Posts Tagged ‘cold’

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)

End Of The Year Wrap-Up!

Friday, December 18th, 2015

I’ve been doing Too Many Chickens! since January 2013. I’ve been posting about my chickens on the internet for even longer than that. When I first got chicks, I was so excited that I filled up my Tumblr with any little thought I had about them, and that eventually grew into this. First, as a segment on Garden Guys Green Revolution Radio, and then finally here, as a podcast. That’s a long time to be talking about chickens, but I’m still learning as I go, and I’m laboring under the delusion that if I share my mistakes, it may help other people, or at least entertain them. Pointing and laughing at people who don’t know what they’re doing seems to be a popular pastime. At any rate, I’m going to keep doing it, but let’s stop and think about what 2015 had to offer.

point and laugh at me

Just another day in my life.

This year was fairly eventful due to the mite infestation, which I’m still dealing with. It started in the beginning of the year, when I thought it was feather pecking, then as it spread from one chicken to another, I thought it might be more feather pecking, then vent gleet, and finally it dawned on me what was happening. Then I tried multiple means of treating it – diatomaceous earth and “poultry powder.” The affected feathers are still only just coming back in, but it took a long time to treat, and feathers aren’t the fastest-growing things in the world. I’m trying to feel positive that 2016 will be a year of butts with feathers in our household. You’ll hear about it one way or another.


May branch out into a butt-only podcast.

None of the chickens died this year, which is nice to report. That’s an improvement on 2014. I’d like this trend to continue, but I don’t really have much control over it. Even the best cared-for chicken can die under mysterious circumstances (like the late Mandrell Sister), or a disease there’s no cure for (like the original Suzy Creamcheese). I do what I can, and the rest is up to nature. I’m not going to slack, but I realize that even if I do everything perfect, there are still things out of my control. That counts for non-chicken things too, but those things often aren’t as fun as chickens. What’s the point of not being in control if it doesn’t come with chickens?

Being in control with chickens is the ideal situation.

Being in control with chickens is the ideal situation.

It’s almost the winter solstice, and we’re getting very few eggs. This happens every year, and it’s one of the few things that happens every year that I remember happens every year. Once the days begin to get a little longer, the eggs will trickle back in, and by Spring I’ll start to worry about what to do with all the eggs again. It gives me something to look forward to even when we’re still in the dead of February. I never really paid attention to the fact that February has longer days than December until I got chickens. It just always felt like the last awful month to get through until winter was over. Being more in tune with the daylight thanks to eggs has made February slightly less of a drag. I’m still no fan of winter, but I can see a literal bright side to it now.

Got the "Look On The Bright Side" calendar this year. Not sure it's working.

Got the “Look On The Bright Side” calendar this year. Not sure it’s working.

Mites aside, 2015 was a pretty good year for the chickens. I hope 2016 is even better. All it really has to do is avoid parasitic infestation, and it’s a big step up already. Looking ahead in the shorter term, I’ll be taking the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day off, and then we’re back in business January 8th. Happy holidays, happy new year, and may all your eggs be double-yolkers.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Everybody Hula by Helen Louise and Frank Ferera)

Space Management

Friday, November 13th, 2015

It has been an absolutely gorgeous Fall this year. It’s already November, but it’s been so warm, and full of my favorite sort of Autumn days. A little breezy, a little gloomy, but warmer than usual, so you can be outside without a jacket, hanging out and smelling the fallen leaves. What makes it even nicer is that I read an article saying that there has never been a time when the first week of November was warmer than average that didn’t result in a mild winter. I’m really hoping this is the case.

snow heap

The view from our kitchen at the end of last winter. Now you know why I want it mild this year.

What’s been extra nice about it being unseasonably warm (aside from the fact that it makes up for June having been unseasonably cold this year) is that I don’t have to worry about bringing Boss Chicken inside yet. Since she is alone in her bunny hutch, when it gets really cold, I worry that without other chickens to clump with to stay warm, she might get too cold out there. When it dips below a certain temperature (and I don’t have a system for this, at some point I just decide, no, this is too cold) I bring her inside and put her in a dog crate in our storage room. It gets nice light during the day, and she’s close to all the chicken supplies. She kicks wood chips everywhere, but that’s what brooms are for. She’s also killed a number of mice that have gone into the dog crate to steal her food. Even with bum legs, she is not to be trifled with, and she’s helping keep the in-house rodent population down.

mouse killer

Striking fear into the hearts of mice everywhere.

