Odd Chicken Behaviors and Wintertime Boredom Busters

Collage side by side withorange text jpegFor some reason our chickens have a thing, and I mean a real genuine thing about the wood under their chicken coop. They are “chewing it.” Yes, actually chewing the wood.  When I look at the wood I can actually see little beak marks all up and down the 2 X 4. Everyone, even advanced chicken keepers, are pretty baffled about this strange, even-for-a-chicken behavior. It is actually outright weird and chickens can be pretty weird from time to time anyway-sort of the nature of the beast!

Chickens under coop in dusting area

Our Cochin/Phoenix mix chickens under their coop in their favorite hang-out, now out-of-bounds!

You can literally see little vertical beak mark scratches up and down the board where they have scraped something off its surface.  I’ve considered many possibilities of what might be driving a chicken to do this; perhaps they need to sharpen their beaks, there might be bugs in the wood, there could be moss on the wood, maybe this is just winter boredom…. all kinds of possibilities. I can’t see anything on the surface of the wood other than old wood with some paint on parts of it. And it’s the same paint that is on the rest of their coop that they pay no attention to, so I honestly do not think it is that.

Gene hanging eye hook, close jpeg

Gene is putting up an eye hook to hang the “chicken boredom busters” from.

One day I watched them do this odd behavior all morning and then gag or grasp for air  as a result. I began to imagine tiny wood fibers in their throats and became alarmed. I remember thinking to myself this cannot be healthy. So I consulted the Chicken Critters and More Facebook list and while lot of “maybes” were thrown out, everyone pretty much agrees we need to seal this area off to protect the chickens from splinters and whatever else may be on that wood. Sorry girls, this is another one of those “tough love” decisions at work.

Gene hanging cabbage in run jpeg

Gene hanging the head of cabbage from the roof truss in the covered run.

It’s really too bad too because this is the one area where the soil does not freeze and where their mother (now  re-homed) taught them to dust. And they absolutely adore this area because they can scratch up the sandy oil there, eat the roots of the grass found there and I think they feel protected from the elements and we human messing around in their run.

Corn and cabbage hanging from roof truss jpeg

Head of cabbage and ear of corn….sounds almost human doesn’t it; head and ear?

Since we have taken away their favorite “hang-out” (bad chicken momma!!) we hung a head of cabbage and an ear of corn from the roof truss. My thinking is, if we took away their best playground we should give them back some things fun to do in return. We also added a pile of sand in a corner and they were immediately on top of it like King of the Mountain.

Cabbage hanginging alone in run

Cabbage the best boredom buster out there….but will they know to eat it?

I feel really bad to close their play pen off but in the end we covered it up to keep them out for a few months as a form of protection. Maybe we can open it back up in a few weeks and they will have forgotten about the scraping?

Have you ever encountered weird and odd chicken behaviors in your chickens over the year? Please share them….I need to know that there isn’t something awful in the water here that is making them act so coo-coo. Please tell me I am not alone in this weird chicken-ness?

Small House Homestead and chicken keeper, Donna.

Tweaking the New Covered Chicken Run

Funny chickie babies 4 FBcollage jpeg

Our Cochin/Phoenix mix chickens teenagers say, “Welcome to the Coop. Come and sit a while!”

So far our new covered run has been a roaring success for chickens and their human keepers alike.  I no longer have to supervise the chickens for several hours every day and the chickens absolutely love their freedom as well, a definite win-win!

Tarp roof

I know the plastic covered run doesn’t photograph well yet, but it is efficient and warm.

This shelter has worked well in protecting them from the gusty winds, deep snow and hungry predators – all in one. The beauty of this is not in the real estate itself ….the beauty is in its flexibility and in the management.

Coop roof close USE

Here is the roof truss stage, before the tarp was added. You get an accurate idea of its true size.

Each morning when I take the chickens their breakfast, I open up the chicken door. This door open out from the coop into the run. When I go out to check on them in a couple of hours, they are usually out in the covered run and pecking around. More often than not, because the ground is frozen and hard they are hanging out in the dusting area under their coop, scratching in the dirt and sand found there. From time to time I dig up the soil under the coop and add some sand from their sand pile to assist in this effort.

Blue sky tarp in landscpae USE

Here you can see the clear plastic that covers the windiest sides of our property; north and west.

Even though the ground in the main run area is frozen solid, I suspect that the soil under the coop is kept unfrozen due to **chicken produced heat.**

Sunshine in corner

The corner of the run with the newly established, roost bar. Belly up the bar girls!

