Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chickens Making Snow Angels

This has been my daughter's favorite book lately, "Merry Christmas, Cheeps!"  A very cute book for sure, but I don't think you're going to see my chickens outside making snow angels anytime soon.  Matter of fact, they won't step a foot outside when there's snow on the ground.

We got our first snow on December 1st this year--very early!  It has been a particularly frigid couple of days here lately and the snow on the ground is very powdery and slick.  The wind has been biting and relentless.  I've had the wood stove burning with the damper wide open trying to keep the chill off of the house.  Normally we get too hot and have to open a window, but the wind has been finding it's way in through every available crack and the back side of the house feels a little drafty right now.  Today's high was 17 degrees and overnight it has been running about 7 degrees.  Miserable!  But there are chores that must be done and critters that must be fed, so I bundle up well and brave the cold.

I've been making the chickens a hot mash every evening and delivering it to them just before they go to roost for the night.

My father-in-law used to recommend that I make dough balls of cornmeal and hot pepper flakes to keep them warm and laying.  I don't usually have cornmeal on hand, so I've been making them instant oatmeal every evening and adding serrano hot pepper flakes to it.  I toss in whatever other goodies I can find, usually whatever Ava has rejected from her meals that day:  toast, yougurt, a half-eaten apple, etc.

I serve it to them warm and they all press in to get their fair share.  They don't seem able to taste the hot pepper.  Given all the other weird things they'll eat, it doesn't surprise me.  I wonder just what kind of taste buds chickens do have? 

The old-timers will tell you that the hot peppers will keep them laying through cold weather and will improve their circulation and prevent frostbite to combs and toes.  Makes sense to me.  I get flushed and sweaty too when I eat lots of hot pepper.  (Except chickens don't sweat.)

Keeping the coop cozy and draft-free certainly plays a part.  My chicken coop takes up about 1/3rd of my little barn.  The barn is sided with rough cut lumber and has furring strips run over the cracks between each pair of boards, but still there are a lot of gaps and the wind can get through.

Around November, I make a trip to my local recycling center and pick up several large sections of heavy cardboard.  I use my staple gun to secure it to the south and west facing walls from which our prevailing winds come.  It goes up quickly and easily and really does a great job keeping the coop warm.  Leaving the sheltered side of the coop uncovered allows for good ventilation.  Moisture build up in the coop will cause frostbite and encourage respiratory disease, so you don't want to make it too air-tight.  On bitter days like today, I also close off their chicken door to keep the wind out.  They have no intentions of going out anyway.

I used to use a heated dog water dish to keep their water thawed, but now that I have tripled the size of my flock they require a larger waterer that won't fit down inside of it.  This year, I secured a red heat lamp over the waterer using chain to clamp it to and ran it through the wire hanging loop and backed it all up by securing the electric cord without slack.  There's no chance of it falling down.  I dust it off about once a week.  The cardboard along the walls makes it like a brooder and it works well to keep the water fresh and thawed out.

After being cooped up for a couple days, these girls have started pecking and pulling at the cardboard.  I've never had a flock do that before, but these Black Stars are a little more high-strung.  If it keeps them happy and busy and prevents them from eating each other or their eggs, that's fine with me!  They've been taking the little pieces and lining their nest boxes with them.

Our snowman is enjoying this weather and I think he is the only one.  This is not even the official beginning of winter.  We must really be in for it!

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