Chickens in the rain

Being new to chickens, I have read alot about how to care for them.  Everyone has their own experiences and what works best for them.  Bottom line is that animals are versatile for the most part and will function just fine usually with what type shelter they are provided.  However, there are some ways to improve what you provide and make it a little more livable for them, especially in wet, cold,  or even hot weather. 

My chickens like to hang out in the alpacas barn (30×50 feet) if the weather is not nice for pasture foraging.  In the heat, they also like to hang out under the elevated coops (base size is 4×8 set up on  a cement block at each corner) where the cool earth and breezes  cool them.  In the winter the barn, bright sun, and hay on the floor helps warm them.  Their coops keep them warm enough at night when I shut them in and they can burrow into the deep litter and they mound together.  The decomposing litter also generates some heat, so I read, from the decomposition, which would create some heat for them.  So, keeping a deep litter in the coop is an easy way to improve their warmth.  I use a kitty litter scoop to remove any clumpy wet litter and to swish around the top layer into the bottom layer and get it started drying out.  I put a hook on one of the coop studs out of the way so I can reach the scoop and it’s so easy to keep the nest boxes, roosts and litter floor cleaned up.

Dealing with frozen water in winter is difficult.  Fortunately, they don’t need as much water as they do in summer, so they drink out of the alpacas buckets which take longer to freeze,   and I make sure  they start off the morning with fresh unfrozen water in their little waterers.  There are some heated waterers and heated bases to sit them on, but I have not tried those.  Last winter was the first winter and they all did just fine.  Since there isn’t really much of anything to forage from the pastures, I make sure their feed containers are kept full as the digesting of food will generate some body heat.  They also like to burrow into the alpacas hay troughs.  The alpacas eat “around” them. 

We don’t have too many “freeze” days in this part of the US, but still need to be ready for them because they almost always take us by surprise.

I have recommended them before, but I will again, and that is two books I have referred to constantly: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, and the other is The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery.  Find them at Amazon.com and you can create a book list and they will e-mail you whenever the prices change, higher or lower.  A great place to shop online.

The wetter the better–not!

One summer we took our daughter and son to Colorado on vacation when they were in middle school and high school.  We went river rafting and bought shirts to mark the event that said “the wetter the better”, which for river rafting is true.  However, in October in Texas  it is not. The rain has just been never ending it seems and we are all tired of the muck, especially we who must slog through it in the barnyard.  But, things are looking up and we hear that tomorrow will be the last of the rain. Hooray!

The dampness has settled into the barn and the  packed earth floor has become rather damp.  I have turned on the two large ceiling fans to move the still air around and try to dry it out some.  And of course the alpacas do not want to use their outdoor poop piles, so where are they going? Of course, they are.  Inside the barn, causing a little odor.  However, as far as clean up goes, I would rather clean up in there than have a mucky mess outside to clean up, so I cannot complain too much. 

I use Stall Dry on the inside poo areas after cleaning up and have I mentioned how much I loooooove Stall Dry. It deodorizes and sops up moisture (10x it’s weight, I read)  I will be sprinkling around the inside of the chicken coops this weekend,after cleaning out about 1/3 of the litter and replacing with new.  It is important to keep some old litter in the coop because, as I understand,  it has the established microbes already in place that are cleaning up and breaking down  the litter and will migrate into the new litter to keep it all breaking down correctly.  The old litter I clean out will go into the compost pile.  I have not had any moisture or odor problems in the coop with the deep litter.

The chickens do not seem to mind the wet and they do live in the barn during the day and hang out, dust and fluff, and clean up errant crickets.

I will keep my eyes open, but have not seen my hummingbirds.  I hung out freshly filled feeders just in case.  I did see one lone Monarch butterfly today on its journey south.

I plan to enjoy the new dry weather and get things decorated  for Halloween.

Livestock barns and bad weather

Well, finally, in our neck of the woods (we don’t really have “woods” here) it is raining.  It has rained all day.  We have small trees and a few big trees, big shrubs and right now tall sunflowers that need to be mowed down, but no woods, really.  I don’t really wish for woods; they bring their own predator issues.

Dash and her cria, Summer Surprise

Dash and her cria, Summer Surprise

I really enjoy going into the big barn, 30×50, in bad weather.  The alpacas are cushing and munching their hay, and are contented to be protected from the weather.  I don’t know how many places we visited, or articles we read, that suggested that a 3 sided shelter is all that alpacas need in the field.  I would like to wholeheartedly DISagree with that statement.  Especially when you have little ones that need some warmth and dryness.  I cannot imagine animals, especially several, trying to tuck in under a 3 sided shelter.  I would not want to be them.  Our chicken’s have warm and dry coops too, or they hang out in the warm and dry barn until nightfall. then go in the coops to roost for the night. 

 I really encourage thinking about and planning for a 4 sided structure to allow the animals in.  We also have roll up doors on the four 10×12 barn entry doors.  Depending on the direction of the blowing weather I can roll down any to offer additional protection and keep the barn somewhat  drier than letting in the blowing rain or sleet.

Stand in the barn, then go out and stand in the bad weather.  Where would you rather be, and where would you want your animals to be?

Should you live rural?

Not everyone wants to live in the country.  We had our first reaction from our realtor of all people.  I have to interject that she was not up to speed on interacting well with people we came to find out.  That’s not something you can determine up front when you are working with a realtor.  But  you don’t have to stick with that person if no contract was signed.  She happened to be the realtor who showed us the property we decided on buying.  Most realtors will be positive about the property and point out the good things; she seemed to be just the opposite. She just had not been in the business long enough, although she was a “mature” woman.  Her reaction to living in the country on 104 acres was “won’t you be scared at night all the way out here”.  My comment as I recall was “heavens, no”. 

So, can you expect everyone you know to be enthusiastic of your decision to live rural?  Probably not.  If they don’t like dirt, bugs, snakes, spiders, coyotes, skunks, racoons, mice, and the myriad wildlife the country brings, as well as the seclusion and distance from the city, then your friends may not visit often.  Be prepared to accept that you may have to trek to their houses in the city for a visit. 

And if you have children, take into consideration the inconvenience to activities, friends and their parents, who may not like driving all the way to your house to drop them off for a sleepover. Our kids were in Select Soccer clubs, baseball and basketball all through high school, so we really had to stay in the city so trips to practices and games were not lengthy.   

Will your kids be happy?  It would be my advice to wait to move until the kids are older, maybe after high school, which would give you more freedom to move from the city, unless they are willing to drop all their activities and start anew in their new community.  Going cold turkey on good friendships is harder for kids unless the move must  improve THEIR education and opportunities.

Environmental considerations in buying rural

When looking for a rural property it is easy to get too anxious.  Do a little checking out the community and surroundings. 

One area we were interested in and we did not buy, we found out later was heavily into some litigation with an area cement plant processor that apparently was in trouble for emissions and other stuff floating into the air and being environmentally unfriendly.   There was also a problem with water quality in the area and citizens were up in arms.  We had no clue.  A little homework would have possibly shown us those issues if we had decided to buy there.

Once again, go to the city hall and see their master plan and future projects.  If you want peace and quiet, make sure you will have it for a long time.

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