Tuesday, April 12, 2011


As of September 2011 the pullets are becoming hens and have been merged with the adults.  There are some promising individuals and we are very pleased with health and temperament.

July 31, 2011- Six pullets from 3 hatch dates to add to our flock.

We  have decided that the breed that most suits us is the Australorp.  This breed was originally developed in Australia and is a dual-purpose bird with characteristics suited to tolerance during a Canadian winter.  Obtaining good stock is a priority for us, and a unique opportunity has presented, thanks to Hidden Meadow Farm.

Adelaide on Apr. 30, 2011, at Hidden Meadow Farm, now our first Australorp hen

Darwin, first hour in the coop

I'm thrilled to be involved in a heritage project like this, and hope to develop good layers as well as correct hens with excellent maternal instincts.

April 23, 2011

Darwin the Australorp arrived from Hidden Meadow Farm with superb manners but not knowing how to negotiate a pop door.  I gave him 24 hours to try it on his own, but all he did was peek through and crow pitifully to the nearby hens.  I tried treats and a bright waterer outside to no avail.  Even Chilean grapes did not work.

In an aha! moment I grabbed a hen from the nearby run and placed her strategically.  She seemed quite keen.

So did he.

By then she thought better of it and asked to be confined in her own run.
Astounded at his abilities, Darwin went in and out of the pop door ten or twelve times. 

That's just showing off. (Update- Darwin is now in the bigger coop with a rooster-sized door.)

Finding pullets for a layer flock has proved to be daunting.  We had not wanted to buy straight run, and even that was hard to find.  Everyone seems to be cutting back in 2011, the most frequent word I heard in the poultry sector was 'downsize'.  Feed is expensive and with bad weather in the Prairies, it's likely to become challenging to keep larger flocks. 

I saw a glimmer of hope at the Windsor show in May when I vecame smitten with a spectactular hen from the line of Warren Simm.  Alas, she was spoken for, and Warren's brother had told me that it could be as much as a year before they could promise me anything.  I cling to the hope that I can find another hen or two of good quality.  At this time I have the divine Adelaide, a natural broody, though I will not allow her to collect eggs for hatch this late in the season, though she is much persuaded to brood in July of 2011. 

Then we found some pullets from Active Life Farm.  We have decided that these pullets will eventually form the core of our laying group.  If a couple seem true to type and display good maternl instincts we may try a cross with Darwin.

I contine to search for Australorp owners in Nova Scotia and the other Maritime Provinces, especially those with fertilized eggs or pullets in small quantities for 2011 and 2012.  I think the breed matters and I would love to open discussions with those who know Australorps better than I!

At the start of September 2011 the pullets are growing rapidly.  I am hearing deepening of their voices, new calls, enlarging wattles and reddening faces.  New fathers have a beetle-green sheen and the legs are black and solid. They flirt with the rooster through the barrier and i would like to merge the flocks, but I sense it is early.  Still, the signs are showing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Emergencies and General Care

There is a myth that keeping chickens is easy.  Well, if all the birds are healthy and uninjured, I guess that's true.  When you least need it, probably on a cold windy rainy snowy or too-hot day, a bird will present in trouble.  At least it isn't a 1200 pound horse or a bull marking a tonne in mass.  Nevertheless, this is where having hand-reared birds pays off, because you will be able to get to them.  You need a few things on hand and I'll continue to update this list as I acquire more-

First Aid Kit

latex gloves, PrepH without added benzocaine, poultry vitamins or infant liquid vitamins without added iron, clean rags or towels, Dri-Kill or other suitable pest powder or treatments, food-grade diatomaceous earth, Stable Boy powder, vaseline, shallow basin for warm water, wound powder or styptic powder, clean eye droppers, syringes without needles, clean gauze, scissors, a sheet of moleskin, surgical tape for sensitive skin, plain neosporin, low-dose aspirin...

