Heiden On The Farm

Spring Time at the Coop

Chris HeidenIt's been a while since I posted something. We have been busy with chores and improvements around the homestead. When I last posted it was winter time – snow and cold up here in Michigan. 



Coop winter picture

The winter was a bit less stressful on the chickens. The 2014/2015 winter season was not as bad as the previous season. Our chickens got outside and were able to make a path to the outdoor hoop coop. We had to make sure the chickens had plenty of fresh water and food to keep healthy. They kept up egg production to 18 eggs a day, which was pretty significant. We have 40 hens and four roosters. 

Winter hen picture

The days are longer now as we get closer and closer to summer. We bought an incubator to start hatching our own chicks this spring. The first set of 18 eggs was an experiment. It was a new experience for us all. We had to monitor the humidity and temperature each day. 

Incubator eggs part 2 

At the 21-day mark, two eggs were shaking after we took them out of the egg turner. One was a slow hatch overnight and then the second one was pretty quick to hatch. 

Chick hatching

First egg hatching

We're pretty excited about what the spring and summer will bring. We are going to be setting up a stand at our local farmers' market. We have also planted six apple trees for the future. Spring is a great time to get those ideas out of your head and into practice. Don't regret it down the line. My older son is getting ready for the spring and summer 4-H activities (showing poultry) and our younger son is brushing up his skills on feeding scratch to the chickens. 

Apple tree

Frank the rooster 

Importance of Proper Feed and Water in Winter

Chris HeidenOver the past two winters I have learned some things with raising chickens. The first thing is that the chickens do not like to leave their coop when there is fresh deep snow (subject of a future post). The other thing is that chickens need to have access to ample water and feed during the winter. I am imagining that some people would ask, "Why does it matter if they have plenty of water or food? It's cold." Well, we all know that water is important to us as humans. It is also important to chickens. The same goes for feed too.

The next parts of this blog post will share some experiences and ideas for proper winter feeding and amounts. I have also included two links from the Michigan State University Extension Service on winter with poultry.

Rhode Island Red Hen Eating

Hen by feed

1) Feed is very important.

If you are expecting your hens to produce eggs during the cold winter months, then you need to ensure they have ample opportunity for food. We use two different feed types. We use a 16-percent egg layer crumble (pellets are OK, too) and a high energy mix of scratch grains. We lock our flock up at night so when they are let out in the morning they are hungry and happy to have several piles of scratch grains spread out. How do I know they are happy? Do they say, "Chris, we're happy"? Of course not. They just seem to have a healthy feather coat and their coloring is right.

Rooster Eating in Cold

Barred Rock rooster using height as an advantage

2) Water is very important

Why is water important? This comes down to ensuring that your flock is properly hydrated. In the hot months or the cold months, water is important. We use a heated metal waterer. The waterer sits on top of a metal warming platform. I have seen this perform very well during our winter here in Michigan. It has done well overnight during times of 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures without an issue. The cost of the waterer is approximately $45 and the heating base was approximately $35. 

Last winter, we used a plastic heated waterer. It was not optimal for us in two ways. First, during the 2014 "polar vortex" winter temperatures, the plastic became brittle. I dropped it on a concrete floor in the garage and it broke. While this may be my fault, I would imagine I would not be the only person to have this happen. Secondly, another issue is it seemed to me that filling it was messy and more difficult.

The metal version is more sturdy and easier to deal with in the winter. Please see the photo below with the steel waterer that needs to be filled. Forty-plus hens and five roosters go through the four gallons of water every day and a half.

Hen By Empty Water. Time to Fill

Hen By Empty Water. Time to Fill.

Heated water and plenty of feed (plus scratch grains) makes a happy and productive flock. We are still getting 12 to 18 eggs a day even with the reduced hours of sun light. We do not have timed lights in the coop.

Michigan State University Extension links:

Preparing your chickens for winter

Tips for managing backyard chickens in the winter

Next up:
Chicken snow tunnels after February blizzard.


The Story of Our Chickens

Chris HeidenI had been looking at several hobby farming/homesteading magazines (GRIT and MOTHER EARTH NEWS) at the local farm supply store for years. We moved to the country 13 years ago when we built our house. We have 5 acres of land that we hadn't really fully taken advantage of until 2013. We decided to buy some egg-laying chicks at the local farm store.

The year 2013 was an interesting experience. On a whim we purchased 12 pullets and chicks and three bantam chicks. We, of course, bought the starter grower feed from the store along with baby chick feeder, waterer and heat lamp. The other “introductory” purchase was the bag of animal bedding. Looking back on this, we have learned what we needed and didn’t need over that time. We still have the items.

Our next intent was to build a small coop. However, this changed from a smaller one into an 8-foot-square coop.

Our coop
Our coop with small first phase fenced in area.

My wife and I built the coop in our spare time when our youngest son was napping. This took us several months to do, but we had the chickens ready to move into their new chicken condo in June 2013. It sure beat their previous housing – some huge wooden boxes in our garage. I think we spent more time planning by researching chicken coop designs on the Internet. As you can see we decided on a shed-style design.

We added a new rooster – Logan – a Rhode Island Red and, we think, Easter Egg/Aracauna mix.

Our main rooster Logan
Our main rooster Logan watching over his girls.

He keeps watch over our hens along with his little buddies, “Rooster” and “Chicken Little,” our bantam roosters.

Bantam rooster sitting
Bantam rooster taking a break with his ladies.

Bantam rooster
Bantam rooster watching over the flock in the coop.

In 2014, we added more hens and a new fenced-in area, and hoop coop.

Outdoor hoop coop
Outdoor hoop coop where we put the feed and water. 

We used a smaller size for the expansion. The new coop expansion is 8 feet square but slightly shorter. I will post more photographs of this in later posts. We also raised three meat turkeys this year. They were a pleasure to have, and we plan on raising a small group of Blue Slate turkeys this year for my son’s 4-H project.

Meat turkeys
Our first attempt at raising meat turkeys.

We have learned and enjoyed a lot. I look forward to sharing this with everyone.