Late Winter Notes on the Chickens
We've been enjoying a very mild weekend, and since we tapped our maple on Tuesday, we've collected three five-gallon buckets of sap. That means it's time to break into our wood pile and get cracking on boiling for the year:
We decided to go all-in on a real woodpile this year, instead of cobbling together donations and those expensive packages of firewood from the grocery store.
What a difference a year makes in our sap storage facilities, though:
Ordinarily we keep the sap buckets packed in a snow bank to keep it cold, but that isn't an option this spring. Almost every bit of snow has melted already! We didn't have much to begin with, and what we did have got washed away in the rain and melted by the nearly 60-degree day we had on Saturday. These are in the shadiest corner (note yet another broken fence section in view — even when winter doesn't deliver in snow, there's always plenty of wind).
Once we set up the maple sugaring brick oven, we decided to get the chickens out and about in the chicken tractor to start prepping the soil for our earliest spring greens:
To get that in place, we had to move the winter cold frame that was still supplying us with a bit of cilantro:
This is the last handful, harvested today and used as a garnish on some butternut curry this evening for dinner. That's the last bit of fresh cilantro we'll enjoy for a few months, and we've been so pleased to have it for so many cold months — a new record!
Corralling the chickens gave us a chance to check in on them, and we didn't love what we saw. Rachel, Sally, and Lizzie all have some serious bare spots on their butts: they're red and raw and pecked clean.
This is a common problem known as vent pecking. When chickens are cooped up or stressed, they can start to peck at each other.
To start to take care of this, we painted on some Blu-Kote to cover the wound and dye it blue — chickens are spurred to peck when they see blood, so this is doubly protective. Here's a look at Lizzy's sad, naked (and newly purple) butt:
At first I was convinced she was doing it to herself — her beak was purple within a few minutes — but now I'm not so sure. I was outside a lot today, and it was pretty clear that mean old Martha was always chasing her away in the chicken tractor. And I don't think vent pecking is usually something a chicken would do to herself. When Dolley was pulling her own feathers out of boredom, the bare spot was on her back.
Anyway, I let Martha out of the chicken tractor to allow Lizzie some peace, and she made a beeline toward this peaceful scene:
That's Sally, Louisa Catherine, and Rachel, enjoying a nice scratch near the compost pile. Martha went right after Rachel (who also got a dose of Blu-Kote today). Eventually, all the chickens worked their way away from Martha to other spots in the yard, leaving her alone — presumably because they are tired of being pecked.
To be fair, Martha's beak shows no actual evidence of purple staining, which would be a dead giveaway that she's pecking other hens at this point. Still, I suspect that the lesson we taught her by temporarily removing her from the flock over the summer has worn off, and she's worked her way back up the pecking order to resume her reign of terror.
The other source of the problem might be that they're stressed out by the artificial lighting. We haven't reduced the lighting hours, neglecting to adjust for out longer days. They're up to 18 hours of daylight, which is also known to stress chickens out. We feel bad about that oversight, so we're adjusting their light back down as fast as we can — 15 minutes a day.
Hopefully the combination of decreased lighting, Blu-Kote, and extra space with more time free ranging will take care of the problem.
If not, we may have to consider an extremely locally-sourced chicken soup.