(Those of you who read today’s post heading in a Foghorn Leghorn voice get a gold star.)
It’s COLD. And I’m Canadian, born in Montreal and raised in London, Ontario, so I know a little something about cold.
We had a very mild, wet December, and there’s no snow on the ground. The Man is increasingly irritated with this state of affairs, as he’s waiting for our brand new pond to freeze over for skating, but days in the 50s, such as we’ve been having, have been laughing at his plans.
But not today! Today’s high is last night’s low. It’s 19F out there, and they’re calling for a low of zero degrees tonight. That’s Fahrenheit, people. (Minus 18 for those of the Celsius persuasion.) This is MUCH colder than my chickens have ever known.
Now, I know, rationally, that they’ll be fine. The good people at the Backyard Chickens Forums come from all over the globe, bringing a vast, deep wealth of experience to the table for us newbies. Some of them raise chickens in Minnesota, and even the Alaskan Interior, and their coops have neither heat nor insulation. Those are some hard-core chickens. Even my good friend Mike from Thunder Bay has assured me that my chickens, like his, will be fine.
And yet…I worry. I raised these beings from their first day in the world, when they looked like this:
People comment, from time to time, on how much I love my chickens. They are certainly very important to me, and I enjoy that they are very much individuals. But it’s not that I love them, the way I love my cats or my dog. It’s that I am responsible. They are in my charge and depend on me. They need me. Their very lives depend on me being there, every day. Is that love? Maybe it is.
We knew serious cold was coming, and we planned for it when we built the coop back in May. The girls roosts are not round, as they would be were they wild birds, sleeping in trees. Their roosts are 2x4s, wide side up. This means the girls sleep on flat feet, which are covered by their fluffy belly feathers to keep their toes safe from frostbite. They will sleep with their heads tucked under their wings tonight, to protect their combs and wattles.
So, today’s challenges ore two-fold: keep the chickens warm, insofar as that is possible and reasonable, and give them constant access to liquid water. The latter is especially important. Water is vital to all life, yes, but scarcity of water, for even a little while, decreases egg production. Eggs are largely water.
I’ll be bringing them warm water every couple of hours today. I sprinkled some of their feed down the hill, leading them, in theory, from the barn down toward the second field, away from the roads. Futile, I’m sure. And, I made them breakfast.
Stop it. Food is scarce, and it’s a one-foot day. (A “one-foot day” is a day cold enough that the chickens stand on one foot every chance they get.) They need extra calories to keep their little furnaces running on high. So, I made them some warm oatmeal, with Alexia’s egg from yesterday scrambled on top for protein, some raisins, and a hearty dusting of crushed red peppers.
Yes, red peppers. Did you know that chickens have no heat receptors in their taste buds? They will chow down on very hot food without blinking. Red pepper, in particular, in the form of crushed red peppers or cayenne, is an ancient tool of chicken keepers. It is reputed to naturally deworm chickens, without the taste that garlic leaves in the eggs, or the two-week “don’t eat the eggs” withdrawal period of chemical dewormers.
But, more than that, red pepper is reputed to kick start laying in young pullets, and increase egg production in laying hens. How it does so is a matter of debate. Some say it just makes the chickens drink more water, leading to more eggs. Eggs are largely water.
I tend to believe, though, the people who say it does so by increasing circulation. And if there’s one thing my girls need today, it’s increased circulation.
One more thing, I will be checking for eggs more frequently today. I just picked up one laid by Coraline not too long ago, and it is cold as a stone. Had I waited much longer, it would have frozen and cracked its shell.
Eggs are mostly water.