Returning… and Over-wintering Chickens

It feels a bit strange to be back in this space, writing again — almost like slipping into a long-forgotten piece of clothing to discover that it still fits but feels slightly more formal than what you’ve been wearing lately.  I didn’t decide to walk away from blogging… it just happened.  Too many deadlines at work, too many responsibilities, not enough time.  But I’ve finished my online courses (second graduate certification complete!) and the semester is winding down in pile after pile of completed assignments and the month of December is lingering tantalizingly on the horizon with the promise of craft projects and baking, days where the house can linger quietly with the smell of warming ginger.

I will admit that I’m still trying to figure out who I am in this space.  This year, the gardening/homesteading projects were remarkably successful.  We raised 27 chicks to adulthood without a single loss, and after sending 17 to the Amish for butchering, we have a freezer full of meat and a small laying flock out in our wintering shed that are providing us with between five and eight eggs a day (I sell three to four dozen a week at school).  We kept two roosters to keep watch over our girls, and so far everyone has been delightfully well-behaved.

One of my greatest concerns over the last six weeks has been the process of over-wintering the chickens and ensuring that they are kept warm enough during our winters which can dip – for weeks – below zero.  We’ve insulated the roof of the shed, built wide perches to protect delicate toes, and installed a water heater that keeps the metal base of our waterer just above 35 degrees when temperatures drop.  If need be, we can install an infrared heatlamp (we have one on hand), but we’re using these first cold snaps to help the birds get used to colder weather and grow thicker feathers just in case we get an ice storm and lose power this winter.

We’ve also made the decision to go with a composting floor, which will hopefully provide a few extra watts of heat, as the pine shavings begin to decompose.  I’ve been remarkably surprised by how good the coop smells, as long as droppings are scooped up and deposited into the outdoor compost bins every morning.  To move things along and keep the humidity low, I sprinkle two cups of food grade diatomaceous earth (available at the local feed store) once a week and turn it in with fresh shavings (adding about half a bale a week to keep everything fresh).  One of the best methods I’ve found to get the floor turned is to toss down a cup of birdseed on Sunday mornings and let the girls pick through the shavings for it — it keeps them active and helps turn the floor.

The only minor problem we’ve had is the occasional frozen egg.

So what can you hope for if you check back in over the next few weeks?  I plan on beginning to add more recipes for healthy (and not so healthy) holiday snacks and gifts that can be made at home.  I hope to share images of the stockings I made last weekend and the snowman sampler I’m making to give to my fiance’s cousin.  In addition to this, please expect some simple ideas for easy home decorations and much, much more about the chickens!

Thanks for stopping by!  It’s nice to be back.

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