Will it ever end?

This winter is brutal. I feel like I’m back in Michigan. Argh! Makes for boring

The never-ending winter.

The never-ending winter.

chickens and not nearly enough chicken fun. The two most difficult tasks for me are keeping the flock warm enough and keeping them hydrated. Generally, there’s enough heat during the day that the water stays unfrozen, so I only have to refresh in the morning. But during the  polar vortex attack, I had to go out once or twice a day to refresh.

But it was a smidge difficult keeping them warm enough, especially at night. I worry about frostbite on the combs. So we installed a heating lamp which seems to help. Mr. HenHouse did a fabulous job putting together a nice little heated area. Unfortunately, because Winona is on her own, she misses out. But I’m using the deep litter method in her cage and cover it at night with a couple of wool blankets and she seems to be doing alright. When it was especially brutally cold, I let Guapo spend the night instead of putting him back in his crate (his is covered with a thick moving blanket). I figure the neighbor’s windows are closed and they are less likely to hear him crowing in the morning. So far, no complaints!

We also noticed, unsurprisingly, that the ammonia smell built up in the hoop house. To mitigate, we put in a small house fan in the window and it sucks out the air. It does pretty well although over the long term we’ll need to invest in a hoop house exhaust fan.

To keep interflock pecking down to a minimum, I tend to spread food through the hoop house and fortify with treats when I can. Things like vegetable scraps, meal worm and chicken scratch. They LOVE the chicken scratch from Blue Seal and it’s cheap.

Since winter is SO boring, I’ve put pictures below. And for those of you interested in the bees, I found this not so surprising article showing that the inert ingredients in pesticides are harmful, too. Depressing.

Looking forward to spring and starting the daily egg hunts again — although I really, really hope when we put a laying box into the coop, they’ll use it. Keep your fingers crossed!

Snazzy heated area and a hoop house covered in snow!

Snazzy heated area and a hoop house covered in snow!

Hanging out in the hoop house.

Hanging out in the hoop house.

And I have to believe this is true:

 

Blue Hen House

 

 

Guineas Day Out

So last Thursday, I got home a little earlier than usual. As we were still in the midst of arctic temperatures, I decided to check on the flock and make sure the water had not frozen over.

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Warmer days!

Imagine my surprise when I went outside and saw Guapo standing in the middle of the path we had shoveled to the hoop house! With the flock around him and the guineas hanging out on the staging on the addition. And the hoop house door wide open. Yikes!

I immediately picked up the girls standing in the snow. I was concerned about frostbite and hyperthermia. I was able to get all the chickens back in, and made sure they had water. The guineas, however, were another problem. I can barely walk past them without their screaming that the breeze of my passing is a sign of the end times. Real drama queens, those three.

So when Mr. HenHouse got home, we tried to physically catch them. As they were completely avoiding the snow and flying from staging to roof to trees and back again, the plan was to try to knock them off the staging into the snow. I HATE that, but you get near them, if you can get near them, they fly away. So we wanted to destabilize the staging and hope they would fall.

We had semi-success. One did fall — the others flew on to the roof. Anyway, I quickly scooped her/him up and got her/him into the protection of the hoop house.

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Guapo and dinner, this past Fall.

Knowing these birds had not had food or water, I opened up the addition the next day and put food and water in there, hoping the other two would fly in. No dice. They continued to fly around the yard to stay in the sun.

The third day, I widened the opening a bit more. I figured after almost three days outside, they would be desperate for food, water, and shelter. I started putting food on the staging so they would at least get something to eat and keep their strength up. The freezing rain came, and they were drenched. I think that’s what finally pushed them into the addition. Once there, I was able to close them in, catch them, and put them back in the hoop house.

Lessons learned:

  • Guineas are hardy. They withstood that incredible cold, including the freezing rain, with no injury as far as I can see. But I don’t want to test their hardiness again.
  • Check the damn door. I thought I had, but apparently I did not close it properly and the wind caught it and blew it open. So now I’m properly paranoid about the hoop house door.

