Life at the intersection of electronics, software and poultry.
Hi, FarmBoy,Your coop appears sufficiently airy to preclude "eye concerns" noted earlier.Re: wintering. As I recall, your lows drop to -25F. I'm presuming that the coop is roofed, 4-sided, high, and DRY. ("Mad as a wet hen," ring any bells?) A bale of clean, dry STRAW should provide ample protection for your flock. I'd suggest filling to a depth of about 6" at first. They'll pack it down overnight (or quicker). They'll "tell" you when it's time for topping-up the straw.Presuming that your part of So. MN engages in winter road sanding, I'd suggest that you collect a few shovel-fulls (or, better, a small-ish, plastic trash "can") and dole it out to the flock for grit (for their crops, aka, gizzards).From the, "Who-asked-you?," department: Should your plans change and you choose to raise birds for the table, too, I'd suggest that you consider trying Black Australorps, e.g., http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/ product/black_australorps.html. Over the years in a blatant display of non-loyalty, I "tried" several dozen breeds. While none presented any problem (unlike, ahem, goats in general), the BA's seemed to offer the best balance of egg yield and table fare... ditto, their economic input/output. (Pressed, I'd offered Barred Rocks as a second choice.)Cooped as (implicitly) described above, none of the breeds showed any distress at altitude in the Adirondacks ... where every year for at least two weeks, the daytime temperature never gets UP to -25F.Re: Garden. Combining coop & run with crops works well. I used a (highly) modified version of Lady Eve Balfour's ... and harvested tomatoes and (hot!) peppers well into February. (One of the items Cornell suggested I patent; for my part, I'm an arch-copyleft-type.)Jim
Hi Jim:We live at the end of a gravel road, so I shoveled up some and put it in the bottom of the feeder trough. My thought was the mix of sand & various grades of gravel should be enough to let them decide what size grit was needed. Didn't seem to make sense to purchase grit when there's so much of it lying around.Since opening up the unused part of the garden, they aren't much interested in the processed feed: plenty of grasshoppers, ticks and the like are available. I've even seen one of the pullets running with what looked like a baby garter snake.You can see some fairly large gaps between some boards on one side of the coop, but those will be covered later when I insulate. The wood we were given was free, but some of it was awfully warped.There are openings (covered in poultry netting) up below the roof to provide cooling in summer. and I'll probably leave the small 1'x1' door open all winter for ventilation.The coop should be dry, but I'm still waiting for a good ol' summer storm to test it. I can't believe how little rain we've had all summer. Living on top of a hill, we get NAILED by storms all the time, but there haven't been any in months.
Farmboy and Jim,I have recently built a back-yard coop, and I wonder if you have any additional comments on keeping them over the winter. I have read about putting a light bulb in the coop, but is it really necessary? Is the good supply of hay for insulation giing to be sufficient?Al B
Al:I haven't had hens over the winter yet, but from what I have read about people in similar climates, as long as the coop isn't drafty and is reasonably insulated, the heat from the birds is enough to keep them warm. I'm going to do deep layer straw on the floor and add a layer of insulation between the ceiling and roof. If that's not enough I can add blanket insulation to the walls.
Hi, Al and farmboy,I apologize, farmboy, if I’m encroaching upon your turf. Being an outsider to blogs, I can honestly claim abject ignorance of blog etiquette.Al, for specifics, I’d need to have some idea of what your winters are like. Do note, however, that the comment that I made in an earlier post here specifically suggested (field NOT broom) straw NOT (ever) hay. Entirely different material with radically different physical (insulating) characteristics. (Off-topic: Poultry manure is extremely “hot,” which is desirable provided it’s composted properly, i.e., typically not applied directly to crops. Ergo, the detritus from cleaning your henhouse periodically can prove a great organic gardening soil amendment. However, hay will invariably contain seeds that you don’t want AND which will survive even the 135F temperatures of a relatively hot compost pile.)That said, I’ve found that -50F (ambient) on exposed windy (55kts) mountain tops is not a particular problem for a flock of one to five dozen chickens (the limits of my direct experience), provided:1. It’s dry -- including raised floor.2. It’s fully enclosed (4-sides, floor, and roof).3. It offers raised nesting boxes and/or raised roosting rungs (as in farmboy’s).4. It’s NOT sealed with ANY form of vapor barrier, i.e., you want some draft/circulation.My experience with livestock has been that higher-energy level water is the real killer (quite literally). If the animals can keep reasonably dry, they’ll fare fine; if they are kept damp, they’ll die. That’s why you should not introduce any form of vapor barrier in a frigid climate. Just as your breath condenses (“see your breath”), so does that of livestock. In the case of hens, that high-energy moisture will penetrate to their skin, condense, and wick away their body heat. Dead bird(s); no eggs; Rice Krispies.Do recognize that, should you intend to harvest your flock’s offerings, you’ll need access. That access, however, is