First winter with chickens--need some advice

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by MaKettle, Dec 14, 2010.

  1. MaKettle

    MaKettle Chillin' With My Peeps

    We have an extra large dog house (about 16 sq ft) that has been converted in to a coop with attached outside nestboxes. We do not provide heat nor is it insulated. Admittedly, we know that we are short on sq footage because we have 5 hens. We had only ordered 3 but the hatchery gave us 2 extra so what are ya gonna do? [​IMG] We have an attached run & our hens get occasional supervised free range time.

    So I actually have several questions:

    We have continued to make adjustments to our roosts inside the coop & yet, only 1 chicken actually roosts at night. Our leghorn is on the roost, while our 2 BOs lay in front near the door & our EE & GC lay against the back wall. The floor of the coop has shavings & a thick layer of hay. We are trying to use the deep litter method, just on a much smaller scale. They seem comfortable at night but because it is a dog house, there is no front door. My husband built a door on the inside of the run that we can use to close off the coop at night. It is NOT airtight but it would help to prevent drafts. I had been closing it on nights when it was <20 degrees & have been opening it up when wake up at 5:30am. The other night when I closed the door, the hens starting making a lot of noise so I opened it back up & they quited down. So, should I close the door or leave it open on these very cold nights?

    I'm very worried about my leghorn. As I mentioned previously, she is the only hen to actually roost in the coop. We have roosts built in to our run & all of the birds have been seen on them. Since the coop is small, the roosts put her directly in line with the air holes that have been drilled into the top of the coop. I'm wondering if she's catching a draft. I've noticed that her big, floppy comb doesn't seem to look as vibrant & appears to have little white dots--almost like our dry skin. 2 days ago, we came out to find that she appears to have been attacked by the other birds--she was missing 1 tail feather (the rest of her tail looked really ruffled) and her neck was getting bare. Her feathers were all over the run. We have not witnessed any of the birds bothering her & her behavior is no different. What we realized when we stopped to think about it though, is that she has not laid an egg in well over a month. When the weather started turning in November, she stopped laying. We have seen a dramatic down shift in our production but the remaining 4 have continued to lay frequently. I will check her for mites tonight and I'm also wondering if she might be molting. I hope that our lack of recommended space is not causing cannabalism in my girls. The girls get a huge variety in their diet including layer feed, oyster shell, daily BOSS, oatmeal, and greens just to name a few. They get treats every day & today they got a pound of spinach. Does anyone have any advice on what might be going on with my leghorn?

    Sorry for the long post! I'm a worried mother hen [​IMG] Any advice would be tremendously appreciated. If pics of my leghorn would help, let me know
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2010
  2. midget_farms

    midget_farms Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 15, 2008
    Dunlap Illinois
    you have good questions.

    let me start at the top.

    1) cold - The roost needs to be flat not round so they can sit on their feet to keep them warm. The vent holes are probably why the larger hens are sitting on the floor - I'd bet they are trying to keep warm. I'd also bet the leghorn is lowest on the pecking order & the other hens are not letting her get down - but it could also just be an age/maturity thing.

    You don't really want them to be roosting where a breeze can get to them - especially in Ohio! I've been there in winter! The feathers fluff up & keep warm air close to the skin - a breeze will blow that away & they can get a chill. Many birds are good to way below zero.

    The comb can become frost bit & it hurts them quite a bit. Dull color is OK. Black is very bad. Very red & swollen is also bad. Some people in cold climates remove the comb to prevent this issue. just keep an eye on it - she sounds OK so far.

    2) space - you don't have enough space for all those birds - Usually the lower ranking birds will stay way clear of the head hen. When they are cramped the lower ranking birds can't get away & that is seen as a challenge to the head bird. She will then proceed to pummel whomever she can. Its not such a big deal in warm weather as they stay outside in the run - but when its cold & there is snow they don't leave the coop.

    Try this. I do this myself & it works. Put 2 cabbages in the coop when ever they need to be locked up for any period of time. The birds are entertained by pecking on the cabbage & tend to leave each other alone. In your case - it may not be enough as they are awfully close. use 2 because the top hens will "own" one of them & this leaves one for the rest.

    3) It sounds to me like she is molting. its that time of year & when they molt they don't lay eggs. I don't have leghorns but my BO's will molt around the neck & back. They look like they've been hit by a truck for a couple of weeks. Lets hope she is molting & not being picked on.

    4) daylight - you didn't mention if you use artificial lights. As days get shorter for winter chickens will stop laying. Many people use additional lights on a timer to ensure they get the required 12 to 15 hrs of light a day.
     
