Wintertime in the Henhouse

Today when I came outside to let my hens out of the hen house I noticed that they were very late in wanting to come down the plank.

Recently I’ve noticed on overcast days when there is a lot of cloud coverage that they are not as ready to come out of the coop.

In contrast to that, if there are no clouds and it is sunny there squawking, clucking and itching to get out of the coop. I often feel the same way they do on cloudy and overcast days.

Chickens are extremely sensitive to light. So much so that in the winter months if they do not have enough light they will stop laying eggs. However it is possible to trick your chickens and keep them laying eggs all winter long. One thing that I have also noticed that is if you have one chicken that continues to lay an egg that all the other chickens will also try to keep pace and continue to lay eggs.

The good thing about having chickens in the winter time is water consumption goes down. Although you need to have a good source of water that is accessible and free running. Meaning completely thawed. As in the winter times in the Midwest temperatures reach sub-zero temperatures.

I have often witnessed chicken scavaging the snow for hydration. They absolutely will eat snow and supplement their diet with that until they return to the coop and the water container that has a thermal coupling to keep it free flowing.

Every morning that I come out and let the chickens out it is a bit of a parade and to see them walk the plank. I have to tell you it is one of the most rewarding hobbies to reach into the house and get eggs every single day.

Its so funny to see the personalities of each of the chickens come through. Although most of them are the same species you definitely can see that each one of them has a personality that is pretty unique.

 

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A Cold Day in the Hen House

Happy valentines day to my love… Oh that’s right today is my anniversary as well thank you very much love of my life… I gotta tell you this though my chickens are my second favorite love they always give me food in the morning and I’m a fat kid at heart.

Here’s a few things to consider during the winter months when raising chickens that are egg producers.

First things first your chicken coop needs to have great ventilation I know you think in the winter time you want a button everything up and not let any air in there out but that’s contradictory to what’s best for your chickens. They’re living breathing and respiration animals and with that it creates condensation in the hen house if it doesn’t breathe right.

The first year I did this I did it totally wrong my chickens never wanted to come outside no matter what because they had not built up a tolerance to the outdoor elements. This year I totally understood what they needed and I just left the barn door open so to speak.

My chickens have acclimatized very well to the harsh winter that we are now in the midst of today.

About a week ago I noticed that my egg production started to go up and that more of my hens started to produce. This is in large part due to the fact that we are now gaining more light daily. Your chickens need a 12/12 light cycle in order to produce which signifies to them the beginning or the coming on of spring.

A couple things to consider during the winter months if you’re producing eggs is how cold it is in your hen house. Occasionally you will have a hen that will sit on them all day long and keep the eggs warm. However if your chickens do venture outside they are open to freezing and cracking. It’s important to get out early in the morning and collect your eggs shortly after your chickens have laid them. By doing so you will ensure that they do not crack and you do not waste.

The other consideration that you must be quite for is making sure that you have water for your chickens during the winter months that is not frozen. There are special pans that plug into electrical socket that will keep your water from freezing. It is extremely important as 90% of the egg is water to have pure water for your chickens throughout the winter months as well. Your chickens will substitute and use snow as a source of hydration on days that they do not have adequate water in the hen house.

However it is my highest recommendation to always have a good clean source of water available for your chickens all of the time. If you do so you will reap the rewards of healthy eggs and plenty of them.

 

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Hard lessons with predators

The farmer’s friend is not the Fox. You might have heard it said before, the Fox is in the henhouse. This is a lesson that I had to learn the hard way and I hope by listening to my advice you don’t go down the same path. As I had mentioned earlier in my blog it was important to me to eat healthy and I want if I could have a well-balanced diet. So instead of leaving my chickens in the coop all the time or in the fenced in area that I had created for them. From time to time over the next couple of days I decided to let them out into the yard to wander into free range. Living where I lived it was outside of city limits but yet again it was in a residential area, you wouldn’t think predators would be that pervasive. Unfortunately we all seem to learn lessons the hard way and it was no exception for me.

 

About 5 days into my new experience of having chickens and letting them wander the yard I noticed that they were getting braver and wandering off further. It wasn’t much longer till I learned that we had a fox not too far from our house.

 

Unfortunately I found out that information because I ended up with us losing 5 chickens. One night I decided to leave the chickens out and go to church with the thought that I would be able to be home shortly after dark to put them away inside of their coop. We came home to a mass murder, feathers everywhere and 5 chickens killed. It was a really sad night for me. I was really angry and upset. More at myself for really not understanding the importance of locking your chickens inside of the pen and keeping them safe.