This system is breaking down this year with the addition of Spooky the cat to our menagerie. Spooky, being FIV positive, needs to be kept apart from our other cats in the main part of the house. (We’re looking into ways to peacefully integrate all the cats, but haven’t reached any that we feel confident in. There has to be no biting, and we suspect there will be biting.) Spooky will hopefully also help out with the mouse situation in that room, but my concern is that if you put a chicken in a room where there is also a cat who had been surviving on her own out in the woods, it may not go well. Spooky is a sweetheart, but I don’t know how she’ll behave around a chicken. Boss Chicken would be protected in her crate, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to get at each other (and Boss Chicken might just win that fight). On the other hand, both animals seem like they could use some company, so maybe this could actually work out. That seems a little too optimistic, though.

best buds

My new reality show. Coming this winter.

We have another, smaller storage room that I thought Boss Chicken could go in now, since she doesn’t get around much, and so doesn’t need much space. It gets less light though, which I think is kind of important. I could try putting her in there and seeing how it goes. I had also thought of switching out her dog crate for a big storage tub, in the interest of containing the wood chips some more, but that would leave her more open to attack from above, so she definitely could not be in the same room as Spooky. Spooky also knows how to open some doors, so she might even be able to get into the other storage room. So perhaps Boss Chicken needs more fortifications. There are a lot of ins and outs to this situation. Maybe if the winter is really mild I won’t even have to bring Boss Chicken inside at all, and I can put this decision off until next year. Who knew that collecting animals that have health problems was going to be so complicated?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Just Like A Rainbow by The Columbians)

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)

Winter Eggs

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Winter is a pretty rough time for everyone. Where I live, we have to deal with cold and snow, and then get grief from people who live in colder, snowier places about how we don’t know from cold. If it’s so warm, perhaps you’d like to cover my heating bill, Minnesotans? Anyway, regional temperature disputes aside, winter can be rough because we also get less light. I might be able to handle the cold if it was at least not dark when I both leave for, and return from, work. Probably not, but it’s worth a shot. The issue with the light is that this is what also helps chickens lay eggs. They need a decent amount of it for eggs to happen, and in the winter, the amount we get is hardly decent.

light bulbs

Skip the one on the right.

Of course, I do have new chickens, and they sometimes start laying in the winter without realizing they don’t normally do this. At least in the first year. My original flock was dropping half a dozen eggs a day on us from December to around June their first year. Their second year, they didn’t lay any eggs from exactly one week before the Winter Solstice to exactly one week after the Winter Solstice, which really underscores the need for light. It also kind of freaks me out. I guess I’m intimidated by how in touch with nature they are.

singing chicken

From the “Songs For The Winter Solstice” record.

It’s been six months since I got my new chickens, so they should be starting to lay any day now. I actually picked breeds that are good winter layers, to try to help me through this dry period we get in the winter. But they have to start laying before they can be good layers. It could be solstice-based, or maybe they’re just not ready, but they have yet to get into the egg business. All things come in time, but it’s hard to be patient when you want a nice breakfast on the weekend. The time will come, and then I’ll be worrying about whether or not I need more egg cartons, or who at work has asked for eggs but not gotten them. But right now, there is little on the egg horizon.

on the lookout

On the lookout for eggs in the crow’s, er, chicken’s nest.

That is, except for our old friend Boss Chicken. I had brought her inside at the beginning of December, as I mentioned in a previous post. It got too cold at night, and I was worried about her being alone in the cold, with no one to clump with for extra warmth. Of course, in our storage room, I also worried about mice trying to get at her food, until the day I came home and there was a dead one in her cage. Leg problems or not, she is not to be trifled with, and my mice worries lessened. She might actually have a higher body count than our very lazy cats.

cat vs. chicken

Not that it’s a competition or anything.

