Small Gifts

Many people do not know that chickens lay eggs according to the number of daylight hours. The shorter the days, the fewer the eggs, until they stop altogether and rest during the Winter. This is a time for them to rebuild the calcium in their bones that gets robbed to produce eggshells.

Commercial farmers add lighting to their coops to fool the hens into thinking that it is still time to lay eggs. They need the eggs to offset the cost of their chickens feed. I’m not trying to make this a commercial venture, so I give my girls a rest during the dark, cold months.

During this time I have to buy eggs and try not to think of my girls as a bunch of freeloaders. It gets hard right around Christmas when I’m baking trays and trays of cookies and going through cartons of store-bought eggs. I don’t know if the chickens tune in to my grumblings or if they are just feeling well-rested and generous, but every year right around the Winter solstice during the darkest time, they lay a few eggs for me. We were away and weren’t checking in the nest box, so when we got back we found this..


Thanks girls. Enjoy your Winter break.

How to “Break” a broody hen

hot_chickens_-3Our insanely hot weather seems to have let up a few degrees I’m happy to say. The girls are no longer panting away. During the worst of it, I had a new experience with my chickens. Andie, my 6 year old hen went broody. I’ll explain what that means in a second.

Just imagine the heat pounding down on the coop when it was in the upper 90s. I kept hosing it off on the outside and checking on the gals inside. Andie kept sitting on the nest box. And sitting and sitting. My first thought was that she was egg-bound like the first hen I lost. I kept checking on her. The nest box seemed so hot, that I took her off of it to roam around the yard. She made a bit of a fuss when I took her off the box, but seemed fine walking around the yard. I fed her some cold berries, which she gobbled up. I should mention that all the time spent on the nest box was time that she wasn’t eating or drinking. With the weather in the upper 90s, this was a huge concern for me.

It finally started to dawn on me that she wasn’t egg-bound. A hen who is egg bound has a hard time passing anything (because she’s got an egg acting like a cork on her insides). Chickens have fairly simple plumbing and they poop/pee and lay eggs out of the same chute. She was having no trouble pooping. Hmmm.

So why was she spending so much time on the nest? Eureka! The old gal was broody! That means that she was trying to sit on her eggs to hatch them. This instinct has been largely bred out of laying hens (Certain breeds are more prone to going broody than others). While a hen is being broody, she isn’t laying eggs, which is bad business for egg companies. And she’s also guarding the nest box to the point of shrieking and biting anyone who tries to get her off of it. Fortunately Andie was more docile. She just made a weird noise and puffed her feathers up at me.

So what can you do with a broody hen? You can get a hold of some fertilized eggs for her to hatch. Believe it or not, you can buy fertilized eggs online. The egg hatching isn’t triggered until something/someone warm sits on them. I may explain about this crazy phenomenon more another time. The other option is to “break” a hen of being broody. This was the option for me because I wanted Andie to eat and drink, and also, I can’t house more chickens.

IMG_3870Neil helped me build a “broody buster”, which is basically a wire cage set off the ground. No bedding should be put in the cage. The idea is that you make it somewhat uncomfortable for them to sit down. The cage is raised to allow air-flow under the hen. And you have it in a bright location, which is exactly where a hen does not want to nest down. I had to provide shade because of the heat. I would have a roasted hen for sure if I hadn’t.

IMG_3881At night we took her out of her little cell and put her in the enclosed part of the run, because I wasn’t confident that a raccoon couldn’t just reach its nasty little paws up and grab her through the bottom of the cage. Unfortunately she just decided to stay inside on the nest in the morning, so we ended up putting a perch in the cage for her to spend the night. After 3 days in her little cage we took her out. She hasn’t gone back to the nest box! Now we just need to encourage her to go back to laying for us.

Keeping Chickens Cool in the Summer Heat

hot_chickens_-6The heat here has been unbelievable. Fiery pits of hell unbelievable. Who could deny global warming unbelievable. And the chickens are suffering because they stay outside in it all day long.

When people first talk to me about my chickens they inevitably worry about what I do with them in the winter. I usually mention that wild birds manage, mention that my girls have built-in down coats and then when they still look skeptical, I talk about how I have an insulated coop and wrap part of the run in a tarp to make a kind of hoop house.

hot_chickens_-4But nobody ever wonders about the heat affects them. And man, it’s doing a number on them. They are panting their little chicken heads off. So what’s a good chicken keeper to do to keep chickens comfortable in the summer heat?

  • Provide shade
  • Provide access to water at all times

Kinda obvious, eh? Well here are some other things you can do.

  • Freeze large blocks of ice and add them to their water dispenser. This will keep the water cool, which directly affects their temperature. You can add ice cubes, but they won’t last as long.
  • Keep watermelon or even just the rinds (leave a little red on them still) in the fridge. Give those cold treats to them. Again, ingesting cool food/drink cools them off. I had some fruit that was getting a little old that I gave my gals.
  • Hose down their run so that you can make little mud puddles, or give them a shallow wading pool. Cooling their feet helps them. Most chickens do not like water, so hosing them off can just add to their stress. There are chickens who like to be in the water. I saw a photo of one enjoying a slip ‘n slide.
  • Make an air-conditioned room. Take a metal trash can, turn it on its side in the shade and place a large bottle with frozen water inside. They will hide from the sun inside, and the water bottle will cool the air around it.

hot_chickens_-1hot_chickens_-2hot_chickens_-5I froze a big bottle of water with the idea of putting it in the area of their run that they were hanging out in. They had no interest in it, so we cut the ice out of it and put it in their huge water dispenser.

hot_chickens_-3And my polish hen Andie has been sitting on the nest box for several days. At first I thought she might be egg-bound, but now I’m pretty sure she’s gone broody. More on that later.