grow: snow chickens

So last week we missed a grow post and since then there have been some clues about how the Great British Snow of 2018 went for us. Without any further ado, now we’ve had some time to recover from it, here is the tale of our Snow Chickens.

As it unfolded

We knew the weather was going to be bad over the weekend, starting on Wednesday 28 February. The Met Office, bless them, had been raising awareness for ages.  The weekend before I had ordered a foul weather kit to modify our Eglu Cube chicken coop. Because of the warnings from the Met Office, I’d added on an extreme weather jacket for the coop as well.

Items waiting to be assembled.
Weatherproofing for our coop.
Fitting a rubber seal to a bolt fitting.
The foul weather kit consisted of rubber seals to retrofit around many of the door areas of the coop.
An Eglu Cube coop with a blue extreme weather jacket on.
The Extreme Weather Jacket is a waterproof duvet with bungee cord corners. It works well.

We had a few cold nights. In the morning we needed to replace the water. But on the whole, the worst of the weather passed us by for a few days. I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about when our bad weather front finally rocked up.

The Day of the Snow Chickens

Theo worked from home in the morning. Before he left at midday, he took warm water out to the hens. As the temperature was so low during the day I was anxious about their not having access to water while we were out.

When I got back to the house myself at just past 3 pm, these were the conditions that greeted me in our back garden.

Chickens in a snowy run.
The wind had driven the snow into the run.

The snow was still coming down. The snow chickens were huddled at the back of their run in one corner. The wind was so fierce there was almost nowhere for them to shelter from it – they had not resorted to climbing the ramp to get into the coop.  Their water was frozen solid after just three hours.

They were Very Angry Chickens.

The forecast

A screenshot of the Met Office weather forecast.
This was the forecast into that evening.

You can see from this screenshot that the weather was not going to get better. Overnight the temperature was going to drop as low as -6 and feel like -13.

I made a snap decision to protect our hens by doing the only thing that seemed reasonable under the circumstances.

Back porch snow chickens

Chickens temporarily housed in a porch.
Snow Chickens in our back porch.

Our back porch is unheated. It is separated from the house proper by a sliding glass door. Crucially we can use the french door on the patio to gain access to the garden without having to go through the back porch, and the dogs use the front garden for their business.

Working hastily because my fingers were going numb out in the garden, I emptied the floor level of the porch. A cardboard box with a spare roosting bar was dragged in, and the floor was layered in newspaper. Then to catch the hens, who were now again hiding in the furthest corner of the run telling me how thirsty they were. Thankfully, young Robin arrived home from school at this point and came straight out to help catch and ferry unhappy bantams.

Finally, they had shelter from the wind and water that didn’t freeze.

Learning points

We learned a lot from having our hens living so close to us.

You see in the above picture, all our stuff is still on the windowsills and the counter? That was our first lesson learned. Night one, nearly all of the chickens managed to get up on the counter and roost (and poo) on our stuff.

Lesson one: chickens don’t just like to go up to roost, they want to go up to roost.

You also see all that newspaper on the floor? Useless.

Lesson two: chicken poo doesn’t dry out on newspaper. It just sits there, glistening, until it is trodden in.

Lesson three: chickens scratch. It is their natural behaviour to scratch and dig. Newspaper gets torn up and eaten. Yes, eaten.

By day two, we had made some adjustments. The floor now had their bedding material down, which they loved and we loved. It absorbed the chicken poo and the associated faint odour, and the chickens got to dig and scratch happily in it.  The cardboard roosting box is now on the counter. They have a temporary dirt bath and a nesting box.

More hens in the porch.
Day two: lessons learned.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, their usual home looked like this:

Chicken coop and run in the snow.
Chicken coop and run in the snow.

And the weather forecast for the UK now looked like this:

Weather alerts for the UK March 2018.
UK weather alerts March 2018.

The aftermath

This story has a happy ending.

Our snow chickens spent four nights in our back porch and on the Sunday afternoon, happily followed me back across the lawn to their own home again.

We then took a day to empty the back porch and clean everything twice.

We learned more about our hens. They learned more about us. The dogs learned not to bother the hens through the glass and so now don’t really bother them in the garden either.

Lesson four: windproof at least part of the chicken run. But that’s a post for another day!

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