Oh, it was practically summer yesterday. A high of -1C (30F)! The girls spent most of the day out of the coop in the run, instead of running in and out of the coop for a quick snack or drink of water. It was great to look out the window and see them scratching in the dirt.
They also took advantage of the warm weather to take a long-awaited dirt bath. They look dirtier now, but they must feel cleaner because they were having a great time rolling in the dirt and sand.
Alas, the warm weather did not stay. By this morning, it was -20C (-4F) again. Sigh. At least we had a little break.
Here’s what happens when I let the girls out.
Liesl usually heads out first. Being top hen, it’s her right and privilege to lead the way. Then the younger two come tearing out of the run, usually chasing each other and squawking. Finally, Greta saunters/waddles out . . . and heads straight for the garage door.
While the others are eating snow, or scratching at some dead plants in the garden, Greta plants herself in front of the garage door, and will not leave until I bring out the scratch. Say what you will about the limited mental capacities of chickens, this girl knows where the scratch is kept and solidly refuses to do anything until she gets some. I say that’s one smart chicken.
Two of my girls are sick. They’ve got some sort of respiratory thingy. I fed them hot oatmeal and yogurt this morning, and Greta and Liesl were sneezing like mad. I thought it was from the sticky yogurt, but then I heard Liesl wheezing. Then I noticed the bubbles in the corner of her right eye.
I had a mild freak out. I don’t deal well with sick animals. I panic. I think they’re dying.
Backyardchickens.com to the rescue. Opinions differ – some say chickens can get colds; others say, nope, chickens don’t get colds. It’s possible it could be a respiratory infection (infectious bronchitis), but more than likely it’s a virus, and all I can do is wait it out. I quarantined Liesl in the garage because her nose is really runny (poor thing). I gave her some Super Booster, which has vitamins, electrolytes and a small dose of penicillin, just in case she does have an infection. I bought some Stress-Aid for the other girls, which is just vitamins and electrolytes. Greta may have to be quarantined as well, depending on how she’s doing tomorrow. I guess at this point it really doesn’t matter – they’ve all been exposed.
The good news is that they’re all still lively and hungry and thirsty, so it can’t be that bad of an illness. Today, when I picked up Greta to examine her, Liesl pulled a total Karate Kid move and attacked poor Greta by jumping in the air, flapping her wings and raking Greta’s face with her nails. She must’ve thought I was holding that bitch down for her.
I hate having sick animals. I feel so powerless. How do I make them feel better?
The first question most people ask when they find out we have chickens is, “How do you keep them warm in the winter?” We have serious winters here. It has been known to drop below -50 Celsius (sometimes even -60 with the wind chill). The normal temperature in January is about -25 C. Getting stuck outside during a Saskatchewan winter can kill you.
So I totally understand why people are concerned with how our chickens stay warm. I certainly was when we first got them.
Then I realized . . . they’re chickens.
The pioneers and homesteaders did not have electricity, but they had chickens. Also, chickens are not mammals. Just because you wouldn’t want to be outside in the winter wearing a feather sweater doesn’t mean that a chicken is freezing to death, or even uncomfortable.
We winterize our coop, but we do not heat it. Some people do, and that’s totally their choice. We specifically chose cold-hardy breeds of chickens that can handle low winter temperatures. If you do choose to heat the coop, and the power goes out, the chickens will die for sure. We decided to not take that risk. Also, having a heat lamp in the coop is a fire hazard.
Here’s what we’ve done to make the girls comfortable for the winter:
- insulate the coop and fill the bottom with a thick layer of wood chips;
- give them lots of straw in the nesting boxes to snuggle into;
- use a flat 2×4 as their roosting bar so that they can cover their feet with their feathers when they sleep;
- put a fluorescent light in the coop on a timer so that they get 16 hours of light per day;
- use a heated water dish to keep their water from freezing;
- staple a plastic barrier around the bottom of the coop to give them a shelter from the wind;
- tarp the run to keep the snow out;
- feed them cracked-corn scratch in the late afternoon (their body temperature goes up as they digest the corn);
- have enough chickens so that they can keep each other warm.
The most important thing we’ve found is to make sure there is enough ventilation in the coop. We close the window, but we never put anything in front of the door – it stays open all winter. Chickens can withstand the cold, but if the coop is humid, they will get frostbite. So even though it goes against all my instincts, we make sure there is plenty of airflow in the coop all winter.
The girls don’t seem to mind winter at all. In fact, they love to be let out to scratch in the snow and peck at the frozen soil and plants. Besides, there’s nothing cuter than chicken paw prints in the snow.
A few weeks ago, we corralled the chickens into the garden and let them scratch away at the soil to their hearts’ content. Little did they know they were actually breaking up clumps of dirt and spreading compost.
