Archive for the ‘Snow’ Category

Too Cold For Chickens?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

We managed to dodge a terrible snowstorm last weekend, but I know the winter is far from over. Our nightmare last year only began at the end of January, and then was just relentless in pummeling us every week with at least another foot of snow. So on the one hand, I do genuinely feel for the people I see on Facebook posting pictures of how hard it is to dig out their cars and driveways, however, I’m also doing a little dance that it’s not me again. Note that the dance is little. I’m trying to avoid moving into hubris territory, and I think a large dance would do it. Just a hop and a skip, and then back to business. Right now business means keeping the chickens warm. We didn’t get the snow, but it’s been awfully cold for the past week, at least by this winter’s standards. (Once again, last winter was a whole different ballgame.) Normally if I walk past the coop, all the chickens gather at the door, wanting to be let into the yard. In this kind of cold, I walk by and maybe one of them sticks her head out to see what I’m doing, and that’s about it. One of them gets confirmation that I’m not there to let them all out, and they go back to huddling in the relative warmth of the coop. Of course, first thing in the morning they run out for the pile of scratch I leave out, but once they’re done with that, they have indoor recess, chicken-style.

The eyes are always watching.

The eyes are always watching.

The cold also officially crossed over into Boss Chicken-must-come-inside level temperatures. We even hit single digits overnight once or twice, so in she came, and then back out during the day so she can get sunlight, and balmy temps in the 20s. My idea to put her in a storage tub has been a mixed success. On the one hand, it holds a chicken and some wood chips. One the other hand, it’s only marginally better at keeping those wood chips contained than the dog crate I normally put her in. I couldn’t figure that one out, until I realized that if she flaps her wings in a small, contained space, it will create enough wind to blow chips over the edge. My investigation of the storage tub area would lead me to conclude that there has been some wing flapping. But I suppose that’s what vacuum cleaners are for. Or so I’ve heard.

Post-chicken destruction.

Post-chicken destruction.

The best news so far is that it hasn’t been so cold that I’ve felt I need to keep her inside all day. Last winter, we went months without coming out of the teens. This winter has been more “mild” than that, so she can go out during the day. It’s only really an issue because I can’t figure out how to hook a water bottle to the storage tub. When I was a kid, you used to be able to get water bottles to go over the side of an aquarium, so your hamster or gerbil could live in an aquarium and drink water from a bottle. I’ve been to all the pet stores in the area and I can’t find this sort of bottle anywhere. Perhaps there’s been a shift in rodent husbandry, and this sort of aquarium arrangement is now frowned upon. I don’t know. But if it gets real cold, I may either have to really MacGyver something, or put her in the dog crate, which works fine with the commonly available water bottles. However, hamsters can easily escape from them, so don’t put your hamster in a dog crate. That piece of advice is free.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Winter is always full of ongoing challenges. Keeping water from freezing is always a big one, making sure they eat enough to stay warm is another. And that’s with the regular chickens. Boss Chicken has problems all her own, and I’m doing the best I can with what I have available. I hope she appreciates it.

Where's the water bottle?

Where’s the water bottle?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: 12th Street Rag by Imperial Marimba Band)

Everyone’s Hungry!

Friday, April 17th, 2015

The other night the pizza guy remarked on how our house is the only one in town that still has big piles of snow in the yard. I was aware that we are always the last house on the street to still have snow every year, but it’s nice to have confirmation, however unscientific, that we also smoke the rest of the town in this regard. It’s nice to be number one in something, no matter how unpleasant that thing may be. I’m sure there are worse things to be number one in than lingering yard snow, so I’ll take it. Part of the issue is that our house has these 100 foot tall pine trees out back that block out the sun in the cooler months, and this inhibits our thawing. Unfortunately, these trees were part of what sold us on the house, so they’re not going anywhere. And hey, if they keep the yard covered in snow, that postpones mowing, which is perfectly fine with me.

pizza pie

It’s time for pie!

