Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chickens in Winter (by Kat)

"Chicken" and "winter" are not mandatorily mutually exclusive, but keep in mind that eggs are not necessarily a part of the equation.

Last winter was our hens' first winter, and they layed eggs throughout the long, weary, dreary, cold season. All winter long, we could count on three fresh eggs every day. During the coldest spells, it could dwindle to two a day, but I don't remember the egg count ever going below that number.

This summer, the hens were a little older, and a little less participatory in the egg-laying adventure. Cumulus, or Cumy as we call her, was our most consistent layer. She'd give us one a day, every day, no questions asked. Marble (the black hen) and Seraphina (the darker of the two red hens), would lay an egg about every other day this summer, giving us a total of two eggs most days, one egg on some days, and very rarely we'd be met by three eggs in the nest.

After the horrible dog attack in September, Cumy stopped laying eggs due to her severe injuries. Marble and Seraphina were reluctant to take the job on fully themselves, so neither one has laid a single egg since that day, either. It isn't uncommon for chickens, especially older chickens, to stop producing in the winter, but I think ours would still be laying if it weren't for the attack.

So, if they're not laying eggs, how are they spending their time? The snow has melted a bit around the fence, and they're having a fun time playing in the bit of mud. These gals really hate to walk in the snow, so they use the edges of the garden beds as little chicken highways. I can almost here them yelling out, as we did when we were kids, "floor is lava! floor is lava!"

"oh no, I'm falling into the hot lava!"

"I'm not touching, I'm not touching!"

Here's the feeder we built out of scrap wood this summer. People are always willing to come feed cats and goldfish, but the minute you ask someone to feed the chickens while you take a vacation, they look at you real funny-like. So, we built this feeder instead. The lid opens on top, we fill it with feed, and the bottom tray self-fills with feed. It doesn't keep moisture out very well, so in the winter we sometimes have to break up the frozen feed inside.

My husband also scatters a bit of scratch for the hens. They love to dig in the straw in search of the cracked wheat and corn bits. Scratch is kinda like chicken candy, or chicken crack. They like it, but it doesn't promote good egg-laying. My husband continues to feed it to them anyway. Most of it ends up in the guts of all the little birds that hang out in the pen. The sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, etc. all really like the chickens' scratch.

The snow-covered entrance to the chicken pen has become the iced-over entrance to the chicken pen. Hauling buckets of fresh (not frozen) water to the pen every day was getting really exciting there for a bit. The door to our pen stays open way more than it stays shut. This is illegal. Don't do it.

Around Christmastime this year, because people look at you funny when you ask them to haul buckets of water twice a day for your chickens, and we had to leave town to go be with family, I picked up the blue heated chicken water bowl at the local feed store. I love this gadget with all my heart. I really do.

The hens have a coop that sits inside the garage. The coop is actually a very large cupboard that came out of someone's shop and was sitting in another someone's field. We cut a small hole in the side to make a chicken door from the outside. On the inside, we made a door to cover the open back. This door opens up completely to give us access to the eggs, the heat lamp, and to change out the straw bedding. Two bars run across the inside for them to perch on at night. Under the heat lamp. But they won't!

Instead, they perch here at night. Since they insisted on perching outside, we built a roof to keep the rain off their heads and a second bar out away from the lattice. They roost here all year long, which is why they all got frostbite last year. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to convince them to use the nice warm heated coop, but no, they would fly right back out to their favored perch. Supposedly, if you move chickens in the dark, they'll stay where you put them, but that is a crock of chicken poo...

So, the hardest part of having chickens in winter is feeling bad when they are too stupid to stay under the heat lamp. The second hardest part is paying for chicken feed and paying for eggs at the same time. The third hardest part is dealing with the frozen food scraps that begin to emerge from the snow when a thaw comes around.

Hello pumpkin, don't you smell nice....

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