Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Back to the Coop

This post is really just a precursor for the one to follow, but for now, here's the first half...

From January 6, 2012

Everyone had something to do, and I felt restless, not able to concentrate enough for any of the tasks I could had chosen to do that afternoon.  Then I recalled that the evening before I had thought about going out to the barn today, to see if it might be possible to put a heated water dish in the chicken coop in a way that would ensure the hens (and their hungry beaks) could not in any way access the cord.  The water dish currently sits under the heat lamp, and I would rather not use that spot for water in case the chickens themselves need to bathe in the warmth it provides on some cold winter morning.  It would also remove the possibility of the water freezing on particularly frigid nights, in spite of our diligence in refilling the dish daily.

As I thought about this, the idea of going out to the barn appealed to me more and more.  I’m not outside as much as I’d like to be these days, due to the cold and snow, but whenever I do venture out I linger as long as my freezing earlobes can endure, soaking in the beauty of my new natural surroundings.  And so I donned my barn jacket and some warm mitts and snow boots and headed out into the late afternoon.

I rounded the corner of the garage, walked half way across the bridge and stopped.  Under the cover of my footsteps the creek could not be heard, but standing perfectly still I could hear it quietly gurgling just beneath its icy crust.  The faint sound was reassuring, though I was not sure why.  With my eyes I followed the tiny footprints of a small forest creature who had descended one rocky bank, crossed the snow-covered ice to the other, and evidently not finding a way up had headed back to the south bank and under the bridge.  Since no tracks appeared on the other side of the bridge I assumed that the creature must have found a way up out of the creek gorge beneath the bridge.

I moved on to the pasture, pushing the gate open as much as possible against the ridge of ice that had built up on the pasture side of the opening.  This would be difficult to shovel away, given that it was no longer packed snow but had melted and frozen into sheer, solid ice during the strange up-and-down temperatures we’d been having.  Closing the gate behind me I angled toward the well to check the water level in the trough.  It was low enough to assure me that Whopper had been drinking, but high enough that it did not urgently require filling. 

From there I made my way toward the barn.  Whopper watched me cross from the window in his stall and greeted me as I came near with his raspy bray.  Noticing the uncharacteristic lack of sound from the other end of the barn I called to the chickens, but received no reply.  It always makes me nervous when they’re quiet because they so rarely are.  But upon entering the coop I found both birds on their perch, apparently happy to see me.  I say they were happy to see me because they allowed me not only to stroke their back, but to snuggle them warmly into my chest, surrounding them with my arms.  I thought they might need a little warming, but did not expect them to allow this much closeness.  But Smiley Fry sat quite contentedly in my arms for several minutes, and even French Fry allowed me to hug her momentarily.  They must be cold, was my only thought, and so I gave freely of my warmth, though how much they received from me through my jacket I can not say.

I surveyed the coop and noticed that their food was quite low.  Had the girls not added seed to their feeder that morning, or in the cold are they eating that much more than usual?  Whatever the reason, they clearly needed food, so I left the coop and returned with a full pail of chicken feed.  As I proceeded to refill their feeder, the two grateful hens came at once and began pecking at the seed.  Perhaps it was their hunger that made them so friendly toward me initially.  Perhaps one day I will actually understand these birds a little.  But for now all I can do is to keep them fed and as warm as possible. “Two months,” I told the birds, “and it will begin to warm up again.”  I just have to get them through the next two cold months, and then we’ll be home free.  And in February I can order a few more chickens to fill out the coop with more company for them and eggs for us.  I wish I could add hens to the coop now because more bodies make for more warmth, but the cold would be too hard on new birds, so they will have to wait until March when the first order of spring arrives.

Securing the chicken coop doors, I returned to attend to Whopper who is enjoying almost daily servings of hay to supplement the depleting supply of growth in the pasture.  I gave the grateful donkey his slice of hay, and since he did not dig in greedily I deduced that he is still finding sufficient food on his own, though the nutrition in what he might forage would be questionable.

There was still one issue in the coop I wanted to address.  There is one window in the indoor portion of the coop, which is in the end wall of the barn, and it does not seal.  Not only does the window not seal, but the window is almost a full inch smaller than the opening it hangs in, leaving too much room for cold wind to enter the coop.  There were some pieces of foam insulation of random sizes beside the coop that I had found when looking for plastic last week, a few that I thought might be small enough to fit into this opening.  I grabbed a couple of possibilities and unlatched the window to put the foam behind it.  One piece fit, but only covered about 1/3 of the opening.  The second piece would not go in at all.  Well, that will have to do for now, I thought.  It was, at least, better than nothing.  I put the window down and latched it, but for some reason it now swung loosely on its hinge, which turned out to be a nail in the window frame above, whereas it had been fixed quite steady before.  Something will have to be done about that.  Covering it with plastic would be the simplest solution, but it will have to be done from the outside to keep the chickens from pecking at it.  I would need to go outside and survey the wall to see what could be done.

On the end of the barn where the chicken coop is, there is a gap between the front pasture and the back pasture, so that the coop itself is not enclosed by any fence other than chicken wire it is made of.  From the outside of the coop one can enter either the front pasture or the back pasture through the gates that open to that area.  The barn is on the west of this section of land, the front pasture borders the south side, the back pasture is on the north side.  Directly east with no fence blocking the way, is the conservation forest. 

I surveyed the wall of the barn and found that the outdoor chicken coop comes to its end under the window in question.  That would complicate the logistics of putting plastic up, considering that the window is high enough to require the use of a ladder.  Adding to the equation was a large opening above the window, much larger than the window, with no glass or any other barrier to block the cold wind from entering the barn above the chicken coop.  This could be covered from the outside using a tall ladder, or from the loft on the inside.  I would have to think about this.

Whose Woods These Are…

As I thought I turned eastward toward the forest...

Tune in next time for the rest of the story...


  1. Haha! That ending made my laugh out loud
    (for real). Hurry up and get the next part out!!