Canberra Backyard Poultry

Local conditions and seasons

Chickens are generally fine in a Canberra winter as long as they have somewhere draft-proof to sleep.  Chickens with large straight combs (especially roosters) can be susceptible to frost bite, so keep and eye out for this and apply vaseline if necessary.  Most chickens (excluding commercial egg laying hybrids) will go off the lay for a time in winter.  This is linked to daylight hours more than temperature, so it is possible to extend laying time by having an automatic light on a timer in the coop to artificially extend the hours of daylight.

Once the days start getting longer again after the winter equinox (June 21), chickens should come back on the lay if they have stopped for winter.  Some pullets that are coming into the point of lay age in autumn won’t lay until the following spring.   While this can be frustrating if you are waiting on eggs, it can actually be a good thing as the pullets are more mature when they do start to lay.

Chickens don’t cope well in the heat – they will pant with their beaks open and hold their wings out from their body when hot.  This is especially the case for heavy breeds (e.g. Sussex, Australorp etc.) Chickens can’t regulate their body temperature when the temperature gets over 32°C, so always have plenty of cool water and shade available in the hotter Canberra months.  Shade is really important.  Long term a vine growing over the coop or a tree in the run is ideal (fruit trees are great in chicken runs as they will tolerate the fresh manure), but if this isn’t an option make sure they still have somewhere shady to escape to at all times in the day.  Water should also be available in the shady areas – chickens wont want to leave the shade to have a drink from a waterer in the blaring sun.

A few ideas for keeping hot chickens cool:

  • A clean kitty litter tray half filled with water – some chickens like to stand in the water when they are very hot!
  • You can add large blocks of ice (try freezing water in old ice cream containers) to these too to make them even cooler.
  • Watermelon or tomatoes from the fridge are also a great treat on really hot days.
  • Hose down the litter to make somewhere cool for them to dust bath.
  • A towel soaked with water and hung over the coop can provide some evaporative cooling and shade.
  • In a pinch a table in the run will provide shade.

Most breeds prone to broodiness will go broody sometime in late spring through to summer, but some very broody individual hens can go broody at any time and more than once a year!

Most chickens generally go through a moult sometime in autumn, which means they loose their feathers and re-grow new ones.  This can happen suddenly or over a longer period of time, so don’t be alarmed if you suddenly find a nearly bald chicken one day in autumn!  They will also stop laying while they are moulting.


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