Signs of Spring

This week there was the hint of spring in the air here in southwestern Montana.  We opened the gate on our chicken run and let the hens have a little free range time.   They were excited and ready to run free.     They are looking for the little bits of green that are starting to show up.

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We still have some snow on the ground but they can work their way around it. We pulled out some straw from the coop and spread it around on the ground which is still quite muddy, to help their human caretakers not track so much around and beat what little grass we have down.

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The hens thought that we were tossing the straw about to make it easier to find tasty morsels. We had to do a double take and recount the hens, because all the feathers from the molting they did this winter looked like a fox had been in the hen house.   Fortunately it was a false alarm.

We are all ready for a little spring weather here.   Everyone is tired of being cooped up.

Reprieve, Not a Pardon

This weekend Mr. Ranger Sir and I had plans to to cull the roosters from our not so tiny flock on his only day off  for the next few weeks.   Instead of the wonderful early summer weather we had planned for, we had wind, rain, and cold temperatures.   We decided that we were not going to stand outside and butcher under those conditions just to get rid of the roosters.

No one needs as many roosters as we have.    We have leftover packing peanuts from when our baby chicks were shipped to us.   After years of never getting a wrong sexed bird, we got two this year.    So we are feeding lots of chickens for no other purpose to fatten them up.    Our roosters were finally just large enough to butcher.   Now seemed like a good time because their personalities have not turned nasty towards  humans, dogs,  one another or the hens.     Except for two of them, they are big ugly roosters, the male counter part of sex linked hybrids. Ok…ok…ugly might be to0 harsh of a word but they are definitely not handsome roosters like the barred rock or the gold laced wyandotte.     The fact we decided not to put ourselves out in such adverse weather conditions means the roos  have received a reprieve not a pardon.    Next date the bus leaves for a freezer camp is sometime after the 7th of July.   Lets hope everything stays peaceful until then and we don’t regret our decision.

Broody Hens – Three at one Time

Broody hen vs. a hen who wants to lay eggs.

Broody hen vs. a hen who wants to lay eggs.

I am so frustrated right now I have three broody hens.   What this means is I have 3 hens who think they should be hatching out eggs rather than laying them.    They want to spend almost every hour of the day sitting in the nest box, trying to hatch out eggs that exist only in their mind.   Preventing the chickens who want to lay eggs from getting in the nest box to produce.

The easy way to solve this problem is to put them in a dog crate on sawhorses for 3-5 days to break the spell.   Right now we have some exterior forces pulling at our household so the dog crate solution is NOT going to come to fruition anytime soon.  (The one extra dog crate we have for this purpose is stored up in some hinder regions of the garage attic, that only the males of this household can get to).    In the meantime every day, I pull the broody girls  out of the nest boxes each morning and put them in a covered puppy exercise pen so the girls who want to lay eggs for our family can get to the boxes.  It won’t break the spell like a elevated dog crate would, but if I don’t do this they refuse to give up the nest boxes, causing all sorts of problems.   Problems are not good.

We had planned to butcher our extra roosters this weekend, which is now up in the air due the possibility that Mr. Ranger Sir won’t be here to help.  Lucky for the broody b&%$(‘s because at this minute I would gladly send them with the boys to freezer camp.  Like roosters they are not laying any eggs and good enough reason for me to call it enough.

Light and Chickens

Most folks don’t realize that light and eggs go hand in hand.  Many of us live so far from our food sources that we don’t have an opportunity to be exposed to where our food comes from let alone understand the nuances of what makes our plentiful food supply possible.

As a keeper of a backyard flock every year we go through the same quandary to light or not to light.   This comes into play because chickens need ideally somewhere between 12-14 hours of daylight for optimum egg laying.    Where I live the days are about 9 1/2 hours long now and they will get as short as 8 1/2 hours on December 21st.   I need to make a decision do I want to add supplemental light or take my chances with nature and my birds.

If I choose supplemental light, I need to turn on a light in the coop to give them the daylight they need.   In the farm egg factories that your grocery eggs come from all the lights are on timers and come on at the same time everyday and go off each evening at the same time.   The farmer has figure out exactly how much daylight he wants and the magic of modern technology takes care of it for him.   Nothing is left up to chance.   I on the other hand need to get my bum up and dressed in the cold of the morning so that magical fake sun hits the birds at nearly the same time each day. Howling wind and sub-zero temps be damned.   Chickens like consistency with their light.   Being late a couple of mornings can send them into a seasonal shut down.   Then in the interest of  money as soon as the sun is really up, then I need to head out to the coop shut off my lights and let the girls out and about for the day to absorb their daily dose of real sun for awhile.

If I choose to not go with supplemental light, which some would argue is the more natural approach, then I am at the mercy of the birds I have selected for the year.   Some breeds and birds are less light sensitive.   Some of my birds have already shut down and are no longer laying, others are still hard at work.  Even for the backyard flock owner it is an economic issue.   Do I wish to keep birds who are not laying and feed them for 4-6 months?   In the summer when they free range around the area, I  go through very little food as they get most of their food naturally foraging.  In the winter they are dependent on me for their nutrition and they eat more because it is colder out.   Keeping birds over the winter can get pricy.

I opt for a combination of the above.   We will add some supplemental light, with my husband turning on the coop light as he heads out to work each day.   Weekends it becomes my job.    As long as I get a few eggs each day I will keep up this ritual.   Sometime  in January this routine isn’t enough for my birds and they will stop laying.   I will stop fighting the natural rhythm and let their bodies rest.   We will treat each of our eggs like the precious commodity it is, while we wait for the early birds to start laying again.   By late February or March our least sensitive birds will start laying again.  We will soon be able to share eggs with friends and neighbors.   We will have survived the winter the birds will let us know that spring is on the way with a nest box full of eggs.