Now that the snow is on the wane (or possibly gone everywhere else but our yard), the chickens are getting plenty of yard time. They’ve gone from having a small strip of ground to pick at to having far too many choices. It’s like going from a restaurant with one item on the menu to the world’s biggest all-you-can eat buffet. How do you decide what to eat? If you’re a chicken, you would seem to wander around with a dazed look in your eye, scratching one spot for a minute or two, then sprinting across the yard to another spot, scratching for another minute, and then sprinting to a third location, and just repeating this over and over so many small spots get worked over, but there’s no real system. I’ve tried pulling them aside and explaining the importance of breaking jobs down into actionable items, but they hate the term “actionable item” almost as much as I do, and so they run off without listening. I’ll have to put it all in a Powerpoint presentation and then really bore them.


I can’t even think about Powerpoint without dozing off.

The chickens aren’t the only ones overwhelmed by all the sudden new food options. It was slim pickings for predators for a while. The bunnies in our yard had a tunnel system under the snow to rival the sewers of Manhattan. But with the snow gone, they, and many other animals, are now again out in the open. This has not escaped the notice of the local raptor population, among others. We’ve been seeing a lot of hawks all of a sudden, and if I had night vision, I’m sure the owls are out, as well the coyotes, fisher cats, weasels, possums, and pretty much everything short of the Chupacabra (and I’m not 100% certain we don’t have those around here too). It makes me, the owner of a small group of prey animals, slightly nervous. However, eternal vigilance is the price of chickens, and I’m ready.


We spoke to an actual Chupacabra about this.
(Chupacabra means “Goatsucker”.)

Last weekend we had considerably more snow than we do now, and my son and I were out in the yard with the ladies, enjoying the weather. I was watching the chickens, and my son was making the most of what was left of the snowbanks by rolling down them and yelling a lot while he did so. I would glance up at the sky every so often, but I figured we were out in the part of the day that was not prime hawk hunting time, so all should be well. And of course, as soon as I had that thought, a large hawk cruised through the sky above the field across the street, and started to turn towards our yard. I assumed the chickens had been spotted. I sometimes have a hard time getting them back in the run under low-intensity conditions, and now I needed to do it quickly. “Buddy, buddy, buddy!” I yelled at my son, and he obviously could tell by the tone of my voice exactly what was wrong. He leapt off the snowbank. “Hawk?” he responded. I said yes, and asked him to herd the chickens towards me, and I’d direct them into the run’s door. He held out his arms just like I do at herding time (it at least gives the illusion that you’re directing them), and guided them back to the coop. I blocked the usual escape route, so they went right in no problem. The whole thing took about 10 seconds. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten them put away so fast. We high-fived, and then my son looked up at the sky. “Where’s the hawk?” he said. It was nowhere to be seen, but it had definitely been there a few moments before. Perhaps it was waiting, possibly in disguise, for me to make one small mistake, and then he would strike. Well, he may still be waiting, because that was Sunday, and there usually isn’t free-ranging during the week. Hopefully he’s moved on, but I’ll continue to watch the skies, just in case. In life, someone’s always trying to eat your chickens. Tread lightly, and keep your eyes open.

hawk in a wig

Keep a lookout for bad wigs.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Pick A Chicken by Jaudas’ Society Orchestra)

At Long Last!

Friday, April 10th, 2015

It felt like ages in the making. It kind of was ages in the making, in that this winter has aged us all beyond our years. (Or, at the very least, it has aged our backs from all the shoveling, even with the proper technique.) But two weeks ago it was warm enough, and I felt enough snow had melted, that it was time to release the chickens from their winter bondage out into the yard once more.

snow chicken

Earlier this year.

After all the build up and sense of urgency to let them free-range again, it felt a little anti-climactic. This is not to say that they weren’t excited, but it’s not like they all flipped out and just dug holes deep into what earth was exposed and rid the area of bugs and worms within minutes of their release. I suppose perhaps I needed to manage my expectations a little better. However, given all the time they had been kept in the run due to the snow, I thought that they might venture a little further on their first excursion out than just right along the edges of the coop, but I suppose sometimes you have to ease back into it. And who knows, there may have been things to eat just out of reach since December that had been sitting there taunting them all this time, and finally they could get them. You’d notice the stuff right outside the fence, whereas the pile of birdseed way up the path near the house is probably out of sight. (Though, even when they got near that, they didn’t pay much attention to it. I think it’s been so long since a nice stroll around the yard that they’re just off their game.)


