It’s been just over a year since we added to our flock. Look how tiny Ginger was!
When we got them, we made a deal that we weren’t going to name them, since someday they will become food. For awhile, Ginger was known as “Little Peeper No. 1″. But it’s too hard not to name them when it’s such a small flock. You get to know them individually, and their personalities really shine through. Ginger was the perfect name for her.
And here she is a year later.
So very grown up! She’s a big bird, this one. The frostbite on her comb is almost totally healed. The little black parts on her comb fell off, and it is actually re-growing (amazing, stuff, I know). The dry skin on her wattles is flaking off, too. And her neck feathers have grown in very nicely.
She had a tough winter. We all had a tough winter.
But now, the redness is returning to her comb and wattles, and she is presenting hardcore every time I come near her, so I’m thinking eggs in about a week or so.
And the temperature is finally (FINALLY) rising. We hit +10C yesterday! Hurrah!
Have a lovely weekend, everyone!
- What’s with the wattle? (thenaturalpoultryfarmingguide.org)
Maybe it’s the warmer weather, or maybe it’s that the warmer weather has lifted some of my worry, but I think my girls are happier and healthier this week.
I broke my rule of “no extra treats, only layer ration” a couple of times to give them homemade yogurt and oatmeal. Call me crazy, but I think the yogurt really helped. Scruffy is no longer sneezing, and all three of them seem to be more active and have more energy.
Poor Liesl and her second molt in the span of six months. I think now that we probably triggered her molt by messing around with the light in the coop. We turned it off completely for a month, hoping that Ginger would finally finish her molt (that she started in December), and she did, but it then kicked Liesl into a second molt.
Live and learn.
I also had the chance to email with a couple other backyard chicken keepers in our city, and it really helped put my mind at ease about heating the coop. One person does have a heat lamp that they turn on when it gets below -25C; the other person doesn’t heat their coop, other than a regular light bulb (for eggs). I guess there’s no hard and fast rule; I think you just do what makes you comfortable. Honestly, I would feel more comfortable if we had a heat lamp in there for the really cold nights. I think I’ll look into setting something up, that won’t be a fire hazard.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. Chickens are not vending machines, but living, breathing, biological little creatures, and I can’t expect them to produce eggs like crazy. I certainly wouldn’t want to be laying eggs when it’s -45 C outside.
I guess they’ll start laying again when they’re good and ready.
I feel like a terrible chicken mama this week. My girls are having an awful winter. Greta died, Ginger has frostbite, Scruffy is sneezing, and Liesl is MOLTING. AGAIN. And to top it all off NO ONE is laying eggs anymore.
Damn you, prairie winter. I blame you and your -45C for this!
Maybe they just need some serious immune-system boosting. Vitamins? Yogurt? Scrambled eggs? I’ll do whatever is necessary to make them healthy again.
How about you? Do you struggle keeping your chickens healthy over winter? What have you done to help them survive the cold? Leave your comments or suggestions below. I’d love to hear from other chicken mamas and papas!
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.
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.
This is one of the more interesting times of the year for backyard chicken owners. The time when a chicken gives a shake, or a gust of wind blows, and a bushel of feathers release into the air with a barely audible “poof”.
Feathers, feathers everywhere. The girls, they are a moltin’.
This also means that egg production has come to a complete halt. Liesl and Greta are losing feathers like mad, but Ginger, who is only eight months old, won’t molt until next year. However, she seems to be going through a “sympathetic molt” and has stopped laying eggs in solidarity with her sisters. We’ve set up a light in the coop on a timer, so that she gets at least 14 hours of light a day, and hopefully, when the other two are done their molt, she’ll start laying again with them.
Chickens. Mysterious, fascinating creatures.
Last Thursday, I packed Marianne into a cardboard box and drove her out of town to Pop’s Coops. He toured me around the place (totally awesome!) and traded Marianne for Scruffy aka Oh Black Betty (Bam A Lam). She’s an Ameracauna (like Liesl) and will lay blue eggs.
Even though it was only three months ago that I introduced two new hens into the flock, I had completely forgotten what a ruckus Greta and Liesl make when a new girl enters the coop. Even Ginger was very vocal about it, and she’s usually so quiet. Scruffy isn’t having an easy time with this transition. She mostly stays in the coop or roosts or hides in a box. Friday morning was a mess. All the girls had to lay at the same time and Scruffy was in one of the nesting boxes. Oh the noise! I took my iPod dock outside and blared music to cover the squawking, and actually, the music calmed the girls down.
Please, please, please let this transition be smooth. Come on, girls. Make friends fast!