Chickens and winter weather is a new combo experience for us over the past couple of months. Even though today registered 80 degrees outside, we've had a few days and nights in the 30's and 40's with an extended bout of very cold weather that ended this week.
Our chickens appeared to go through molting as the weather grew colder. One day, we went out to the chicken coop in the morning and found so many feathers all over the place that we had been sure there would be a dead chicken from some kind of attack.
Nope, just evidence of molting.
I thought the chickens were molting at a very strange time. Just when it was getting really cold, they were losing feathers. Every day, we'd find more and more feathers lying around the yard and in the coop. Is this a cruel joke of Mother Nature?
Then, it appeared that their feathers closest to their body are more soft and fuzzy. Their bodies appeared more fluffy, as if they had been a down pillow that had been plumped up.
And before the cold weather hit our area, our five chickens had been great layers. Every day, we gathered at least 4-5 eggs. Basically, each chicken laid one egg every 24 hours through the beautiful, sunny, warm months. We were in egg Heaven.
However, lately our chickens have been laying less eggs. These days, we find 2-3 eggs per day and Miss Speckles has some kind of problem...she's now gone 6 days straight without laying an egg and we've been worried about her.
Deputy Dave gave her a brief examination to see if he could tell is she's egg-bound, but she appears fine. She doesn't seem to be in discomfort and there are no secret egg laying places in the yard, she simply quit being our best laying chicken --- she gave us one egg every day, without fail, to being a chicken that has abruptly quit on us.
I hope this is normal for her breed. She's a Bantam. Even in the recent warmer weather of the past couple of days, she's not laying and we're still only getting about two eggs per day from the other four chickens. I suppose they are more aware of the season's timing than we are without a calendar.
In spite of having less eggs, since molting, it appears that the eggs being laid are larger and a bit darker in color. The eggs have been big and brown or a creamy color, but now that molting has occurred, it seems to have benefited the quality of the eggs.
During the coldest nights, Deputy Dave did install a heat lamp in their coop. The chicken tractor has a coop with a roost that encloses them safely at night. However, they are still able to make an exit out of the coop and walk down the ramp to the enclosed chicken run area that is exposed to the elements, but surrounded by chicken wire. Usually at night, they are in the coop until approximately 6:30am.
But, when Deputy Dave put in the heat lamp, a couple of chickens liked it and stayed inside the coop, but other chickens headed outdoors to get away from it. After about three days of this attempt, it was clear that the chickens would rather be without the heat lamp than with it, so Deputy Dave removed it. They seemed to be happier in the 30 degree weather without the lamp.
There was no doubt that I slept better with it out of the coop because I kept getting up out of bed throughout the night to look out the window to make sure my chickens weren't in flames. I didn't want to be forced to wake Deputy Dave and ask whether he'd like blackened chicken or roasted chicken with some BBQ sauce. No, I didn't like the heat lamp.
I was not comfortable with the heat lamp, even though Deputy Dave had installed it safely. The bottom line is...it's a heat lamp.
One thing is for sure, the lamp made no difference in the chicken's egg laying habits. It's strange to have them laying such fewer eggs because we Texans still have decent daylight every day and our days are still rather long. All we can attribute the reduction in egg production is to the molting and to a bird's uncanny seasonal radar.
It's still unbelievable to me that our chickens have been such a delight. Getting those seven chicks from the Tractor Supply Store had been one of the most exciting days of my adult life. Of course, I'd wanted chickens for as long as I could remember. We had bought two roosters in the mix by mistake and those had to go to a new home, but we're very much looking forward to moving to our acreage and again being able to add a rooster so that a select few hens can become mothers to a few chicks on the farm.
I've read so many blog buddies stories about their experiences with their roosters, their laying hens and their chicks...I'm always fascinated and paying attention to their experiences
Meanwhile, we're building up a few experiences on our own. We've been in the thick of raising chickens for most of this year and each stage of the chicken's growth has been educational. Deputy Dave and I have learned more about raising chickens in the past year than we could have imagined we'd ever know. Having chickens has been a great Farm Life Lesson on a small scale. It's bolstered my self-confidence to keep going and to get a few more chickens once we get settled onto our land.
And Howdy still watches his chickens every day. He listens for his chickens every day. If he's inside the house and hears an odd squawking sound, then he runs for the backdoor in a frenzy and makes sure that I know he needs to get outside NOW. He dashes around the backyard; he checks on each chicken with a little sniff of recognition and then struts back inside feeling better. If there is something for him to be concerned about, he will firmly plant himself in the yard and go into his guardian stance, ready to pounce, but not moving until he's sure the danger has passed.
I'm thinking about getting Howdy a girlfriend once we move to our land. I'd like to breed Howdy because he's been an awesome dog. We've made the mistake of not breeding some of our best dogs in the past, and we've often regretted it. Since an Australian Shepherd is the PERFECT dog for a small farm/ranch, we will definitely breed him.
Also, I'd like to have three of these dogs on the property at all times for protection, for their own self-support of each other in case a predator crosses their path---I'd hate for Howdy to be on his own in a battle with a Texas Wild Boar although Lyla can sure hold her own when needed---and these Aussie dogs do crave companionship. One day, we might be able to send farm trained little mini-Howdys across the nation to good homes on their own farms. First, we will make sure the girlfriend's bloodline is impeccable as well, we may get her from up North.
We will train all dogs to be around chickens and other livestock, they will be great farm puppies. I figure, if we could take Belle the Yorkie from the stage of attacking a chicken in front of us to rehabilitating her to be a chicken-lover, we can do anything! Belle has gotten to the point to where she will sit outside patiently and let Big Mama peck her back. I need to upload the video of this interaction; Belle pretends the chicken isn't even there...she's become very accustomed to the chickens. And I have to admit that Belle is probably permanently traumatized by her mouthful of feathers that she had bit off of that poor panicked chicken during the attack...let's just say, Belle definitely bit off more than she could chew. Even so, the experience of hacking and choking on all of those feathers sure did sour to the experience...enough to deter any future attacks on the chickens, so I'm very proud of her.
As for Lyla, she's the most perfect dog we'll ever own. She's good with kids, chickens, ducks, other dogs and is a great protector dog as well. She's the sweetest, big-brown eyed dog I've ever seen. She's as sharp as a whittled stick. We've been blessed with our dogs...that is for sure.
I'm ready for more chickens and more dogs. Specifically, chicks and puppies to train for farm life.
Isn't life grand?
The next post will probably give an update on what is going on around here in the house to get it ready to sell. We are so close to sticking the sign in the yard!!! We already have our real estate papers printed and ready! Deputy Dave and I have been make nice head-way. This weekend, the window sills will be replaced and part of the exterior will be painted. And maybe...just maybe...I'll work on cleaning some windows. EEEEEKKKKK. My solar shading will be gone once those windows are clean and that fine layer of dirt no longer helps to keep out the sun-rays. My system will be shattered!