Candy’s hutch has been around the corner of the barn, in the shade. This keeps her cool in the summer. But in the winter, she likes to sunbathe in the morning, so we move the hutch about six feet so that it gets the first warm rays of the day. You’ll see more of Candy now. You’ll also see more of the hens – in wet weather they stay sheltered under the hutch. They’d rather be there than indoors (except for the smart and more delicate bantam leghorns who know better and stay inside.) Since the weather forecast for the next week is, “rain, showers, torrential downpours and more rain,” you’re likely to see the girls under that hutch a lot!
By the way, wet weather can make your hens sick. Be especially aware of how your silkies, frizzles and Polish breeds are doing. They don’t have the same warm feather insulation as the other breeds and can catch cold and die, all in a day. Make sure they are warm and dry! Feather-legged breeds like cochins are sturdier, but check that they aren’t damp 24 hours a day. They should be able to roost and dry out. I lost a favorite silkie to cold, wet weather one winter, so I’ve learned the hard way.
One of the joys of keeping chickens is that they make a big happy fuss about things that you hate – like grubs and Japanese Beetles. And they eat kitchen scraps, like leftover pasta and carrot tops and apple cores. So, when they don’t eat something, it’s a big letdown.
My hens refuse to eat my worst garden pest – sawfly larvae. These nasty caterpillars decimate my favorite birch tree that graces the front walk. Not only do the larvae scream a warning with their yellow and black coloring, but they do a backwards curl and wiggle their nasty feet at any danger. Despite the fact that chickens are always hungry and always on the look-out for something wiggly, they won’t go near these. Buffy pecked at one and then walked away. Perhaps the sawfly larvae taste as bad as they look? Does anyone know about a chicken’s sense of taste?
The girls also refuse to eat fuzzy caterpillars, which means they aren’t helpful with the tent caterpillars either. The bantam hens don’t like tomato horn worms. Too big. Luckily, the large hens in my flock fight over them.
We tend to think of chickens as indiscriminate eaters. But they’re not. Fortunately, they do like enough of the “bad” stuff to do good. My girls, at this moment, are feasting on crabgrass seeds. Active Lulu is chasing down cabbage butterflies. So, I forgive them for not doing in the sawfly larvae. I’ll get out my oil and soap spray and do the job myself.
What don’t your hens eat?
It’s chilly, sweater-weather today. We’re not getting many eggs, only four to five a day from our thirteen hens. Some are molting, losing their old feathers and growing a thick feather coat for the winter. Others are simply older, less productive hens. I didn’t sell any eggs this week at the town’s farmers’ market. I’m keeping them all for myself.
Hens need about fourteen hours of light to lay. We’ll be several hours shy of that in a month or two. I’ve heard that they don’t need much light – a small 15 watt bulb will do. Put it on a timer and it’s not going to take much electricity. Anyone out there have success with this?
What isn’t as widely known is that hens also need to be warm to lay. Multiple days below freezing and scratching around in icy ground convinces them to put all their energy into staying warm. (Hens are finicky, though- they also stop laying if it gets too hot in the summer.) I keep my hens healthy by giving them draft-free shelter and plenty of food in the winter. I’m not willing to put a heater in the barn. This is partly because I see the winter as a time of rest for the girls. Besides, I worry about the safety of a heater in the barn. Not to mention the expense – my barns aren’t exactly insulated! I don’t mind keeping non-laying hens. But I do miss their eggs and hate buying a dozen at the market.
What do you do? Also, I’m curious – anyone reading this from the South? How long do your hens stop laying over the winter?
Here’s the latest in bunny humor:
At dusk when the chickens are milling in and out of the coop, settling down, then deciding to come out for one last scratch, then going back in, then fussing over who roosts where, Candy, with studied nonchalance, hops up the ramp to the coop and parks herself sideways in the little doorway. No chickens can come in. No chickens can come back out. The girls are flustered. What to do? They cluck, they complain, they peer at the obstacle. Candy doesn’t move but her twitching nose gives her away. She is enjoying herself immensely. She loves causing a commotion among the hens. Finally, the rabbit gets bored and hops away. The chickens all hustle in to bed.
This, is of course, a classic harbinger of Autumn:
Sunflowers, too, speak of the end of summer:
But, here at Little Pond Farm, the surest sign of Fall is a scruffy, shedding, messy bunny. Candy is losing her summer coat and growing in her warm winter one. Doesn’t she look awful? She teases the chickens so that they’ll peck her and help her shed. But, after one mouthful of fur, they won’t do it again!
By the way, don’t her ears look better? The lotion from my vet really worked.