Chilly chickens

It’s cold here at the moment. I mean seriously, nose-achingly cold. We can’t have had ice covering the car more than twice in the last three years that we lived in London but here it’s been almost every day for at least a month and as I type this the thermometer already reads less than zero and is apparently set to plummet to minus 4! Being out in a rural village deprives you of the pollution and surrounding warmth of other buildings and I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me sooner that this would mean that it’d be a good few degrees colder than in town. In any case, the frost on the fields looks beautiful in the mornings and as long as I swaddle myself in at least four or five layers I can stand to be outside for a decent amount of time. But I do worry about our small creatures. Against my husband’s wishes, I’ve bought the puppy a little coat to wear outside in the frost. And I’m seriously worried about our hens. IMG_1126Our chickens are an odd lot really. I don’t particularly feel too much affection for them, but I enjoy watching them burble and scratch about the place. Despite their winter refusal to lay too much, I find them quite amusing and I feel very protective towards them. So this current cold snap has me very concerned. We have an old wooden henhouse, without any heating. Our four girls refuse to roost on the roosting bars (a throwback to their commercial laying youth no doubt), preferring instead to snuggle up together in the nest boxes. But there’s no real insulation other than the bedding that we put in there. Surely, in their tiny uninsulated wooden box, they must be cold? An enquiry about hen warmers at the local farm store got me nothing but a curious sideways stare and the raised eyebrow. So as well as basically smothering the hens in bedding, I’ve been doing some research. Our hens are more or less free range within their little enclosure which gets moved around every week or so. But when the ground is wet and it’s raining they tend to stay in their covered run. The problem is that with four of them scratching about, the place turns into a mud bath and I’m concerned that wading about in freezing cold mud (and then trailing it into their little house) is going to give them frostbite. So I’m trying something a bit radical. I’ve bought a few packs of straw and I have scattered it all over the floor of their run (leaving their dust bath under the raised house) and on their ramp into the house, and also outside in their enclosure. img_11271.jpgI’ve covered the mud and they seemed quite happy and wandered about rearranging the straw. Hopefully it’ll be easier on their little feet and will stop them getting cold and wet at night. Tiny feathered creatures certainly survive in much colder climates than ours here but I’m worried that our domesticated hens aren’t used to it and I’d rather not find four hensicles in the morning. So straw it is until this cold snap is over! What do you think, how do you keep your chickens warm when it snows?

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

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