  3. midget_farms

    midget_farms Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 15, 2008
    Dunlap Illinois
    I forgot to add - Always close the door at night - hot or cold. You don't want a raccoon taking them for X-mas dinner. Trust me I've lost a lot of birds that way. I now have an automatic door so i don't forget to close it.
     
  4. ChooksChick

    ChooksChick BeakHouse's Mad Chicken Scientist

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    Larry, KS
    My Coop
  5. MaKettle

    MaKettle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thanks for the replies. Frankly, I had been leaving the door open, especially on the weekends because I wasn't hip to getting up at 5:30 am to let the girls out. Its not been such a big deal since I've been doing it though since its gotten colder. So I guess I'll be closing them up from here on out. We did have a racoon at our coop & our dog attacked it. We got even more serious about security after that.

    The small size of our coop has been a big stressor for me. My plan, come spring, was to build a bigger coop. Now, I'm pregnant & won't be doing anything of the sort--looks like my DH will be building us a bigger coop & I'll be watching. Another factor (and a story for another time) is that our chickens are under the radar because they are illegal in my township. What we build must appear to be something else, which is why we have a doghouse & dog kennel.

    Its interesting about what was said regarding the "head hen." We've seen nothing of the sort among our girls. I spend a lot of time with my chickens, especially when the weather was warmer & I never witness any kind of dominant behaviors among our hens. My DH & I have often talked about which one is in charge & we can never figure it out. I will try the 2 cabbages thing. Cabbage is one of their favorite treats but I only ever put out 1 head at a time.

    We aren't using any artificial lighting. We thought we would go at it the natural way. We don't mind the decrease in egg production--just want to make sure that nothing is wrong with our hens & that is the reason why they aren't laying. As I said, we are still getting eggs almost daily from our EE & GC. Our BOs are laying maybe 2-3x a week.
     
  6. MaKettle

    MaKettle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Chooks--thanks for the link. Definitely gives me a lot to think about!! [​IMG]
     
  7. ChooksChick

    ChooksChick BeakHouse's Mad Chicken Scientist

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    I would guess that your girl is molting, and if you up the protein, she should feather in faster.

    I would definitely get on a nice 'Garden shed' and use plastic lattice over 6 mil clear plastic sheeting for a clean look that will not get the neighbors' attention. It's super easy to work with and you can at least create some windbreaks that way.

    Grow some vines up it in the spring and it just looks like a trellis pergola!
     
  8. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    South Georgia
    Between frather loss at the neck, no one else losing feathers, and your not seeing any pecking or other injury, I agree your leghorn is most likely molting. Molting is supposed to start at the head or neck (though it doesn't always work this way.)

    I wouldn't worry about where they choose to sleep, especially since it is not in the nest boxes. They shouldn't sleep in a draft, true, but they also shouldn't be so unhappy in their coop when it is closed up that they start telling you about it, as you described. Especially when the coop is a bit small. Perhaps you could find a way to make a window if there isn't one. Or perhaps you could find a way to stop drafts without completely closing them in. True, there is a danger of a predator finding them, but apparently you haven't been closing them in at night for some time.

    Another thought I had is, if you close them in, is there any ventilation? They are in more danger from humidity and ammonia buildup than from the cold itself.

    Chickens tolerate a wide range of amounts of space. If the dog house hasn't caused problems before now, I wouldn't worry too much about the space. However, you need to resolve the issue of their objecting to being closed up in there. Perhaps a simple bale of hay across the doorway, right next to the coop or back a bit so they can get out, would solve the problem.
     
  9. MaKettle

    MaKettle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:Any examples of this that I could look at?? We do live on a big lot that is totally wooded in the summer but we're taking all precautions that we can, especially since we are knowingly breaking the law [​IMG] Our coop is in our garden, among our raised garden beds. A garden shed would blend right in & not look suspicious at all.
     
  10. The Fairy Godmartyr

    The Fairy Godmartyr Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Are you sure EXACTLY how "illegal" it is in your township? I'm also in SW Ohio. If you call our township offices, they will tell you that you need to be zoned agricultural to own chickens. In reality, though, they have absolutely zero recourse if you get them (I know this because my mother is one of the township trustees and she has had to deal with chicken complaints in the past--she just LOVED it when I got them [​IMG] ). Still, I built my largish (8x8) coop right behind my garage where it isn't obvious from the road.

    Good luck with keeping the girls warm--goodness knows it has been brutal around here over the past two weeks.
     

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