Christmas Day was so warm (relatively, at least) that I figured I’d put her back outside to enjoy the weather. She hadn’t been out there for more than 10 minutes when she laid an egg. She has a window in the storage room, so she gets natural light, but either it wasn’t enough, or she was so happy to be back outside that she just egged herself. Either way, I’ll take it. She’s always been a pretty reliable layer, and seems to be easing back into her every-other-day routine, even if I bring her in at night and put her back out the next day. The other grownup chickens are either still molting, or at the tail end of a molt, so they’re not going to be laying just yet. That leaves Boss Chicken as head of egg production, at least for the time being.

egg manager

Egg Manager/Big Chicken On Campus

The days are getting lighter, and the new chickens are getting older, so it’s only a matter of time before we have an egg surplus. I hope Boss Chicken can keep up until then. She’s approaching henopause, so I actually wasn’t expecting many more eggs from her. But maybe my worries about aging chickens were unfounded. If so, the others need to step up their game. Then the youngsters can see how it’s done, and we’re back to a fine-tuned egg machine. Basically, I’m sick of oatmeal. Won’t these chickens think about my diet?


Boredom really cleans out your colon.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: My Isle Of Golden Dreams by Selvin’s Noevelty Orchestra)

The Recurring Winter and Chickens Question

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Did you know that winter happens every year? There’s a fun science fact for you. I’ll even throw in a bonus fact. Every year when winter comes, people start asking me what I do with my chickens in the wintertime. It’s as dependable as the seasons themselves, but requires less snow shoveling to deal with. (Some of you may accuse me of shoveling other things, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time). I’m not annoyed by this, as clearly I enjoy talking about chickens, and I’m happy to share my tricks with people who show an interest.

chicken trick

Not actual chicken trick. Do not attempt without cape.

So then, what are these tricks I speak of? Well, there really aren’t any to speak of. For the most part, keeping chickens in the winter isn’t a whole lot different than keeping them the rest of the year. You feed them, make sure they have water and shelter, and try to keep varmints from eating them. A key thing is to have made sure that the chickens you got were a good match for the climate you live in. There are breeds that can deal with the cold, and breeds that can’t. Likewise, there are ones that can deal with heat, and ones that can’t. So, if anything, if you’ve done your research before you got your chickens, you’re most of the way there.

california chicken

I wish they all could be California birds (provided I lived in California).

Where it gets a little confusing is the need in the winter to keep the birds out of drafts, but to make sure the coop has adequate ventilation. Moisture in the coop is bad at any time of year. It can cause respiratory issues, but when it gets below freezing, that moisture in the air is what’s going to freeze to the exposed parts of the chicken, like their combs. When I built my coop, I read a helpful bit of advice. It said “consider how much ventilation you think your coop needs, and then double that.” What I’ve done is to put vents in each upper corner of two sides of the coop, using heating vent covers to try to minimize drafts. I then made sure the roost sat directly between these, so no one would be right in front of the air flow. I’m sure there are windy nights where a breeze can still get in there, but if they’re not directly in it, they should be good. Also, given my skills at building things, there are spots where parts of the coop come together that are less than airtight. I originally was going to seal them, until I learned about the ventilation rule, and suddenly, my flaws as a craftsman became strengths. These gaps are near the ceiling, so again, nothing will be hitting them directly, but air can move in and out. People sometimes ask if on cold mornings I see steam coming out of the coop. If I did, I would panic. That would be a sign that there is way too much moisture in there. I haven’t ever seen this in my coop, so I think I’ve done ventilation right.

steamed chickens

No steamed chickens.

A different moisture issue is what to do about their water when it’s below freezing. You can get all sorts of electric water warming devices, but there’s no electricity near my coop, and running an extension cord from the house out to there is generally considered a bad idea. I have seen people who’ve made battery powered heaters using cookie tins and car headlamps, but I’m not sure I’m quite that skilled. I can eat the cookies in the tin, but my electronics abilities might make this more frustrating than useful. I’ve ended up doing two things. One is to put apple cider vinegar in the water. I do this anyway, since it’s good for them, but it also lowers the freezing point of the water a little bit. Then I bought a device that’s meant to keep pet beds warm, but is easily adapted to chickens by just putting it under the water. It looks like a fat frisbee, and it’s as wide as the base of my small waterer. Each morning I microwave it, and then I supposedly get up to 8 hours of warmth. I’m sure it’s somewhat less when you place it out in the elements, but it keeps the water unfrozen for long enough. If it’s extremely cold out, chances are they won’t even leave the coop for water anyway. Last year during the polar vortices they didn’t, and still lived to tell the tale. If they do end up getting thirsty because the water froze, they’ve learned to come right out and drink up first thing in the morning before it happens again.


disk o' heat

Not to be confused with Disco Heat, which is a surprisingly good record.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before in various posts, I just make sure they’re getting enough protein when it’s cold. Keeping warm takes energy, so they can load up on scratch or black oil sunflower seeds, and burn it off just by staying warm. It’s a pretty good workout routine.

chicken workout

Molting To The Oldies

You have to remember that these are animals that are basically wearing down coats. They are probably much warmer than I am when I go out in my pajamas every morning to let them out. That’s no excuse to slack, but keeping a few key points in mind, winter can be pretty manageable for chickens. For me, not so much. I’m still not over last year.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: That Moaning Saxophone Rag by Six Brown Brothers)

Chickens Not Eating In The Winter!?!

