Lets talk about chickens

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We have 12 pullets-soon-to-be-hens and five roosters. One rooster is Domino; I want to keep him because of his great markings (white with black-green tail feathers and black "peppering" on head and around neck). Another rooster is named Benny; he is a favourite of the children's, but his butt is always dirty and he has no tail feathers. The other roosters are collectively known as "the chicken dinners". They were spared on butchering day simply because we ran out of daylight. They will be made into stew.

The pullets are mostly un-named, but Mrs. Domimo has the same markings as Domino, except that she is brown where he is white. PeeWee is the smallest. Henny was successfully nursed back to health after suffering a broken leg.

These chickens appear to be a cross between Rhode Island Red and Sussex. They are quite hardy. They survived, nay, THRIVED outdoors without any special brooding equipment from the fifth day after we got them. (They were day-old chicks.) They were put in a box-type structure with a flap-door (hinges on top) which we shut at night. They huddled together for warmth but did not smother each other. We had an unusually cool summer; some nights in July the temps were in the upper 40s to lower 50s. We only lost one chick due to my then two year old "loving" it to death.

Our chickens free-range all day and are shut up in their coop at night. So far, we have not had any significant snow, and the ground has not frozen, so the feed bill has continued to be quite low. They like best to glean in the neighbour's harvested soybean field, but they also like scratching under the lilac bush and in the compost pile.

Housing for chickens is somewhat questionable just now. All summer they lived in a chicken tractor which moved about the garden and back yard. They were not allowed out then, because they kept going into the neighbour's fields before harvest. The tractor is simply an 8X8X4 foot frame of 2X2s covered with chicken wire with tarp over and around the north end for shade. There are nesting boxes and a roosting pole on that end, also. This does fine for summer, but what about when the snow is deep and they can't get out to scratch?

Well, we put the chicken tractor in the garage on hay-covered tarp (supposedly this will protect the cement floor, according to the landlord). I do not think this arrangement will suit us for the winter--the smell.... So, let's think of something else. We are allowed to have all the old square bales we want out of the soybean-field-owner's barn, so I thought, let's set up a foundation of hay bales, set the tractor on top of that foundation (so it will be higher than 4 feet), and stack more bales up and around to block the wind, put clear poly (the kind we cover our windows with) on the top half for light, and anchor the whole thing with bungee cords or rope?

Okay, all you chicken people, it's your turn. This is our first winter with chickens, and although it was 65 degrees here today, it's bound to snow sometime. Last year we had at least one snowstorm a week for about 3 months. The locals say it was the snowiest winter in decades, and not likely to happen again for a while, but still, I'd like to be prepared.

-- Cathy N. (keeper8@attcanada.ca), November 25, 2001


I've never lived in the frozen north, so my experience is based on what can happen in the frozen south. The bale construction sounds quite good, except for the snow that will have to be removed from the top. If the bales will keep out the wind, you are halfway there. Maybe if you stack them in alternate pattern the way bricks are layed, you will get better stability, too. I've seen Eliot Coleman use bales to construct compost piles in Maine, and it seems to keep everything warm and cooking all winter. I agree about the chickens in the garage. I have 20 chicks in my garage right now, waiting for them to feather on out, and yuck is all I can say. Especially when I feed them goat milk.

-- melina b. (goatgalmjb1@hotmail.com), November 25, 2001.

The roof is the part I would concentrate on. Could you use something substantial like tin or plywood, then put the plastic on for water proofing? Maybe you could leave one end open for light instead? and just set the bales back in place at night. I wouldn't want the snow to accumulate on the top, it could leak, and make more problems.

Could you build a small house out of scrapwood, and hook the tractor to it for a day time area. The shelter for night would not have to be very big, actually the smaller the better, because it would hold the heat better.

-- Melissa (me@home.net), November 25, 2001.

Hay bales will work fine. If you can keep the chickens out of the wind, they pretty much do o.k. Our coop (currently) is a large old shed (translates..some holes and old boards) with partitions on the inside. They can get in out of the rain and wind, etc. They had free choice of going outside last winter, but mostly stayed inside. (bad winter too)

Our first chicken coop had insulation and all of that stuff to spoil them. I even made a window out of a peice of plexiglass nailed over an opening. I ran a cord out and used a light to help heat. ;o)

Now I know they can get along fine without all the extras. The only problem I had was the roosters huge comb got frostbit once during the worst of the winter. They would all get up on the roost and were fine. I would even feed them on the clean snow outside, and they did great. (hens do quit laying when they get cold feet, but I usually store up extra eggs anyway) I had enough eggs last year to put in the refridge and they lasted almost the entire time the hens quit laying. I didn't expire from eating 2 month old eggs either. I did cook them good though :o) They still looked better than store bought.

I use chicken tractors in the summer as well, and put the chickens in the "coop" in fall. I keep all the feed in there in metal garbage cans, so mice do not bother it and chores are easy. I can keep the roosters seperate since the inside is sectioned off. They each have their girls and doors to the outside pens.

I run the portable/freerange pens up to the outside and open the door on the building side. ( I made the pens with a big enough door for me to crawl in if I had to) So the outside pens are not attached until the fall and it works great. They are used year round. :o)

Hope this gives you all some ideas.

-- notnow (notnow05@yahoo.com), November 26, 2001.

Forgot to mention that I keep dual purpose breeds(Orpingtons and Australorps). This year is my first with skinny little leghorns :o) I have been fattening the ones I want to keep over the winter so they do as well as the big ones. I also have turkeys.

-- notnow (notnow05@yahoo.com), November 26, 2001.

Cathy, That arrangement sounds good to me. I will post a link to a solar chicken coop that might give you some ideas. I believe this coop was in Upper MI.

How about straw bale walls and use an old truck top for the top of the coop. You'd have sunlight on three sides for warmth and the ability to vent. Plus those things are often free (check salvage/junk yards or advertise). Always tell folks what you are doing and they will think of you when they are throwing away things. Just got a HUGE load of egg cartons from someone that way.

I know you don't want to spend any money but since you are so far north and worried about heat at night, can you suspend a lightbulb in there? It only costs pennies a night. I don't ahve electricity in my coop but am considering asking Santa for one of those solar lights that could run in the winter (I'd have to turn it on when I shut them in at night).

Here is the link. When you get there click on Homesteading on the left and then on Solar chicken coop.


Notnow--I am VERY interested in your setup are there pictures posted somewhere?

Let us know the progress you make and the results, please. Good luck!

-- Ann Markson (tngreenacres@hotmail.com), November 26, 2001.

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