How Can You Get Light at Night?*

Like many people with a small flock of backyard chickens, we faced a dilemma.

Our birds are housed in a coop built inside a pole barn. There was no electric power in our barn.

Eggs in bowl

The chickens kept on laying eggs.

Fall’s Shortening days signals chickens to slow egg production just as many families need plenty of eggs for the holiday baking season. Placing a timer-controlled light in the coop, set to come on early each morning, gives chickens the optimal 15 hours of combined artificial and natural light they need to keep laying.

Lights and timers need electricity that our barn lacked. So, years ago, we hired an electrician to trench a wire from our house to the barn and add outlets and overhead lights. It works fine but the electrician’s bill was stiff and our chicken lights add to our monthly power bill. Now there’s a less expensive option.

P.S. The Holidays are coming….This might be a great gift for chickens and caregivers!

 

Batteries, light bulbs, and solar collectors have become much more efficient and less expensive. It’s now easy to purchase a solar electric system to power outbuildings that lack electricity.

Alternative Light Options

Big box stores sell security lights that include a solar collector, occupancy sensor, battery, and light bulb. The collector creates electricity during the day that charges the battery. The sensor recognizes when a person approaches in the dark and turns on the light. These are fine for their intended purpose but don’t work to add a few extra hours of timer-controlled light for chickens.

Solar Chicken Coop Light Kit

A portable solar kit costs around $400, is easy to install and to light your way. (Courtesy Solar Illuminations)

We recently learned of a company called Solar Illuminations, which can create lighting solutions for chicken coops and other outbuildings. A kit including a solar collector, battery, timer, fixture, and the bulb is just over $400. Sounds expensive but likely is less costly than hiring an electrician to run a wire. And, the sun never sends a bill for electricity generated by a solar panel.

Installing a system is easy and doesn’t require an electrician. Systems can also be designed to power an aquarium aerator that will help keep drinking water unfrozen on cold nights or provide work light in an outbuilding.

We love modern technology’s ability to harness the sun’s energy to give hens a few extra hours of light during winter’s darkness. The result is more eggs without adding a penny to the monthly electric bill.

*Note: Winding Pathways received no special compensation or materials from companies in writing this blog.

Using the Sad ‘Ole Jack-O-Lantern

As we entered our driveway a frustrating sight greeted us. We were looking forward to picking the enormous seed heads of sunflower plants towering over the garden. Not this year. While we were gone, a windstorm toppled them a few weeks before they’d ripen.

That’s the way it is with gardening. Sometimes there’s a great success resulting in delicious meals. Then there are flops, like our sunflowers. We found more wind mischief. Several almost ripe pumpkins and squash had broken stems, dooming them to rot instead of ripening.

A Silver LIning

All wasn’t lost. We pitched the sunflower heads, pumpkins, and squash into our chicken run.  Enthusiasm erupted as the hens eagerly devoured them. They pecked a hole in the squash and pumpkins, ate all their seeds, and then made quick work of eating the soft interior flesh. Soon all that remained was the tough outer skin of the pumpkin and the sunflower’s now seedless head. These went into the composter.

Chickens love garden debris and vegetables that don’t quite make it to our table. When fall closes down our garden we turn in the chickens. They chow down on bugs, weed seeds, and unripe vegetables. This makes clean-up easier and probably reduces next year’s insect and weed problems.  A few days after Halloween our hens love snacking on our shriveling Jack O Lantern. They also relish seeds scooped out of winter squash and most vegetables left in the refrigerator a bit too long.

It was frustrating losing our sunflowers, pumpkins, and squash. Thanks to our industrious hens we were able to put them to good use.

How Can You Keep Mice Out of Chicken Coops?*

There’s a Mouse in the House!

Sooner or later anyone who keeps a few chickens is likely to spot a mouse scurrying across the coop floor.  Most sightings are after dark when hens are snoozing on their roosts. That’s when nocturnal mice seek a chicken feed dinner.

Commercial chicken feed is nutritious to more than chickens. Small rodents also thrive on it.  They eat expensive feed and also foul it with their urine and droppings.  Mice should be eliminated from the coop.