Look alive, chickens!

Boss Chicken got in on the action too. I had to dig trenches around the perimeter of the foundation so that when things began to melt water wouldn’t just come directly into the house. This perimeter had melted enough to make a nice path for a chicken who needed to be protected from the others. I stood at the path entrance to keep watch, and she happily waddled around in there as best she could. Then, I heard her make a very excited noise, and turned to see that she had discovered the entrance to the rabbit hole that goes under our side steps. I had this image of a rabbit coming out and pummeling her, but I think I was just being overprotective. Nevertheless, I moved her back down the path away from it. She of course quickly headed right back to the hole, so I gave up. I had an eye on her, so I could fend off any killer rabbits, should they appear. (SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t.)

killer rabbit

He was very quiet, always kept to himself . . .

Meanwhile, my son, who has also been trapped inside all winter (though our house has less chicken poop in it than the coop, I hope) got some free-ranging time too. He was happy to be outside again, and hit the swingset for a while until he discovered the snowbanks around the house were perfect for rolling down, and even skiing without skis. When I needed him to, he would climb the banks to the far side of the chickens and herd them back to where I could see them. None of my earlier fears about them running out into the open tundra came to pass. They stuck to the path, and seemed to find plenty to pick at there. I suppose you work over the obvious stuff the first time back out. Now that it’s been even warmer for a week, there’s plenty more exposed areas to explore. They’ll be hitting that soon, if I have any say in it. Things are slowly returning to normal.


Child + snowbank = good times.

It’s been such a rough winter, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy to be outside again, but that first day of free-ranging felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. The chickens were happy and well-behaved, as was my son, except for when he realized how much fun it is to put snow down the back of my jacket. But even that felt good, in its way. Every so often something happens and you realize while it’s happening that you’re experiencing something wonderful. As I watched my son roll down a snowbank for the 300th time as chickens poked around in the mud for anything they could find, I knew I had my moment. Winter may finally be over.

winter is over

I hope I’m right.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: The Butterfly by Eugene C. Rose and George Rubel)


The Coming Floods And Chickens

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Here in New England, all anyone can really talk about right now is the snow, or problems created by it, like ice dams, roads down to one lane, or a transit system that has completely stopped working. I think we’re all a little traumatized, and we never get a chance to recover, because it never seems to stop snowing. We get a day or two off, and then it starts anew. It hasn’t gotten above freezing at all either, so the snow doesn’t go anywhere. It just piles up on top of itself, and the landscape slowly disappears. My garden’s out there somewhere, but I won’t be seeing it until June. The chickens basically have a moat around the coop. I dig a path around it that’s just about shovel width, make sure the electric fence is free of obstructions, and that’s about all I can do. I only dug it out that much because I never expected it to snow this much. Now I can only maintain that width because in most places the snowbanks are too high for me to start expanding the trench. It’s not the worst problem, and it’s not as bad as we have with the house, where the snow from the roof has piled up so high that it is now higher than the roof itself. Now where do we put it? Please email me your ideas, and try to be polite about it.

roof snow

I wish I was making this up.

The thing not too many people seem to be talking about is what’s going to happen when this snow all melts. We’re so focused on the forecast and having our souls crushed by impending snow amounts that usually are nothing to worry about. 1-3 inches is normally just a dusting. I’m concerned no one is looking far enough ahead. I expect big problems on many fronts. The trains run erratically, if at all, these days. While melting clears the tracks, it also floods them. I was on a train that was delayed by a mudslide back in the late Fall, which was just caused by a lot of rain. I don’t want to be Mr. Gloom and Doom, but I see both gloom and doom in the future of my rides to work.

crystal ball

I have to stop borrowing Sir Topham Hatt’s crystal ball. It’s a total downer.

