Cluck, cluck, goose!

Winter is upon us, and the hens are responding accordingly by slacking off egg laying. Chickens need about 14 hours of daylight to maintain average production. They also need a steady supply of protein and minerals. And certain breeds have a genetic propensity to be better cold-weather layers.

Many backyard chicken-keepers don’t bother with the hassle & expense of supplementary lighting, and just enjoy whatever their gals provide with winter daylight. But Seven Trees depends on a certain level of production, not just for us, but for our loyal and appreciative customers. So we use low wattage compact florescent bulbs on timers – one in the nest box area, and one in the “lounge” (the 8 x 8 ft enclosed food & water area). As the length of daylight changes with the seasons, we adjust the timer so the ladies have plenty of light to eat & drink as needed, and get to bed before ‘lights out’. Since we switched to the CFL bulbs, the electric bill has gone down quite a bit, so it’s well worth  the trouble.

This time of year, there isn’t as much ‘protein-on-the-hoof’ (i.e. bugs) available, so we supplement the hens diet with cooked squash, sunflower seeds, and leftover dairy grain. The layer pellets we keep topped up in their feeder are a complete diet, but they love having real food to scratch through. They are also getting garden stuff like spent pepper plants and damaged greens.

We had planned to have a winter flock of 25 or so birds, but since some of them ended up being roosters, and we lost one to a varmint, we were left with 17 hens. Ameraucanas and Welsummers lay beautiful eggs (green & speckled brown), but they really back off for winter. The New Hampshire reds and black austrolorps are new breeds to us, but so far seem to be doing the bulk of the winter laying. But 6-10 eggs a day from 17 hens just doesn’t cut it, so we bought 4 Rhode Island/Red Star hens from a downsizing farmer this weekend. So far, so good!

Speaking of downsizing, Misty has gone to a new home. We explored all kinds of interesting business models (thanks in part to Cattlemen’s Winterschool) that would utilize a draft pony team, but we eventually realized that we don’t want to make the leap to ‘big business’. And it’s also tough to improve our place, grown our own food, work off-site full time, and train another critter. So Misty has gone to live with a family that shows ponies. With her pedigree and flashy attitude, she’s going to make a splash again in the show circuit. We’ll see her in June 2011 at the Lynden fairgrounds, strutting her stuff. Gemini seems to have adjusted just fine, and we’re hoping to sell the too-large harness we bought at auction this spring so we can get him outfitted in style. Check out our Craigslisting and sale page if you want to buy some really spiffy Welsh pony sized gear.

And Lucky the Swearing Parrot has been helping out with all our doings. Mark (the Evil Parrot) seems to take it all in stride, and sits back to watch the tirade.

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