a potential portal to disaster. If you look at the background of farmboy’s garden, you’ll see, if I recall correctly, forestation including oak (I think). Fox, ferrets, and that lot will deem your henhouse tantamount to the last word in fine-dining if it’s not well buttoned-up. In the same vein, weasels (most likely as ermine) will routinely eat the feet/legs off roosting chickens on raised “netting,” e.g., rabbit wire, floor. I floated my henhouse (scratching-pen, nesting-boxes, and roost) on old (real) railroad ties on two foot centers. (An effective preemptive strike against weather’s worst.)I realize that you fellows are undertaking farming as a lark, however, I was playing for keeps. I’m confining my observations to your interests levels.Apropos nothing, here are such few shots as I have of the farm, down here, http://www.integratedstrategicanalytics.com/farm.htm. When I’m next up there, I’ll look around for photographs more useful to your collective ends.Slainte,Jim
Farmboy & Al,Okay, my incipient senescence is showing. Yes, Al, you should keep a light on in your henhouse. However, it's not for heat. Rather, it's to provide a biological prompt to the hens to, "keep up the good work." Otherwise, they tend to go on holiday during the shorter daylight hours of winter. Twelve to sixteen hours of 75W equivalent was what I used.Jim
Jim:Don't worry; I welcome constructive comments & criticism.I had some predator concerns so the floor of the coop is made of 1" thick white oak, floated off the ground on 8" landscaping timbers. Most of our property is hilly, and it was easier to use level timbers than to level the ground itself. It would have to be one very determined animal to even get under the floorboards as there are no openings on the underside.My understanding is that direct drafts of cold air are a problem, but ventilation is needed. I do plan to close up the gaps between the boards, but there will still be adequate ventilation: the coop is dry (we've finally had some good thunderstorms with high winds to test that :-) but provides enough ventilation that even on the hottest days we've had, it's comfortable for me inside.BTW: the vents are up under the roof and covered in poultry netting. Our dog does a good job of keeping predators away, but I wanted to be sure.I'm glad you made the comment about seeds in hay as I hadn't thought of that. Right now I have a mix of mostly straw and some hay that was close at hand on the floor, but I'll have to be careful about where I use it when it's cleaned out.-lyndon
Hi, Lyndon,Sounds as though you’ve got matters under control. Any eggs, yet?In my “world,” my setters occupied the topmost rank in the pecking order. While they were expected to (and enthusiastically did) raise the alarm, my interest was in keeping them securely kenneled and safe; it fell to me to protect the place. Along our section of the Canadian border, coy-dogs, coyotes, wolves, bear and such related pet-shredders are common. (In truth, that’s one of the area’s principal attractions.) My setters would likely have sallied forth only to have perished for their trouble.From hard experience, I found that coop meshing could have no dimension (not merely opening surface area) larger than those of “rabbit wire” and be constructed of similar or heavier gauge. The above noted nasties make short work of expanses of any kind of wire, but they generally don’t attempt smallish (e.g., soffit vents) openings. Weasels, however, are remarkably small, agile, quick, resourceful, vicious, and voracious. For them, I learned, common chicken wire != impediment (much less, deterrent).Jim
I know there are weasels in MN, but I don't know how much of a threat they are around here. I sometimes hear crowing in the distance, so I know there are other chickens around here. Should find out where and talk to the owners to see what kind of troubles they have had to deal with.No eggs yet, but I am waiting (im)patiently. Should be starting in about 4 weeks or so. I hear the ducks begin laying a bit earlier, so perhaps before the end of August I may have a few duck eggs? Can only hope. Already got a bag of layer feed waiting in the wings and I expect to run out of the current feed just at about the time I should start giving them the layer feed. These guys are doing a good job of devouring everything in sight though. I just trimmed the grass from around my garden and dumped the bag of clippings into the pen and they were on it in seconds.
Jim and Farmboy,Thanks for the good advice. I have built a new coop that should suite for winter. It is 3' wide, 4' long, and 3' high. I have this coop sitting on a framework 3' off the ground. A ladder allows access between the coop and run. I plan to keep 4-6 birds (as many that will fit on the roost) over the winter. I have Red Stars and white Leghorns. I will pile in the straw as you describe. I have read in various books and websites that a vapor barrier and insulation should be added to the ceiling of the coop. Without this, there is danger of condensation bulding up, melting, and the chickens get wet. I plan to leave it alone and monitor the situation as winter progresses. My gut tells me to listen to Jim about the vapor barrier, and leave it out. I will leave a vent for the air to escape from the coop, so hopefully the moisture will not build up. Next Spring I plan to get some Black Australorps, as they seem like the perfect bird for my situation. I live in St. Louis Park, MN, and chickens are not really welcome in my city (yet).ThanksAl B
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