Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The chickens are doing well. They still like to run around outside each day, unless there is a raging wind, ice rain, or blowing snow. They love to perch on the strawbales, or the new logs that Greg has placed in their run, so they can get their feet off of the cold snowy ground. So far we haven't had any terribly bitter cold nights where we have worried about whether to bring them inside somewhere, but we do continue to heat their coop with a heating lamp that's set on a timer. We will also wrap a tarp around the rest of their run to help keep the cold winds out. Each morning their water trough needs to be checked, the ice broken and water changed if it's frozen. It has been cold enough most nights/mornings that the water is frozen.
They are still laying about once every 1.5 days, only slightly less than in the summer, and have made a new "back up" nest in one of the strawbales inside their run (for when the other nest boxes are occupied). However, we have noticed their egg shells getting slightly softer, so have started to feed them crushed oyster shells as a supplemental form of calcium. They are just not getting as much in their regular diet as they did when they could forage in the garden for greens. They love to nibble at the frozen broccoli and kale stalks, which we hang in their run just at beak's-reach. Otherwise, the main part of their winter diet so far consists of the store-bought chicken feed, shredded carrots, rice & beans, warmed oatmeal, bread crumbs, sunflower & flax seeds, apple bits, raisins and other dried fruit, and any greens we can spare from our greenhouse. Next season I will plan to dehydrate as many greens (kale, broccoli leaves, chard) as possible, so as to have a steady supply for the winter diet. We haven't been able to find much information about winter chicken keeping in northern climates (zone 5-6 and colder), but know many local farmers obviously do keep chickens year-round and they seem to do just fine as long as they have a warm dry draft-free place to get away to.