Saturday, November 27
What about the chickens?
The question on everyone's mind is "what do you do with the chickens in the winter?". Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, and it's not likely keeping you up at night, but it is a question we're frequently asked by friends and guests. And since this is our first winter with the ladies, we've had to do some leg work to figure it out.
Since our chickens are layers and not meat birds—ie. we got them for their eggs and not for the roasting pan—we'll keep them over the winter and not send them off to the local abattoir. Knowing this, we built the hen house with our heavy winters in mind. (Before Jim rolls his eyes all the way out of his head, I should clarify that when I say we built the hen house, I mean Jim and our neighbour, Bob, built the hen house.)
It's a compact coop, the idea being that we could move it around to different parts of the yard, but it ended up being so heavy we can't budge it without Bob's tractor. The reason? It has more insulation per square inch than our own house! It's also positioned in a nicely sheltered spot, protected from the prevailing west winds and with some southern exposure.
Insulation and location aren't enough, though. Chickens' feathers are great for keeping their bodies warm, but apparently their feet and crowns are susceptible to frostbite. Plus, the coop has to be warm enough to keep their drinking water from freezing. So we added heat with a simple 175w red heat bulb. It looks a bit like a club scene, but it makes for a nice warm coop and the ladies seem to be happy.
For now, we're still giving them access to their outdoor pen, and they're often outside regardless of the weather. Soon, though, the snow will be too deep and the really cold temperatures will settle in. Then we'll have to keep the girls in all day, every day. I guess this is where the expression "cooped up" comes from. We're thinking of getting them some cat toys so they don't get bored. Really.
They do have a window for some natural light, but Jim's planning on rigging up another light fixture—one with a plain, white bulb—that we can turn on during the day so the ladies aren't just in the dark red light all the time.
Egg production will drop and eventually stop for the winter. Partly due to the shorter daylight hours and partly to the stress of the cold, but for now we're still getting 6 eggs a day. That's one from each hen. Our neighbours up the road have 26 hens and they've already slowed down to less than 10 eggs a day. This could mean our ladies are spoiled, pampered chooks. But that's fine by me. You go girls!