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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Winter Chickens

It seems there is always more to learn about raising chickens, and this fall and winter has been no exception for me.

The girls are still beautiful, as you can see from these photos, and we still love them, but lately I have been pretty frustrated by how dumb they are. Fellow chicken owners will chuckle as they read this because they know just what I mean!

A few weeks ago I discovered that at least two of the three were sleeping outside at night. Everything I've read says chickens naturally head home at dusk because they instinctively know how vulnerable they are in the dark and want to be out of harm's way. So I was baffled as to why mine weren't going inside the coop in the evening. What I finally figured out was that because night arrives sooner now and the inside of the coop is kind of dark, it gets dark inside the coop before it's fully dark outside. That means by the time it's dusk outside, it's fully dark inside, so they get stranded outside. I don't know how long they'd been learning this habit, but I'm trying to break it. So far, progress has been very slow.

Another thing we noticed right off when the days shortened and got colder, was the drop in egg production. Right away, I decided we needed to install a light in the coop so the chickens could continue earning their keep. Then I read this inspiring post by Anais Dervaes at I really liked the idea of letting nature be and not "forcing" our chickens to lay when nature told them not to. was only a few days later that I discovered our chickens were staying outside all night--even the night it snowed and they were getting covered with the freezing, white layer. From that discovery grew the decision to install a light inside the coop after all, but to only turn it on in the evening as the sun starts to go down. That gives them a couple more hours of light a day but also helps them make it back inside the coop for the night, which improves their health and safety. And now we're usually still getting two eggs a day (which isn't as good as three, but much better than one or none).

The only problem with this plan is that after weeks of me "putting them to bed," so far Gizmo is the only one to have figured out (recently) that roosting inside is warmer and more comfortable. The other two still roost on the chicken door on the outside, no matter how cold it is. I still hope one day things will click for them, that they will get as tired of me coming to put them to bed as I am. Crossing my fingers...

In upcoming chicken news: Mixed breed (or "mutt") chickens and the adjustment from 3 chickens to 5.

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