How the Hen House Turns: A Cozy Hen House

How the Hen House Turns: A Cozy Hen House
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

It’s been cold this week, a little too cold for September. The pumpkin leaves look very sad, their proud stance suddenly reduced to a dull green droop. They’re done for.

Two winters ago, I panicked when the temperature dropped below 14 degrees F. That’s when ducks shiver ─ a frightening sight. While sitting in icy cold ponds, ducks don’t shiver. And, true to form, my ducks dive for their bathtubs in winter to warm up in the 32 degree water.

That winter, before husband Don found the answer, I hustled the one turkey, two geese, and three chickens into the garage and four ducks into the laundry room at the other end of the house, padded the dog crates with straw, set water out, corralled them all in with chicken wire, stacked boxes, garbage cans and a ladder ─ and hoped for the best.

The next morning the birds awoke with a noisy question: “What is this? Where are we?” In spite of their disorientation and complaining, they ate a fine breakfast of lay pellets and cracked corn, then proceeded to try and bathe in the miniscule water dishes I had laid out.

 It took me two hours to clean up the messes.

The birds went back to their pen when the thermometer registered in the 20s that next day, and husband Don frantically made a beeline for his computer to Google. He ordered a thin, 13 x 21 inch oil heater, which arrived before the next single-digit night, thank goodness. I didn’t know such things existed. There is a place in Bird Heaven for physicists.

This year, husband Don ordered another thin 13 x 21 oil heater and installed it under his desk. He’s happy, and the birds will be happy all day long this winter, even when it doesn’t make it to 20 degrees in the daytime. They have sense enough to hang out inside where it’s warmer. With the temperature at a steady 40 degrees in the Hen House, I can now rest comfortably at my desk, knowing their combs won’t freeze.

What amazes me is how they get along together all winter, huddled in the hen house every night, all 10 of them, to soak up the steady heat. That spring they were at it again: The big male duck Mr. Campbell chasing the young goose, while Lucy honks her head off at him for worrying her daughter; the miniature Mallard male (Kiebler, the quacker) going after everything that’s female (including Lucy, who is 10 times his volume); and his faithful mate, Ms. Ritz, an English Call Duck, calling loudly to stay home please; Khaki the big female duck following at a safe distance; and Little Bear Turkey whining nervously about the ruckus.

The chickens and dogs have sense enough to stay well out of the way in summer, and now I know better than try to keep them in the garage and laundry room in winter.

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