Useful food items- diced tomatoes, olive oil

It's mid-winter as I write, so my mind is on seasonal challenges and on low egg production.  For instance, all of my hens have been in moult since late fall and only two are laying regularly.  The stress of reduced light, combined with low vitamin D (birds make it best in good light, like us) and increased need of nutrients can make them seem poorly.  You'll see feathers around the coop and by this time of year you may be getting to the bottom of feed bought a while back, which is losing quality week by week.  So get yourself some poultry vitamins or some of this-

It's one of many brands of liquid infant vitamins, high in Vitamin D and without added iron, which can be hard on bird kidneys.  It will help with feather growth, support the medullary complex ( bones in pelvis and legs that make eggshell materials), prevent nutritional lameness and promote comb recovery as the hens come back to lay.  Their muscles need correct nutrition too, especially around the egg chute.  It contains some cod liver oil and 1 dropper in a gallon of water is about right.  I find that the hens get very upset when I change the water, they  seem to know it's good for them, or perhaps they like the taste.  Since the triad of needs for egg-laying is Calcium, Vitamin D and sufficient light (roughly 14 hours) you should eventually see better eggs too. 

If a hen comes back into lay and is not as healthy as she might be, or produces a 'softie' or too-big egg she may prolapse as the egg is laid.  Be sure you have some Anusol or Prep-H (without added benzocaine) handy for a partial prolapse because getting the tissue back in place fast is vital or you may have to put her down.  Neither culling or prolapse-fixing is for the squeaminsh especially if you don't have a vet who sees birds.  Always have a box of latex gloves around.  Those of you who have various pets and livestock understand perfectly why you want these.  Though it would be preferable to get a vet out to the barn or coop asap, I bet you know how tough that may be.

I am not a vet, animal technican or assistant.  So at this point you may choose to ignore everything I say.  I'm, am simply an owner of hens who have managed to get themselves into a few 'situations' when they had only me to make a decision.   You may want someone to hold the hen firmly, cradling her, though you can do this yourself and may have no choice.  Gloved, you slather the haemorroid ointment on your middle and index finger.The hen will hate the next part, will be frantic, understandably.  Gently Hook the two fingers into the vent, hooking upwards slightly dragging the tissue back inside.  Be sure ample ointment is left inside the orifice.  Hold it there for an many seconds as possible before gingerly withdrawing your fingers.  This hen needs to be away from the others, so house her  alone in a darkened chamber, such as a cat or dog crate with needed provisions.  She will appreciate distractions like diced tomato, grapes, etc. and it will help her to forget what you just had to do.  She is going to need watching for days and if the prolapse re-occurs you will need to repeat the process.  Keep in mind that if this procedure is not working that your *will* need a vet or may have to cull.  I'm not prepared to discuss that here, and I urge you to join a good poultry forum or consult one of many expert texts on the matter.

Prolapse, eggbinding, egg yolk peritonitis (septic or not), and even crop problems are interconnected because they are at both ends of the gut.  A hen with an impacted crop can be starving and the lack of nutrition triggers lack of nutrients to make eggshel or to use laying muscles.  An eggbound hen is straining and the egg affects the gut, backing up the entire system.  Her vent will be pulsing, her eyes strained and she can go into shock.  You can separate her, bather her belly in a shallow bath for up to an hour, and be sure to dry her then blow-dry to keep her from chilling.  Never put a prolapsing or eggbound her in with the others who may attack her vent especially if membrane or egg is presenting, and they may kill her. 

Hens can deposit partial or complete eggs into their abdomens triggering septic or benign peritonitis.  All of these situations can become lethal.  Ideally you will have a vet, but owners do not and again I use you to study these things before they may ever happen.  Though I have dealt with them, I am no expert.  I succeeded in solving the crop difficulties, and even my seemingly-healthy hens who were always parasite free inside and out, were laying eggs that were too big, in my opinion, and my losses came from prolapse.

I will comment briefly on the two types of crop situations you may see.  If the hen has eaten fibre or too much hen grit (who knows why) you can use olive oil or other veggie oil by dropper and supplement with some yogurt and some diced tomatoes to get her going again.  But if she has a sour-smelling crop, never use yogurt as the fermentation will encourgae the chemical processes already fouling up her system. Diced tomatoes are always safe, or tomato juice by dropper using her sipping reflex.   In the UK it is common to offer the bird live mealworms or maggots.  I had two hens who had crop impaction but I have not had sour crop, so consult someone who has coped with this successfully. By the way, the 'sipping reflex' is the urge of a hen to swallow liquids offered by dropper.  It's much easier than forcing the beak, and safer.  Avoid her nares (nostrils) though.

