Feathered Freeloaders

My hens have not been producing much lately.  Egg production can go down in winter, and I think that may be what is going on, but it’s really down.  I’ve kept track of the eggs we receive from them since we first started getting eggs.  Last December (2014) we got 195 eggs, this December we got 170.  We have more hens this year than last year – last year we had 9 at this time, and right now we have 15.  I know one hen for sure isn’t laying, our “escape artist” hen – she lays white eggs, and is the only one that does.  She’s one of our newer hens from this year. We have not gotten a white egg in at least 3 weeks.  The chickens all seem healthy, and I have a heat lamp on them, but maybe the heat lamp isn’t enough to keep them producing with the cold.  We’re down by 70 eggs from November  – In November we got 239.   Our temperatures are down from November, but not as cold as last winter, luckily.  We’ve only gotten down into the teens at the coldest, maybe 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  I think last year I may have had a white heat lamp in the coop, this year it’s red.  Either way, it’s kind of depressing.  I’ll just keep an eye on them, I guess, and hope for spring.

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Some of the freeloaders. They don’t come out into the snow much. We open the coop door for them in the daytime.
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Chickens!

These are my chickens from summer 2014
These are my chickens from summer 2014 – curious about the camera.

I currently have 11 chickens.  Last summer we ordered some baby chicks.  I wanted a colorful mix so I got 2 Production Red, 2 white (maybe leghorns or Production White), four Black Australorps, and 2 Barred Rock (they are black and white speckled) hens.  For the roosters I wanted something completely different, so I got a Silver Laced Wyandotte and a Buff Orpington.  The Buff is the orange chicken in the bottom of the picture above.  I lost one of my Barred Rock hens in November, she got sick and died suddenly, and we never really figured out what happened to her.  Luckily nobody else got sick.

We converted a sauna into a chicken coop for them.  We originally made a small 8×8 fence outside for them, but they destroyed the grass in about a week, so I figured they needed more room for foraging.  We currently have a 15×20 fenced enclosure for them.  Right now it’s winter so they haven’t been going outside.  Their coop has a full sized door for us to go through, and also a tiny chicken door.  On days when it’s warmer (above freezing and/or sunny) I open their tiny door for them, but they still won’t venture out in the snow.

chickens outside
Here are my chickens in their fenced enclosure, summer 2014. They weren’t quite full grown yet.

They are a lot of fun to watch.  I have them fenced in because I was worried about them getting eaten by something, or running into the road, which is about 50 yards away. They really don’t like to stray from the others much though; I’ve had a couple of escapees and I usually find them trying to get back into the enclosure. I saw a TV show recently where people had their chickens just hang out in the yard with them free-ranging, and I may try that a bit this next summer.  I thought I could have them come out when I’m outside to herd them up if needed.   We have dogs but they have their own fenced-in yard, so the chickens wouldn’t be in danger from them.  I’ll have to try it and see how they do.

I also want to try to fence a tiny bit of their enclosure in and grow them some lettuce, and then take the fence down for when the lettuce is ready. I may not have to do that if I can let them wander a bit – and the grass may grow back in their enclosure a bit if they are not always in there.

These guys give us a lot of eggs too.  Probably about 5-8 a day, even right now in February. I have a heat lamp on 24/7 in their coop just because I worry about them freezing, and that may be why they are laying so much even during winter.  We got the chicks in the beginning of June and didn’t get eggs until mid October, but they’ve been very prolific since. We love eggs so we’ve been eating most of them, but I have people asking me to sell them eggs, so we are planning on adding a few more hens, just to be able to sell eggs.