Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Battening down the hatches

Here's what it's like outside at our house this fine Sunday morning:
Pictured: stinker chickens spreading the goats' hay far and wide

It's about 34 degrees F, the chickens are all outside destroying the pile of hay that I put out for the goats, and the kids are making snowmen. However, if you live in the Midwest like I do, you're probably bracing for the storm that's predicted for the next few days. First, we're supposed to get rain, which is predicted to flash-freeze on the roads as temperatures drop to 10 below zero early Monday morning, and then 1-3 inches of snow are predicted to cover the ice. Fun, fun, fun!

In order to keep all the animals as comfortable as possible, we'll make sure that the chickens and the goats have lots of dry bedding to snuggle down into, and that the barn and chicken house are draft free. We'll also hang at least one heat lamp in the chicken house tonight. I know that's contrary to my "no supplemental heat" stance, but while I firmly believe that chickens will get through the winter better without my heating the coop because they naturally develop winter feathers just like wild birds, this storm is predicted to be special.  It's one thing to ask an animal to be fine in below zero temps, but it's hard on them when temperatures swing 50 degrees (50 degrees!) in 24 hours. We're well above freezing right now, with snow melting everywhere, and the cold snap will be tough on us all.

I don't expect the chickens to go outside in such cold weather--they have definite ideas about when it's acceptable weather outside--there are ways for the chickens to get out of the wind/sun/rain, even when they're out in the pasture. This is a calf hutch--usually used as protection for calves on dairy farms. I bought it from my dad when he sold the herd, and the chickens and the goat love it. I keep it bedded with fresh straw, and the animals use it as shelter from wind, rain, or just to hang out in during the day.

Animals are not the only things needed protection when the temperatures swing this fast. Such a sudden dip is really hard on plants, too. I spent the morning cleaning the goat pen and putting all the used straw on the strawberry beds, just to give them a little protection. Then I gave the goats a nice deep bed of fresh straw so they can snuggle in and stay warm. I also had Mike build a chicken wire cage around the Chicago Fig tree. It's just 18" tall after dying back to the ground last winter, but those little sticks are still living and have nice buds on them. Mike made a circular cage around the tree and we stuffed it full of straw. I'm hoping that we can keep it from dying back so hard this year. Last year it had a hard time coming back and we only got two itty bitty figs from it. Those figs were amazing, though, and we want more!

What you can't see: fig tree

The other big farm chore that I had Mike do this weekend was make a new bank of nest boxes for the chicken house. Each chicken does not need her own box; you only need one nest box for every five chickens. Even so, we only had boxes for 55 chickens, and we have close to 80 hens laying right now. That meant that chickens were trying to squeeze in and share boxes, which caused stress and broken eggs. We added nine new boxes, which means that we now have one box for every four hens. The hens took to the new boxes right away--there were seven eggs in new boxes this morning.
Something poop free! This hen will rectify that situation.

I hope that you've gotten everything done to make sure your family stays safe and warm over the next few days. Even if this storm isn't as bad as predicted, I feel good knowing I've done my best to make sure everyone comes through it unscathed.