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.
For a fun article, take a peek at this link. I was interviewed about how small flock owners keep their chickens healthy.
I have many readers write me about fighting chicken mites. They are annoying to both the chickens and their keepers. Before you find yourself fighting them, you can make a dust box for the chickens to do their own daily maintenance. By rolling around in the dust/dirt, they kind of scratch any mites off their bodies. Chickens love to take dust baths, and will dig in your flower beds, in their run, or wherever they can to find relief.
How to make a Dust Box:
Find a sturdy tub. I have a Rubbermaid-type thing with a lid, so that when it rains I can cover it.
Fill it with equal parts of sand, food-grade diatomaceous earth (make sure it’s food-grade!!) and wood ash. We use natural charcoal, so we use the ashes from that. If you use regular charcoal briquettes, or lighter fluid, do NOT use those ashes. Use ashes from your fireplace instead.
And now comes the hard part. Put the dust box in the chicken’s run and walk away. Chickens are naturally curious and will explore the box soon enough. They instinctively know what to do with a big pile of dirt.
Try and resist the urge to “show” your hens what to do by plunking them in the box. I did this. They will be convinced that you are trying to kill them and never want to go in that evil box again. I have 2 chickens who love the box and two who think it is the source of all evil in the universe. You can imagine who’s feathers look better, right?
The 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.
But 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.
I 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.
And 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.
We’ve been out enjoying the warmer weather these days. Last weekend we went to buy some new pine chips for the chicken run. Their run was mostly dirt, which might not bother the hens at all, but definitely was ugly and also caused dirty eggs.
What is usually a no-brainer errand turned into a bit more of a challenge. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot seemed well-stocked with wood chips. But on closer inspection, they had dyes embedded in them. All of them! And not only were they colored, but the dyes were guaranteed to last something like a year. This was definitely something that I thought would be an environmental and chicken health nightmare. I finally found undyed chips at Home Depot by a company called Great Gardens that is a part of the Long Island Compost project. I had never heard of them, but if you take a peek at their link, you can see some of the great work they are doing. I was much happier buying organic chips for my chickens to run around in, so it was a win-win.
The girls were happy because they got to run around the garden wreaking havoc.
And there were a few plants starting to poke out of the ground..
Parsley, chives and lemon balm
It was a good day in the garden. I emptied out my compost bin and enriched the soil in my pots and various beds.
One of my oldest hens Andie (after Andy Warhol with the crazy hairdo) has joined her sisters and started laying again. Her eggs are shaped like her…tall and skinny.
I don’t have a photo of Andie, but she’s a silver-laced Polish hen and looks like this.
Andie is about 6 years old, which if you believe everything you read is unheard of to still be laying. She’s laying almost every day to boot. My other old hen Lulu (after Lou Reed) popped out a couple of eggs this spring, but seems to have taken a break lately. Hopefully she won’t go through her “I think I’m a rooster” phase again this year.
Well, we survived the slumber party! It’s amazing how 5 girls can kick 2 adults arses so badly. I haven’t felt so hungover since….well…….maybe having a newborn. I’m not a huge party-er.
We have finally gotten winter weather here. It is freezing. Literally. It’s pretty much the first time that the ground has felt hard under my feet when I go out in the backyard. Neil winterized the coop, but I don’t think the chickens are enjoying the cold. To show her protest, Razzy changed the size of her eggs.
I might have to knit them little sweaters to make them happier. Like this person’s photo a friend forwarded me on Facebook.
Right at the shortest day of the year, when chickens are taking a rest from egg laying…my girls decided to give us an early Christmas gift. A bunch of them. What sweethearts.
We’re back from Iceland! It was a truly amazing vacation. If you are even slightly considering going to Iceland, I want you to go! I am editing my photos now, so more will come.
We are now trying to get back into a routine. Lindsay has her first full week of school this week, which is helpful for getting more things done at home. One of the things we haven’t gotten back into a routine again, is locking our chickens up at night. Our coop is predator proof, but we built an extended run that isn’t. So every night when they tuck themselves into bed, we lock the door between the runs. Except last night we forgot.
I woke up around 3am to the most painful screeching sounds. I knew instantly that the chickens were in major distress. Neil and I ran out there to chase off whatever predator was after them. Neil saw something run away, but isn’t sure if it was a cat or a small raccoon.
Fortunately we seemed to be in time. The girls were agitated, but there didn’t seem to be any blood. This morning I checked again and didn’t see any injuries. I just saw this clump of feathers ripped from Andie in the coop. Poor girl. They still have the little sheaths over them, which means that she just grew them. It looks like they came from her head, but I couldn’t see a bald spot.
We just re-set the chicken alarm on our phones to remind us to lock them in at night.