like the rain and will prefer to mostly remain under cover, especially with hard rains. Make sure that roosts are available for your birds, so they don’t have to sleep on the wet ground. Cold temperatures are usually not of concern for adult chickens in most of Oregon. It takes temperatures well below freezing to impact their health.
In the fall, chickens will begin to change their eating habits. Because the weather is cooler, their feed consumption will increase. In order to stay warm, they need to burn more calories.
Also, chickens that have been on the range or pasture during the spring and summer will find far less feed in that same pasture. The grass and weed seeds as well as the insects will be gone. As fall progresses, the pasture or range will green up as the temperature cools and rains irrigate them, but chickens receive nearly no nutrition from eating grass. It is the seeds and insects that they are after, and since they will be mostly gone, they will turn to the feeders for nourishment. In this time of dependence on prepared feeds, it is important to limit supplementation with scratch or table scraps to no more than about 15% to 20% of their total daily consumption.
With the rain, chickens may encounter standing water. Drinking water from the ground can lead to the infection of pathogens and parasites. Intestinal round worms are a common problem in chickens drinking from standing water.
Worm-infected chickens will generally appear healthy but seem to always be hungry and eating but remain skinny for their breed. You may also observe worms in their droppings. Wormers are available that will generally take care of the problem. When using wormers, strictly follow the label directions for safe use of these compounds.
“Mud balls” on chicken feet can also become a problem when chickens are walking on wet flooring. Because of their scratching behavior, soil and manure can collect on the birds’ claws and the ends of their toes. If allowed to grow large, they inhibit walking and can result in broken toes. In severe cases, the ends of their toes will die and fall off. The mud balls can become nearly as hard as cement and difficult to remove. It is best to watch for the problem and remove the balls when they are small.
The primary impact of season change from summer into fall is a reduction in egg production. Chickens are stimulated to lay eggs by day length. Long days and increasing day lengths encourage egg production. As we move from summer into fall, day length declines from about 16.5 hours per day to a low of eight hours per day in December.
Declining and short day lengths will result in reduced egg production in most hens. Some hens may completely stop laying eggs. During this period, many will molt, a process of losing their old, worn-out feathers and growing new ones.
To reduce the effects of shorter days on egg production, artificial lighting can “fool" the chickens to remain in production. Lights in the chicken house that keep the day length at above about 14 hours per day will keep hens laying well through the fall and winter months. Only low wattage lights are needed, a single 25- to 40-watt bulb on a timer that turns the lights on before sunset and off at about 10 p.m. is sufficient.
With some attention to management requirements, the poultry flock will remain healthy and productive throughout the fall and into winter.