Sunday, February 14, 2016
A visit to the coop
Most of the time, the cold doesn't bother her in the slightest. It really is easier to keep a chicken alive in winter than in summer, where they can die of heat very easily -- that's how I lost Gilda, Bonnie's original coopmate.
Since Bonnie prefers not to be a flock animal, keeping her warm is a little more complicated. She has her coop, with a smallish attached run, and a roost/nest box area upstairs in the coop. The upstairs portion is fully enclosed except for a door.
Until the weather hits the 30s, I leave things alone, other than adding a light in the downstairs portion of the coop. This is more to give her some artificial light to persuade her to lay more frequently than to actually provide warmth.
When temps really dip, I break out a tarp for the roof, and pull out a folding plexiglas window to block the wind. This is normally the top of my cold frame, but it works well for Bonnie because it blocks air while still letting in light. Up until last year I used two old wooden-framed storm windows that I trashpicked, but those either blew over or were flipped by some of the local wildlife, so now I use plastic. It's what's available.
Two weeks ago, we had a cold spell and some snow, and I noticed that the window ended right at the corner, where her water is located. Not wanting her water to freeze or too much snow to blow in there, I recycled a pizza box, fitting it behind the window and under the roof ledge. It seemed to work; she's been relatively draft-free and as happy as an unpleasant bird can be.
Yesterday we were out from 8:00 a.m. until after 4:00 p.m. for a family funeral in NJ. I knew the water would be frozen when we got home. Since it was getting dark, I wasn't so concerned about replacing it then, because she'd already gone to roost. But later, I looked out the back door and saw that the coop was dark. I went out to look further, and the window had blown free, the pizza box was on the back fence and the bulb had burned out. Damn.
I told Mario there was a very good chance we had a chicken-sicle out there, but there wasn't much I could do in 10 degree dark other than to replace the wind barriers. Today, I got up early and went out to check on her, and when I pulled the window aside, I heard the faint clucks of a very annoyed bird. I gave her fresh water and some canned cat food with corn sprinkled on it (her favorite, and a nice boost of protein for cold weather), and went back in until it was light enough to work.
Later I replaced her light, gave her more straw, fresh water and more food, and saw that while she was awaiting maid service, she'd attempted to eat an egg she'd laid in the nest box. This didn't work out well, because as soon as she cracked the shell, the egg started to freeze solid. Hopefully what she pecked at so little resembled an egg that she won't remember it later and start eating her own eggs; that would be a direct route to the crockpot, and I haven't kept her alive through the winter to turn her into coq au vin when spring is nearly in sight.
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I've always wanted chickens and never considered that it would be harder to keep them alive in the heat than the cold.
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