It’s Cold In The Coop But…

It was 17 degrees F this morning when I went outside to do the barn chores. That’s cold. And yet, the hens happily foraged around on the snowy crust. Even Twiggy, with her big floppy red comb, showed no sign of minding the chill – or of frostbite. It takes more than cold temps to cause frostbite.



On frigid days like this, the hens spend most of their time indoors. My coops aren’t insulated. They’re not heated. But, the girls are comfortable. I can tell because of their behavior. Notice how they’re evenly spread apart and active. (For those of you wondering where Buffy is during the day, there she is in her favorite corner, which is just out of HenCam viewing range.)



You don’t need a tight, cozy coop to keep your flock comfortable in cold weather. The Big Barn is spacious and airy. The goat’s stall door is open, so there’s cold air moving through it. And yet, look at how at ease the Gems are. They’re preening and scratching for tidbits in the bedding.



What does matter is that the air is dry. One way to judge air quality is by looking at the windows. The Big Barn windows are clear of frost.



Despite the cupola and vents, the Little Barn holds more moisture in the air. I know this because I see ice crystals on the windowpanes.



The humidity comes from both respiration and manure. It’s the combination of wet and severe cold that causes frostbite, and humid air can also lead to respiratory disease. I’m careful to manage it. Although there’s little smell in the winter, and the poop is frozen, I muck out more frequently to keep the coop as dry as possible. I can still see out of those windows, so I know that I have it under control.

We’re expecting a major snowstorm tomorrow night, so this morning I’ve cleaned the coops and topped off the feeders and waterers. I’ll keep the pop-doors closed while the snow is blowing. After the storm passes, I’ll shovel out the run so they can get back outside (hens won’t walk in deep snow.) What I won’t do is worry if they’re warm enough. They’re dry. They’re clean. They’re out of the wind. 17 degrees is nothing to them.

Meanwhile, Phoebe says, Bring on the snow!



For more about cold weather care for hens, see my FAQ.

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Horses and Trust

Horses have always been on my mind, but now, with Tonka here for a week and a half, horses are back in my life. Everyday.


It’s too icy to ride, which is fine, because it gives Tonka and I a chance to get to know each other from the ground. He’s a horse with a kind eye and a sane head, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to jump right into a trusting relationship with me. I’m spending time simply grooming and hand-grazing him (I hold the lead while he finds things to nibble under the snow.) I’ve also started to use the clicker to train him to do a “touch,” and I’m teaching him to come. He’s beginning to pay attention to me. He’s beginning to trust that the lines of communication are open. We listen to each other. (I’ll be writing about this in the months to come.)

Trust in your horse and your horse’s trust in you, is essential for a safe and enjoyable ride. There are plenty of “natural horsemanship” cowboys out there touting ways to get there. Some of what they say is useful (although much isn’t!) Some say that they’ve discovered a new way of training, but the fact is that good horsemen have developed trust using gentle methods for the thousands of years that we’ve worked alongside these animals.

Not all horseman are kind. Many are harsh. Many don’t know any other way than to subjugate the horse into behaving. But, even in the past the old plow horse was often treated as a member of the farm family. In my library of vintage farm ephemera I have a treatise published in 1898 on how to train with kindness. Photographs in my collection also tell this story. A small boy of four couldn’t hold onto 2,000 pounds of horses without a lot of trust between all involved.

Look at this team’s quiet yet alert posture. They like that boy.

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Although Tonka lives twenty miles up the road at a boarding stable, he is a part of our animal family. Tonka is a registered American Paint Horse and hails from Texas. He was foaled on February 11, 2006. Tonka was owned by a gentle trainer who taught him to be a sane trail horse. I purchased him in December 2013. Tonka and I do dressage and take long treks in the woods. For more about horses, see my other website The Cooperative Horse.

Sitting In The Coop

The design of your coop affects so many things:   the health of your flock, how the birds will get along with each other, and even how many eggs they lay. I’ve written about coop design criteria here.

Coop design also affects how you get along with your flock. If the structure is no bigger than a dog house, and you have to bend over to peer into a small window, then you won’t be part of your birds’ nighttime routine. When the weather is bad, you’ll run quickly out and back and won’t interact with your girls. But, if the coop is large enough to walk in, if the air smells good, if there are windows so that the hens are active, if you can easily stand up to clean the bedding, then you’ll spend time with the chickens,  and get to know them, and enjoy them more.

I like to know the chooks in a way that only comes from being a quiet presence. I have a little yellow stool that I carry into the coop to set on awhile.  But one of my readers designed and constructed a coop that takes that idea one step further – the built-in chicken watching chair!



How clever is this? It folds up so when not in use the chickens don’t dirty it.

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This chicken watching seat is inside of this wonderful coop, built by HenCam reader Elizabeth’s husband and father.

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The only thing missing is storage for tools, and Elizabeth says that her brilliant construction crew will be building that addition on come springtime.

Reminder: The HenCam 2014 Calendar is available now! Check the HenCam Store for other gifts, too.

Highflying Hen

I’m often asked, How high does a fence have to be to keep my hens in?

As with so many questions about chickens, the answer is, It depends.

Growing pullets are agile and lightweight and are often escape artists. They’ll hop onto a stool or log and launch themselves out of a pen. A six-foot fence might keep the young ones in.

Most laying hens, though, are far from aerodynamic. The heavy breeds, like the Barred Rocks and the Australorps tend to stay put. And they like life on the ground, where the food is. The fence built for the chicks will do for them, but usually a lower fence will as well. There is a four-foot wire fence around the perimeter of my property, and it keeps the chickens from straying up the street.

However, there are always exceptions. In my flock, that exception is Misty. She’s a Blue Andalusian, which is a sleek Mediterranean breed that originated in Spain. She likes to be up high, and she can get there. I often let the Ladies into the goat paddock to forage. They all stay in the pen. Except for Misty. When I ask the Ladies to go back to their coop, they come running. Still, I do a headcount before closing their door. I’m always short a hen. It’s always Misty. She’s the only one to fly over the goat’s 4-foot fence. Misty also has yet to figure out how to fly back to come when called.

The other day, while the hens were free-ranging on the lawn, Misty decided to fly up to the top of the run. I have no idea of why she did that. In ten years of having chickens in that pen, I’ve never had a hen parade around up there.

The goats were as surprised as I was.



Twiggy, the White Leghorn is as svelte and athletic as Misty. However, she wouldn’t think of leaving the good food on the ground if it weren’t for that instigator, Misty. Twiggy followed.



It was precarious on the netting.



It is hawk netting, designed so that birds won’t get tangled in it. Nonetheless, Twiggy quickly decided that it wasn’t for her. Besides, there was nothing to eat up there, and Twiggy is always hungry. Down she came. It took Misty a bit longer to leave her perch. I think that she liked the view.