Now on to something different… when I was young, I remember driving through a monarch migration in Iowa. It was amazing. While I hated the fact of all those butterflies dying because of the cars, to be in the middle of this living cloud of orange and black was exhilarating. Because of this memory, I have been planting milkweed in my yard with the hope of attracting them. I have not had a lot of luck and I think I know why. Monarchs have been under severe environmental pressures — pressures created by people — for quite some time. It now looks as though they have reached the breaking point.  I hope not. They are beautiful creatures.

Stay warm!!

Blue Hen House

Summer Days, Winona, & Keets

First, a Winona update: She hasn’t improved, but doesn’t seem to have worsened. When I got up to feed and water the flock this morning, I saw that all of the quints were just gone. Completely gone, not even in the yard — although Brownie was still in the pen with Beulah and Winona. So, after watering and feeding, I took the opportunity to give Winona some chick food and gatorade. I put it up in the coop for her, so she wouldn’t have to come downstairs. It took a little while, but I did see her drink. Not sure if she ate. I also put the dog crate together and placed it in the shed if I think I need to move her. At this point, were she infectious, I would see symptoms in the flock so I’m pretty confident she is not. Whatever is bothering her — slow recovery from the extreme heat or an internal infection, it seems to be just an issue for Winona. However, should I see signs in other birds, quarantine for symptomatic chickens begins.

Then I went to look for the girls. Went in the forsythia, looked under the addition Mr. Hen House is building, looked in the front yard, looked in the back 40. Nothing. Then I saw Snoop looking at the brushy tree stand between my and my neighbor’s houses. There was one of the girls, trying to get in the yard and couldn’t figure how to get past the fence. I went out to herd her and the rest of the flock came running out. So I led them back to their home and they walked right in. Of course, they are pretty good flyers for chickens so I expect them to pop out again. And I’ll take the opportunity to give Winona chick food and gatorade again. She did seem a little more perked after her treat this morning, but that could be wishful thinking.

Since it is a lovely summer day, I put the keets outside for the first time to start them getting used to the great outdoors. It also provides an opportunity for the chickens and keets to get used to each other. I took the space between the two raised beds that are being used for the pen and sectioned it off. I then put a tarp over one end for shade. And then I got the keets. They are SO HIGH STRUNG! I reach in the crate and there’s jumping and screaming like I pull feathers off them whenever I touch them. And for the record, I don’t. Such little drama keets. I was able to gently scoop them into a box and brought them out. Once they stopped freaking out, they huddled for a moment and then started eating the grass. They hadn’t yet found the water when I left, but they are very close to it and as they gain confidence, they’ll find it and their food. I threw a couple of Japanese beetles in, but only one keet showed interest. It’s early yet. I’m sure they’re confused and overwhelmed. I’ll be checking on them soon.

For your enjoyment, here are several pictures. Enjoy!

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The section between the two garden beds where the keets are. They will be going in at night.

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It’s a big scary world out there!

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mmmmm, green stuff.

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One of the quints trying to figure out what’s going on.

And here’s my corn. It’s doing pretty good but I seriously need to weed. I look at weeding like dusting… I like the results when I do it, I understand why it needs to be done, but I really really hate doing it. It’s a personality fault.

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Heat Stress

IMG_0386It’s been hot and humid. Hasn’t really changed except for some stormy weather here and there. It’s getting extreme, as it just isn’t ending. The chickens are panting and sitting in the dirt trying to cool off. I haven’t seen eggs from Winona in a few days. So I looked up heat stress in chickens. While the information I found was mostly geared towards commercial enterprises, I was able to not only identify the signs of heat stress (all of which my birds have), but how to alleviate it. Symptoms of heat stress (not all inclusive):

  • Panting
  • Holding wings away from body
  • Not eating during the day
  • Runny poop
  • Egg shell quality drops (Winona!)
  • Egg production drops (Winona!)

First, what I’m doing right. Hydration, hydration, hydration. Shade.

