vChristmas is a magical time of year, probably because for a few precious hours, we indulge in family time without feeling guilty. For those with livestock the daily routine continues because it is essential that whatever special occasion it is the animals remain safe and fed.

Preparation for this has to begin several weeks beforehand because of the closure of many agricultural businesses over the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Probably the most important thing to organise is that there is sufficient feed and bedding in store for the poultry during this time. Although the local feed merchant may only be closed on the actual bank holiday days and be open between Christmas and New Year, the manufacturers and distribution companies may be closed for the whole period, with no further deliveries once they have closed for Christmas until into early January.

Therefore make a list of any feed and bedding needed over those coming weeks and make sure your agricultural merchant will have plenty in stock, or orders in any special requirements before the last delivery leading to the holiday. There can be a run on bales of shavings at this time of the year and birds need clean dry bedding.

It is also a good idea to have any routine veterinary treatments in your store in case the birds are due to be wormed or there is a case of external parasite infection whilst everything is closed for the holidays. A 60g tub of Flubenvet will worm up to 20 birds and can be bought from a veterinary practice or agricultural merchant that is qualified to sell prescription medicines. Ensuring that poultry do not have a worm burden is an important part of good husbandry so having this in store could save precious time if it becomes necessary to treat them. Very occasionally there is a delay with a veterinary product being manufactured, so think ahead, with the help of your agricultural merchant. Obviously if a bird is taken sick the local veterinary practice will have someone on call over the holiday and no bird should be left suffering.

Christmas is a time for families and friends to get together and this can lead to normal everyday routines going awry. With that in mind it is important that the chickens, along with any other poultry kept, are not neglected.

Should the chickens have a large enough house, it might well be worthwhile feeding them generously on Christmas morning, changing their drinking water and hanging up a cabbage or some other greenery and leaving them, safe in the house. Most families enjoy a long lunch on this special day and with the light disappearing soon after 3.00 in the afternoon, putting the chickens to bed just after the Christmas pudding might not be the priority of the moment. Any poultry do need to be attended to just the same as on any other day though, because Mr. Fox does not have any respect for Christmas Day and will be out hunting as per usual.

Chickens appreciate strict routines and they tell the time by gauging the light, just like other livestock. Come dusk, they will want to be on that perch. Any routine that is interrupted will not be beneficial and may interfere with egg laying or even health. A routine is not just the time that birds are let out or put to bed, it is also the time that they are fed, whether they see the same people each day, hear similar noises or experience seeing the same vehicles driving about.

If you have people to stay over the holiday have some ground rules if there are dogs or children amongst them, especially if they do not keep chickens at home and are therefore not used to them. Nothing will upset the birds more than if an excitable dog is running around barking or worse still, chasing them. If the dog has not encountered chickens before it should be perfectly acceptable to ask the owners to keep it on a lead so that it doesn’t disturb the poultry.

Dogs like a routine as well, so if they are out of their familiar environment they may feel somewhat insecure and could become stressed. At best this will show itself in excitability and at worst aggression. Unfortunately hardly a Christmas or New Year goes by without some family tragedy caused by a visiting dog or a resident dog whose routine has not being recognised.

With small people it should be rather more straightforward. Children love seeing chickens, in fact they are fascinated by all poultry but unless they have been taught to respect them and be gentle and quiet around them they will not know how to behave and could inadvertently frighten and stress the birds. This can be put over without upsetting anybody by explaining to the children why the chickens must not be frightened.

If birds are to be housed over the Christmas period, children could prepare a treat for them now by sowing some grass seed in a tray of soil. In fact it would be a good Christmas present for the chickens’ owner from visiting children. Buy a new plastic cat litter tray, fill it with soil - out of the garden will do fine - and get a small packet of grass seed. Sprinkle some of the grass seed on top of the soil, water lightly and place in a greenhouse or a sheltered, well-lit area and wait for the grass to grow. If it grows too long before Christmas just give it a cut with shears as short grass is better for chickens than long grass, which could get stuck in their crops.

Other treats for poultry include cabbage - green Savoy and Spring cabbage are appreciated more than white cabbage; corn on the cob - either fresh or tinned; black sunflower seeds; eating apples and plums.