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Winter took so long to end this year that I hesitate to bring it up at all, but I had a number of odd things happen with the chickens this winter and I feel I should address at least one of them. I also had a number of odd things happen with myself every time more snow was forecast, but I found lying on the floor in a ball and rocking back and forth eventually took care of most of them. (It wasn’t so helpful with shoveling the walk.) I suppose I should feel as though I ran a marathon or did some other endurance feat. It was a test of sheer will, and I made it through. And this was with having to go out to check on the chickens several times a day. If I could have just stayed inside the whole time, I might have had a much easier go of it.

snow house

Not that inaccurate a portrayal of last winter.

Something that started to alarm me back in the early stages of winter was how infrequently I needed to fill the chickens’ feeder. Usually they clean it out every couple of days, and in the winter they need to eat more in order to stay warm, so they should clean it out faster. But they weren’t even making much of a dent in it at all. I was finding that I would only have to add more food once a week, and even then not as much as I had expected to.

chicken feeder

Saves on feed, I guess.

A cold snap hit (the first Polar Vortex, if you recall) and I started to worry. It was so cold that they tended to not even come out of the coop. I can’t say I blame them. My down jacket barely kept me warm at that point, and even though theirs was built in, it probably only did about as much. Huddling together in a small room out of the wind seemed like a good idea, both for the chickens and the people I take the train with. But if the chickens already weren’t eating enough, if it was too cold to go out to the feeder, they really weren’t going to get the food they needed. Staying warm takes a lot of energy, and that means food. I had to do something.

Nude jacket

Might as well be nude.

I started with an old cat bowl I had, that has been repurposed for the occasional chicken project. I filled it with chicken feed, then added some water and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once it had gotten good and soggy, I’d mix in a big spoonful of yogurt. They really like yogurt, and I give it to them to ward off certain disgusting illnesses anyway, so I figured I ought to work it in there somehow. Then I put it out in the run and waited to see what happened.

the bowl lies

Don’t always believe the bowl.

They stuck their heads out, and seeing that there was still snow outside, they began to think twice about coming out. I know that feeling all too well. They saw the bowl of mash on the ground, and I could see the gears turning. Here was new food of some sort, but on the other hand, it’s cold! Eventually they came out and pecked a little at the food, and I felt I had finally succeeded at getting them to eat. Until I came home and there really wasn’t much eaten out of the bowl at all.


Can you spot the differences?

I had to go to the feed store anyway, and when I was there, the old guy who knows everything was working. I told him my birds didn’t want to eat, and I wasn’t sure if it was just because of the cold. He asked me some questions to determine if any of them were sick, or had been freaked out by anything lately, but everyone seemed in good health and as far as I knew about as calm as chickens get. He thought about it a little, and finally said, “You know, I don’t know either. Sounds like you’re doing everything right.” I then explained the trick with the mash I’d tried, which got the person in line behind me real fired up. “Ooooh, I know someone who spoils their chickens!” and then everyone in the store starting prancing around yelling “ooh la la” and calling me “the mayor of fancy town.” Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I was accused of spoiling them. It’s a fine line between spoiling and letting them starve to death, if you ask me.


Population me.

I ended up leaving with some chicken scratch and black oil sunflower seeds to help give my chickens the energy they needed. The sunflower seeds are very high in protein, so that seemed promising. After leaving a pile of both of these things out for them, they decided the cold could get bent, and they charged out to fight over these new amazing treats. Eventually they started eating the feed again too. Maybe everyone just likes a change of pace now and again. Like that long winter. That was fine, but let’s have a bunch of short ones now so I don’t stop appreciating polar vortices.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Sally In The Garden Sifting Sand by Black Twig Pickers and Steve Gunn)

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!


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