So the lesson here is this; understand your surroundings and know you’re dangers. And no this, nothing tastes better than chicken and the fox knows that.

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Cleaning the coop and maintenance

When it comes to maintenance on a chicken coop it is very simple. Chickens are very clean for the most part. Typically there’s a couple of ways maintenance can be done on coops. I happen to subscribe to the idea that it’s best to do a weekly clean out. Because I live here in the Midwest we do you have high humidity during the summer time. High humidity and moisture is the ideal environment for disease to breed.

During the summer time it’s imperative that you weekly do a clean out in my opinion. Now during cool weather or during cold weather you might be able to get away with cleaning it every couple of weeks. Clean out during the summer months typically is much more thorough. I will typically go in break out all of the straw that I have laid down or bedding that’s inside of the coop. After that I’ll take a hose and wash the entire coop down, cleaning and washing away all of the feces that could be located in the coop. I will let the coop completely dry before I lay down fresh bedding. Is important not to let that humidity and moisture build back up. It could create mold or an unsafe environment for your chickens.

The other advantage to doing a weekly clean out, if you have an opportunity, is to lay eyes on your chickens. That really helps you determine their overall health and make sure that all of them are doing well. I have also had the opportunity while doing weekly clean outs to discover that the areas that I needed to do some repair or maintenance on my chicken coop. For farmers that live in areas where there are many predators, keeping a good eye on your coop and good maintenance is imperative to keeping predators out. By cleaning out your coop you are looking at the condition of the coop and trying to spot if any predators are working on busting into your coop.

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Water for your birds

Hydration for your birds is a very important topic and it’s one that I had to address immediately.  Now, when I originally started my hobby of taking care of chickens it was in midsummer. Still, a very important time of the year to have a lot of consideration for the amount of water that you have available for your chickens. There’s a couple of different ways or a couple of different philosophies on making sure that your birds have enough water. Some people believe that you should have water outside of the coop in a location as well as having an alternative source of water located inside of your coop.  Depending on the time of year it could be important to have water inside of your coop. Not only depending on the time of year but your geographic location. If where you live, like me, gets below freezing for several months during the winter you would want to consider keeping water inside of the coop with a specialized heating element that will allow that water to be water and for it not to freeze.
Once your basic setup with water is done it’s just a check on a daily basis to make sure that they have clean water and plenty of it. Summer time of the year it’s merely me checking and then refilling every two to three days. In the winter time they will drink less water so that means less chores to do when it comes to water refills. However in the summer months they’re hitting peak water levels because of the heat. It’s important to be sensitive to their needs and make sure that they have enough. If you take good care of them, they will take great care of you by producing high-quality eggs every single day.

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Food for my birds

When I decided to get chickens it was because I wanted to eat healthy. So anything I was going to put into them was going to come with a great consideration in mind. I spent a lot of time doing research into the best types of food to give chickens. Obviously after much research I came to the point of understanding that it was important to mix their diets up.

Chickens are not strict vegetarians nor are they strict carnivores, chickens are omnivores. It was important to me to give them as much variety in their diet as I possibly could in order to reap the benefits of a better balanced perfect egg. The nutritional requirements for chickens is really pretty simple. They’re scavengers they can eat almost anything but it’s important that they have a regular source of calcium. This calcium plays into the development of the egg shells. It’s important for them to have a good amount of calcium to help in the production of the ideal egg shells. Meaning, shells that aren’t too thick and certainly aren’t too thin.

I was able to go to the local farm store and find a corn mash that was ideal for their main food. This would give them all the nutritional requirements that they would need in order to be high producers. Alternatively, I was looking for other food sources in order to conserve some of the main food that I would be feeding them. Anytime I could pull up weeds out of the ground I would throw them into the coop. The chickens absolutely love all of the weeds, grass, or any greens that you find around your Farm or House. In fact it took me a long time to learn this but, later I was to learn that the chlorophyll in the plants gives your eggs a deeper richer Corona. So if you’ve ever seen an egg that looks like the Setting Sun in the yellow part of the yolk, you know that this chicken has had a well-balanced diet.