Leg trauma is very common in birds, and they can bump into a roost or platform and show a limp even without a cut.  Generally this will pass by offering the multivitamins to boost the healing process.  If there is a break you will have to splint her or vet her to a vet and separate her to avoid bullying.  Cuts can be very bloody and having some wound powder on hand not only stops most bleeding, but conceals the blood as dark blue or black so others will not attack this bird, though you will have to decide if she needs the hospital cage.  It may have to be repeated daily.  Some cuts also need bandaging and treatment with neosporin ointment or antiseptic spray once the wound powder falls off.  Occasionally you may need to bathe and dress a sound, and this will need the bird out of the coop in a darkened safe cage with warmth to prevent chilling down if she is not moving normally and to keep other birds away from the wrapping.  .  Styptic powder or a styptic pencil as sold for humans works like wound powder too.  Try pharmacies for this and tack shops and ag supply stores and feed mills for wound powder.  You can use the powders on combs too, avoiding ears and eyes, but check regularly in case the others go after the bird.  Check birds daily for limps and cuts- they happen fast and the other birds may notice them before you get a chance.

I can't comment on respiratory illness because we haven't experienced any, and we took the precaution in June 2010 to arrange for non-shedding ILT eye drop innoculation. Birds showed a normal immune reaction a week later with weepy eyes and listnesses, which passed. 

Layers are tricky enough to raise without added complications.  Ongoing research into the effects of an adenovirus in the UK and Asia is revealing that a  condition called 'egg drop syndrome' may be more widespread than believed.  This virus is passed from hen to egg and though it has not been reported yet in North America, researchers are suspicious that imported eggs may be gradually affecting chickens.  In this syndrome, egg production drops off suddenly in birds of two years and even younger, and does not resume.  The birds present with various problems resembling septic peritonitis, eggs without shells, problems typically associated with laying and the condition may be lethal from the secondary infections.  So when you ask if the birds from a line are good layers, listen carefully.  Much more needs to be learned about this syndrome and it makes sense to avoid such birds.  A generational disease is not something you want on your property and can ruin your reputation if you sell eggs, chicks or adults.

We have entered a brutal cold spell and freezeup after a winter storm. We're expecting about two weeks of chill factors in the range of -20C.  So I will go to the coop in our red barn a little later in the morning, knowing the layer lamp will be on and that the birds have water and feed, including a suet block.  I will also return in the afternoon to close the pop door, knowing the hens have lots of natural light to finish their day and planty of square footage in an interesting coop.  What I'm saying is that to avoid agression among the birds, especially when they must be indoors, you need to consider coop design and modify to suit their temperaments.  A behavioural emergency can make life very difficult in cold weather and I would prefer not to have to segrate a hen when she might be in a cage, unable to move briskly to keep warm.

(to be continued, Suggestions greatly appreciated)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Coop Hygiene

Some Thoughts on General Coop Hygiene and Ventilation


One of the most important aspects of hygiene is providing adequate ventilation, not to be confused with drafts.  Birds should never be exposed to cold drafts from which they can't escape, particularly on their roosts.  Ventilation is a gentle source of clean, fresh air to promote good respiration, energy and a healthy immune system.    Birds generate a lot of moisture from breathing and other body functions and in cold climates this has to be vented out to avoid frostbite from condensing water vapour.  If you use the deep-litter method of bedding ventilation issues become critical.  We use shavings on old planks over concrete.  Most of our manure gets scraped off platforms and there is little odor thanks to good air flow and a dry coop.

Since we have lots of space overhead in the coop (8') and can vent moist air into a loft space then outdoors, this part is covered.  Most owners need vents at the top of the coop, preferably the kind that can be closed if you experience winter weather and we can open windows as needed especially in the summer.    We came up with a home-made design which uses hinged plexiglass (safer than glass) and hardware cloth on the inside to protect our hens against predators. 