Two general types of mice can be found in places where both people and chickens live. European house mice are common all over the world. They usually spend their entire lives in a home or chicken house and rarely venture outdoors. These tiny rodents are dark gray all over.  White-footed, or deer, mice are native rodents that commonly visit coops and the homes of the flock owner. They are easy to distinguish from house mice since, as their name implies, they have white feet and bellies.

While house mice live in a coop year round white-footed mice are more likely in cooler months. House mice usually eat food in place, while white footeds often carry seeds a distance and cache them in a hidden place to nibble on later. Find a pile of corn in an old boot or any other hidden place and the culprit is likely a white-footed mouse.

It’s not good to have either type of mouse mixing with chickens.  Although it’s probably not possible to totally eliminate them, several actions greatly reduce their abundance.

Keep ‘Em Out

The best strategy for reducing mouse infestations in either a house or chicken coop is to keep them out.  Mice are tiny and athletic.  They can squeeze through small holes and cracks, the same openings that let cold drafts enter.   Keep both mice and cold air outside by filling in holes and cracks with caulking.  The best time to do this is in early fall before cold weather settles in.   Filling cracks also keeps box elder bugs, Asian beetles, and other insect pests outdoors.   Cracks can be anywhere but are especially likely around window and door frames and where wires and pipes enter a structure.

Contain Food

Mice enter a chicken coop to find shelter from bad weather, safety from predators, and dinner. They love eating grain and chicken mash or pellets.   Anything edible in the coop should be stored in metal containers with tight-fitting lids.  Mice easily chew through plastic ones so avoid them. Use metal trash cans instead.  Mice will help themselves to feed in a feeder, and most people leave feeders exposed at night.  Since chickens don’t eat during dark hours put feeders in a tightly lidded metal garbage can overnight. This will keep mice away from them. The feeders can simply be put back where the chickens can access them the following morning.

Encourage Owls

A neighborhood owl family can be a chicken’s best friend. Owls love dining on mice. Great horned, barred, and screech owls are relatively common in suburban areas and patrol nighttime neighborhoods seeking small mammals to catch and eat. Owls are active when chickens are securely sleeping in the coop. This reduces the odds that a hen will end up an owl meal.  According to Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center, owls can be a chicken keeper’s best friend.

Avoid Poison and Glue Boards

Although it’s tempting to use poison to rid a home or chicken coop of mice  it should be avoided for these reasons:

  • Poisoned mice might be eaten by chickens, non-targeted wildlife, and pets. They can be sickened or killed by residual poison in the mouse’s body.
  • Poisoned mice sometimes die between walls or in inaccessible places. Soon their bodies smell terrible.
  • Poison is slow acting and cruel. A quick death by a snapping trap is more humane.
  • Chickens, children, pets, and nontarget wildlife might find and eat the poison.

Glue boards are pieces of cardboard or heavy paper covered with an extremely sticky substance. A mouse walking over a glue board will be held tightly. They can’t escape. While glue boards catch mice they also catch non-targeted animals. Any human who touches the sticky stuff will struggle to get free of it. Mice caught in glue boards usually starve to death or are found alive and struggling.  It’s cruel.

Run a Trapline

Mice are relatively easy to trap using any of the many devices on the market.  Most common are snap-type traps that have been effectively catching small rodents for over a century.  For people who prefer not to touch a dead mouse, newer type traps enclose the entire body.  Some traps are even electronic and electrocute the poor animal. There’s even a trap that will alert a cell phone when a mouse has been caught.

MouseTraps

Place several traps side-by-side along a wall where you have seen evidence of mice.

