It’s a blistery, cold day here in central Ohio as the winter storm impacting much of the US this early February hits us. Also, Punxatawny Phil says it’ll be 6 more weeks of winter. So, what better time to share how we’ve prepped the henhouse for winter this season? While I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, I also wanted to ensure our methods worked before sharing… just in case some of you look to our half-assery for guidance. So here it is…
This was the first year we had to winterize for chickens–our flock last year went to Gigi’s (Tarin’s mother) before winter. When the hens stopped laying eggs mad-fall, Gigi came by to help us see if it was something we were doing… it was. We learned that we weren’t letting the hens out early enough nor did the feed we had provide enough calcium for layers. And because we had no idea what we were doing or plans developed for how to brace for winter, Gigi offered to take the hens to her coop for the winter. Needless to say, that flock stayed with Gigi as the Norris’ welcomed their newest little one to the world and the idea of taking chickens back on was a little much for them this spring.
This spring, the Camp kids pleaded hard and presented some strong cases for getting chickens again. They vowed to help care for the hens every day–rain, sleet, ice, or snow (like the postal code goes). It’s been amazing to see them work together to care for the hens, though they need reminders from time to time. This flock has a few hens that are STILL producing eggs, which amazes me. While the adorable little coop we bought for the last flock is less than ideal for a number of reasons–difficult to clean, flimsy door, barely large enough for 8 hens–we decided to refrain from investing in a larger coop just yet for two reasons:
- I wasn’t completely confident the hens, or really the kids, would last through the winter. This pregnancy has really sucked the energy out of me so the responsibility of keeping the hens alive has been soley on the kids and just supervised by Sr. and me. We fully anticipated the possibility of the kids throwing the towel in and needing to rehome our sweet hens.
- Our barely-big-enough coop actually seems to be an advantage in the cold winter while a larger coop might require more work to winterize. Our coop is designed for 6-8 hens, we have 8. But the tight quarters are actually a benefit as they keep the hens warm with less dead space to have to keep warm.
We’ve had some pretty cold, icy, and snowy weather this winter and the kids, hens, and coop continue to persevere. I’m glad we chose to wait on a bigger coop as the winter care experience will also help us determine the best coop feature we want when we upgrade in the spring.
So how did we winterize this year? It was actually pretty simple and cost-effective! First, I did some research and came across the idea of winterizing the run by blocking the wind with clear tarps. Since our coop sits in the run pen, we determined that this would be a two-in-one solution!
I purchased four 8 x 12 clear heavy-duty tarps from Amazon. These would not only block the hens, and their coop, from blustery winds but also allow us to maintain some visibility in the run. We ran the tarps horizontally (with the 12 ft side across the walls of the run) and secured them with zip-ties. The sides of our run are less than 8 ft but the excess height of the tarps actually provide a little coverage from snow on the edges of the run.
We also purchased a few bales of straw to provide more insulation in and outside of the run. Inside the run, we placed two bales against the open side of the coop, which is placed in the corner of the run. Outside the run, we placed the remainder of the bales against walls. As we get snow and ice, we use straw from the bales to provide a dry pad and walkways for the hens to walk on and stave off possible frostbite. The only issue we’ve run into is, recently–because we don’t have our straw bales covered–they freeze and are next to impossible to break apart. We’ve just used our pine bedding on the floor of the run instead.
Speaking of bedding, we’ve upped how much bedding we use as well for the winter. This helps insulate inside the coop and maintains a dry space for our hens.
When it comes to water, we’re simply using a bowl of water, checking and refilling throughout the day, when the temps are low enough to freeze up our gravity waterer. I thought for sure we’d have a water warmer by now, but haven’t seen enough need to invest in one just yet.
Whether you come here for guidance, curiosity, or entertainment, thank you. And know we always welcome your questions and comments!
So much to catch y’all up on!!
It’s been a few weeks since the constant nausea of my first trimester subsided–praise the Lord! Since then, I’ve been trying to catch back up to life and all the things around the house and gardens.
In the past month, we’ve waged war on the “mother-in-law’s revenge”–aka goutweed–in the front gardens, planted fall mums, orchestrated a near-whole house refresh with new carpet and paint in the majority of the house, revived the dahlias in the cut flower garden, celebrated 2 birthdays and an anniversary, finished the football season, and moved the girls into a shared room to free up a room for the nursery.
The big garden also got A TON of care and attention from Clint who built raised and installed garden boxes and used old pallets to build a new compost bin. I’m serious y’all, it’s impressive!
As the cool weather rolls in, we have much more to do–like prep the coop and gardens for winter.
I’ll be posting something about each of our updates and adventures moving forward. In the meantime, what winter prep tips do you have to share with me?!
Our chickens have not been laying eggs so we had Ava and Vinny’s GiGi come over because she has 11 chickens and they always lay eggs. She came over Sunday before last and said they needed more sun and room to roam. We need to make our coop bigger. She offered to take our hens over the winter until we can make the coop we’ve been dreaming of making. As soon as our Mom told us we said, “When will they leave!?” She said, “Tonight.”
I was feeling okay until they left. Tonight was too soon! I helped get them all in the large crate and load it in the truck.
When we got back inside I sat on the floor and then I went upstairs and said to myself why did the chickens have to leave? When I walk by the empty coop I feel sad. Ava’s GiGi sent us a picture the day they got to their winter home and they looked happy. I’m still sad though.
