A very merry Christmas to all of my Hencam friends who celebrate the holiday!
On Christmas Eve I am giving the girls a special wreath made out of kale and apples – food being the one thing that I know they have all asked Santa for (well, in all honesty, that’s just about all they ever ask for.)
If you watch Hencam tomorrow, you’ll see their present. I took a wild bird suet feeder, filled it with apples, and circled it with kale and parsley. If you catch Hencam a little later in the week (or, probably an hour after hanging the wreath in the morning), it will be a mess – though still enjoyed by the hens. That’s one nice thing about chickens – they are so easy to please.
Dark leafy greens are an especially healthy treat for chickens, especially in the winter. Years ago, the small-scale farmer would have owned a special hand-grinder to shred vegetables into bite-sized bits to feed their hens. I could chop up the veggies – but putting them out whole gives the girls something to keep them busy.
I’ll be taking a short blogging break until after the New Year. Happy and safe holidays to all!
This is what a chicken looks like when she molts:
Not a pretty sight, is it? If you don’t recognize her, this is Ginger (check the bios page.) Right now her tail is a stump, she’s got loose old feathers falling out, and her head looks like it belongs to a vulture. Look close, though and you can see quills, which will turn into new, shiny, full feathers.
A chicken molts once a year. During the molt, not only does the hen have a “bad hair day,” but she also stops laying eggs. All of her body’s nutrients are put into making new feathers. The molt lasts anywhere from a month to two, depending on the chicken. This is a problem for commercial growers, who sometimes induce the molt by starving the entire flock. Not here. The girls look awful, but are getting a rest from egg laying. By the time there’s enough sunlight to turn their bodies’ clocks back to laying mode, they’re back in full-feather and looking fine.
I do feel badly for Ginger, though. It was only 4 degrees F. this morning, and she doesn’t have her full-insulating down coat on. But, she seemed fine. She lives in a snug coop, and can huddle with the other hens at night.
Ginger is a hen that loves to have her picture taken. She poses, she stares, she gets right up to the lens. Today, though, she scurried away from me. Perhaps she knows how she looks?
If it’s been awhile since you checked out my chicken keeping Web site, go take a look. I’ve added another book to the books for children section. I think that childrens’ books make great gifts, even for adults. In fact, I gave my husband How the Ladies Stopped the Wind, for Hanukkah this year. How could I resist when it has this refrain: “It was the chickens’ job to make fertizlizer for the trees. They did their job very well.”
It looks like just a dreary day outside, but actually the weather is horrid. There is a misty drizzle coming down, but the temperature is 31 degrees F – so as soon as the rain hits the ground, it freezes. There’s a thin sheen of ice on the snow, on the paths, on the driveway, and even on the perches in the outside run. It ‘s treacherous! This morning I put down hay for the girls, so that they have secure footing outside.
I get a lot of questions about how to take care of chickens in the winter, and it is usually easier than people think. I’ve got winter-hardy breeds, and all they need is a dry house that is free of drafts, and good food and clear water always available. People who own frizzles, Polish, and silkies use heat lamps because those breeds have feathers that don’t insulate as well. No chicken can handle being wet and cold. Most chickens know enough to come in before they get soaked, but once in awhile you have that bird who seems more bird-brained than the rest. On days like this, I keep an eye out.
The two new hens have settled right into their new flock. Just as I thought, the Wyandottes became immediate pals. Alma is the golden-laced (who was previously in the HenCam barn) and Mazie is the silver-laced. Wyandottes are an old American breed. They have rose combs (contrast their bumpy low comb to the upright one on Snowball) and are winter hardy, good layers, and active but not aggressive.
I’ve named the other new hen LuLu. She is a Sussex – the breed is named for where they were developed – Sussex, England. She has yet to find a best friend. But, not all chickens do. Buffy, at the bottom of the totem pole, is at the fringes of flock life. Snowball, is one of the top dogs (to mix metaphors), but she doesn’t care and goes about her life without interacting much with the other hens. It’s too early to see where LuLu will fit in. But, isn’t she simply stunning? Notice the creamy white legs (compare to the Wyandottes’ yellow shanks.) LuLu has just reached maturity. I can’t wait to see what her eggs look like.