On the level of things I can actually do stuff about, I’m worried about the chicken run flooding once everything starts to melt. The way rain tends to flow is away from our house, and down close to, but past, the chicken coop. If it’s windy and raining, the run can get wet sometimes, but the roof I’ve put over it helps keep it pretty dry. But we’re not talking about rain, we’re talking about melt. So stuff in the yard will melt, run down towards the coop, and then hit the giant piles of snow down there. Will it be able to pass through if there is snow in the way? I suspect no. Does that mean it will flow into the run? I’m concerned it means yes. And that’s not even considering how my paths hold up. When they start to melt, will they collapse towards the coop? Will my paths to the coop remain passable? Will everything just float away? Am I thinking too far in advance? Should I be more in the present?

in the present

I didn’t mean this sort of present. However, I should also be more in this one so you can tie the bow.

Well, the problem there is that in the present, it’s the first day over freezing since January. This is why I’m in paranoia mode, but at least it didn’t also rain like they had predicted. There’s so much snow it’s not all going away today (though that would be awesome), but there’s also so much snow that all it takes is a little bit to melt and when it’s got nowhere to go, it makes for some big ol’ puddles. I’ve seen this in Cambridge, which has been a little warmer than where I live. You hit 33 degrees, and suddenly every intersection is a lake. I see open space (but not much of it, just my dear, dear paths that I’ve dug over and over and over) and I see water filling them up.


Who am I kidding? We’re going to have giant snowbanks until June.

Granted, a winter like this one makes you pretty fatalistic. I have this idea that once we’re done with this, everyone will level up somehow. Like when Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog, and upon his victory became Gandalf the White. I’m not sure what superpowers I’ll be granted in the Spring, but my hope is that they aren’t related to digging trenches to redirect large amounts of water. That’s not an very exciting power, and you don’t even get a cool white cloak or anything. What I think is really going to happen is that I’ll just be given the ability to think positively about things again. You know what? I’ll take it.

shall not pass

You shall not pass! (Because the plow guy filled my path again.)


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Coaxing The Piano by Zez Confrey)

Snow and Flat Rooves*

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Our house has a flat roof. In some parts of the world, this is not such a big deal. In New England, where we live, it’s not entirely a big deal either. In Boston, the flat-roofed “triple decker” is pretty standard. I lived on the top floor of a row house with a flat roof through many terrible winters (including Boston’s snowiest!) and nothing ever came of it. So when we found a house we could actually afford that wasn’t a shoebox, we jumped on it. “Sure,” I thought, “Maybe once a winter I’ll have to get up there and shovel, but that’s not such a huge deal.” Then that first winter in our house it snowed all the time, and it occurred to me that since our house was only one story, all that square footage that seemed so appealing was also roof area that needed shoveling. I’d come home, tuck my son into bed, strap a light to my head, and go shovel the roof until I collapsed from exhaustion. After that first year, it wasn’t so bad. Even last winter, which seemed to never end, doesn’t stand out in my memory as a horrible roof year the way the first one did. Maybe I’ve just completely blacked it out. I hope, given this current winter, that this blacking out of roof shoveling is going to happen again. Historic though it may be, I don’t think I want to remember this February, at the very least. More snow is always on the way, it seems. At least I’ll have gigantic arms and one weird huge muscle in my back by summer, if summer ever comes.

six pack

I’ve got a six-pack, it’s just on my back.

What does this have to do with chickens? Well, the thing is, my coop also has a flat roof, and so does the run. I have made sloped, but not that sloped, rooves out of corrugated plastic to direct the rain away from the run and the coop. The run has a clear one, so the sunlight can come through, and the coop has a white one, to match the overall color scheme. They’re held together by flimsy, but cheap, pieces of wood called “furring strips.” The angle the rooves are at comes from hunk of a pallet that I stuck on the top of the coop. Rain runs off just fine, and it’s great to not have a totally soaked run after storms, because boy does it stink when it gets wet. However, with the constant snow this winter, I find myself having yet another roof to shovel, and this is one I can’t climb up on. I have to reach over my head as best I can and get as much as I can hold at this weird angle, and then try to find a place to throw it that isn’t already taller than I am. It’s a delicate business. It also makes the chickens go mildly bananas. I don’t think they like the noise, or maybe they’re just annoyed that I have to do it too.


