All Cooped Up
January 23, 2012 § 2 Comments
Snow! And quite a bit of it too. Through the blizzard on Saturday, we spent a fair amount of time outside making sure the chickens and goats were at least surviving, if not thrilled with the state of the world.
Chickens are notorious wimps about snow. Most of the time, they won’t even come outside if the ground is white, so they get all cooped up in their house and start to get a little bored. As long as they have plenty of food and water, they can keep themselves warm. Their feet and combs are the only bits not insulated by feathers, so they stand with one foot up in their belly fluff and then switch to the other. With a draft free coop, a good water heater, and a surplus of grain and scraps, they can keep themselves warm enough. It’s the boredom that takes some creativity to hold off.
I notice when they don’t have the outside room to roam, my chickens peck out eachother’s feathers right at the base of the tail, sometimes advancing up the back . It is not just one that is getting picked on, nor is it one that is doing all the picking. It’s as though they have all learned it from the others, as I’ll see one get pecked and then she’ll turn around and do the same to another bird entirely. I have read that this can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies (specifically calcium or protein) and so have made sure to have plenty of both available free choice to the hens. I also removed four of the hens that seemed to be getting the worst of it and put them in our mobile coop with four new birds that I did not want to introduce to the flock yet. They have a snow free outside zone under the coop that allows them to stretch their wings and so far have not carried on the feather pecking tradition in their new home. With those factors covered, it can also be a sign of plain old lack of entertainment. Well birdbrains, you want entertainment? You got it.
For starters, lots and lots of food. Food that’s fun to eat, too, like pine branches that you can peck instead of pecking your friend.
Sprouted wheat and whole corn supplement the chickens’ diet of layer mash. They seem to go through less of the whole grain food than the mash, and though I am not certain, I’m fairly sure they get more nutrition from the whole grain without having to consume as much volume. Plus, it’s fun for chickens to eat squiggly things.
When the snow tapered off, I put down a layer of hay to at least tempt them outside. Fresh hay is a nice addition to a chicken diet (they actually do eat up a lot of it) and they enjoy scratching through it for any buggies that might have survived. I also added lots of pine branches for pecking outside, and the piece de resistance, cabbage tetherball! This contraption, consisting of a head of cabbage hanging in a wire plant basket, provides a fun challenge for the intrepid chicken who really, really wants some cabbage.
So far, everyone is doing pretty well, and though I may have to get imaginative in the future if they grow tired of these games, I remain certain that I can outsmart any chicken.