Saturday, January 22, 2011

What you can do for your hens when it is dangerously cold

Picture from

This weekend there are supposed to be 3 or 4 days where the temperature doesn't get above 10 degrees with the overnight temperatures well below zero. I don't know what the windchill will do to the temperature.

Here are a few things I do to help my hens.

1. Make sure there is always plenty of fresh water! I use a heated dog bowl which is quite big so if for any reason I can't get there right away they will have enough water.

2. I make sure they have really deep shavings. I actually use an entire bag of shavings per coop.

3. Today I put 1 heat lamp (on a timer) in each coop so overnight when it gets dangerously cold they have a place to perch and keep warm.

4. I added a little extra cracked corn and gambird feed to their food mix. The gamebird feed is higher in protein and the cracked corn I understand takes some work to digest so keeps their body temp up.

5. I put vaseline on all combs to protect against frost bite.

6. I check them often.

Friday, January 21, 2011

From Ilya to Ike.

I have a rooster, that I originally thought was a hen. At first she was named Ilya but now he is named Ike. The hysterical thing is that when I first entered “her” in the local fair, the judges didn’t pick up on the fact that my bird was really a rooster, not a hen. He was a very good-looking “hen”, so good-looking in fact that he won first prize. Ilya won, but it was really Ike. Thank goodness “she” didn’t crow as she received her blue ribbon. In fact it was just a few months after the fair that I first heard “her” crow and thought “uh oh”.

My family thinks this is hysterical because not only did we not know “she” was a “he” but the judges didn’t know either. I think judging is an art, not a science, so there is room for “interpretation”. Not everyone is perfect, no matter how long they’ve trained or how many books they’ve read, no one gets everything just right.

We also think it is really funny that maybe we have a cross-dressing chicken. It is just a hysterical thing to think about. As a result of a ton of jokes about a cross-dressing chicken, we now have a crazy tradition with one of our good family friends. We have a stuffed fake chicken, yes a stuffed fake chicken that we dress up and hide in each other’s houses. Sometimes the chicken dressed in goggles and a swimsuit will appear in a big box at camp. I have to admit when I get a big box at camp I immediately hope it is homemade cookies and a little note. Then I look at the return address and slowly, secretly, open the box, because inside is usually a stuffed, full-sized fake chicken dressed in shorts with a little backpack and headlamp. Last Easter, I came home from an egg hunt and went to my room, guess who was there in my bed dressed like an Easter bunny, surrounded by marshmallow peeps. You guessed it, The Chicken. Right now The Chicken is at our friend’s house and we keep trying to imagine where she will turn up. I am guessing under the Christmas tree in a reindeer suit!

I'm glad my family thinks this is perfectly normal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A rookie beekeeper

As a rookie beekeeper I do worry about the bees in such a big snowstorm, but honestly they are probably fine. I just can't help but think about them.

"I have read up on their astonishing winter habits. Bees metabolize the dense carbs in honey ferociously, generating heat, which they further augment by flexing their flight muscles, without moving their wings. Clustering around their queen to retain the heat is their means of climate control. Deep in the hive, the cluster expands and contracts with the temperature; the colder it gets, the tighter the huddle.

But can these cluster physics really maintain a constant central temperature of 70 degrees in a pelting snowstorm? “You bet they can,” said Leslie Huston, a Newtown beekeeper. “And in late January, if they have begun producing brood for the spring, the activity can raise the temperature to 90.” -NYT article here

My very first hens.

Bee Hives at the White House

Hear a nice interview HERE

Digital Subscription to BeeCulture

Good Magazine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

13 Tips for raising Happy Chickens

13. Feed your girls greens. Weeds. Leftover Salad. The lettuce from the bottom of the fridge (don't throw out your food scraps, give it to your hens)

12. Have a plan for what you are going to do if you end up with roosters. They can be difficult to find homes for them if you can't keep them. Plan ahead.

11. Consider using food grade diatomaceous earth for pest control. Sprinkle it in deep bedding or lightly on the feed. Wear a mask when working with DE.

10. Choose one breed of chicken and get to know that breed. Generally each breed has specific needs and it is easier to start with one breed. I recommend Rhode Island Reds. Or considering helping a heritage breed.

9. Have at least 5 square feet of space for each bird, 10 square feet if they are in a coop all day.

8. Have a place for your hens to perch or roost. Best to use 2" wide poles.

7. Hens need 14-16 hours of light a day to lay eggs. In the winter you may supplement with lights set on a timer.

6. Make sure your coop is predator proof! this includes storing feed in rat proof containers.

5. Coop should be well ventilated but not drafty.

4. To encourage egg laying there should be 1 nesting box per 4 hens.

3. Make sure your birds aren't bored. I make sure they have "scratch" in their coop to give them something to work on.

2. I feed my hens organic layer pellets, cracked corn, black sunflower seeds, mealworms, scratch, fresh greens, worms, grit and of course clean fresh water every day.

1. Talk to your birds, they will talk back, and make sure to give them lots of love.

Happy Chickens for 2011

Alice. Everyone knows Alice.

Josie as a baby.