My degree is not in engineering.

I haven’t fully tested how much snow the roof can hold, but my expectation is that the four feet that we’ve gotten is probably more than it could have taken. I have added various braces in several spots, by which I mean bricks or big pieces of wood underneath that will stop the roof from bending too much if it’s weighed down. The furring strips have a little bit of give, but I don’t think it would be that hard to snap one. It hasn’t happened yet. Whether or not this means that I made a brilliant design decision by wedging odd pieces of pallets and bricks under long portions of the roof remains to be seen, but it’s held up so far. It’s actually doing better than my sanity, which is currently in the rear view mirror. As I write this, it’s already on the way to being the snowiest February on record, and we’re not even halfway through the month. I’ll be out shoveling the coop roof again sometime tomorrow, and I get the feeling this isn’t the last time, either. They say New Englanders are tough for putting up with all this, but I think it’s really just that we can’t leave because we’re plowed in. Then, by the time we get out, that repressed memory reaction I’m hoping for kicks in, and we have no idea we should get out of here before it starts happening again.

coop roof

One flat roof, viewed from another.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: True Blue Sam by Zez Confrey And His Orchestra)

*Rooves as a plural form of roof is dated, but not incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “rooves” as an alternate to roofs, one of several outdated spellings used in the UK, and in New England as late as the 19th century. If you can’t handle my use of it, you may getteth thineself bent.

No talkin’, no bawkin’

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Due to some technical difficulties at Garden Guys HQ, today will NOT be the 2014 season premiere of Garden Guys Green Revolution Radio (featuring Too Many Chickens!). Give us another week or so, and everything will be up and running. Plus, we’re supposed to get another 9 feet of snow on Monday, so you’re not doing any gardening anytime soon anyway. I swear this is happening soon! I swear anyway, but I especially swear about the happening soon part.

Please stand by.

Please stand by.


Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll feel like this. (My posts are the chickens, obviously.)

As if the snow weren’t bad enough . . .

Friday, February 14th, 2014

I’ve got a chicken who is molting for the second time, in the middle of winter. I thought this was a little strange, and so I asked over at about it. The feedback I got was that certain things could trigger a second molt, like, say, extreme weather. And I thought, “Oh, you mean like TWO POLAR VORTEXES?” So, I think we may have the answer.

Regardless, poor Suzy Creamcheese looks really rough, but is holding out o.k. in the cold. I was tempted to bring her inside, but I think she’s better off with the others, and people said their chickens that had this happen were fine in the cold. She lost her tailfeathers this week, and looks stubby.

chicken butt

Guess what?

And we just got 8 more inches of snow yesterday, with more on the way tomorrow and Monday night. The chickens won’t see bare ground until August at this rate.

But you’ll see new Too Many Chickens! full posts starting again on February 28th, when Garden Guys returns to the internet airwaves.


Yay! More snow!

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Got about another foot on Wednesday. Luckily I had finally gotten around to putting the new roof section over the run. Up until now, it was protected by an old tarp that got a little leaky when wet. Now it has a clear roof that should keep them dry while letting light through . . . unless it’s covered in snow.

coop roof

Look at all that snow protection!

I still need to add one more support beam, but in the meantime, I just used a huge branch that came down in one of our earlier snowstorms.


Use what tools you have available.

Don’t forget, new Garden Guys episodes (featuring Too Many Chickens!) begin February 28th!


Turkey in the straw, chickens in the snow

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

We got a reasonable snowfall last night. I had to dig out the run a little, and still they are very freaked out that it looks different. Luckily, they were finally lured out by the morning’s offering of yogurt.


That white stuff is “snow.”


Do you call it “snogurt” or “sno-yo?”

(Garden Guys returns to the air after New Year’s, so there will be new Too Many Chickens! episodes then).

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