Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Keeping warm with the chickens

I was fretting about how to keep our backyard hens warm enough this week when the temperature dropped to minus 3 at our house Monday night, with a wind chill of who-knows-how low. Although they are wrapped up pretty tight with tarps and plastic drop cloths against the winter winds, the girls don’t have solid walls, and so I worried.

Meanwhile, I checked Internet sites for advice regarding heat lamps. A couple I trust said not to use a heat lamp because it heats only a small area and hens don’t do well with part of their area hot and the rest cold.

So we added extra straw, Bill carried hot water to them and I gave them shelled sunflower seeds.

One site I looked up said an individual hen has between 8,500 and 10,000 feathers, so that made me feel better. Natural down and feathers, and hens huddled up against each other – that should work, right?

In my searching for other people’s wisdom on keeping chickens comfortable in cold weather, I came across “HenCam/ A Chicken Keeping Life.” In her blog, Terry Golson writes from the Boston, Mass., area: “There are usually a few weeks here when the temperature doesn’t rise above 0 degrees F. Each morning I hurry to check on them. The wind will be biting. I get chilled making my way across the icy, snowy yard to the coops. My eyes water from the cold.  I expect to find the girls frozen stiff, but they’re fine. I toss them some grain. They look cheerful. It’d be nice if they worried about me as much as I worry about them.”

I’d not read Terry Golson before, and I liked her. I was especially comforted by descriptions of her older hens: some lived to 7-1/2 years, another to more than 9. Ours are approaching 7. Right now, two of our seven are laying, at least were laying before the extreme cold weather.

Only our older girls have names that stick. The original five started out with names from “The Waltons” television show: Granny, Olivia, Miss Mamie, Miss Emily – you know, the Baldwin sisters who made “The Recipe” – and so on. Only Granny and Olivia remain. The newer Araucanas or Easter Egg Hens, for the purists, came to us half-feathered, and we didn’t bond. Two pheasant-colored hens we acquired in between I can barely tell apart. Ditto for us not bonding as I did with our 2-day-old biddies. I blame it on their upbringing before they came to us from bigger chicken breeders who didn’t spend time with them, and neither did I.

When and if we get new chicks, I want the little biddies again. They’re so much interested in people, and smarter, too.

And for those of you who read my column last week about Craig County 4-H Livestock Club member Jake Bostic’s home-raised lamb chops we bought, here’s the update: They were delicious!

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