I'd like to share a simple idea about eliminating 6 and 8-legged pests from the moment a coop is built, or given a thorough cleaning.  Consider investing in a no-pest strip.  Such strips are made of wax impregnated with pyrethins.  Made by Vapona, Black Flag, Home Hardware and under various generic labels.  These strips can be hung high in a coop or can be shielded from the birds using hardware cloth or metal screening.  Avoid placing over food or water.  They kill fleas, ticks, lice, mites, ticks, gnats and most flies.  As a preventive they are unsurpassed, and will decrease the need for dusting or spraying birds directly.  Available at most hardware stores, tack shops, co-ops, feed stores and agricultural supply houses.  Uses in coops, barns, restaurants, hospitals and homes.  Added bonus- no fleas in your house, ever if you use them regularly.  Last 3 months.  Cost about $10.

When I returned to the hardware store the next time to replace a strip, the manufacturer had begun to use dichlorovos.  This means I use the strip in the porch of the coop rather than with the birds directly, but since I have food-grade DE and Stable Boy powder in the bedding, it's only a slight change and the new ones last 4 months.

Recently a large shipper of chicks experienced a major problem and diseased chicks entered many backyard flocks, sat times contaminating the existing adults, though most owners saw the problem and were able to check the spread. For others, sadly, deaths and euthanasia became a priority, and vets and government officials became involved. Knowledgeable poultry owners quarantine new birds and many of us operate closed flocks, in which a group of birds enter new premises and remain with only those birds for the duration.

Whether you keep chickens or other livestock, hygiene may be as simple as washing your hands between the handling of say, brooder cihcks and the touching of existing animals. If you know an individual is ill, both medications and disinfectants may be needed, and all materials that come in contact will have to be clearned or in some cases, destroyed. Sometimes when you lose an animal you must do more than compost the body and you need to become informed. A sink in the coop would be a real treasure, but few of us have one. It's something we may be able to add to our barn if we can figure out how to keep the drain from freezing.
There are a lot of issues surrounding coop hygiene and one of the easiest things we can do is to wash our barn clothes regularly, especially when we know there is trouble. Gloves can be a problem and it helps to have a kind that can be wiped down easily or to keep some latex or plastic gloves on hand for situations involving extreme care. If you have a convenient hose or wash tray for boots, you can keep what's in the coop from getting anywhere else, and other things from getting to the coop. You may need a disinfectant from time to time, too.

Look at it this way- what if you get new birds some day that seem okay but are diseased or contaminated in some way? Would you risk infecting the birds you have? Without a plan, every new bird becomes a possible source of trouble. Even worse, with government peering into backyard coops, the introduction of certain diseases could mean your whole flock could be forcibly culled. How awful.

You might need an isolation cage or coop, it's something to plan for before you have trouble. Choose something that can be disinfected.

We spot clean our coop every day.  Some owners use the deep litter method but we prefer the regular removal of droppings. Our time with horses, dogs and cats has opened our eyes, you can bet on that! Oddly, some thing like horse manure can prevent fleas and ticks on other mammals, so that's a discrepant way of looking at things. The ferals that use the barn are litter trained and that makes a huge difference!

We've decided that any implements we use in the coop will never be used in other parts of the barn, to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. The porch on the aisleway side of the coop now has coat hooks and other hangers where we can keep a whisk broom, a scraper, buckets,kitty litter scoop, a first aid bag and other things that are for the birds only.

The cleanest agricultural operation I have seen is a pig operation near here. Hard to believe, right! No smells to irritate the district, disinfectant trays for boots, face masks, and the workers can be in only one barn or part of the barn, no exceptions. On-site laundry- amazing. naturally they have the lowest disease rate in the province. I wan't allowed in with the piglets, I had to see these things through a window...

Porch to Coop

It's important to design your coop in such a way that panels can be unscrewed to inspect wall cavities for pests, and you want to do this so that you don't damage your materials. In cold climates insulation is a must, and you can use the fibreglass/vapor seal/tuck tape methid with screwed (not nailed) panels. Another thing you can do is to caulk cracks and seams, and there are products that can easily be peeled away if you have to open a section of wall. Read the instructions though, you should not apply these with birds nearby.

