|Hens yucky pen|
I wonder if it’s because their feet are composed of only cartilage, without flesh or fat for insulation? Whatever the reason, hens generally will not even step on snow.
Which creates a problem in winter!
Since the Christmas Day blizzard here in the Foothills, our little flock of five has spent most of their days inside the coop—which is a very unusual hen behavior. Their usual pattern is to leave their coop with the sunrise, staying outside until sunset.
That all changed when we got about two feet of snow over the next week and a half, with temps in the teens and even single digits. One night, we hovered around 0 degrees. Which is a very severe freeze for our area.
The girls would basically spend almost all their waking hours inside. A load of snow had blown into the girls’ pen just outside the coop, so they had very little roaming area that wasn’t pure snow and ice.
Scratch that: it wasn’t pure!
Without roaming space, even milling around the pen for only a few hours a day, so few square feet of living space has meant wall to wall hen droppings. Despite my best attempt to clean up what I can, the “stuff” freezes right into the ice, and can’t be collected.
The girls look pretty miserable, after weeks without their usual free-ranging. They sound a quite hen-depressed as well, making only a few little forlorn chicken noises. Ordinarily, I would cover up the frozen manure with wood chips…but with this long freeze, we’re nearly out of chips—and the snow has covered up all the brush we laid out for chipping.
Adding insult to injury: our new feeder (if you ask me, due to pretty poor design), fell apart. I found the hens one day standing right in the feed tray. Then the heated pet bowl failed too—John guessed it shorted out when water got into where it was plugged into the outdoor extension cord.
So we thought we were all prepared for winter weather…but we clearly were not.
Interestingly enough, despite their yucky environment, the girls continued to lay eggs steadily during the worst of the freeze, and now, are giving us a couple of eggs every other day.
We’ve seen a bit of melting…our little flock now have about 3’x 8’ of exposed ground to scratch in. The melt also uncovered a bunch of sawdust sitting under John’s chopsaw. So the day before yesterday, I gathered up as much as I could, and got it spread around on top of the manure-laden soil.
If hens could plan ahead, they’d probably be chomping on the bit to get out of the muck, and back to scratching around the orchard.
I can’t wait myself…as soon as it happens, I’ll be doing a thorough cleaning of the coop and pen!