Tag Archive | "Inside Bainbridge Coop Scoop"

How to Winterize Your Chicken Coop

by Allison Krug, science/medical writer and BI chicken farmer

With the shorter days and colder weather, you may wonder if your chickens are comfortable. Should you be supplementing the light in their coop to keep them laying through the winter? Do they need extra light for warmth? Should you buy a warmer for their water? What do chickens (and their keepers) in Pennsylvania or Minnesota do?

Gardeners here know that much of thishens state is temperate, and Bainbridge Island is actually in USDA hardiness zone 7b (as is a strip of the southeast from Texas to North Carolina). Our temperatures rarely dip below freezing, so compared to chickens living farther north in zones 3 and 4, ours are considerably more comfortable. And they’ve been preparing for winter.

By now they’ve gone through their molt and should have a nice cape of glossy feathers. During the molt, their laying slows, if not stops, a sign of the protein competition between egg production and feather production. If you avoid supplementing daylight with a low-voltage light source, you’ll ensure their protein supply goes to feathers for warmth. Yes, you’ll see a decline in egg production, but with younger birds (in their first year of laying) the decline will not be as noticeable. Last year we saw an approximate 30% decline. Instead of 18 eggs a week, we were getting about a dozen. Our younger hens kept laying while the older hens took a couple of extra days to lay another egg. The entire molt process can take a month or more depending on the hen and her nutritional status.

Home to Roost coop on Bainbridge Island

Home to Roost, Bainbridge Island.

In addition to age, breed of chicken can make a difference in terms of hardiness. We found that our large Jersey giant continued laying and weathered the winter very well. The Rhode Island Reds, which are good meat birds as well as solid layers, also fared very well. Minnesotans and Alaskans posting to a chicken forum say that Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth (or “Barred”) Rocks, and Red Stars and Black Stars (hybrid breeds) do well in cold weather.

Breeds with larger combs and wattles will tend to get frostbite, but you can help prevent that with a coating of Vaseline. Although these tough northern birds sometimes live in a three-sided shelter in the middle of a snowy field, you might want to be sure your coop isn’t too drafty but does have proper ventilation. Use gaps no bigger than half an inch, though, or you’ll find more than fresh air getting into your coop!

Ladies of Wisteria Place, Bainbridge Island.

Ladies of Wisteria Place, Bainbridge Island.

In a temperate climate like ours, winterizing is pretty easy. For example, Rolling Bay Farm’s Adrienne Wolfe uses a “deep litter system.” She keeps about six dozen laying hens to supply her farm stand with fresh eggs. “I just keep adding bedding material—straw mixed with about 20% pine shavings—to the floor of the hen house,” she explained. “The chickens mix the materials together to create compost, which heats the coop as the manure decomposes.” Adding fresh bedding keeps the methane levels down so the chickens don’t get sick. The manure will dry and turn into a fine dust at the bottom of the coop. In the spring you can shovel out the bedding and add it to your compost pile. I appreciate the sheet-metal floor in my coop because it makes cleaning with a hose quite easy!egg

One of my favorite chicken husbandry books is Choosing and Keeping Chickens by Chris Graham. Bay Hay & Feed carries an excellent selection of books on chicken breeds, and there are plenty of good web resources, such as Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart.

[This article from the archives was originally published November 25, 2012.]

 

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chickens!

Coop Scoop: What Kind of Chicken Farmer Are You? Take Our Test

by Allison Krug, science/medical writer and BI chicken farmer

Bay Hay logoThank you to our Coop Scoop sponsor Bay Hay & Feed.

Chickens are alluring little creatures. Their bright colors add spark to our grey days, and they make any garden look happy. They are easy to love because they’re industrious: They give us eggs and meat (if we choose), and they don’t ask for much in return. They don’t mind a muddy run, aren’t depressed by rain, keep their feathers neat, and wake up happy and bright-eyed. They even go to bed on their own!

Sure, they’re also dirty, incontinent at night, and love to dig holes. They sometimes eat their own eggs. They’re strict (sometimes brutal) with their social order. They roost where they shouldn’t and make a constant mess of things. And yet we want them around. Perhaps it’s because their simple traits can be a good reminder for humans about sticking together, muck or not. But beware . . . once you start collecting chickens it might be hard to stop!

Beware Chicken Lust

My chickens.

my flock

Once you get into chicken rearing, you might find that you just “need” a couple more, or just have to try out a different breed. You start eyeing the “zebra” chickens with black and white stripes (Barred Rocks) or want a big Jersey Giant. Plump, huggable Buff Orpingtons might be fun for the kids, right? Some folks even love the sound of a rooster. They add drama to the flock, and they are excellent protectors (I know from experience, having been chased a few times!).

How is the reality of chicken rearing compared to the romance? What kind of chicken keeper has Julie become since she launched her coop last month? Is she still in the honeymoon phase where the coop is immaculate, the water never dusky, the organic seeds always fresh? Or is she in the affectionate but pragmatic phase–what needs to get done is done, and fussing over them can wait for the weekend. Or maybe she’s on her way to being a hard-beaked, full-on chicken farmer, culling the meat birds yearly.

Take Our Test: Where Are You on the Chicken-Keeping Continuum? 

Are you an “eggs are a daily miracle” honeymooner, a soft-boiled chicken chum, or a full-on farmer pragmatist? Give yourself a point for each “yes” answer, and find out.

Do you

My chickens at play.

poultry at play

  1. provide a little table (could be a stump or round, could be an old picnic table) for feeding kitchen scraps?
  2. keep your organic seeds fresh and topped off all the time?
  3. find yourself wandering the organic grocery section to pick up flock favorites?
  4. run out with midday treats for your feathered sweethearts?
  5. scrub the waterer any time it is dirty, with something other than an alder leaf (those hold together under a jet stream pretty well)?
  6. use antiseptic wipes to clean the water trough once a week?
  7. hose off the waterer on the “jet” setting while keeping your eyes averted from splashing fecal matter?
  8. fabricate special nesting boxes so eggs roll out for collection so they don’t get dirty in the box?
  9. hose out the coop every spring and disinfect it, roosting bars included?
  10. sprinkle diatomaceous earth (DE) in the coop to keep mites and lice under control?
  11. mix food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into the feed (2% by weight) to kill gastrointestinal parasites?
  12. add apple cider vinegar to the water periodically as a prebiotic?

9-12 points—starry-eyed honeymooner

5-8 points—soft-boiled chicken chum

<5 points—full-on farmer

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Photos by Allison Krug.

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