Anyone who raises chickens knows there are ups and downs. Last fall, our birds decided to molt late in the season, meaning they lost a lot of feathers as winter arrived. Even though they live inside during snowy months, I was sure we'd lose a few birds to the cold. I mean, a couple hens looked half plucked; they were so featherless - only knitted sweaters would help these girls.
Well, winter is almost over and all our molted birds survived. Most even grew enough feathers these last couple months that they looked fairly normal, even good looking.
For the first time we had a water heater for the chickens to keep their water from freezing. Until now, we just banged the ice out of the pan and gave them fresh every morning, but some days that water froze in a couple hours, we had to go out again and refresh their pan of iced-over water. Banging ice out of the pan sure left it dented.
Bob figured it was no use getting a heater since we only had eight birds, but I finally talked him into it and now he's happy with the investment.
To make winter less dark in the chicken house, Bob added a light that clicked on around three in the morning. Chickens need 12 hours of light so they can produce eggs. Since we already invested in the water heater we figured it was about time we got a few more eggs out of our girls - the light helped, too. We got so many eggs, Bob and I couldn't eat them all. We shared the rest with family and friends.
Things were going so well I started thinking about adding to our flock. It was still my idea of slipping fancy chicks under a setting hen, making her believe they were hers. (I've been told this works.)
Because I would purchase my new chicks, I could get colorful females so the flock expansion would be pretty, too, though winter is dragging on so long I keep putting off ordering my new chicks. It has to be much warmer for those little cuties.
Then suddenly things took a downturn with our flock. The other morning, Bob went out to the chicken pen as he usually does, but that morning when he returned he was the bearer of bad news and no eggs.
Something had gotten into the pen during the night and killed two hens. That meant we were down to four hens and two roosters.
"Whatever it was, had a good meal," said Bob. "It ate one bird so there were just wings and legs left. The other it just killed."
Bob figured the murderer had climbed up the screened walls and squeezed in the space between the walls and the ceiling - chickens have lived five years in this pen without even one mortal invasion. It was our guess that smart raccoons had moved into the neighborhood again.
Bob worked hard to close the gap between the walls and the ceiling that very day. One night passed without incident, but not a second. That night Pretty Boy, one of our roosters was killed, just killed, not eaten.
I asked Bob what he did with the body. My husband took it out to one of our fields where it would be eaten by wildlife. That's the circle of life. I just don't like it when the circle takes a detour through our chicken house.
Bob looked over the pen for the spot where the critter entered. An old hole in the ceiling caught his eye. He said the day before that hole had been covered with cobwebs and now it was clear.
Again he had to figure a way to create a patch to keep out whatever was raiding our flock. I helped hold the sheet of pressed wood in place as Bob secured it over the hole.
We left our four hens and one rooster in their larger house - well, it seemed larger without the other birds in there with them.
A couple nights have passed since the last invasion, but each morning, Bob opens the door wondering what he will find. So far, so good. We still have our fingers crossed and hope to have some eggs from our own hens for Easter.
FYI: Bob and I plan on being at the Oshkosh Farm Show March 26-28, unless winter strikes and snows us in again. Let's all have our fingers crossed for spring's real arrival.
Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net; http://www.facebook.com/susan.manzke.