Mom said we’ll see them in two weeks. They have been gone a week and a half. I miss them. When I see them, I will hug them. then I will say ” Hi chickies!” When I see them again I will be so happy I’ll…cry!!!
It’s the phrase of the week… well, that an “Hurry! Get out of the chicken pen, you’ve got a class zoom meeting about to start!”
The hens are went from two to three eggs a day this week and the kids CANNOT get enough! They check the coop several times each morning, which means they find the eggs nice and fresh.
Earlier this week Ella and Ava came running up with an egg yelling, “We got a hot one!” 🤣 And they’ve been saying with every new egg ever since. Grace has caught on as well and ran in during one of my Zoom meetings with a client. 🤦🏻♀️
A few weeks ago, we lost our sweet lap hen, Hazel, to a hawk.
We have 2-3 hawks in our neighborhood (plus a large fox and a few coyotes) that have been making quiet a ruckus this late-summer. I noticed their calls in mid July and heard from the McCrearys, who live two doors down, that one swooped down on their young flock as Molly was trying to usher the hens in the coop.
Despite the McCreary’s close encounter, their distant calls and a few sightings, we weren’t too worried about the hawks as predators since our hens are pretty much full grown. It was the fox that always appeared at dusk,just after the hens went into their coop , and liked to hang out eating groundhogs behind the shed that we saw a a real threat to our free-rangin’ ladies. After all, when the hawks’ squawks neared, the hens always ensured they were under the cover of the brush in the gardens. We knew we couldn’t keep the hens free-ranging for long and would need to build a bigger coop and/or run but it wasn’t at the top of our list. Unfortunately, our delay worked in the hawks’ favor.
On a Monday, I debated letting the ladies our as I was working a number of back to back virtual meetings, as is the norm in back to school season. However, it was going to be a hot day and their adorable coop is just too small for comfort so we decided to let them out for the day. Just before a new customer meeting, Sr. came in from the garage and said, “I think something ate the chickens, there are feathers everywhere!”
With my meeting just moments from starting, I told him to get the kids and try to find the rest of the flock and put them away. I then texted Tarin to let her know what was happening and started my call. Luckily, 5 of the 6 hens were found safe, but terrified, in the ferns at Tarin’s house. Hazel was the only one missing. Sr. wasn’t lying. There were feathers everywhere. Poor hazel seemed to put up a good fight and looked to have almost made it from the treeline, where the trail began, to under the old Chevy truck where the trial abruptly disappeared. We searched the grounds to see if she might have survived but found nothing.
By the next day, we had decided that it wasn’t in the budget and we didn’t have the time to build a new coop with a run like we have been planning so Plan B would have to be another solution. We found this covered pen and decided it’d be just what we needed for now.
The pen arrived in 2 boxes– chicken wire and aluminum poles. Thanks goodness Sr. had the patience to put the aluminum frame together Thursday or else it wouldn’t have gotten done this weekend. Saturday, we all worked together to cut and attach the chicken wire roof and walls. The kids transferred the hens to the pen and smothered them all in love (they missed wrangling them) while Tarin and I did a deep clean of their coop- which desperately needed it after nearly 2 weeks of 5 hens being cooped up in there 24/7.
After clearing out a few branches and debris from under the pines, we positioned the pen over the coop and set out their food and water. We even found a small board to serve as a nameplate for their new digs.
Now the new problem is keeping the kids, especially the little ones from going in and out of the pen–1. because they’re more likely to leave the pen door open and 2. because the poor hens have no way to escape or hide from those little arms.
The past two weeks have been busy one on the home front and with work for me. It’s weeks like these that I’m thankful to be doing this whole garden homesteading thing with the Norris family.
Work has ramped up between creating two online courses, preparing for our first virtual summit for educators, and meeting with customers to plan for next school year, I feel like I’ve been glued to my MacBook for two weeks straight. And, though Brian Sr. had a couple of days where he started to feel better, he quickly took a turn down hill with severe pressure and nausea. We’re hoping for more answers and relief next week given this new medicine he’s on. On top of that, I’ve discovered I’m now allergic to poison ivy (turns out it’s bound to happen when you spend three weekends with a weed eater killing that stuff). So much itching!
Last week I didn’t get out to the garden once but often looked out the window and would see Clint and Vinny watering the garden, hanging with the hens, or eating lettuce and spinach off the plant. Grace, Ella, and Brian Jr. often joined them. They even dropped off some radish on Father’s Day! So grateful for them!
The kids tried radish for the first time, Grace was the only one who liked it even a little. I really enjoy some fresh slices on my sandwich but look forward to a few suggestions from some of our Facebook friends, especially roasting them!
By the time I got out to the garden this Friday, it was in desperate need for some harvesting! It’s amazing how much of a different the grass mulch has made for our crops!
Tarin, who has been busy with work herself, joined Ella and I in the garden for some picking. We got quite a haul!
On Saturday, we harvested rhubarb and I picked up some straw to recover our walking paths. Grace took pictures:
It’s about time for a second planting of carrots and some other crops. I’ll have to do some research on what would be good to plant.
Sunday, I spent time in the house gardens, adding cobblestone to a some of the paths, and reconfiguring the front garden by removing a bush and widening the area around our front outdoor table. I plan to add stone or pea gravel to level the space out.
While I worked, Sr. relaxed inside, the girls played by the creek catching salamanders and Brian Jr. played ball in the yard and took breaks to play guitar for the hens. It may be a little crazy, but life on the homestead is good!
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