Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas at the Henhouse

The hen house in our November snow storm.
 On this morning days before Thanksgiving I was up early watching the news to see if the kids would be going to school and sent this picture (or one similar) into KOMO news. Two minutes later it was on the TV! Probably because I was the only person up that early and sending in snow pictures. The ladies didn't like the snow much and wouldn't trek out even for the goodies. I spoiled them just a little by spreading alfalfa in the covered area and out some in their run. As long as they didn't have to walk in the white stuff they were happy to scratch in the hay and eat some of the dried leafy goodies. Lucy, our golden retriever,  loved the snow even more than I did. Now that's a happy dog.

Thanksgiving came and went without a hitch and everyone had fun. I think it was perhaps the best one I have ever hosted. It was touch and go there for a while because of the weather but the snow melted and everyone made it. The food was good, tables were pretty and everyone got along. A happy day.

Although it wasn't planned that way the young people (read kid table) gravitated together. I say kid table although the age range was from 14 to 22. Maybe I should just say the old people were at the old peoples tables.

The rest of the weekend was spent with the friends that stayed over. We went to some antique stores, made Christmas wreaths, and just hung out visiting. By Sunday the last of our guest left and we were ready to go find a Christmas tree.
My kids and I decided to go find one to chop down. We did this last year driving up almost to Oak Harbor to get it but this year we thought we would try to find one closer to home. After finding two "tree farms" on the south end and not finding a tree that met our standards we gave up and bought one at the locale nursery. It would be another week before we finally got it set up and decorated. I had to get ready to do a Christmas bazaar on Lummi the next week and two more after that at the Bayview market on Whidbey. I'm sure I must have mentioned at some point that I make goat milk soap. To see this and other related products just go to the web site

Back to the chickens. Did I mention that the ladies come looking for me every evening before going in. They spend the afternoon free ranging  around the property  but at about 4 to 4:15 pm they want their treats and to be put into the coup. Now, maybe they would go in by themselves when push comes to shove but when you have them staring at you through the kitchen window they are a little hard to ignore. So I trundle out and tuck them in to the coup doing a head count just to make sure they are all accounted for.

So for those who may be wondering what to do for the chickens in cold weather I have a few tips. Mostly gleaned from experience living up north on Lummi Island on a windy exposed property. We would get what Lummi Islanders (and Bellinghamer's) would call nor-Easters that would blow out of the Frasier River Vally bringing some stinging cold with it. For those who are interested read on.

1.Make your coup draft free. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to insulate it but if you do make sure the chickens can't get to the insulation. They will eat even fiberglass and love foam. Make sure there is still ventilation. An open window or vents higher up near the roof work well. A chicken coup needs ventilation to prevent the build up of ammonia fumes and dust that can cause respiratory disease. If you have a coup that is sort of tossed together (and so many are) stacking straw or hay bales around the outside will do wonders for the drafts.
2.Don't clean out the coup. Let the litter pile up adding more clean and dry wood chips when needed to keep the smell in check. The chips and manure underneath will compost down and add heat to your coup.
3.Make sure your flock starts out the winter healthy and hefty and with a balanced commercial feed. Table scrapes (not meat or potatoes) like vegetables and bread scrapes are always welcome and a handful of scratch helps them to keep up the body heat in the coldest weather.
4.WATER, WATER, WATER! Make sure they have it and don't let it freeze. If you have electricity in your coup invest in a heated waterer. That's the easiest. Otherwise you will need to change the water a couple times a day with lukewarm water to encourage them to drink. Sometimes a light in the coup will keep the water from freezing. The chickens appreciate it too.
5.Predator proof your coup and run. Raccoons and coyotes get hungrier as winter makes it harder for them to find food.
6. Protect combs and wattles.If you know it is going to be a particularly bitter day or night, rub petroleum jelly on exposed wattles and combs to prevent frostbite. Feathers do wonders to keep your birds warm and they will sit on their feet to keep those warm but big fleshy combs are vulnerable to freezing.

If we get any deep snow and you want to spoil them a little, shovel out a spot in the run and spread a little hay or straw. They will appreciate the chance to get a little exercise. Don't let them out in deep snow. They can get stuck in it and die of hypothermia. Although we live in a fairly temperate zone I suspect we may be in for a cold January. An ounce of prevention...... ya da ya da ya da.

So remember that happy dog you saw in the picture above. Here she is being bossed by the cat. Emma kitty says "Hold still. I'm cold and I want to borrow your tail. If you don't I will beat you up!" Lucy doesn't look as happy now.

November 13th blog had a little story about my rescue Silkie, Baby,  and how well she was doing. Over Thanksgiving weekend Baby became sick with something and no matter what I did she didn't recover. I am convinced that for the few months she was with us here that she was happy. She was definitely well loved and spoiled and I will miss her.

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