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My First Egg

I know this sounds kind of silly but the first time I saw my first egg I got super excited.  The only way I could describe it to someone is like this, it’s probably much like the guy that goes and installs solar panels on his roof and then sees the electric panel that normally spins one direction, turning back and giving more power back to the grid. You see, for someone who has been consumed my entire life with the idea of putting food back into the system, this was really kind of a unique proposition for me.

I remember bringing my egg in probably much like a little kid after coming home with great news from a good grade and showing it to my wife and family. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. The satisfaction of taking care of something and then having a payoff like that was really fun. As a few days passed I started getting more and more eggs. As the chickens settled in and the stress of the move faded away they began to be stronger producers.

I remember the first day that I got a giant big brown egg. Rhode Island Reds are known for laying this color of egg. Now today a couple years have passed my kids have no problem eating brown eggs but, at the time they were totally resistant to the idea of eating a brown egg. They grew up eating white eggs at least for the first young part of their life. Now that we’re raising chickens their perspective is completely different on eggs.

One of the best parts about having chickens that lay eggs is the fact that you get so many of them that you’re able to give them away to friends and family. I remember the first time a buddy of mine came over to visit them, he owns the heating and air conditioning company in Davenport Iowa, and he’s so technical that the idea of simplistic living was completely new to him.

After spending a few minutes at my coop and enjoying some of the eggs I was able to give him, he was convinced that this is going to be a hobby he was going to pick up in the very near future. He’s a bit of a survivalist and so this type of taking care of yourself self-reliance really appealed to him. That was two years ago today and now Jason has 25 chickens. He actually has more chickens than me and enjoys it probably just as much. He says it helps and to really calm him and give him a focus that’s totally different than what he does all day long. He also told me that he enjoys giving away eggs to all of his clients and friends as well. This is truly a hobby that’s led to just so much more than just feeding people.  Chickens are very peaceful and it seems to connect with people on a real level.

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Back in the Coop

I was new to raising chickens and I knew that I had a lot to learn.  The day that we brought our chickens home was an eventful day, they were really loud. It was obvious that they didn’t like to be disturbed and if they were going through some a period of stress.

Honestly because I lived in somewhat of a residential area out in the country I was a little worried because it was so loud. I quickly had to google it because everything I ever learned or heard about them specifically, is that they were very quiet for the most part. Thank goodness Google had the answer for me. It’s true during the time of their transition it’s often a period where your chickens will be the louder than usual it’s just a reaction to being frustrated and disturbed. Ultimately it took them a few days but they did settle down and they were much quieter. I was happy to see that they were finally starting to settle into the coop. And at night it was so bizarre they naturally walk the plank into the coop and had never even been there before.

Over the next couple of days I noticed that their feathers started falling out as a reaction to the stress of the move. For the most part though I could start to see the pecking order develop inside of the coop. Some of the hens were more dominant and others were more passive. You could start to see the personalities within the chickens and they very quickly developed into a type of little social organization.

From my bedroom window I would spend the next couple of days studying exactly how they interacted. I don’t know for some reason the funny thought that kept coming to mind was the movie Jurassic Park. In that movie they talk about chickens being one of the last links to dinosaurs. I very quickly started calling them my little dragons, my little dinosaurs.

 

Questions and Comments click here.

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Getting My Chickens

Learning to take care of chickens is just like anything else in life. The more you practice the better you get at taking care of your pets / food. In my previous blog I mentioned what it would take to set up a chicken coop and I took you to the process in the research that I did in order to find the ideal coop.

At this point I have put my coop together and everything has been stained and the roof is on. The next step for me was to identify which type of chicken I was going to purchase and where I was going to get it.

After talking with my dad that knows several farmers in the area, he mentioned a Mennonite that had organic chicken for sale. One Saturday morning we woke up really early and drove out to a farm several miles from my house in Dixon, Illinois. When we arrived it wasn’t just a small farm, it was a huge farm, in this farm he had over 30,000 Rhode Island Red chickens on it. I felt really silly asking for only a few chickens because this guy was used to selling chickens by the truckload.

I had the opportunity to ask several questions and in our conversation I found out that the life of these chickens is about 3 years and the chickens that he raises are getting on a truck and going all the way out to California to high-end organic markets. Specifically these were decidedly egg layers. So all of these organic eggs will head out to the high end organic markets. I felt like I was getting a great chicken from a really knowledgeable farmer.

After some small talk we then loaded just a few chickens in the back of our truck, in fact only 15 to start with. It was a few more than we had decided originally, but we didn’t know exactly what we were doing and we thought we might as well get a couple extra. We loaded up all the chickens in the crates and put them in the back of my dad’s truck and then headed home.

