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Meet Max and Minnie and what about the cold?

November 23, 2015

The chickens are here!  The chickens are here!

Well, at least two of them are.  I’d like to introduce you to Max and Minnie, the 10 week old Black Australorps I was telling you about.

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They kind of look like a cross between chickens and crows don’t they?  By the way, that is not a litter box for them.  It’s a Dust Bath.  Chickens don’t bathe in water, they bathe in dust/sand/wood ash and apparently they love it. It is also quite important for their hygiene as it keeps lice and mites at bay.   This is just a temporary bath until I get the real one built out in the run.

I bought Max and Minnie from a local lady who runs Blue House Farms…and on this farm there are some chickens of all varieties, ducks, geese, goats, dogs and cats.  There may have been other animals, but it was pitch black dark when I arrived, so I’m unsure on this point.

Saskia, the owner, had already captured Max and Minnie so they were waiting for me in a small box in one of her 3 coops.  After getting a few pointers from her, we put them in the enormous cardboard box I brought (with holes punched all over it), loaded it into the car and off I went.  Once home, I put the box in the coop, opened it up, and left them to their own devices until morning.

I’ve read all over the internet about what to do and what not to do when bringing new chickens home for the first time.  I’m doing my best to do all the right things.  So far, so good, I think.  When chickens are this young it is much easier to introduce them to one another, but when they are full grown, it takes quite a bit of carefully planned maneuvering.  Adult hens will gang up on and can actually peck to death a newcomer if the newcomer is not introduced properly.  Yikes!  Apparently hens take their pecking order very seriously.  I’m happy I’ve got teenagers so don’t need to deal with all that this weekend when I bring the other four home.

The next morning found Max and Minnie huddled in a corner of their box, so I shooed them out of it as gently as possible and removed the box from the coop.  For the next two days, they were nervous nellies barely leaving one of the corners of the coop.  Fortunately they were eating and drinking.  I know this because I would sneak up and spy on them through the tiniest of cracks in the door.  My neighbors must think I am insane since I have been constantly running out back to stand and peek into my own shed.  Ha!

Today I herded them out the Pop-Door and into the Run where they nervously pecked around the ramp taking care not to wander too far from the coop door.  I was hoping they’d stay outside a while and enjoy the sunshine, but as soon as they saw Stella (the cat), they high-tailed it back into the coop and that was that.  I didn’t have the heart to herd them out again, plus some minor construction was about to begin, so I felt they’d be more comfortable inside.

Due to a bit of trouble with the wind blowing rain into one of the coop windows and pop-door, I roped Alan into helping me (really me helping him) build an awning to cover both.  We spent about 3 hours this afternoon creating an Awesome Awning.  Please take a look.

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Don’t you love the tin roof? And here it is again from another angle.

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It is indeed an Awesome Awning, don’t you agree?  The Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace is really coming together nicely.

I wanted to talk about one last thing before I go.  Lot’s of folks are asking about the cold temperatures and what am I doing about it insofar as the chickens are concerned.  Well.  As you can imagine, I have done lots of reading on this very subject and have found lots of information, much of it conflicting.  I’m sure there are several “right” ways to handle chickens in the cold, but this is what makes sense to me, so this is what I’ll be doing…at least until I learn otherwise.

First, chickens are very different from us humans.  For example, their normal body temperature ranges from about 104-107 degrees.  They also have a built in down coat which they wear all the time.  Some folks feel that if it is too cold for them (the human) then it must be too cold for the hens, so heaters are installed, coops are insulated, and sweaters are knit.  I don’t believe this to be true, so I won’t be doing any of those things.  It seems hens can comfortably abide temperatures down to well below zero without any fuss so long as the following conditions are met.  1.  they and their coop must be dry  2.  there must not be a draft  3.  the coop must be well ventilated.  As you can imagine, the trick is to get a well ventilated coop without drafts.

Chickens can arrange their down and feathers in such a way as to trap their body heat.  Drafts will disturb the feather distribution resulting in cold air getting down to their skin.  This is why drafts are a No No.  Ventilation is important because frostbite can easily become a problem if there is too much moisture in the air.  Chickens can exhale a lot of hot, moist air which can combine with any moisture in the coop bedding or water spills etc to create a situation where frostbite can occur. If the coop has proper ventilation and is kept as dry as possible, frostbite can be avoided.  This is why I installed the Whirly Turbine vent in the roof of my coop.

Having said all this and knowing/hoping  I have met all three criteria for my girls, I’ve been frantic each night and morning because the temps here decided to drop below freezing every night since Max and Minnie arrived and they’ve only had each other to huddle with and not an entire flock.  I went out to the coop first thing this morning to find a layer of ice over their water.  “Have no fear”, I said to myself, I’ve read all about this and understand it is not a cause for alarm, so I simply changed out the water and went about my day.    Max and Minnie were side by side on the upper roost looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

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An interesting point of note:  a chickens health is in far more danger when the weather is too hot than when its too cold.  Chickens can suffer heat stroke or the like in temps as low as 85 degrees.

You don’t normally think of chickens in the snow, so here are a few photos showing just that.

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I’m heading out shortly to try to sneak up on Max and Minnie.  I imagine I’ll find them on the upper roost, huddled in the far corner where they will remain until morning.  As it gets dark in the evening, chickens  will make their way to their roost, jockey for position as per the very strict pecking order, and  will stay there until morning.

I’ll be picking up the other 4 girls this weekend and am hoping all goes well with the integration.  Poor Max and Minnie will finally be feeling at home by then and BAM, their world will be turned upside down once again.  I’m sure all will work out beautifully, especially when the hens realize in what a wonderful Palace they are going to get to live.

Among many, many other things, I am grateful for the opportunity to have backyard chickens.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

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