 This extra heat likely comes from the chickens themselves; plus the lightbulb in the coop and the composting that is taking place in their sand based litter. I’ve read that the temperature in the coop itself runs about 10 degree warmed than the outside temperature due to the factors mentioned above. Pretty cool natural heater huh!

Food corner USE

The sunny corner before the perch was added. A sunny corner keep the run feeling like a greenhouse.

Whatever it is that is keeping the under-the-coop area from becoming  just another block of ice, it makes me happy because this gives the chickens a place to dust even during the coldest months and dirt to peck around in. There is just something about dirt for chickens…the just adore it in any shape or form!

Under coop dustng area with plastic USE

This is the chickens dusting area under the coop. Three sides are blocked off with plastic to make it draft free.

All of this; the run, the sunshine, the roost bar, the large area to scratch around  makes for much happier and less-bored chickens in my opinion.

Outside North door w plastic

North door and panel covered in construction grade plastic.

Gene began by using 2 X 4’s to make roof trusses, then crafted individual removable frames and finally added plastic to the frames using a staple gun. We are currently using a tarp on top for a temporary “roof.” We hope to add permanent corrugated plastic PVC roofing panels in the spring.

Latches on door

One of two critter proof latches per door to keep our chickens safely inside and the coons outside.

This week we tweaked the run by adding a low wooden perch in the corner for the chickens to jump up on if the ground is cold. We chose the often sunny corner so they can also snooze in the sunshine if they want to. I really like the fact they can get off of the cold ground when desired.

We measured the height of the perch in their coop and duplicated that same height that is already familiar to them. Why reinvent the wheel, right? They found their new perch in less than one hour from the time of its installation….who thought a chicken could be so smart!

Heated dog bowl

The new heated water bowl. Now if they just realized it was there and taught themselves to use it!

We also added a heated dog bowl as well. This has relieved me of the chore of hourly checks to break open the ice in the red and white plastic waterer too. Whew, that has that made a difference in my day as well as theirs!

When the chickens are happy and the chicken momma is happy too!

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna


Baby Chicks are on Their Way

I just got word that my newest Rhode Island Red chickets are arriving on or about April 20th. Horray!

I am tickled pink to know that at long last I am going to have Rhode Island Reds once again. They were my first chickens and by far my favorites for their hardiness, consistence, rarely go broody and lay the most gorgeous, large brown eggs. They are also heritage chickens and I like to do my part in keeping that lovely breed from going extinct.

Rhodies boost the title of America’s most well-know and popular chicken, though for many years the breed was facing a critical decline in its breeding population. Thanks to the hobby hatcheries and backyard farmers the Rhode island reds is now a popular chickens among small farms and backyards today.

Rhode Island Red Chicks grow to be one of the most productive and useful dual purpose breeds across the country and world today. They have prolific egg production, and they will dress nicely as a table bird. The Rhode Island Red is also one of the most hardy of all dual purpose breeds, and they will thrive in almost any environment they could face in the United States. They have amenable dispositions and are a favorite among 4-H clubs and state fair competitions around the country. Their active disposition, hardy nature, and superb foraging ability helps them thrive in a free range environment as well. Though the breed has become smaller over the last 60 years, they females still weigh over 6 pounds while the males over 8 pounds. The Rhode Island Red Hens are excellent winter egg layers due to their heavier size and hardiness, and they will generally lay between 200-300 per year – perhaps the best dual purpose egg layer in production today. The hens can become broody, though not as frequently as some other breeds like the Buff Orpington. Roosters can become aggressive, and it is generally best not to have more than one rooster for every 8 – 10 hens.

I’m going to be brooding in my laundry room since it faces the south side of the Small House and between the dryer, the freezer and the boiler this room is about the warmest in the house.

Since I only have room for four additional chicks in the coop, I’ll be using a cardboard box until they get big enough to go outside later on in the spring.

The biggest challenge will be Sassy our trained bird dog so we will get out the baby gate and but we will close off the room and hopefully protect the chicks from our sweet but fierce bird chasing dog.

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna

Vanishing Landscapes – Red Horse Ranch, Fennville

Yesterday I had the privilege of feeding my horse friends at Red Horse Ranch. I volunteer there one evening a week so that I can be close to the horses and give them equine Reiki when the timing works.

Red on white snow falling USE

Red Horse Ranch in a raging but beautiful February snowstorm.

Almost a white out USE

It was so cold that I didn’t share Reiki the horses but I was able to spend a bit of time photographing the farmstead. Documenting old places, especially vanishing landscapes is an old love of mine. I have been doing this for more than 50 years now. Recording these old-style covered bridges, barns, factories, one-room schoolhouses, train stations, old neighborhood stores and more, these vintage structures draw me in and do not let me  go.