What I added after my research: a bowl of Gatorade. Giving the birds electrolytes helps relieve the symptoms of heat stress. Since I have not seen anything like this in the feed store, Mr. Hen House suggested Gatorade. When I poured the first bowl, they just stood there, looking at it. I had to leave, so when I returned, the first thing I did was check out the bowl. It was empty!

IMG_0388Okay, let’s try this again. I added more Gatorade and the girls started drinking right away. So I won’t put them on a diet of Gatorade, but a little treat of the chilled drink in the afternoon will be a nice treat. I even put a small dish in with the keets.

To keep airflow in the coop at night, but not give up safety, I put a bit of fencing over the back door. I can’t close it, but that’s okay for now. Rain generally does not get in that entrance and it will add air to the sleeping area at night.

I may add more shade. A mister was also suggested, but that’s a little out my price range for now. It’s going on the long-term list, though.

I’ve also noticed a change with Winona. Normally my most assertive girl, she ignored me when I put down the first bowl of Gatorade. When I returned to refill, she was hiding behind a milkweed plant. I have noticed her IMG_0392keeping one of her eyes shut most of the time. At first, it was her right eye, but unless my memory is totally whacked, it’s now her left eye. Really not sure what the problem is. It does not look inflamed, nor do I see anything in it (she has opened it a few times and I check it out). I  noticed a couple of the quints have become a little more assertive, pecking at my boots even. I’ll keep an eye on lovely Winona (no pun intended!) and see if I can figure out what’s going on. Maybe it’s just part of the heat stress. Or maybe the quints have gotten assertive and took her place as head girl. In any case, it needs to be monitored. I worry about her.

Stay cool everyone!

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Heat, humidity, and more heat

It has been incredibly hot and humid the previous three days. It was particularly hard on the chickens. While they stayed in the shade, there was a lot of “bowling” and panting going on. They had plenty of water, but it was just too hot to move most of the time.

cooling off

One of the quints cooling off.

I noticed in addition to sitting in the dirt to cool of, some of the girls lowered their wings, like the one in this photo. I can only assume she’s lowering body heat by allowing what air flow there was (not too many breezes during the worst of the heat) to get to her body, rather than trapping in body heat with her wings.

I also found out this weekend my girls don’t like milkweed! When we moved the coop into this particular garden bed, I was a little apprehensive because of the milkweed. I wanted what little food I had for Monarchs to be, well, available. I was concerned the girls would eat it up. And, because we really had no other place to put the coop for now, it was a compromise I felt I had no choice but to make. (We were originally going to keep half of this garden bed untouched so that we could keep the milkweed for the butterflies.)

But after watching the girls, it appears my concern was unnecessary. They simply eat around the milkweed. This isn’t to say if I happen to get any Monarch cocoons, they won’t eat the catapillar, but I guess it’s better than nothing at this point.

Milkweed is gross

They just walk around the milkweed.

And, I still get the good fertilizer the girls produce in this part of the garden bed, too, so when the permanent home is up, we’ll have a great mini-milkweek garden for butterflies.

I wasn’t able to get a lot of good photos of the girls in the dirt, simply because my phone camera doesn’t like shade. However, I’ll leave you with this picture so you can get an idea of what they were all doing most of the time during the heatwave:

Brownie bowling

Brownie “bowling” in the dirt to keep cool.

Stay cool!

UPDATE: 7/10/13 Well I have egg on my face. The reason the girls aren’t eating the milkweed is because it’s poisonous to them. Thank the FSM that they’re smarter than I am. I recently read this on a list in a recent issue of Hobby Farming — potentially poisonous plants for chickens. Like a said, it’s a good thing the little dinos are smarter than me!

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Hot & Humid

Today will be a short post. The weather has cleared up here on the Seacoast of New Hampshire and it is warm! Projected to hit the 90’s. I love that. Chickens, not so much. Fortunately, the set up of the coop is such the girls always have shade. I’ll be monitoring the water levels to ensure they are well hydrated. I expect to see a lot of “bowl” digging — the girls making a shallow bowl in the ground and sitting in it.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the Queens of the Henhouse:

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Wynona and Beulah: the Queens of the Henhouse!

Enjoy the weekend!

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