Winter. It will soon be here, like it or not. I've always enjoyed winter (good thing, because we live in Michigan and it can get pretty brutal), but I'm looking forward to winter more than ever this year. After a long, hot summer, filled with days of working from sun-up to sun-down, I am ready for a break, ready to hibernate. Bring on the evenings of dimmed lights, cups of hot tea and cozying up with a good book (or two or three - my reading list stack is starting to teeter). We are ready for slow days, long nights and comfort food.
The animals are preparing for winter as well. I'm actually quite proud of us. For once, we've worked ahead and made preparations well in advance. There will be no scrambling when the snow finally comes, no "Oh crap! It's snowing! What are we going to do with the chickens?"
Our chickens live a portable coop all spring, summer and fall, but they need a more permanent home for the winter. Last year, we simply rolled the coop into the barn, laid down straw on the floor and left the birds in there for the winter. It was not an ideal situation. The birds were obviously bored and we felt bad they didn't have much space to move around. However, we had such an unusually warm winter that we were able to let the birds outside to free range a large chunk of the season. Chickens are not fond of snow, but they will tolerate a small amount.
We decided we needed a better solution. After much consideration, we decided to turn the milking parlor in the barn into a winter-time coop. Our barn has a partially underground room that is set up for milking cows, about 4 at a time. I don't think it has been used in over 40-50 years. We won't be getting a milk cow anytime soon, so in the meantime, it makes a dandy chicken coop.
The chickens get their own door knocker on the door to the coop
The floor is cement, so we covered it with a thick layer of straw. We'll keep adding to that layer, throwing down more straw every other day or so. The chickens will scratch in the bedding, essentially turning it over and starting the composting process. Composting creates heat, so the bedding will eventually become warm and help to heat the coop. This is called a "deep bedding" system, as opposed to cleaning out the coop/stall each day and replacing it with fresh bedding. When spring comes, we'll haul out all the bedding and let it compost a while more before we put it on the garden.
Inside the milking parlor/chicken coop
For the nesting boxes, we used an old Sauder, cheap-o particle board bookcase we had in the basement. John made partitions, so now we have 6 nesting boxes. The ladies hop onto the saw horses to get into the nesting boxes. They also roost on the saw horses at night.
Nesting boxes and roosts
The goats are located right next to the chicken coop. We figured they could all keep each other company over the winter, along with the barn cats.
View into the milking parlor from the goat stalls
Toro, our Alpine goat continues to amuse us with his antics. He is very much a teenager, full of spunk and mischief. He doesn't seem to realize how big he is (and he's not done growing yet!). When I go in the stall to feed and water them, he tries to jump up on me and get attention. This would be cute with a little goat, but he's almost taller than me and those horns can be unfortunate. I feel like I'm training a dog, constantly telling him "Off!"and having to correct him. He's starting to catch on! He a fun animal to have around, full of personality.
Toro and Lacy
Lacy seems happy with her new home. I often catch her laying out in the pasture sunning herself. She is very easy going and a joy to have on the farm. We are so thankful her owner loaned her out to us for the winter. Toro would be a wreck without a friend to keep him company.
We had a sad event a few weeks ago. When the kids and I were crossing the street to visit the neighbors, my son started yelling and pointing at something on the road. It was our mama cat, Harriet. She had been hit by a car. It was a bit traumatic for the kids and we were all so sad to lose sweet Harriet. Now we are down to Harriet's three kittens - Lucy, Grayson and Tiger. We hope they survive the winter. We need cats in the barn to control the mouse population.
Grayson. Isn't he handsome?
The chickens are slowing down with their egg production, as the days get shorter and shorter. We currently have 16 hens, but only get about 8 eggs a day. If production drops much more, we may install a light bulb in the coop and turn that for about 2 hours before the sun comes up, to make sure they are getting enough light. Chickens only lay if they they get about 12-14 hours of light each day. I'm not sure how I feel about artificially altering their hormones... but I also don't want to have to buy eggs at the store. We'll see...
One of the Aracaunas (Easter Eggers), posing for her headshot. I love her "earmuffs"!
Hope you are all doing well and preparing yourselves for winter too! Bring on the snow!
P.S. Speaking of light bulbs in chicken coops... for all my chicken friends, be careful what kind of light bulb you put in the coop. GE and Sylvania make a light bulb called "Rough Service Worklight", which sounds like a great choice for a coop. The bulb is coated in teflon to keep it from shattering. Good, right? NO!!! Teflon, when heated, releases a compound that kills birds. There have been unfortunate cases where people installed these in their coops, only to find all their birds dead the next morning. If it can kill birds so easily, I wonder what it does to humans... which is why we don't use Teflon pans anymore and avoid items that have Stainguard or Scotchguard on them (teflon). Sylvania light bulbs has a warning on the label to avoid use around birds, but GE has failed to put this warning on the label. The more I learn about teflon... eek!