Last week, after we had finished most of the harvest, we released the girls again, but this time we let them free-range all day. As Will turned the soil over with a shovel, they immediately jumped in and started scratching away. Sometimes, they didn’t even wait for the shovel to get out of the way. They scratched, they pooped, they dirt-bathed, they stood at the garage and begged for scratch, and finally, they went to bed exhausted. It was fantastic.
I ate the last of the eggs for breakfast on Saturday. Hopefully, the ladies will start laying again soon. It’s funny to think that eggs also have a season. We are so used to being able to buy whatever we want, whenever we want at a grocery store, that we are really out of touch with the natural cycle of food.
I admit, with some shame, that up until last year, I had never eaten a soft-boiled egg. I was reading Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (heartbreaking novel), and I came across this quote. I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree.
I look at my brother Malachy. Did you hear that? Our own egg of a Sunday morning. Oh, God, I already had plans for my egg. Tap it around the top, gently crack the shell, lift with a spoon, a dab of butter down into the yolk, salt, take my time, a dip of the spoon, scoop, more salt, more butter, into the mouth, oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt . . .
The renovations have started on 204 C. The lumber has been cobbled together (some donated, some bought), the plans have been drawn, and the building has begun.
And what do the residents of 204 C think of all this activity?
. . . while Liesl and Ginger enjoy taking dirt baths in the back corner of the run. Marianne was unavailable for comments at the time of this interview. We can only guess that she’s equally as oblivious to the upcoming renovations.
(Look at the gorgeous waddle and comb on Ginger. What a good looking chicken!)
In other news, the peonies have bloomed. Huzah!
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Welcome to 204 C!
This coop is a little gem – cute, cozy, stylish – a dream home for any city chicken.
Built with 95% recycled and donated materials, the total cost was about $50. With such a low investment, there’s plenty of room to build sweat equity and increase the value.
This property boasts an enclosed, bio-secure 10′ x 4′ run. Guaranteed to keep out pesky cats, racoons, or falcons.
With plenty of outdoor space, there’s no need to crowd. At the back of the run, you’ll find plenty of shade and loose dirt. Great for taking dust baths. Grit and crushed oyster shell can go in one corner . . . . . . and water in the other corner!
The feeder is elegantly hung from the exposed beams. This keeps the food at eye level and detracts from unwanted visitors stealing away with your food in the night (although Greta caught a mouse one time trying to steal her food – it was not pretty. I had to wrestle her for it – by the time she was done with it, it didn’t have a face anymore – ugh).
With a growing family, there is space to expand. As you can see, an additional food and water station has been added already, and the current owners plan to renovate this summer to expand the bio-secure run all around the fir tree.
There’s a plywood ramp with handmade foot holds leading into the coop. Some prefer to use the ramp; others may just want to jump and squawk and flap their wings until they somehow end up inside the coop. The choice is yours.
Along the south side, notice the mature landscaping, providing shade and much-needed privacy.
Here we come to the backdoor, as it were. An exterior window, screened in and removable for ease of access and cleaning.
Peering inside, notice the entire coop is fully insulated and built to use the deep-litter method – both important features when winter temperatures can dip below -40 Celsius.
The roost is a 2 x 4 laid flat. In these parts, because of extreme winter temperatures, the girls need to be able to cover their feet with their feathers. You don’t want frost-bitten toes!
When you step back and take it all in, you notice the strategic placement of the coop underneath a ginormous fir tree. The tree provides shelter from snow, wind, and rain, and gives the girls shade in the summer. Thank goodness the female owner was able to convince her husband not to chop the tree down when they first bought the property (although she is bit tired of constantly sweeping and vacuuming up pine needles in the house).
With a few upgrades and enhancements, this could be the ultimate dream coop. The current occupants are very happy, and will be even happier after the addition to the run is completed in Summer 2012 – check back for more pictures then!
We have very long winters here, so by January, my husband, Will, is getting a bit antsy for spring. That’s when he starts some seedlings indoors. By March, the indoor grow-op just isn’t cutting it anymore – he wants to plant. So he does.
Last year, he made a couple permanent raised beds in the garden, so that starting late March/early April, he can sow directly into the garden. He covers the rows in plastic, and if we’re lucky, they stay warm enough and the seeds start to sprout. Now, normally, no one plants in Saskatchewan until after the last frost, which is around the middle of May. However, the way we look at it, if nothing sprouts, we’re out $3 for the pack of seeds, and we can always re-sow later. But if the seeds do sprout, hurrah! We are eating spinach, green onions, and lettuce in early May. So really, it’s a win-win situation.
This year, they’ve sprouted. We should be having fresh greens by next week. Now to keep the chickens from destroying the sprouts . . .
- How To Keep Chickens Out of Your Raised Bed Garden (katydidcountry.com)