Use screws

Caulking is a concern.  Sometimes you can caulk from the back side of a panel if it's under construction and there are products like Draft-Stop that can be peeled away if you ever have to remove a section.  If you have to caulk on the chicken side, try to do it before you prime and paint and check for loose bits so you can use a razor or something to avoid ends that the chickens can grab.  We used latex to minimize toxic influence.
Nothing teaches you more about barn hygiene than horses and feral cats, imho. The horses because of the sheer magnitude of manure and the gigantic wet spots, and the ferals because of the rather unique, um, scent (especially toms). Well, I admit to being tired of carting horse manure, to the point where I have moved some of my vegetable garden to the manure pile instead of moving the manure uphill to the garden. It is a matter of pride that all the ferals use one of six litter boxes I clean daily, and that even the occasional visitors conform to feral colony rules. Long ago I met a man who had a litter-trained rooster who lived in his kitchen, but I bet most of us don't have chickens who act like that.

I have heard that chickens require special attention to ammonia and dust. Since I will be raising day-old chicks and keeping 12 hens, with any luck, I want to start out well.

The owner of the co-op sold me one of his 50 lb. bags of diatomaceous earth (DE) after I noted that it wasn't on his price list. He brings it in by the one-ton pallet and has agreed to see it to me when I need some. He has huge flocks, and uses it to start new stock by dusting all cracks and anything that might harbour parasites. This I can do, the coop has never been used for birds to my knowledge since the barn was built in the mid-1970's.The bag that I bought in May 0f 2008 will last until May of 2010 so even at $51 Cdn is was a good buy.

 'Stable Boy', a deodorizer I have used for horses and cats, and which the co-op owner also uses liberally with his poultry. This has stopped the ammonia. If I scrape the shelf daily into a cleaning bucket, hopefully the ammonia won't build. The DE and Stable Boy can also be used on the floor planks and in the nesting boxes.  Update- didn't install the dropping board because the birds like to use the roosts for a little while after supper for grooming and gossip before moving to a platform over the nest boxes. I prefer spot-cleaning to deep litter method so I have no buildup of manure and gasses and I nevr have to cean the coop down- it stays dry and nearly odor-free.

By the way, if you use shavings in the coop and discover that some bales are extra-heavy, they are probably filled with sawdust, from the end of a run at the mill.  Next time, ask to put them back and get bales of average weight, and you'll have less dust in the coop. And once or twice a year I shoo the hens out into the run and close the pop door so that I can use the shop vac to get rid of grooming dust, spider webs and debris in nooks and carnnies.

Maggie checking the first eggs of the day
This is that the platform looks like after they have roosted overnight.

The dropping have some food-grade diatomaceous earth underneath and some leftover seed from wild birdseed treats.  I use a paint scraper and a catch bucket to clean up daily, getting most of the droppings that would dampen or foul the coop.

Scraper and catch bucket
I like the rectangular bucket because it eases up to the flat edges of the platform without spillage. We dump in a seasonal compost pit.

Most lime or limestone garden products are alkaline and are designed to neutralize soil acids (sweeten soil). They will burn and I can only imagine the horror of destroying the skin on the feet of chickens. I also avoid masonary products like mortar and quickline. These are so alkaline that in Canada they have one of the highest ratings on the containers for hazardous materials.You must also check agricultural limes- some are awful but should be labelled. We like Stable Boy stall product made from volcanic zeolites (absorbant) and food-grade diatomaceous earth (dessicant).  It's produce in Canada and is safe to use with birds and all other livestock.

Stable Boy product

Another item we use is a pest strip to kill flies. We don't have major problems because most of the biting flies will not remain in the shade of a barn, but in August or September we might hand a pyrethin wax strip called a 'Black Flag' or Vapona No-Pest Strip. It's good for three months, can be hung over poultry (avoid directly over food/water) and will work on most kinds of insect parasites. Be sure to check any rain barrels of other collection dishes that hold liquids for mosquito larvae- change water as often as you feasibly can!

