Chickens in bitter cold, and The Smartest Guy in the World

I was tempted to title this post I’m the Smartest Guy in the World, but I decided to wait until another life-changing epiphany flows from my extra large brain. Two in a row ain’t no accident folks, so that’s when I’ll stake my claim.

Today’s act of greatness—one which arose from a unique moment of procrastination fused with perceived need—consisted of placing one of these patches of wheat grass directly inside the chicken coop. I know. Revolutionary! With temperatures plummeting well below zero of late, I was becoming concerned about leaving the crew all cooped up for so long…

chickens 1Chickens simply do not handle boredom very well, and my chicken coop is so small that my entire strategy rests upon getting everyone outside on all but the very coldest of days. The footprint of their coop is just 4 x 6 feet, so 24 square feet is pretty tight for this many birds. When the temperature finally climbed all the way to zero degrees today, I finally opened their door, after which they fell all over each other to get outside. They’d be out in far colder temps if I let them, but zero and only the lightest of winds is my cutoff point. Since my chickens have such large combs atop their heads, even this is probably pushing it as far as minor frostbite goes. But now I’m digressing. Back to boredom…

Since their 40-watt light bulb turns on at 1:30 am (to keep them laying eggs, but it also provides substantial heat for their small living arrangement), they had nearly 12 straight hours of virtually no stimulation today. Tomorrow they might not be let out at all, and over a relatively short period of time this can lead to serious problems. For example, my last flock seemed to get along with a female mallard duck just swimmingly, but during the polar vortex of a couple years back and persistent temps far below zero, they turned on her. Two straight weeks of being cooped up were too much for them. One day I opened the coop before clocking in for work and was shocked to discover that the cannibals had pecked a hole into the back of the duck of alarming size.

I brought the duck into my basement, where she convalesced beside me whilst I toiled away on the company’s computer. That evening I was lucky to get her placed in poultry paradise at the Duck Whisperer’s little slice of duck heaven over in Hermantown. He wound up letting the animal recuperate in his bedroom, and even set her up to watch television from the comfort of his bed while he was away! As far as I know, she continues to enjoy a place within his menagerie of geese and ducks, which enjoy luxurious accommodations astride a generously sized pond. Freaking paradise…

So, as you can see, staving off the boredom is rather important. I placed one of these large 18-inch long patches of wheat grass into their tight quarters, and they devoured the whole thing, roots, dirt, and all. Fantastic! It’s also quite a bonus to continue receiving bright orange, nutritious yolks even in the dead of winter. The hanging bucket you see is our water delivery system, through nipples screwed into the bottom. A drop-in electric tank heater keeps the drink from freezing. This method is the only way to keep ducks alongside chickens in the coop. Otherwise the waterfowl make too big a mess with the water. They love water even more than sex, which of course they enjoy only while frolicking in the water bath outside! I haul them the extra water when it’s 15 degrees and above, and not overly windy.

chickens and grass

Another trick I’ve heard of is the placement of suet into the coop when the temperatures become bitter. I plan on nailing up a makeshift suet feeder from chicken wire soon for the purpose.

As far as their exterior world goes, my best suggestion is to place large amounts of hay throughout their run. Prior to a big snowstorm I rake it all into a pile so the job of shoveling will be easier, and because I’m cheap. Six to eight inches of hay makes for a cozy environment outside, which they appreciate snuggling up in. It also provides them ample opportunity to scratch and hunt for goodies. One $5 bale lasts a month or more, and is a wise investment if for no other reason than for the pleasure of enjoying an island of greenery within the vast tundra. It definitely gets the birds outside, so I’m consistently surprised to discover that most people miss this opportunity to make the winter more enjoyable. Otherwise the birds probably won’t venture far outdoors, which isn’t good for anybody. Leaves can be used in a pinch. One year I saved 30 bags for the purpose, but I like hay for both its beauty and nutritional value.

These overripe grapefruits should fend off scurvy for a while. The regular bringing of treats also causes them to revere me as some sort of god, which is good for the self-esteem.

chickens and grapefruit

Do you have any tricks for getting through winter with your flock? The season can be brutal, and I find that the coldest periods require a level of obsession that most people are understandably not willing to engage in.

Now if you’ll permit a little bragging, I’d like to share my latest victory. You might recall my reference to an enormously sized brain, which of course requires a large enough cranium to be up for the task. Keep this in mind when judging the size of the melon-sized rubber band ball that now rests in a landfill until the end of time.

rubber band ball

I got the idea for making that thing back in the 1980’s from watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and have held onto it for a quarter century for no apparent reason. It’s one of those ridiculous vestiges from my hoarding past, which I’ve inexplicably held onto. Gently placing into the garbage released one more burden from my back. I like to believe that I’m not overly attached to things, but reality shows that there’s a process of healing and of letting go. Now that it’s gone it boggles my mind that I would hold onto a thing that gave me no joy, and contributed to clutter. One of my goals in the current quest to redraw life in the midst of this crisis occurring in mid-life, is to be clutter-free and enjoy the simplicity and clarity of possessing little. The fact that I took a picture of an object of minor sentimental value and took the time to write up this short obituary for it, indicates that I have a long way to go! I am thankful for a home that is open for hospitality, however. My childhood home, well, that’s another story…

old shot winter


3 thoughts on “Chickens in bitter cold, and The Smartest Guy in the World

  1. Now if we only figure out some tricks how to get through winter ourselves. 🙂 Your flock looks happy and healthy! There is a Backyard Chicken FB group, some funny things happening there all the time.
    That rubber ball, funny, my 4 year old would have loved to bounce it around for a while, before he lets it go and moves on to something else. As we all can. 🙂

  2. I have seen little hanging treat balls for chickens. They remind me of those semicircular hanging planter baskets people put the moss lining in and hang from their front porches, only in miniature, and a full ball not a half. I’m sure one could be made easily using chicken wire or something. You’re supposed to fill it with spinach or leafy greens anyhow and the chickens peck at it and get bits and pieces out of it. They looked like a cool idea to me but I never forked out the money for them. My farm supply store has them.
    Apparently I’m terrible at describing things… Sorry for my confusing explanation. :/

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