Despite the fancy new type traps the old-fashioned kind, baited with peanut butter or soft cheese, is most common and least expensive. Traps should be set in places where chickens, pets, and children can’t access them. It’s best to set traps in the evening and either spring or retrieve them the next morning.  Following are tips for increasing trapping success:

  • Mice tend to run parallel to walls. Set traps next to walls with the trigger end closest to the wall. Traps with yellow plastic triggers that look like cheese may be slightly more effective than the older traps with metal triggers.
  • Set traps in pairs or triplets. Put two or more traps side by side along the wall for the best odds of catching a fast-running mouse.
  • Set out many traps. The best way to reduce mouse numbers is to catch all, or most, of the mice in the same evening.
  • Don’t assume they’ve all been caught. Usually, there are many mice in a coop or home. Once most have been caught, keep setting them. Likely a few mice remain or new ones may enter.

Dispose of dead mice by flushing them down the toilet, putting them in the trash, burying them, or placing them in a woodsy or tall grassy area for scavengers to eat.  Chickens will eat mice, also.  Wash your hands well after touching the traps or mice.

Reducing mouse numbers in a coop is an important part of chicken husbandry.  It takes some effort but preventing an infestation and trapping any that lurk in the coop is important.

*Reprinted with permission from Hoover’s Hatchery.

 

What’s New at Hoover’s Hatchery?

Hoover's Hatchery sign

A booming business in rural Iowa.

Our relationship with Hoover’s Hatchery started years ago and launched a long and mutually beneficial relationship that keeps growing.

Thanks to quality products and innovative management, the Hatchery, located in tiny, Rudd, Iowa, is thriving today and offers increasing services to its primary market – small flock owners. Raising tiny chicken flocks has become a popular backyard activity that combines fresh eggs with a fun learning experience.

Questions? Turn to Hoover’s Hatchery

Chick in hand

Hoover’s chicks are fed the best ingredients.

Many newcomers have limited or no experience keeping chickens. Hoover’s is there to help.  Want a mixed flock of docile hens that lay brown, blue, green, or white eggs? Hoover’s sells the chicks. Need help learning how to care for them? Hoover’s website is filled with tips and the staff is just a phone call away. Want to learn more?  Hoover’s will guide you. Hoover’s is accurate because as Tony Halsted, Director of Business Development, stated, “We rely on people who have kept chickens for years and know what they are doing.” They are successful because they innovate. Flock Journey is their latest innovation and expansion of partnering with businesses and small flock Ambassadors across the country. From backyard poultry experts in the northern climes to those in the South East to Homesteaders, Hoover’s works with experienced and creative people.

This winter Hoover’s is launching a new website called FlockJourney.com. It’s filled with chicken keeping tips.  Marketing Manager, Kelsey Spotts, explains that Flockjourney is a “…one-stop-shop for backyard poultry.” Visitors can come to one site to get all the information they need.

Partners

Tony speaking

Innovation has helped the business grow.

Hoover’s Hatchery partners with several proactive businesses to support healthy poultry. Strong Animals out of Marshall, MN, advocates natural solutions to poultry care. Nature Serve in DeMotte, IN, formulates poultry feed for optimal nutrition.

So, how does Winding Pathways fit?  We write blogs for Hoover’s Websites and help with a monthly Facebook Live program. Take a peek at Hoover’s Hatchery website. And be sure to order your chicks early as the business is booming.  And, Flockjourney is a one-stop site for information on Lifestyle, Breeds, and Poultry Care. The images are engaging, the blogs and videos both informative and entertaining, and topics range from warm treats to decorating the coop for holidays to chickens off the grid. There is always something brightening up the website, thus, encouraging your creativity as a poultry owner.

One of Several Hoover’s Hatchery Ambassadors

Why Winding Pathways? Well, we have plenty of experience. Rich has been keeping chickens since he was a child in New Jersey in the 1950s and Marion grew up in a family that gardened and raised chickens and pigs in New England. The Pattersons have kept chickens for most of their married life, tested many breeds in small flocks, and experimented to find easy and effective ways to keep chickens.

We blog occasionally about chickens on Winding Pathways and are proud to be part of the team with Hoover’s Hatchery to help encourage people everywhere to keep small flocks in ways that are fun, productive, and safe.

 

How Can You Jazz Up Your Chickens’ Winter Diet?

