Hens in the Bitter Cold

This morning when I woke up and looked at the thermometer, it was 5 degrees below 0. That’s cold. The hens live in uninsulated coops with concrete floors padded in pine shavings. The bedding is not the “deep litter” system that (when done right, but only if done right) generates heat like an active compost pile. The only tiny bit of man-made heat in the barns comes from the electric water heaters, which, if you touch them, don’t feel warm at all when it’s in the single digits. Still, they do keep the water from freezing.

Despite this deep freeze, the girls were fine. Just fine! They did not turn into chicken popsicles overnight. In the morning, Grand Dame Buffy claimed the spot in the sun. That’s quite a feather coat that she has fluffed up.

Buffy in sun

I gave the old girls an extra handful of scratch corn and hulled sunflower seeds. They could do with the added calories on such a cold day. Greens are always a boost, so yesterday I gave them some fresh kale.

The Gems, in their sunny, dry, well-ventilated, clean, barn didn’t show any signs that the temperature had dipped so low. They didn’t require special care, but they lucked out;  I forgetfully left my stash of butternut squash in the garage, where it froze, which ruined it for cooking –  but not for the hens who were happy for something to do as the ground is frozen solid and no good for scratching in.


The goats, with their thick fur, don’t mind this weather, although somehow they managed to convince me that extra hay in their bellies would keep them even more comfy. It’s hard to say no to the boys.


So, for those of you who are skeptical when I tell you that hens do fine in bitter cold temperatures, without electric heaters, this is proof.

Eggs, though, do freeze and burst, so I’ll be going out to check for them a few times during the day. Winter eggs are too precious to let them crack (and become inedible to all but the dogs.) I’ll have to bundle up, coat, gloves, and insulated boots. I don’t do half as well in the cold as the chickens do.

For more about winter care of chickens, read my FAQ.

In Good Hands

As much as holding the dinosaur chicken was a thrill, seeing others with poultry in arms was also fun. The most inspiring place to see chickens being handled was at the showmanship competitions for the youth.



teens and hens

These children don’t just show their birds; they dote on them.

This girl’s rooster loves to be cradled in her arms and have his belly rubbed.

pet rooster

I think that the “fancy” (as the world of bird shows is called) is in good hands!


Use Your Imagination

When I do school visits I bring my picture book, Tillie Lays an Egg, a hen, and feathers. At the end of the program, I encourage the children to write and illustrate their own stories about chickens. I tell them that the chickens in their story don’t have to look like mine, that chickens come in all shapes and colors. I tell them that chickens can be black, yellow, blue or white, speckled or striped, with glossy feathers, or feathers that look like fur.

They take me at my word.


I wish that I could bring all of the children to a poultry show. What would they draw afters seeing this Ancona pullet?


I tell the children that chicken legs can be any color – grey, yellow, red, black. Now that I’ve been to the poultry show, I’ll add spotted to that list. I can’t wait to see what the children draw after my next visit!

spotted legs

PS I’ll be doing a storytime at the Concord Public Library on March 16. Please come!

I Hold A Dinosaur

A poultry show as large as the Northeastern Poultry Congress always contains surprises. I’ve gone for years, and yet each visit yields at least one stop-me-in-my tracks, oh my gosh, what is that? moment.


I’m sure that most of you have read about the recent research that points to feathered dinosaurs. In fact, this article says that certain dinosaurs had feathers colored like a Speckled Hamburg!


Some modern day chickens look more dinosaur-like than others. This Red Pyle Modern Game cockerel has an ancient look about him. But, he still looks mostly chicken.

Red Pyle

But, this guy looks all dinosaur to me.


This young cockerel (hatched in May) is a Malay, which is a very old breed that originated in Southeast Asia. Mature, a Malay rooster stands 3 feet tall.

He looks like a fellow not to mess around with.


But, luckily, I met his breeder, Vlad, who handles and trains his show birds, and says that although his Malays will chase cats off of the property, that they are sweeties with people. I was walking around the show with a group of folks who read my blog, and Vlad let everyone pet this phenomenal bird.


And then I got to hold him.

I held a dinosaur.

in arms


I do love old egg baskets. So, when I stopped at an antique coop on Saturday, and spied a wire basket that I didn’t yet have in my collection, I couldn’t resist. I have one of this style, but not of this size!

The vintage basket that I use daily is on the right. The new, super-sized basket is on the left.


Of all of my baskets, I think that this style is the most practical. The little feet on the bottom keep the eggs from smashing if I set the basket down too quickly (as I have done, and have had broken eggs to show for my carelessness.) The shape keeps the eggs securely in the basket, even if it tips, or a dog knocks it as I walk (again, spoken from experience!) The handle is comfortable and secure. All in all, a design that is both beautiful and functional.

But, perhaps I am being a tad too optimistic thinking that my new basket will be useful in the barn? The four eggs a day that I’m currently collecting would roll around in it and crack. So, I have brought the basket inside to display the eggs that I have blown out. They used to fill a bowl in the dining room. That basket is so large that now it looks like a small collection.


This is a cabinet in my entry hall. It’s a seed chest from a southern hardware store. Perhaps in years past it held a similar basket, holding eggs for sale.