Grit Blogs > Transitional Traditions

The End of Winter Chickens

Here we are at the end of a road. Looking back I see many turns and hills but it has been a great journey nevertheless. Today I had the great pleasure of stamping one of the longest running projects for us here on the farm with a big, red COMPLETE. We couldn't me more happy, or relieved.

Even though we knew that it would be there, we were quite surprised when we returned from our trip to Colorado to find the Great Green Behemoth parked rudely in our main drive. Becky looked at me with a raised eyebrow as if to say, "Are we really going to be those people?" Alas, my darling, indeed we are.

Job site trailer

We started working on the gargantuan task of converting the trailer to fit our needs. My parents came on Wednesday and we took the entire day just emptying it out. There was a plethora of oddities: paintball supplies, random clothing, advertisements, and even what I think was some sort of printing sheet used in newspapers when the Packers won the Super Bowl.

Interior of the trailer

Thursday we spent more time emptying while Dave and our friend Scott began pulling out cabinets that we would not use. On Friday we called in a pinch hitter. Greg is a childhood friend of Becky's, and, it turns out, he is quite the wood worker and hammer swinger. We spent all of Friday knocking out a wall to the bathroom and gutting it. Saturday Greg built us a large roost and Sunday we rested.

Gutting the trailer interior

Monday and Tuesday found us with other farm work that demanded our attention (why can't farms adhere to my schedule?), and we were back at it on Wednesday. Greg came back over, and we installed the roost while I spent (too much) time converting what was a counter to a large nesting area. On Saturday, after much work and difficulty, it was time to put on the finishing touches. I had decided that I was going to try something new with the bedding that we would put in. A problem we had in the smaller coop was that the bedding was getting soiled much sooner than we wanted. The frustrating thing was that if you went down two inches, there was perfectly dry bedding that wasn't being touched. So I had an idea.

If you've ever watched a chicken, you will have no doubt seen the adorable little waltz that they do when they are looking for something to munch on. It is a charming 1-2-3 scratch-scratch-peck, 1-2-3 scratch-scratch-peck. I wondered if there was a way to utilize this quirky trait.

Sidenote – this is pretty indicative of one of the most motivating mindset that we have here on the farm. We look at a situation and wonder if there is a way that it can positively affect another aspect of the farm. A good example of this is our chickens following the cows in the summer. The cows graze and spread healthy precomposted soil about the field and the chickens come a few days later and spread it apart so that it decomposes faster, and as a bonus they get to lap up all the fatty grubs that have found residence there. (Also, we didn't invent this one, the glory on this goes to Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms in Virginia, but you get the idea.) Back to the chickies...

So, I took our large feed mixer, which is basically a big bin with a couple of augers that mix stuff, and I dumped in 100 pounds of dried, shelled corn. To that I added a bale of cedar wood chips (cedar, in addition to smelling great, is a natural pest deterrent) and topped the whole mixture off with some fresh wheat straw from this summer's harvest. We took this along side of the trailer and dumped it all in. The key to this mix is the dried shell corn. Hopefully, the hens smell the good food within their bedding and instinctively "hunt and peck" for the stuff. In this way, they till their own bedding and keep it fresher, longer.

Trailer-cum-chicken coop settled in place

Once we had everything in place it was time to move the hens to their new home. We started with our newest flock which we have dubbed the "Amish chickens" due to their former place of residence. One by one I picked them up and held them by their legs. (If this process is new to you, please understand, this is a very humane way to treat chickens in this situation. The blood rushes to their heads and acts to settle them down. Moving chickens in any other way than this can be incredibly stressful for them. Don't ever forget, we love our chickens!)

Andy picking up chickens

When I had rounded up 4 or 5 chickens I passed them on to a number of waiting hands. In this case Becky's mother Judy and our friend Scott were helping.

Our helpers then took the chickens to a small chicken transporting cage. We put about 30 chickens in the cage and then placed it on our Bobcat skid steer. Unfortunately, the cage when full tended to be a little tipsy so Judy was kind enough to provide us with a very personalized solution. Dave, with Judy skid-steer-surfing, piloted our flock over to their new home and we plopped them in, one by one until they were all settled. We then moved our original flock. They were close enough that we could just walk them directly over to the new coop.

Skid surfing.

When everyone was in place we grabbed the waterers from each of the old coops as well as some feeders. We filled everything up and before long it was pitch black (at 4:30?!!? Winter in Wisconsin...), so we headed in. But before we left, I made sure to note that the majority of the flock was doing their little chicken waltz: 1-2-3 scratch scratch, peck. The shell corn worked!

Chickens doing the chicken waltz

On Sunday I headed out to see what the status was. It is not uncommon for a few of the chickens lowest on the pecking order not to survive these types of moves. I was quite relieved to find everything was in perfect working order. There was some infighting as the two new flocks began to integrate but nothing of note. Unfortunately we only got about 20 eggs that day but that also was expected. It can take up to a week sometimes for the hens to get back into a regular laying routine.

Today I had a few small tasks to accomplish. I bedded the nesting boxes to overflowing (we like the hens to be extra cozy when they're laying, did we mention we love them?) as well as hanging the waterers (we had them balanced on a bale before). I also filled their oyster shell (they munch on this when their calcium is low) and installed a grit dispenser. (Grit is small pieces of stone that sit in the chicken's gizzard to help them digest. Consequently, GRIT is a great farm and country magazine that has been celebrating rural America since 1882.)

We thank you all for accompanying us on this trip. It has been filled with some great experiences. We are always open to new ideas so if you have anything that you think might help us out, we love suggestions. If anyone ever wants to come and visit us, just let us know.

Elly will be watching for you.

Elly watching

Blessing and Joy this Christmas!


Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .