Tag: chickens

Happenings Around the Homestead

Every year about this time I fool myself into thinking spring is right around the corner.  We get a few warm days, and for some reason I believe winter is over.  Well, it is not!  It hit yesterday afternoon (Saturday) with a vengeance, and the temperature dropped several degrees in just a very short period of time.  This morning it is bitter cold outside, and they are saying we may get snow tonight!  My favorite weather forecaster, Beau Dodson, is saying the snow is very likely, as are some bitter cold temperatures mid week.

We attempted to cover the chicken coop with the tarp yesterday, but the wind was so strong it was merely an exercise in futility.

UPDATE: as of 4:30 AM on Monday morning, we have just over 3″ of snow.  We were also able to cover the chicken coop yesterday to keep it a little better insulated.  The chickens sure are enjoying having the new extended run though, as it allows them to get out in the sun, even when the rest is covered.  We’ll see how they like that today with a big snow.  😀

Speaking of snow, I have long said that we get a real whopper of a snow storm (don’t laugh my New England friends) about every decade.  A local weather enthusiast, Jason Darnell, did some research that backs this up.  We have only had four single day snowfalls of greater than 8 inches, but look at the spacing:

  • December 22, 2004: 14 inches
  • February 15, 1993: 7.9 inches (yes, I know this is just under 8 inches, but it was followed 11 days later with another 7.3 inches).
  • January 16, 1978: 11 inches
  • March 6, 1967: 8 inches

As you can see, other than a 15 year span one time, we get an 8″ or greater snowfall about every decade.

As an interesting addition to this, in 1984 there was a two day snowfall of 8.2 inches and a one day snowfall of 7.1 inches, so we didn’t really skip that decade, we just had a five year snow prior to that.  Actually, it looks like prior to 1984 we had a span of bigger snowfalls every five years, with a few interspersed one to three year big snows:

  • 1984: one day snow of 7.1 inches and a separate two day snowfall of 8.2 inches
  • 1979: three day snowfall of 8 inches
  • 1978: 11 inches
  • 1975: one day snowfall of 5 inches
  • 1970:  two day snowfall of 7 inches
  • 1967: 8 inches
  • 1965: two day snowfall of 7 inches

This week I did get the first round of winter sowing done.  Here let me share a little bit about that.

The principle is this: instead of using grow lights and having to harden of your plants, you begin by planting outside in mini-greenhouses.  During the winter the varying weather causes the seeds to freeze and thaw, expand and contract, and eventually grow.  The mini-greenhouse offers enough protection to keep the plants alive, and also keeps you from having to harden them off, as that happens naturally.  It made sense to me, after all, this is more how it happens in nature, yet still might give me a jump on the summer.

So, you begin by collecting as many milk jugs and other plastic bottles as you can.  This is a small group I am starting with:

Winter Sowing - The Milk Jugs

Winter Sowing – The Milk Jugs

The first thing you have to do is drill some drainage holes in the bottom of the jugs.  If not, too much water will stay in them and the seeds may rot before they grow.

Winter Sowing - Drilling Holes

Winter Sowing – Drilling Holes

Winter Sowing - Drainage Holes

Winter Sowing – Drainage Holes

Once that is done you need to cut the jugs in half.

Winter Sowing - Cutting the Jug

Winter Sowing – Cutting the Jug

Then fill them with potting soil.

Winter Sowing - Filling with Potting Soil

Winter Sowing – Filling with Potting Soil

Once that was done, I put the jugs back together and moved them outside.  I wish I had just finished them on the day I started them, but time did not allow that.

Winter Sowing - Filled Jugs

Winter Sowing – Filled Jugs

Finally it was time to sow seeds.  I just kind of scattered my seeds in the jugs, but I labeled them inside and outside, plus on the bottom, knowing that the sun will fade the labeling sticks.

Winter Sowing - Adding Seeds

Winter Sowing – Adding Seeds

I then taped the jugs shut with duct tape.

Winter Sowing - The Final Mini-Greenhouse

Winter Sowing – The Final Mini-Greenhouse

And finally I set them out by my raised garlic beds where they would get good morning sun.  Notice all the lids are off.  That is to allow the rain to get in the jugs.  It also keeps the temperature from getting too high on warm days.

Winter Sowing - Round 1

Winter Sowing – Round 1

If you want more details, Wintersown.org is the place to go, but this should be enough to give you the general idea.  Now let’s watch and see if they grow!

The Chicken Chronicles

This is the third week in a row that egg laying has increased.  I wasn’t really expecting this until later in the winter, when the days are longer than they are now, but I am sure not complaining.  This week the ladies laid 33 eggs: 20 from the Rhode Island Reds and 13 from the Easter Eggers.

Speaking of the ladies, they sure are enjoying the Back to Eden garden!  They love getting in there and scratching it up, looking for bugs or worms underneath the covering.  I am sure they won’t be very pleased here in a few weeks when I put a stop to that.  I can’t have them digging up my plants come spring though.

I have always heard they are not smart animals, but you sure can’t tell that with these birds most of the time.  In particular, we have at least one Rhode Island Red that will go up to Charity when she has let them out to run in the yard, letting her know she is ready for Charity to put a shovel in the ground and turn some dirt over.  This bird will then eat all the worms, then look back up at Charity, as if it is asking her to please do that again.  😀  Some of the others join in, but most of the time it is just one who starts it.


Rhode Island Red with an Attitude

You Lookin’ at Me?

The Hazards of Backyard Chickens

If you happen to own chickens, do yourself a favor and check out this video from One Girls Rant:

She is so right.  Our chickens have names.  They are basically pets that lay eggs.  Not only do they have names, but they are entertaining to watch, as they all have different personalities.  In fact, Charity can tell me a story about one of them, and I can figure out who it is most of the time by the actions she is describing.

Know this, if you get chickens you will not be unaffected.  😀

The Chicken Chronicles

I am not sure I have even seen the chickens except from a distance this week.  Praise God for my lovely wife who has mostly taken care of them.  It has been a bit of a chaotic week that ended with me feeling a bit under the weather.  Thankfully I think that has mostly passed now.

The ladies aren’t feeling under the weather though, it seems.  I have been pleasantly shocked to see more of the Easter Eggers’ eggs in the egg cartons this week.  Even though the days are still short, perhaps they are itching to start laying again.  When I gather eggs I remind them, “I either have egg layers or meat birds, one of the two!”  This reminds me of a cute cartoon I saw sometime back:

Why the Chicken Crossed the Road


I decided to validate that they are laying more, and I was wrong!  The Rhode Island Reds have had a good week (20 last week, 22 this week), but the Easter Eggers are actually down from last week (9 last week, 8 this week).  That being said, they are laying more than they were just two weeks ago (2)

One of the big projects I need to get done is expanding the chicken run.  Our birds are fortunate in that we have a decent sized run for them, but they sure do enjoy getting out of the run and stretching their wings.  You ought to see these little ladies when they find some new bugs or worms – it is like Christmas morning to them!  Of course, expanding the run isn’t going to replace that free time out in the yard, but it sure will help us feel a little better about it when we aren’t home to let them out.

The Chicken Chronicles

As mentioned yesterday, this was a big week with the chickens – the annual changing of the litter!  (listening for hens everywhere to start cheering)  It isn’t quite as gross as it sounds.  We use the deep-litter method with our hen house, which means I fill the coop with a very thick layer of oak leaves once a year.  During the year the hens poop in it, stir it up, aerate it, tear it up, and cause it to compost.  This means you never really have a strong smell, but instead you have soil being built.  However, you must change that out periodically, not only for the hens, but for you to have the benefits of it.  This past weekend was that time.

Okay, here is what it looked like before we began:

Year-Old Chicken Litter

Year-Old Chicken Litter


You may notice it was not thick everywhere.  That is because of the hole in the floor.  The silly ladies knock the leaves down into the bottom of the coop, into the run, over time.  I typically then use a pitchfork to move it from the run back to the coop to keep a good thick layer there.  I haven’t really stated it yet, but as I understand it, the thick layer is essential to give enough dry brown material to keep the stench down.  It is really much like composting.

I first moved all the old chicken litter out of the coop and the run while the ladies were out stretching their wings:

Chicken Litter

Chicken Litter/Compost

You can see how much compost this created in a year, and this is far better compost than you might get from any store.  It is all organic, all homegrown.  I know what is in this compost, and I know it is good.

I then took a large pile of leaves that were good and dry, and I move them into the coop and run.  I know this looks like it would be uncomfortable for the chickens, and it may be, but it won’t stay this way for long.  I happen to think they enjoy it though, digging through all this new material looking for any sort of life (read: bugs) that might be in it.  As I said, it won’t stay this way for long though.  Soon the leaves will become shred under their constant picking and foraging, and it will pack down.  Anyhow, here is what it looks like in the coop:


Fresh Oak Leaf Chicken Litter

Fresh Oak Leaf Chicken Litter

I also put it in the run because I need plenty of material to add to the coop throughout the year.  It is essential to keep a thick layer there.  As the litter in the coop runs this, I will scoop some from the run up into the coop.  Believe it or not, this will all be smashed down to a thin layer in just a few days.

The only other thing going on with the hens this week is a bit of an upswing in egg product.  Last week was eggs, whereas this week we had 29, and 9 of them were Easter Eggers!  If we compare that to last week, we see the Rhode Island Reds laid the same amount (20) and the Easter Eggers upped their production by 7 eggs!  Go Easter Eggers!  It won’t be long until we see those numbers really jumping up.  I am very anxious for that.

The Chicken Chronicles

Whoa! Talk about a tough week for relatively new owners of outdoor chickens – this week has been one of the hardest so far. We had an some unusually cold weather come through the region this week, like much of the country, and it really challenged my thinking on taking care of the ladies.

If we step back a short month or two ago, we had some temperatures in the high teens, and at that point in time I chose to attempt to heat the coop with a red heat lamp. It was obvious the birds did not like the light, and I didn’t feel it was helping that much anyhow. When they started talking about single digit temperatures this past week, I was really puzzling over what I would do.

We had already insulated the coop with plastic on most inside walls, which helped more than the red heat lamp in my opinion, but it still was not enough for single digit temperatures, at least it wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable. I wasn’t worried about our hens dying, but I was worried about the Rhode Island Reds getting frostburn on their combs and waddles. They are cold hardy bird, but that exposed skin worried me. The Easter Eggers, on the other hand, do not have much exposed skin, so I wasn’t too worried about them.

I spent some time reading up online to see what others had chosen to do, and it seemed I wasn’t the only one suffering from indecision. I think it is because most chicken owners look at their birds as pets that happen to lay eggs. That is certainly how they are seen here. I was able to find references of folks who used the red heat lamps as I had done before, and others who used other heaters, but the resounding message from the experienced chicken owners was that people worried too much. I found examples of people who lived in some very cold places who had never heated their coops, and from what I could tell, if you could keep the wind out and the coop dry inside, the birds would likely be fine. So, I decided that was what I would do.

Even so, there was a small concern: water. How would I keep the water from freezing? I decided to use a heated growing mat under their water dish to try to slow down the freezing. When that didn’t seem as effective as I had hoped, we surrounded the water bowl with some insulation (old towels in plastic bags), which seemed to help quite a bit.

Second, we took a large tarp and draped it over the coop on three sides and part of the fourth. This provided two things: a reduction in airflow and a insulation.

The Coop Wrapped in a Tarp

The Coop Wrapped in a Tarp

I was shocked at how well this seemed to do. Thankfully we had built the coop with enough ventilation at the top that even with three sides covered, there was plenty of ventilation for the moisture to escape. This seems to be one of the largest concerns. I read a great piece of advice that said if you notice frost on the inside walls of your coop, you have too much moisture. We did not notice that at all.

After a day or so, I began to be a little concerned at the lack of light in the coop. I didn’t want to introduce the extra heat or risk of fire, but I wanted to add some light in there, so I mounted a fixture on the ceiling and put an LED bulb in it to help with the light.

The temperatures did get very cold, with two days being in the singe digits.  If it didn’t hit 0° F, it sure came close.  When I woke one morning it was 1° F, and I suspect it had been colder.  The second wave didn’t get quite as cold, but it was still single digits.

A several things I noticed through all this. First, there was no frostburn, and the ladies seem little bothered by the cold. Second, they miss their recess breaks out roaming the yard. Third, I think they like the light during their daytime hours. Fourth, the Easter Eggers are either smarter than the Rhode Island Reds, or they need more heat. Why would I say that? Because those little ladies finally started roosting on the big plastic container which contained by heated growing mat and the water bowl.  ALL SIX of them made this their sleeping quarters. 😀

Easter Egger Hens Huddling Around the Water/Heating Pad

Easter Egger Huddle

The big plastic container is to keep their water from spilling into the coop’s bedding.  The heating pad is in the big plastic container.  There is a 1 gallon water bowl in the big container, and it is surrounded by towels to hold in the heat as much as possible.  The hens are either in the container, on the side, or at the edge.

Thankfully this bitter cold spell is over, but I feel better about future cold spells now that we have been through this one. I am sure the birds do too.

Oh, even throughout the cold spell, the Rhode Island Reds continued laying, though I think the numbers were a little less than they have been. Perhaps that was due to the decreased lighting for a few days.  I show the Rhode Island Reds laid 20 eggs this week, and the Easter Eggers laid 3.

Yesterday Charity let the hens out to play for a while, and they were thrilled.  I guess they had cabin fever after being locked up for so many days.  Freckles must have really been that way.  As we were trying to get them back into the coop, she flew up into a tree!  This is at least twice as high as I have seen a chicken fly, if not three times the height:

Freckles in a Tree

Freckles in a Tree

We finally got her down though after threatening to clip her wings and poking her with the blunt end of a pole pruner.  😀

Oh, I also had to repair the coop some yesterday.  Both doors to the run had boards that had broken which was causing the doors to not be able to be propped open easily.  Both are fixed now, though I sure wish they would break in warmer weather next time.

The Chicken Chronicles

The little lady layers are ready for winter to be over!  It has been shocking to me to see the tremendous difference in their egg production now and just a few months ago.  There were days we were getting eight or nine eggs a day back when it was warmer, and now we consider ourselves fortunate if we get four in a day, and those are almost exclusively eggs from the Rhode Island Reds.  It is somewhat rare to get an egg from the Easter Eggers right now, and it is very rare for more than one to show up.  This is the reason we added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though – they are egg laying machines.

One of the issues the Easter Eggers are having is that some of them are molting.  It may be that all of them are molting, but two of them are showing it more.  In fact, one reminds me of a little Indian boy with one tall feather sticking up from its tail.  We have added some more protein and fat to their diet, which is a good idea in winter anyhow, but it also seems that it helps hens through the molting process.

I had someone ask a week or two ago if it was normal for a hen to molt in the winter.  I didn’t know the answer, and it seemed illogical to me, but after researching it I found that it is not unusual at all.  I am supposing they stay closer to their sisters during this time to keep a little warmer.

One other thing we have learned is the importance of an insulated coop.  Just this morning I noticed a container of water outside the coop was frozen, but one inside the run, just under the coop was not.  The run is not even really insulated, but it does have wind breakers on two sides.  It seems that those wind breakers made enough of a difference that it was able to keep the water from freezing.  Amazing, really.

One thing we are finding is commonly recommended for the hens in the winter is black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).  I have added this to my list of things to grow next year, as I sure would love to be able to feed the chickens as much as possible from the garden.  That reminds me, I am also growing a considerable amount more greens (kale, lettuce, chard), brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), squash and beets to help feed the ladies more from the garden.

The Chicken Chronicles

After yesterday’s post on the BIG weekend, I am sure you know the chickens had an eventful weekend too.  The poor ladies started out pretty scared of all the work that was going on, even staying upstairs in the coop for a while.  After they got used to the front-end loader, they began venturing downstairs, and were as exuberant as ever to get out and run around.  They curiously watched to try to figure out what was going on, but in the end, all they cared about was finding treats amount the wood chips.  😀

The laying is still slow, as I am sure it will be until the days start getting longer, though the Rhode Island Reds are real troopers.  The four of them laid 24 eggs this week, whereas the six Easter Eggers only laid 8 eggs.  This was the whole reason added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though, as they should continue laying most all winter.

