Saturday, January 31, 2009

Winter Chickens

The last ten or more winters had been quite warm here with very little snow for this area. Last year however it changed completely to colder with more snow than usual. This year was a repeat with snow beginning in November and staying on the ground. Also a repeat has been the extreme cold with temperatures dropping well below freezing by 20 to 30 degrees. This has been hard on the chickens as I had to shut them in since November. Normally by now we usually get a thaw and I would be able to let them out for a few hours but not this year. I even covered their out door pen but there is still a lot of snow in it. The main problem however is the cold.

Some people let their chickens out into the snow and tell me I should do that as well. I don't however for many reasons and I even sealed their exit door with a second door to prevent any cold air from coming in. As long as they have fresh air and are not too crowded, I think they are better off inside. If you want eggs, just think that if the hen goes outside, she will begin to use her food as energy to keep warm first and not for eggs. Plus if I have the door open to the outside, the house will cool down and again even when she comes in she has to work on keeping herself warm. I don't think chickens being a jungle fowl, are properly equipped to handle the cold. This of course is extreme cold, I had given them free run until the water started to freeze in their house during the day as well as night. After that point I found the hens were going out to stand on cold ground and if it was really frozen, they were not able to get much from it. Basically you are feeding them to make up for the lost body heat while standing on frozen ground.

Melda, Lucy and Diane plan their escape

I find the cold is also kicking the stuffing out of the house. You can see where the door above is 'sweating' because of the extreme cold outside and warm air inside. It is damaging the inner walls as well.

Lucy: "That snow looks cold"!
Diane: "You go first"!
Lucy: "No you go First"!
Melda "Forget it, I'm outta here"!
The girls are spoiled with treats, as soon as they hear someone approaching the house, they all try to get up on this little gate to get there first. They are pretty good not to jump out, it is not part of their routine so they don't do it, chickens can be funny that way. Also because of the cold snow, they just want no part of it. I'm glad January is over, by April I should be able to let them out all day again or at least part of the day, I feel bad as they love outside and I can't hear Chico crowing in the house. It will also be nice not to worry about heat lamps and lights on timers again but mostly the girls will be free to roam in or out and act like chickens. For now however the six girls are giving me five eggs a day again this week so I don't want to change anything and mess them up.
As night falls it starts to snow again...blah! Good night girls stay snug in your house.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Great eggspectations

Yes people I will probably milk the corny egg titles for all they are worth. Although I guess 'milking' would better go with a cow blog. The girls seem to be doing fine after I gave them their dusting last week. In fact they are very content, so much so that even when the temperature dipped twenty to thirty degrees below the freezing mark, the girls actually increased their production back up to four or five eggs a day (out of six laying hens). I don't include the bantam since she is old and my goal for her is not to lay every day but instead to be a mommy. The girls seem to follow a pattern of laying four to five eggs a day for a week and then rest for a day. On that day I will only get two or three eggs.

I store the eggs in the cold basement and wash them every second day to make close to a dozen. They have been doing so well that I had to start selling some because I had far too many for me to use or give away to family and friends.

On Monday I gave them a second dusting of the bug powder. I hope that will keep things in check. I'm going to try and get a big tub and fill it with sand, my idea is to place it in the coop every now and again to let them have a dust bath. Once they get used to that routine I will then add the powder to the tub so that I don't always have a gas cloud in the coop. I'm not a fan of chemicals but Delia was so weak I figured I needed to act fast.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meet the cast!

I finally remembered to get batteries for my camera. I guess the proper thing would be to introduce the cast members of this chicken blog. Like I said before, I only have a small flock but I think it helps me to know their personalities better, or should I say chicken-alities. I will give you some gossip and insight into the lives of the stars of "Nobody but us chickens! I surprised them with my flash last night just as they were turning in for bed.
From left to right top row, Melda, Lucy, Chico, Gertrude, Diane, Delia.
From left to right bottom row, Gracie, Marlene.
The first black hen 'Melda' is a 'black sex-link' hen, Melda is second in command in the house. Next is 'Lucy' she is sound asleep with her head tucked under her wing, another black sex-link and Lucy is queen of the flock. Lucy and Melda are the youngest at only eight months but when they came in they quickly became dominant over the others. Next is Chico, my little white Silkie rooster. I really thought the world of Chico, when I got him I could pick him up like a fluffy kitten, I liked the way he crows often during the day but not loud enough to bother the neighbors. However Chico has become nasty lately, if he gets a chance to bite my hands he will and he is starting to become really aggressive with my black girls. I am hoping when I am able to let them into the run again, he will calm down. Chico is small but he is certainly king of his castle. I suspect he hates the black girls because of his size, he can not mate with them. He can mate with the red girls and so he likes to hang with them. He guards Gracie the most, I guess because she is small like him and so is very protective of her, if I so much as touch her, he will open a huge can of butt whoopin on me! Of course he is so small that as long as he can't get my hands, it is like being attacked by a really angry puff ball.

