Apr 7, 2009

Chickens update

Miss5 takes most of our chicken photos. An endless fascination.

I recently had someone ask me for a chicken update - especially with how well they are coping as the weather turns cooler. So here it is!

The girls are doing well. Belle went into her molt almost as soon as she arrived, but after a few weeks started laying again. Abigail looks like she's just starting her molt now - we've had only one egg to 'harvest' for a few days now (although back to two again today), and there are feathers starting to fly around the coop again. I hope she gets it over with before the winter arrives properly or she'll be a little chilly for a week or two!

While we were in Wellington for our holiday a couple of weeks ago the weather down South here took a turn for the worse. (Remember, in this part of the world, 'South' means closer to the Pole and further from the equator - i.e. colder). I got a worried text message from our friends who were chicken-sitting - would our chickens cope if it snowed and what should they do?

Well, actually I had no idea :) But there wasn't much they could do anyway. Before we'd left we had moved the dome to the most sheltered part of our section - right under some trees that would provide protection from the wind and rain. The chickens still like to sleep in their beer-crate nesting box, so would be out of the wind and close to each other for warmth. I also know that plenty of people keep chickens in this city, and I've not heard of a chicken freezing to death. (Trust me. It would make the newspaper. "Unseasonal Cold Snap. Feathered Family Pet Falls Fowl of Freezing Temps").

So my advice was not to worry. To give them extra food the next day (they eat more when they're cold), and to make sure they had plenty of straw in their coop and nesting box.

In the event the snow never arrived (or if it did, it was not in this part of town), and they coped just fine.

Chickens are pretty hardy animals. They will go off their lay if they get too cold and miserable, but they don't lay in winter here anyway, as there are not enough hours of daylight for them.

Advice I have heard includes feeding them warm porridge in the morning and making sure their sleeping quarters are dry and draught free. Also to make sure their water is neither too cold nor too hot - I guess warm water in the morning on those really frosty days.

The key thing to remember about chickens in this climate is that our climate isn't really that cold! People keep chickens in places like Russia and Canada (with fancier and warmer accommodation than I'm providing, to be sure).

My plan for winter at this stage is to continue converting the rabbit hutch into a nesting box/roosting house that we'll set up next to the dome over winter, and use the dome more like a deep-litter run. This is a 'work in progress' (which means that it has been started and not finished...).

Changes made since the 5th dome post:
- water container. When we were given the chickens, we were given one of these

Self-filling water dish

Or at least, something that looks very similar (you wouldn't believe how long it took me to find a photo of this on the 'net. There are too many products in this world for cats to drink out of). This works very well, so long as you peek in whenever you wander past the dome and scoop out the dust and straw and muck that they've kicked into their water in their scratchings. Once a day to clean it out and refresh the water is fine. The chickens drank more in the warmer months, but I really like the security of knowing that they will have water if we forget for some reason - especially now that Miss5 has the responsibility of feeding the chooks in the morning. So long as I have fed them and topped up the water the night before, this is not something she needs to worry about.

Okay, that's probably the main change :) Everything else is pretty much the way it was the last time we took a tour of the dome.

The biggest thing, really, has been that we've started using the dome over the veggie patches. Having done this for two patches, now, I can say something with feeling. Do NOT feed your chickens wheat seeds while they are on a veggie patch. Linda Woodrow feeds hers sprouted wheat, which would be okay since it is unlikely to survive the chickens and the elements to turn into wheat. But I now have a lovely veggie bed with seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, red cabbage, kale, kohl-rabi, and turnip... and wheat everywhere! Am not impressed.

I am not feeding them wheat any more, since they clearly aren't eating much of it, and am giving them pellets morning and night. I found that with the size of this dome, the chooks devastate everything growing inside within 24 hours and are back to depending on outside food sources after that.

However, the veggies are loving being in the freshly chickened veggie beds, so that part of the permaculture equation is working well!

For our instructions on building the dome, start here

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...

Lovely chickens.

I am wondering about having two water dishes in case one gets somehow emptied or whatever. I always do paranoid planning for my pets.

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