Charity noticed a problem below the coop though.  It seems the ladies are thinking the insulation foamboard I put there is for their dining pleasure.  SIGH.  I don’t think I will work on that today, but sometime I will have to cut it out where it is not within their reach.

One of the next big projects I have it to get a portable chicken run built, so I can actually let them stay out in the yard for extended periods of time without someone watching them.  Ideally, this would allow me to let the work the unplanted garden areas as well, with the chickens aerating and fertilizing the soil while they have fun.  I am thinking of building something out of cattle panels, but I need to work on this more.

There’s never a shortage of things to do, is there?


The Chicken Chronicles

Whew!  What an interesting week!  Winter has arrived!  As first time chicken owners in the winter, we are learning a lot, not the least of which is how to care for the birds in the bitter cold.  We have received some low-teen temperatures this week, which I felt were cold enough to warrant supplemental heating.  The challenge is doing that safely.

After much reading, I decided to use a red heat lamp – the same lamp I used to keep the birds warm when they were too small to handle the cold.  I have read many comments against this method, mainly because of the fire risk, but also because of the potential of causing sickness in the birds if they go from hot to cold temperatures.  I felt confident the light was secured, and it was far enough away from the birds I felt it would not allow them to get hot.  The truth is, I didn’t think it was making enough difference, so we added a second red heat lamp.

My intent with this was not to heat the coop, it was simply to knock the chill off.  I don’t really want to raise the temperature even above freezing, but just up above the 25 degree mark.  I am reckoning that will allow them to not suffer from extreme temperature changes.

Even with all that in mind, there are many blog and forum posts out there of folks who are a lot further north than I am, yet they do not heat their coops.  Their coops are well insulated, but no heat.  That surely makes me question if I am making the right choice.

All that said, I have only heated the coop a few nights now, but I already have lessons learned.

  1. This must be used judicially.  The birds do not need a sauna.
  2. A better option is a well-insulated (and yet well-ventilated) coop.
  3. These birds are resilient.  They can handle colder temperatures than I thought.
  4. Water, water, water.  The birds must have water, not ice!
  5. Finally, I may not continue this plan.

Whether I continue or not remains to be seen.  I need some more time, and I need to get the coop insulated.  In the absence of insulation, I have to provide, or at least I feel I have to provide, supplemental heating on nights below 20 degrees.

As you can see, I still have lots to learn and decisions to make.

As if that is not enough change for the week, I am also dealing with a dramatic reduction in egg production.  Wow.  The Rhode Island Reds laid 22 eggs, but the Easter Eggers only laid 10!

Never a dull moment, that is for sure.


The Chicken Chronicles

The shorter days seem to finally be making a difference in the egg production here at the homestead.  Even so, we still had 38 eggs layed this week.  The Rhode Island Reds are showing their winter laying ability though, with twenty two eggs for the week, or 5.5 eggs per hen.  The Easter Eggers are really beginning to drop off, as they only laid 16 eggs, or 2.7 eggs per hen for the week.

Speaking of the Easter Eggers, Snow White didn’t suffer from being eggboung this week, but one or more of the Easter Eggers have decided laying eggs in the chicken run sounds like fun.  Grrr.

We are expecting the coldest weather of the season this week, getting into the mid-twenties by Thursday.  I am not worried at all about the birds at that temperature, but I am thinking ahead to when it gets down in the teens later in the year and what I will be doing to help protect them.

If you have never owned chickens, you might find it hard to believe how entertaining they can be.  Yesterday Charity put some leftover spaghetti in the run, and one of the ladies ran in there and starting eating it.  Charity said she was eating it like she would a worm.  She would pick it up, swing her head around with it in her mouth, then eat it.  I am supposing she either thought it was a worm, or she thought it was fun to pretend it was a worm.  Silly hen.

Speaking of personality – when Charity let the hens out yesterday, one of our cats decided to go check out the chicken run.  Charity laughed as she told the story because the cat didn’t stay in there long at all.  It is funny because this cat is a bird killer, but she won’t touch these chickens.  I sometimes wonder if she is thinking God might be punishing her for killing all those birds throughout the years by surrounding her with ten large birds that are bigger than she is.  😀