Late December is special. There are lots to be thankful for and a good reason to celebrate. The solstice just passed, promising a daily addition of sunlight and signaling that spring is on the way. Then there’s a multitude of seasonal, cultural holidays and Holy Days. St. Lucia’s Day, Las Posadas, Yule Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

People everywhere enjoy special year-end treats. For us, it’s stollen and pickled herring plus delicious cookies and, in some years, a tender roast beef dinner.

We remember our chickens and give them special year-end treats. They need it. Few things are as delicious to a hen as a juicy grasshopper or fresh grass shoot. By now those are just memories, and the poor birds have to make do with a diet of nutritious, but boring, commercial mash.

Jazz Up the Diet and Relieve Boredom

So, while keeping plenty of quality mash in the feeder, we jazz up their diet with these things:

treat items for hens

We vary the treats.

Mealworms:   Our chickens might not like them as much as a June caterpillar but dried mealworms are a great winter substitute, so we sprinkle a couple of handfuls in the coop every day. These treats can be bought online or in farm and pet stores.

Sunflower seeds:   Many people put sunflower seeds out for cardinals, chickadees, and other birds to enjoy on frosty days. Chickens also love them.  We toss a handful of black oil sunflower seeds with the hulls on into the coop. They quickly disappear.

Squash seeds:   We enjoy eating butternut and other winter squash during the cold days. Our chickens devour the seeds.

Scratch:  Chickens love eating commercial scratch grain, a blend of corn, milo, wheat, and oats.  A handful or two a day is plenty. It’s chicken candy but low in protein. Be careful when buying scratch. Some brands include a high percentage of milo, a grain that chickens don’t favor.  It’s a round reddish colored seed.  Try buying scratch with a low milo content.

Flock block:   Each winter we buy a flock block. They’re made by several companies and are compressed scratch grain fortified with molasses and other treats.   We simply put the heavy block on the coop floor.  It takes the birds several weeks to eat it all and keeps them busy picking out tidbits. Farm and pet stores sell them. Some folks make their own!

Three chickens eating scraps

We toss a few treats outside the pophole door to entire the hens outside in winter.

On winter days, before enjoying our morning coffee and breakfast we open our coop’s pop hole door and scatter some chicken treats. We’re sure to say good morning and thanks to our hard-working hens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens to Chickens in a Natural Disaster?

Clouds darkened in the late morning of August 10, 2020, as a thunderstorm warning was broadcast by radio stations. That’s common during Iowa summers, so we weren’t overly concerned. A half-hour later, a roaring wind engulfed Cedar Rapids. It was a derecho bearing winds up to 140 miles an hour.

We watched our young trees bend before the tempest. Then came the terrible part.

First, our black oaks tumbled down. Then, the black cherries and hackberries tumbled down before the wind. Our massive black walnut stood until a ferocious blast tore its branches and leaves off.

The derecho lasted longer than most – over 40 minutes – and left as quickly as it had arrived. The damage was mindboggling. We soon learned that Cedar Rapids lost 65% of its trees. A quick count showed that 47 of our 53 mature trees were either on the ground or stripped of leaves and branches. We lost privacy and shade and gained a view.

Free range chickens

For several days the chickens were truly “free-ranging.”

We worried about our 20 chickens. The storm came so quickly that we couldn’t lure them into the coop. The wind destroyed the chicken run’s fence. The birds were fine and, with the fence down, began their first neighborhood tour. Even before the rain stopped!

We couldn’t erect a temporary fence for several days, so the chickens were truly free-ranging. They roamed around, and we often didn’t even know where they were.

But, every once in a while, a hen returned to the coop to lay her egg in the nest.

Each sundown all the chicks came home for the night. All 20!

With power off and vast damage over a large area, we were fearful about food. Our freezer warmed and the wind damaged many of our garden crops. Would grocery stores reopen????. Could we even get through on the tree chocked roads???  We didn’t know. But it was soon obvious that our hens were nonplussed by the storm and kept giving us fresh eggs.

Eggs in bowl

The chickens kept on laying eggs.

Assuming a chicken flock survives an immediate disaster – flood, fire, or storm – they’ll continue laying nutritious eggs when other food may not be available. They are valuable disaster companions.