Food storage is a critical subject too. We've had success with Rubbermaid (and other brands of) wheeled covered rubbish containers. Others suggest galvanized steel which is chew-proof. Because we've been rat-free for 21 years we are able to use plastic. Whichever you choose, keeping food from contamination and any kind of spoilage is vital. If a bag gets wet and you can't use the feed immediately, you may have to get rid of it. And remember not to dump bad food near the coop, or you may attract rodents. If you need them raccoon straps are available at hardware stores.  Never use feed which has gotten damp or moldy. If a feed source has had mopisture problems from leakage or flooding, reconsider buying even if the feed seems dry- spores can collect along seams and in the bottom and poison your birds before you know the cause.

Waste Disposal

When you clean your coop or if you happen to have a carcass at some point or even bones and offal from an eaten chicken, disposal has to be considered.  We have an excellent waste management company that takes organics in a green cart, but sometimes a greater urgency is required.  As our coop and barn are treated with Stable Boy and diatomaceous earth, bedding is pre-treated.  We generally place this in a designated dump pit behind the barn, which should be 50 feet from any living chickens to keep mold spores out.  Bones and other kitchen organics go into the pit, routinely covered with Stable Boy and fresh compost/earth.  We relocate our dump pit yearly, keeping track, in sequence, so that in time we can re-plant those sections with crops like pumpkin and squash.  This is a south-west side and underneath we have years of horse manure which has already broken to black earth.  We are zoned to do this, and be sure to check your municipal codes.  I have taken a few hen bodies far over to a fox trail on the property, knowing I am being watched, and I check half an hour later- the body is always gone.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tips for hen care in winter

Eating the last pumpkin of 2010

So you have water in the coop- fantastic!  This may be a good time to invest in some heater tape. If have an air leak near your intake or a cold area under your coop/barn, and even if you insulate, you might also need some heater tape. This is available at all hardware and some feed/ag stores, and even in unheated spaces like our barn, it prevents ice crystals in the pipe which can cause intermittent freezing and thawing.


Now our barn is quite rough, but here is the uptake from underground, houses in a box that is insulated. There is an electric outlet in the box and the tape is plugged into it. Even if we have extreme low temps to -20C with wind, this device protects the water. We have even had it hold out after prolonged power outages of 2-3 days.



I have to confess that some of the modifications we made to the coop and run are for my comfort. And speaking of that, there is nothing quite so comforting as a strong roof on part or all of your run. If the coop is small, even a porch outside the pop door does wonders because chickens that don't want to be out can enjoy some light without much wind. If you have some scrap plexiglass, vinyl or vapour barrier you can provide both light and protection. It doesn't take a lot and is worth having the birds in a snow and wind-free zone. If you get a heavy snow, this protection extends to the hardware on your pop door and ensures that you can get out there, do your chores and get back to the warm house asap. Just be sure that the roof can hold a snow load, or is sloped sufficiently to shed the mass safely.

If you get into a situation where the temps are abysmal, lightly bury a few apples or some squash in the hen's bedding. Even if the waterer gives up and especially if you lose power to an electric waterer, the moisture keeps the birds going while you cope. Remember to score the squash, or pumpkin so the flesh is accessible.

Use sheets of vinyl, vapour barrier or used plastic to baffle the wind. If you can manage to frame it, you can remove in summer and put it back up the following year. Snow boards are good too, they cut the wind and when the snow builds it acts as an insulator. We used old sheathing that had been in horse stalls.


If you have a convenient electric outlet, perhaps one by your back door, you can use an electric dog bowl for the chooks and other pets:


I use a rubber stock bowl under mine so that the hens perch on the outer edge and keep the water cleaner. Sheltered is better of course if you have a porch or can set something over it.

Make a huddle box. Old crate is ideal, place it upside down and load it with bedding. Try to find one the right size that your hens can fill it without piling-on. If you cut two openings, that's even better, but leave two sides baffled to any drafts.

It's bad enough that you have had dreadfully cold weather, but after you can have  thaw problems. One of these is mould. If you see any, you need to change bedding if you have enough, and check nest boxes and all other parts of the coop in case melting snow is creeping in. The spores of most moulds are harmful to birds and can cause severe respiratory illness.

It also helps to dessicate the mould with food-grade diatom powder or one of the various stall products especially those made for horses. Ventilate well as you are able and re-check that the wood or other substrate is not fostering the mould even after you clean the first bit. Think dry, dry dry.

