Friday, 28 March 2014

Spring Chicken: Part I

Part I of my Spring Chicken post is going to be about general chicken keeping. What I do, what i've learned and what websites are good references on the web. Part II will chronicle my To-Do List that is meant to make my gal's lives even better come spring.

I've dedicated myself to being an informed and responsible chicken keeper. My grandfather studied poultry at an Agricultural College before going on to Teacher's College and rasied chickens his entire life. I find it sad that I'm raising hens now that he's gone because I have so many questions I wish I had asked him. It is nice to keep one of his passions alive, though, and I feel like it connects me to my farming roots. I wish I had paid more attention when I was a kid on the farm but when we did chores together I was always caring for the ponies and missed out valuable poultry lessons. My grandfather primarily raised Buff Orpingtons however he always had a variety of other fowl around the farm including peacocks, ducks etc.

As I've said before, it's been a long winter for both the chickens and myself. Keeping chickens in the winter is a lot harder than I expected. My hens are a group of spoiled, fair-weather gals who love to be outside and probably would have prefered to move down south this winter (but hey, so would I). This winter has been extreme both in temperature and conditions; constant cold, blizzards, freezing rain, hail.... you name it we've had it. It feels like it's never going to end! The gals have been inside since early November. They are bored, bored, bored! I did open up the coop for them on two mild days but they simply popped their heads out and went back inside. Next week is supposed to be mild so I am looking forward to letting them back outside during the day.

The Girls say NO to Snow and head back inside.

The Winter Coop: We bought our house a year and a half ago and luckily there was the added bonus of a lovely chicken coop in move-in-ready condition. Before we got the hens I used the coop as a garden shed. It's spacious and bright with floor to ceiling windows on one side, nesting boxes and plenty of roosts. There is a trap door to the outside but we built our own enclosure... the previous owners either took theirs down or had free-range hens. The coop is insulated and has excellent ventilation. We added electricity for the winter and have a heat lamp for them. When the weather gets a little warmer I will start turning it off and letting them outside during the day. We also ran water down to the coop but decided to wait until spring to get that fully functioning so that is something else I am looking forward to!

Keeping Chickens : The Basics 

I have learned a lot about keeping chickens this year but I know that I am far from a poultry expert. I have some serious to-do's to tackle in order to make the lives of my girls even better come spring. I will share a few of the basics for new chicken-keepers before getting into the "Spring List". The blog  Life at Cobble Hill Farm has an excellent section on Chicken Keeping which is a great reference. I also visit Fresh Eggs Daily and Backyard Chickens frequently for information and insights. I do not consider myself an expert however am more than happy to share my experiences thus far.


I feed a quality laying mash which I purchase locally. As Staci from Life at Cobble Hill Farm says, "if you feed a balanced feed, you shouldn't have to worry about many of the supplements {i.e. vitamins, immune boosters, etc.}". (Supplementing Your Chicken's Diet). I have recently discovered  "scratch grain" which is not sufficient in protein but is often fed as a treat and am hoping to pick up a bag to try out on the girls.


Fresh water, always. I have a heated water-er in the winter and a pretty standard one in the summer that stays cleaner and holds more water.

Apple Cider Vinegar 

Add 1-2 tbsp.s per 1 gallon of water. ACV promotes health and supports a chicken's immune system. ACV is full of vitamins and minerals and is an antiseptic. Note: unpasteurised ACV is available in large quantities at tack and feed stores. Please see this link for more information: Poultry Keeper. Poultry Keeper's recommendation is to add ACV to the water for the first week of every month not daily. (The Devils Advocate: another blog claims that the recommendation to put ACV in water on the internet is "grossly exaggerated" and points out that there is very little research that actually proves the benefits of ACV in water. See the blog here: Chicken Waterer Blog. I read the article and I'm not deterred from using ACV. It's always better to be informed though, right?)

Oyster Shells

Can be purchased from your local tack or feed store and act as a calcium supplement. I used to just throw the shells down for them to pick at but have more recently been feeding it to them in a separate feeder. I find they poop in it but recently read the suggestion of positioning it under a hanging feeder to protect from droppings... might have to try this! Otherwise I will have to raise it up.


I don't worry about grit because the girls have access to the ground/dirt and pick up stone on their own (except in the winter of course). Grit is available at the feed or tack store.


Our chickens are our new composting system. They love our leftovers and I actually grow veggies in the garden specifically for them. When they see me picking tomatoes on my way to the coop they go nuts! They've actually started jumping up in the air when they see me coming with my treat basket. Treat should be just that, though, a treat. The chickens should never consume more 'treats' than food. Here is a list of treats to feed and treats to avoid: Chicken Treat Chart.

Have any helpful hints for me and other chicken keepers? Feel free to share them here. I will post Part II tomorrow :)

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