On the way home my dad and I discussed the conversation that we had with the farmer. The farmer let us know that the move for the chickens was a stressful one. In that we could expect that they might not produce for a couple of weeks and go through a molting process. Molting for chickens is a process of losing feathers and growing new ones. Often it’s associated with times of stress, extreme weather can also push them into this behavior.

Questions or Comments click here.

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Are you looking for a fun new hobby? It took me a long time to find the hobby that I would enjoy for the rest of my life. The purpose of this blog is to share with you my experience in raising chickens for eggs.

My love and enjoyment of raising chickens came from my Midwestern roots in Illinois.  As a young child I remember my grandfather having a small farm with chickens on it. It was a fun experience to be able to go out and collect your breakfast whenever you spent the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

In those early years of my life that memories stuck with me for a very long time. Throughout my life I called upon that memory several times when I wanted things to seem simpler. Year after year I would joke with my family about getting chickens one day. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I moved out to the country in an area that would be ideal for raising chickens. Although the location was ideal in the fact that it was outside of city limits. It is still located in a residential area. Ultimately after many jokes about having chickens and finally a few real conversations with my wife we ended up deciding to build a chicken coop in our backyard.

When deciding to put up a coup there’s a couple of things to take into consideration, location is one of the most important factors. If you live here in the Midwest we have strong northwest winds that come through in December January and February. So when we decided on a location for our chicken coop we decided to place it where the west and northwest walls had the most insulation and protection from the winter winds.

Ultimately, choosing a good location in placing your coop in the correct position could have a few advantages that you need to consider. The fact that you get good ventilation and air flow will ensure that your chickens are healthy and have no respiration issues. Chicken coops that are poorly designed or overly insulated with no ventilation could be very problematic for your chicken’s ability to breathe.

After a lot of consideration, research and design we came up with what we believed was the ideal size chicken coop for our purposes. So the question comes to mind; how do you choose the ideal size chicken coop for you or for your family? After doing the research for myself I decided on a 5 foot by 5 foot chicken coop. I was looking to house between 12 to 15 chickens with the thought of getting a half a dozen to a larger number closer to a dozen eggs per day. As chickens only produce about an egg every other day.

Of course budget is always a part of this is well. The larger the cube the more money it’s going to cost you on materials.  So after we decided on a location and size then we decided on the materials that we would use to create our coop. We decided that we wanted to use 4 inch by 4 inch post sunk into the ground to raise the coop up off the ground.  We decided to raise it off the ground and run a plank system out of the front of the chicken coop. By keeping it off the ground you’re creating more ventilation and also a more secure location for your chickens from predators.

The ideal 4×4 post to sink into the ground we found was a 10 foot treated lumber.  We use these for post as the corners and framework of the chicken coop to build upon. The 4 inch by 4 inch 10 foot long treated post allowed us to raise the coop a full three feet off the ground. Allowing the chickens to have a place to rest during the hot summer day beneath the coop in a shaded environment.

The shaded environment under the coop really serves a great purpose during the summer time. From a maintenance standpoint, your chickens drink less water so you’re not constantly having to go back and refill their water.

The next step for us before we got our chickens was to build a secure fence in an area that was proportionate to the numbers of chickens that I would have. So again we used the treated 4 by 4 by 10 foot post to anchor in a fenced in area for my chickens. Next we had to stretch fencing across all these posts and anchor the fencing to the post.

Some people when they put up a fence use a tool called a fence stretcher. That particular tool was not available to us at the time so we ended up just making it very taut and playing with the slack so the fence looked perfect. After getting the fence installed the most important next step was to make sure that we install the door so we can have easy access not only to the coop but to the actual fenced in area as well.

Choosing the door with a very simple task all we did is look for a screen door one very typical that you would find on a house. We’d already decided on a location, closest to the ramp is where we would install the door.  After we installed the door we put a kick plate at the bottom of the door made from metal to protect the chickens from any potential predators.

Without getting into all of the details, we decided on the chicken coop plan and finished the complete design and build out. The next step for me after doing the build out was to treat the sides of the coop with the stain that would be water resistant.

The hope by treating it with a water-resistant stain it that I wouldn’t have to go back and rebuild or do much maintenance to the coop for several years.

 

Comments or questions?

Hit me up here.

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