Quick notes about the chickens. They’re doing great. They survived the winter just fine, all 13 hens + Hot Cocoa (our lucky rooster), but we had a strange hen death last Sunday (3/21/10). Jason found a chicken that just up and died, and it’s vent/bottom area was all pecked out and gross. No more details, as I decided not to look, but he said it was not pretty. We are thinking cannibalism, but we never see them peck at each other, and cannibalism at night is unlikely. Perhaps she died of some unknown cause, and then the other chickens saw blood and couldn’t help themselves. (Chickens are relentless carnivores, and they are naturally drawn to peck at anything red.)
Since then, no other deaths. We’ve had the hoophouse stationary all winter, with tarps covering them on three sides, and a half door on the south side to protect from drafts. But it was open all winter, as they are hardy, and they did fine. But perhaps they’re bored, and haven’t been moved all winter, so they’re bugging each other. Since Sunday, we have let the chickens out to free range a few hours before nightfall to avoid boredom. They naturally come home at dusk, so waiting until a few hours before nightfall ensures they don’t go too terribly far. Also, we’re more likely to be home to watch for hawks. So far, I’ve seen hawks, but not near the chickens. The chickens stay in/near the woods, anyway, so are smart in that respect. They’re so cute; they stay together in a big flock and rarely separate. They have wandered farther each day, but never too far. I make sure to go out (or have Jason go out) and shut the hoophouse at nightfall so we don’t get raccoons or other varmints in the coop.
We took the heated waterer out of the coop this week, and spread the bedding around in prep for moving the hoophouse around the pasture again. Once we start to move them every few days, they won’t free range (to protect from hawks), as they’ll have fresh grass and bugs available. The hoophouse is huge, though, and we need to find a better solution to help Jason move the beast. He’s going to have back problems again if we’re not careful, and we can’t afford that. We’re thinking wheels of some sort, but then how to prevent varmints from sneaking in through the gaps that the wheels will cause (by propping the frame off the ground)? We have considered letting them free range and just accepting losses as they come. Obviously, that’s what we’re doing now.
The egg production slowed drastically in mid-December, cutting back to 1-2 eggs a day (if that). There were days with no eggs at all. Just as drastically, in mid-February, it picked back up. Five one day, eight the next, and 10-12/day since then. I know it’s daylight dependent, but I didn’t expect it to be so sudden. I thought it would be gradual, like the ascent to long summer days. But I was wrong. Happily so, as we missed the eggs.
If you’re local and want pastured eggs, we’ll be selling them for $2.50/dozen. Just let me know.