in which our chickens live off-grid too
|December 18, 2012||Posted by Mama under homestead, off-grid living|
When we tell people we live off-grid, in a camper, in the middle of nowhere, there a few questions that typically come up this time of year ~ How do you stay warm? How do you keep running water? How do you manage living in a small space with kids? But while we have addressed each of those questions, if not on this blog then in our book, we haven’t talked that much about how our chickens live off-grid too.
Sounds kind of funny, but it is an important issue because we don’t have electricity to keep lamps running in their coop, nor can we guarantee having enough water to keep them hydrated through the winter. So when we discuss off-grid living, the topic of chickens deserves some attention too!
I intentionally avoided talking a lot about the care of chickens last winter because it was our first winter keeping them off-grid. We have owned chickens since the spring of 2010, but for the first winter we were living in our old house and ran an extension cord out to the coop so we could run a heat lamp on cold nights, and we refreshed their water supply regularly, even though they were free-ranging for the most part.
Last year, the winter of ’11-’12, we had no source of power except the generator (we don’t get much solar power in winter), and we certainly weren’t going to run it 24/7 just to own chickens. Papa did some research on various chicken-owner’s experiences, and what “olden-day” farmers did to care for their chickens in winter, and we learned some interesting things.
First, chickens can stay hydrated by eating snow just as easily as by drinking water. Even when we do water them this time of year they are eating the snow anyway, and when they have plenty of fresh snow in their coop or they are free-ranging at the time they don’t need any water supplements from the rain-water collection system.
Second, chickens handle cold temperatures much more efficiently than humans. They grow extra feathers, basically a layer of down, and they don’t mind the cold temps unless the wind is really blowing, or it’s below 10-15 degrees. Such temperatures do occur around here, for a good part of the winter, so they adapt to a new daily rhythm of sleep and activity based on daylight. When the sun is out they come out of the coop, and when the sun goes down they go back in, and with newly installed roosting bars inside they coop they stay warm and comfortable surrounded by plenty of hay.
The summertime brings fresh grubs and sprouts for the chickens to eat out in the yard, so they don’t eat as much grain. At this time they are living off grain (which we buy locally when it is available) and leftovers from the kids. Since our kids are picky eaters, our chickens eat in style. Their favorites are pasta and meat, but they’ll eat almost anything I give them. Actually, I know this is a bunny trail, but it does make for a funny story telling about how the older hens have made a habit of eating out of our plates when they are out of the coop and we’re having a picnic. They also like to beg to come inside, the silly things.
Knowing they are happiest when out of the chicken coop/run, we free-range our chickens as much possible. It gives them fresh snow to drink, opportunity to eat more bugs, leaves, or whatever else they can find leftover from fall, and they like the space to play and run. Unfortunately, we have found that certain times of year it is more difficult to let them out – in late spring and early summer when the gardens are taking root and they like to dig them up, and in the fall when predators seem more interested in stocking up on their own food supply. About a month ago we let them loose and over the course of two nights we lost four or five hens to a raccoon. I think in another few weeks it will be safe to let them out again.
We currently have nine hens and one rooster. Half the brood we started with in the spring, but they are happy and we look forward to adding another half dozen to the coop in the spring. Which reminds me of the other half of the story I wanted to share (I’ve been a bit scatterbrained with Chickie cutting four teeth and not sleeping very well). How do we add chicks to flock every year?
We have only had one spring here so far, but we had good luck with keeping the chicks in a box in our living room until they were getting too big for it, at about two weeks. Thankfully we had a very warm spring, with temps commonly in the 70′s during the day, so Papa built a lobster trap-looking cage for the chicks and we moved them outdoors into the make-shift cage, allowing the chickens and rooster to walk around them and check them out. When the chicks were about half adult size we integrated them together into the chicken run, and they became friends before long.
Have you lived off-grid with chickens? I’d love to have you share your experiences! Or, if you have any questions about living off-grid with chickens that I haven’t gotten to, feel free to ask.