Winter is almost here. In some areas of the country, snow has already begun to fall. I already am craving warmer weather and I bet my flock is too! During the winter, I try to keep them busy, happy and preoccupied with winter boredom busters. Chickens can easily get bored, especially with a few feet of snow on the ground. Unless I shovel out extensive pathways, they refrain from wandering. Bored chickens can easily get into mischief such as egg eating and feather picking.
It seems that mid-Winter is upon us. We are finally experiencing our first snowstorm, yet everyone is eager for Spring. Gardening and seed catalogs are abundant in the mailboxes, yet they seem to be the only sign of warmer weather ahead. This time of year can be downright depressing for some. The joys of the holidays are behind us. The skies are perpetually gray and gloomy. The trees are bare, revealing their tangled branches reaching for the sky, and the grass is a dull muted shade of green. I too have fallen victim to the gloom of Winter. After having lived in Southern California for years, where it seems like everyday is filled with brilliant sunshine, adapting to gloomy Winter weather has taken some time.
Even the chickens seem to be done with Winter. Despite my continuing efforts of smothering them with toys, treats, distractions, hanging balls of cabbages and affection, they too are bored. I can’t blame them. There is not much to see. Birds have migrated away. The wild turkeys have not been around. The little chipmunks are busy stuffing their cheeks instead of teasing the girls. Local squirrels are hanging out by the bird feeder and I can’t be out with them for hours at a time.
To say I am frustrated is a huge understatement. I think that the chickens are also frustrated too. I am having a dilemma with my waterers. No matter the height of the waterers, the chickens keep scratching copious amounts of dirt into the water. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that they are having monster truck shows in the run. As the chickens drive these mini chicken sized monstrosities over the dust bath craters dirt shoots in the air everywhere.
When I have been going out around 11am each day, I find a slurry of muddy sludge in the drinking part of the waterers. It seems as soon as I refresh them, they are again filled with mud scratched up from the run. The run itself is not wet or muddy. In fact, it has stayed relatively dry because I have had it covered during the rain and snow. When I clean the coop, I have been tossing the old shavings and straw into the run area as well. It is composted rather quickly by the chickens and seems to be a source of busy work for them. They love to scratch at the shavings and find goodies that were missed in the bedding when it was in the housing.
Today and tomorrow the weather is going to take a dive from the 20s to single digits. I hope that the chickens are able to stay warm. So far, without any types of heat in the coop, the chickens remain unfazed by the cold. I do have to remember that our breeds are listed as “cold hardy”. I also have to remember that I am a mammal and they are not. They are birds. They probably feel things differently. However with this weather, the waterers will likely need to be thawed a few times during the day. I guess thawing the waterers repeatedly is one way to clear the dirt for now. I am definitely going to have to figure out a solution come Spring. At least when the snow disappears they will be able to free-range more often, taking their monster truck show on the road.
The flock seems to be so happy that the days are getting longer. They are starting to lay more eggs and each day they seem to be returning to the coop a tad bit later each evening. I am starting to find the routine comical. In the evenings, I peer out the window to see if the flock has gone in for the night. I don’t dare open the garage door to let them know that I am coming. They are so curious. As soon as I venture outside, there they are in the run staring back at me wondering if I brought them any treats; those silly chickens. I tell them to go to sleep. I return inside and then wait 5 minutes more. At some point, this week I realized that I could no longer go out at the same time everyday. The days are indeed getting longer. I also find that this is starting to remind me of bedtime with my kids, only I don’t find it as amusing. “I need water.” “I need the light on.” “Will you stay?” Many return trips have often yielded a cranky mom.
Last night, I went to put the flock in around 5pm. They were all inside. I could hear low chattering and peeping that they do to one another. They make their rounds saying goodnight to each other and checking to make sure everyone is okay. Quietly, I opened the run. As I was closing the coop door, I whispered, “Goodnight”. Like popcorn, out came Meesha and Feathers. It was too funny. Again, I found myself waiting for them to go back inside. I am glad that my chickens are happy. I think that they are starting to sense that half of winter is now behind us. If only I can get my timing right and remember that bedtimes are never easy for kids and apparently chickens.