After Chico is the start of my red sex-link hens. They were the first group and they are about 13 to 14 months now. With her head also tucked under her wing is 'Gertrude', she was the first hen I named because she had a lot of white on her back and I could easily tell her from the other red girls. Strange however, after she molted, her new feathers are almost all orange/red like the other three. In the middle of the three reds is 'Diane'. I often feel sorry for Diane as she used to be queen, she was gentle with the subjects in her time. However after the great chicken wars of 2008 Diane lost her crown and became third in line of the pecking order. People with chickens become aware that "pecking order" is not just a phrase, it is an actual order of chicken society with it's very own politics. Delia is next, looking much better and getting stronger as she was the one who became sick. Delia was the second one I named because she is a lighter orange than the others, her position in the house is after Diane.

On the lower perch is my little Gracie, the little black Cochin bantam hen. I am hoping she will hatch or foster some chicks in spring for me. She is actually quite small but her feathers are long and when she puffs them up like this, she appears as one of the big girls, that is until you pick her up and feel nothing there but feathers. Gracie is the oldest, not sure how old but looking at her toe nails and feet, she is quite old. Gracie is lowest on the pecking order as she is smaller and last in. Diane is very very aggressive towards Gracie and I suspect it has something to do with making sure she does not move lower in the pecking order from the number three spot. Gracie is however brushing up on her politics and starting to dominate over Gertrude and Marlene but is afraid of Delia. I suspect by spring little Gracie will be in the center of the red girls pecking order wise. Last is another red hen, Marlene and for some reason she likes to sleep on the lower perch with Gracie these last two weeks.

It was so cold last night I left the heat lamp on, it mixes Chico up and he will start crowing at night but I have no choice. I think that may be another factor in his sudden aggression.

Shhhhh, say goodnight Gracie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No bugs allowed!

Sorry for not writing lately, I hope I have not offended my two readers. Also I know it would be more interesting if I put up more pictures and I am on that as soon as I replace my batteries in my camera, (note to self, get batteries).

Today I will blog about a health issue I had with one of my girls in case it may help someone else. I noticed one of my hens (Delia, she is actually on the profile pic) becoming weak and not eating a lot, she would often sleep in a nest during the day for warmth. I really panicked the night I found her lying by the heat lamp in stead of being on the perch with the others, since one chicken does mostly what all the others do, a lone chicken is a warning sign. The next day she was still in that spot and had not moved to go lay her egg, the egg also did not have a shell on it. Delia was always kind of lazy but I knew this was not normal and that she was really sick. Delia is also one of my best layers out of the first four red sex-links.

I picked her up to examine her. There was blood on her bum and I noticed she lost a lot of feathers in her bum and vent area. While looking her over I saw lice crawling on her. I have seen them before so I knew what they were. On chickens they are a straw colour or an almost see through light brown. Like tiny tiny ants crawling on the bird's skin. Looking closer I saw she had also lost a lot of feathers on her under belly. It will look different from molting as the feather are not growing back and there will be blood spots or tiny red bumps. No wonder the poor girl was always so cold.

I was upset as this never happened when I had hens before, plus I pride myself on keeping the chicken coop very clean. I later learned that this is common in winter and she probably came with them but they are now a problem because the chickens can not dust themselves as often. Thinking back, I had started to notice that the girls seemed a bit restless and often seemed itchy. I also learned that chickens with their beaks trimmed have a greater chance of being infested by lice, as they can not preen their feathers properly. Delia had her beak trimmed before I bought her, as did all the reds.

I called many different vets around here but there is little support for chickens in this area and none would help. A woman at one of the offices came on the phone with me and told me of a place to buy products for livestock. I went and all I could get was a powder that is suppose to work for all farm animals against different types of lice. I was not too happy about this as I was afraid it might not work all that well but something was better than nothing.

That night when Chico and the girls were on the perch, I went in to dust everyone. I must have looked like a space monster to them with a dust mask and goggles on, I spoke to them and then they were fine. I worn rubber gloves and rubbed the powder into their feathers, some liked it and some did not. I rubbed a lot onto their bums and tummies where the pests are suppose to like hiding.

Two days later Delia was running around again, still a bit weak but much better than the night she was lying on the floor. Four days later I checked her over again and there was no sign of bugs. I will have to dust them again every ten days until the power runs out as lice eggs are not affected by any products, so they will hatch out and you have to kill the next generation before it starts to lay. Still I feel so bad for my girls that these things got at them, I was so worried about big things like foxes and raccoons that I almost lost one to something small.

Friday, January 9, 2009


I have not given up on this blog, just a little busy and not really on my computer lately. The latest news from the hen house is with all the cold days and then sudden thawing, it seems to have messed up the girls laying cycle. Two weeks ago I was starting to get 5 eggs a day from the six ladies and I thought that was great. The temperature has been swinging up and down like crazy and now it caused them to lay any where from one egg in a day to five at best, mostly it is between two to four.

I suspect it is because in extreme cold I leave the heat lamp on all night and they are not getting a full nights sleep. I had been told that the heat lamp left on can make them aggressive towards each other and I do see signs of this. Mostly with Chico my little Silkie rooster. Silkies are one of the friendliest roosters (or so I was told) and Chico used to be like a fuzzy kitten, however now he is more like robo rooster ready to destroy all who enter his domain! After a few warm days and leaving the lights off at night, he settled back down, so I guess it is true. I think he is affected more than the girls because he is tricked by the red glow into thinking dawn is breaking, so it is not unusual to hear him crowing at night. I also noticed the girls being a little more aggressive with each other as well.

I've played with the lighting to give them closer to eight hours of darkness so they can sleep better and see if it works.

Happy New Year chicken fans!