Ice and snow can creep up under the edge of shingles and you may not have needed 'drip edging' before to direct water off the edge of the roof of your coop (or home), it's inexpensive and stops the building under your shingles. It can be installed on any day at 10C or above. You may have some drips causing mould if you have not been using this.There is another aspect to winter chickenry that deserves notice. Not only must we contend with cold and frozen water, but also with moulting at the very time that the days begin to shorten. Because the birds have been without as much light, they can be deficient in Vitamin D at this time and beyond the winter solstice. It can delay moult and interfere with egg quality when hens begin laying again.

You may be offering plenty of limestone and it may also be in the layer feed, but without Vitamin D the 'medullary complex' of the hen ( the pelvis and other bones involved in shifting calcium around) may not have all they need to make the shells. Calcium and Vitamin D in sufficient quantities are vital. A hen can become very stressed without enough of both as winter deepens.

Easiest solution is to give poultry vitamins in the water or infant liquid vitamins, the kind without added iron ( hard on the kidneys). Or you can offer cod liver oil. Put some in the bottom of the font every day until you notice the hen pick up and produce. Then do so every few days. A sure sign of this can be a limp not caused by trauma.

My old hens are on multivitamins in water now every day and I'm starting to get eggs.

On the same note, if you had a large bag of layer feed at the start of winter, its nutritional value may be declining. Same solution!

It's January 23, 2011 and we are in a period of severe low temperatures and they are expected to worsen for several days until a snow storm comes up the I-95 from the Carolinas.  I was able to open the pop door today because it is calm.  When I can, I want the ladies to have a choice, knowing that in coming days they may be indoors and cranky at that decision. I have a large spaghetti squash saved to tomorrow, when record low temps are expected.

The past three days have been a serious challenge.  For over 48 hours we experienced chill factors of -31 C.  This is where the coop design paid off.  I kept the hens in, and they had sufficient floor and platform space to avoid conflict.  They enjoyed a huge spaghetti squash I had been saving for them and the insulated coop did not go below -4C despite high winds.  It was the kind of weather that makes you wonder if it's safe to take another breath.  The electric water bowl worked beautifully, even though the catch bucket iced up the moment I removed it from the coop. 

In the main part of the bran the cats continued to have plenty of drinking water and I vitaminized theirs and that of the hens.  Keeping vitamin D3 levels up during the dark heart of winter is important for all mammals and birds, especially when they must be indoors.  No frostbite.  But I was bundled up so tight I could barely move.  I brought a hot thermos of water to the barn to unplug the tip of the tap on our water source;  the inside was toasty with the heater tape but I find that a plug of ice forms just at the end of the tap during severe cold. We may get more of this in February, and we're expecting a snow storm overnight, January 26, 2011.

The storms continue, averaging one every 5 days.  This one, a 'double whammy, on Feb. 01 and 02, 2011, is expected to affect 100 million in North America.  It was -15C before chill factor before I went to tend the hens, and a broadcaster on CTV eas urging folks to exercise even in the brutal cold, because 'experts' advise it.   But after donning panties, bra, thermal vest, thermal T, thermal crew, leggings, pants, acrylic socks, wool socks, Baffin boots, scarf, anorak, touque, winter gloves...how are we supposed to MOVE? And I haven't seen a single video of the 'experts' out there in the cold. Just saying...

Sometimes you have to protect the barns and coops, even if the chickens could be outside.  We're in that kind of storm now.  We can't risk having snow and cold winds enter the pop door even with a covered run, and we can't keep the cat portals open and have the plumbing jeapordized.  It's the kind of storm in which power might go out so the heater tape may eventually be useless on the pipes.   It's -11C at this time and chill factors are -15C.  Wind gusts will be substantial and over 40 - 60 cm of blowing snow is expected.  So be sure your coop is large enough and designed well enough so that your hens have enough water and feed for an extended period without you having to worry past your own safety and ability to reach the other buildings when the storm ends.  Our worst winter storm was in 2004 when there were 2 metre drifts outside the main entrance and the only way in was through a window.  We had elderly horses then and they were not amused.  But they had box stalls and lots of provisions until we could get to them.