Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowbound Chickens

Last night we got over a foot of snow. Rick had to dig out a path to the coop.

We brushed the snow off the roof of the coop and the plastic over the side pen. When I opened the door, they were still in their coop. Usually, they’re out at the crack of dawn. Two of the girls poked their beaks out of the pop door. Once I started talking to them, they all ventured out.

They haven’t known what to make of the snow. The day I wrote the post about the first snow of the winter, very little fell that morning, and it melted soon after. Late that afternoon, I let the hens out in their tractor. I’d been trying to make sure they got out as much as possible before the snow trapped them in their pen for the winter.

So I parked their tractor near the laundry room window and went in to fold clothes. I finished that job and puttered around, before glancing out the window and seeing heavy snow falling. I ran outside to find the girls huddled together whimpering. Just a few minutes earlier they’d been energetically digging in the ground. When I started pushing the tractor toward their pen, they at first refused to move, unwilling to walk on the snow. I finally had to nudge their fuzzy butts along and they quickly scampered into their pen when I opened the tractor door.

On the other hand, they do love to eat snow. Whenever I walk into their pen with snow on my boots, they eagerly peck it off. But today was the first day they actually had some snow in their pen. Previously, the plastic over the wire fencing on two sides kept the snow out. Last night, swirling wind blew snow into the back of their pen. So they were a bit wary when they came out of their coop in the morning.

The great thing about them disliking the snow is that I no longer have to struggle to get into the pen when I open the door. Usually, they go crazy when they hear us at the door, and start bawking loudly and banging their beaks on the wire fencing. When I try to open the door to go in, they’re trying to slip out. Today the wind blew the door wide open when I was trying to bring in the waterer and nobody made a move. I guess they’re not so dumb after all!

My big worry is keeping them warm enough tonight. The low is going to be 1F. Right now, at 9:21 p.m., the temp outside is 13F, but it’s 28F in their coop. (We have a remote sensor thermometer – one of the few gadgets I thought we really needed.) Only their body heat and two 2+ gallon plastic gas cans (which never held gas) filled with hot water are keeping the coop this warm. I got that idea from a poster at Backyard Chickens (BYC), who also has a tiny flock and coop about the size of ours. She only used one can, but she closes her pop door all the way, and I try to leave some ventilation. Truthfully, I'm just anxious about them.

Posters at BYC who live in Alaska and Canada claim chickens are more hardy than we think, and that heavy breeds especially, can withstand temps down 0F without harm, if properly housed. That’s what I’m clinging to tonight. I hope our little gals do alright.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Little Jerry still lives. As it happens, we were in a car accident last Saturday (nobody hurt, but the car is still out-of-commission), so thankfully, the decision about whether to take her to see our friend about freezer camp was made for me!

Update: This morning at 5, it was -1F outside, and 9.7F in the coop. So, a good 10 degree difference. We removed the water bottles (that we placed in the coop at 8 last night) and refilled them with hot water...

Update II: At 1pm it was 6F outside; 18F in their coop. Where do you suppose those little chickies were hanging out??? Certainly not in what Rick calls their "luxury penthouse apartment"! I guess those folks from Alaska and Canada on Backyard Chickens were right!


wolfie said...

Hi there good to see that the girls are ok with the snow and that you are giving them xtra rations to keep warm,You and Rick are also keeping warm clearing snow,Great blog realy interesting.

Wisconsin Garden Chick said...

Thanks, Wolfie! We're trying to do our best by our girls.