Inside barn looking out

The view from inside the “big barn” looking out.

While I once documented them in black and white film, I now use a digital camera to capture their beauty and create photo essays using computer software. The equipment is certainly different but the creative process is much the same.

Chicken coop from side  in snow USE jeg

Chipped paint, weather wood and snow flakes on the chicken coop.

Coop window close USE

There is just something about photographing barn red paint against white snow.


Coop and fence nice

The chicken coop in the landscape.

The cold simply vanishes when I am immersed in my craft with the camera in hand and my mind in sync. Photographs jump out at me in the tiniest of details from the barn latch to the blue-gray eyes of the barn cat.

Barn cat USE

The barn cat carefully watches me giving Reiki healing to J.B.

When I stood in the barn and look at the hay mound filled with bales of hay I am suddenly transported back to my grandparents Yankee Bank Barn on the Prairie Rhonde, in Schoolcraft, MI. For a moment I was teleported back my childhood and I was standing in the sunbeam watching the straw pieces floating down and around me. For a moment I smelled that unique odor of fresh baled hay. I haven’t thought of that day in years. Isn’t that interesting how a place, and a moment, can trigger a fifty-year-old memory?

Haymound close USE jpeg

The hayloft and tack center.

Red stilllife USE

A picturesque vignette of vintage wheelbarrow and chair.

BJ eating in barn USE jpeg

B.J. eating her dinner before her Reiki treatment.

These vanishing landscapes call to me and sing a song of a story of a slowly dying time. My grandparent’s barn is gone now but the good memories remain. 

Small House Homesteaders and Photographer, Donna

Today’s Breakfast: Fuel for the Journey

 My body definitely craves more food in the morning and less, and often, nothing at night. So I fuel up more heavily in the morning to satisfy those cravings and to give me sufficient energy for my active day.

Full egg in the pan

Put the eggs into the pan, add the spinach and mushrooms and cook about one minute.

This is a typical winter day breakfast for me; three organic eggs (I eat half then and save the other half for a second meal.) I top off the eggs mixture with a small handful of fresh organic spinach, two small organic portabella mushrooms and after folding in half, I add tiny slivers of Applewood Smoked Cheddar cheese with fresh ground black pepper on top.

This omelet is accompanied by two pieces of whole wheat Ezekiel Bread (Food for Life brand) a hearty sprouted toast and my two capsule of CQ10, (200 mg. total) per day. This is lightly cooked in a vintage cast iron pan (no plastic coating) that has a light smear of virgin olive oil in it.

Sliced then, I also enjoy an organic orange for fiber and Vitamin C., often later on in the morning to assure I get enough Vitamin C.

Half omlette in the pan

Flip over in half and add the cheese and pepper.

This omelet is especially tasty and extremely satisfying. Today I am caring for my chickens, dog,  and house, shoveling the sidewalks and driveway and late this afternoon I feed the horses, goats and chickens at Red Horse Ranch where I volunteer. I need a lot of healthy fuel for this kind of outdoor day!

Omlette on plate

Plated and ready to eat.

Later in the day I’ll snack on my ½ cup of Kiefer (probiotic) and my aloe vera gel and enjoy a light lunch, most likely a fresh spinach and lettuce salad with fruit, sunflower seeds, 1 thinly sliced portabella mushroom, chia seeds, and a sprinkle of feta cheese.

Dinner will likely be a light snack like a piece of fruit or a bowl of fresh steamed green vegetables. Or some days, nothing at all depending the amount of energy I have expended during on the day and if I am hungry or not.

I know that this is not the typical American way to eat but it is the way my body-type needs. And that good enough for me.

Small House Homestead, Donna


Small House Homestead Upgraded and Back On-Line

Our faithful followers might have noticed that the Small House Homestead blog has been quiet for some time now. Our free WordPress space was limited, I was not able to add the photographs I wanted to add and I needed to figure out what was the best direction to take to upgrade this blog. I also needed to figure out how to use the new editor. It typically takes me a while to research and figure out what I want to do next so for this lag, I apologize!

Blue sky coop barn and snowy ground

A winter scene on the homestead; our pole barn and covered chicken run under a blue sky winters day.

I’ve made some changes to the blog, added some more fun and bright colors and I hope made things on the blog easier to read and follow. I still have a few small things I want adjust so please bear with me, I am not a computer “techie,” without an unlimited budget and professional blogging assistants and marketing communication specialists. I figure things out more through trial and error. If something is just not working for you, just let me know and I’ll take it from there. My goal is that this blog is user-friendly, so I am always open to your suggestions.

Like everything else in my life, I’ll keep working on it!

Small House Big Sky homesteader and amateur blogger, Donna