Busy chickens at pasture
Though we’re still in the deep of winter, days are beginning to lengthen and, at least around here, spring really seems to be just around the corner. The spring-like feeling is validated by the new grass – as winter is the green season here – and by the narcissuses and cyclamens that are beginning to pop up.
Our chickens pick up the cue of longer days and generally resume laying around February, even though it’s still cold. The young pullets hatched at the end of last season – say, September or October – are generally ready to start laying in February or March.
Late January generally finds me making an enthusiastic survey of the coop and the flock, planning all the things I must do in preparation for spring and the more productive season of egg-laying and chick hatching. So what should chicken owners do at the end of winter?
Nesting boxes are the most obvious accommodation for your layers. Make sure you have an adequate number of boxes (one per 3-4 chickens). Nesting boxes should be comfortable-sized and sheltered from wind and rain. Pad them with straw, dry grass, dry leaves or wood shavings; you might also want to invest in dummy eggs to encourage your hens to lay there. Plastic dummy eggs can be bought very cheaply in a toy store or ordered via eBay, but ceramic eggs will last much longer and be a lot less easy to throw out.
During the winter, many of us (me included) are somewhat neglectful of cleaning out the chicken coop. Cold, rain, wind, frost and snow simply aren’t very conductive of spending time out of doors. Warmer weather and longer days are just the thing to prompt one to give that chicken coop a thorough airing and spring cleaning. The chicken manure, rotten straw or shavings and other scraps can go in the compost pile; this year I made the experiment of spreading a thin layer of my chicken coop clean-out pile around fruit trees, to let that valuable organic matter gradually sink into the soil with rains. We’ll see the results once our apricots, peaches and pears awaken from their winter slumber.
New ChicksOnce your hens get into the stride of laying, you’re very likely to get a broody or two pretty soon. Make sure you have comfortable accommodations for broodies and new chicks – a sheltered corner in the coop or, in case you are hand-rearing the chicks, an indoor brooder with a heating lamp. If you use an incubator, you might also want to dust it off and check that it’s in working order before spring.
Spring is an exciting season for the backyard flock owner; I always look forward to it throughout the winter, eagerly awaiting the surprises in the form of fresh eggs, new layers and new chicks, and anticipating the growth of our flock over the season. I wish all the chicken keepers in the northern hemisphere a great and productive spring, with plenty of happy hens and delicious eggs.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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