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Not Chickens, but They’ll Do For Now

January 8th, 2011

I’ve always wanted to have chickens, we’re not allowed in our little neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I could hide some though, as they don’t really enforce the rules unless your neighbors complain. I’m not sure I’m ready for chickens though, as they take daily care, and I can be a bit reluctant to head out into the cold on a single digit morning. Those garage cats are great practice though. I have to make sure they have food every day and give them fresh water as well. Whenever I have to suit up to head out and feed them I remember that this is what it would be like to have chickens.

Miss Mama and Little Softie are doing great. They’ve made themselves a little nest in our garage with an old coat and a few cardboard boxes (amazing how they do things like this). I’m thinking of getting them a heated mat though because it’s quite cold out there, and a heated water bowl would be good as well. Perhaps I’ll attempt to build a solar waterer like I saw in Mother Earth News once.

We don’t see them out and about much in the winter, they seem to be hibernating, I think the kitty litter pan we put in the garage for them makes them stay in more as well. When we go out to the garage they come out to beg for food. They also come out when I head to take photos, feed the birds, or run something to the compost. I think they’re missing the human interaction they got in the warm months when I’m outside for several hours. Miss Mama especially is demanding when she sees you out, she wants some attention and some petting! Miss Mama has gotten a little chunky this winter, I bet she has no trouble staying warm.

It’s getting about time to take Little Softie in to get her spayed. She’s still slightly feral and doesn’t trust us 100% yet. Can you blame her after her series of unfortunate events when we had to keep her in a kennel for 2 weeks giving her antibiotics 2x a day (she did not love that). Bet she’s not going to trust us for a while after getting her fixed!

Do you have chickens? How much work are they during the cold winter months? Any other outdoor animals you have to take care of?

31 Comments to “Not Chickens, but They’ll Do For Now”
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mark mile, Susy Morris. Susy Morris said: Not Chickens, but They’ll Do For Now #miscellaneous #pets #feralcat […]

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  2. Sue on January 8, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Miss Mama sort of resembles ME–has she been eating too many cookies too???

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  3. louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife on January 8, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Our chickens are certainly more work in the winter – but I think it’s only in contrast to how little work they are the rest of the year ;)

    We have to melt their drinkers with hot water most mornings and on the coldest days, again at lunchtime. I give them hot porridge (made from layers pellet & a mineral booster) at lunchtime too, and extra corn thrown into the run so they can scratch around for it on the frozen ground.

    Because they’re in the coop more, there is more cleaning out to do too – with the extra pleasure of having to scrap frozen poop off the floor!

    With all the trips back and forth between the house & the run, it’s probably 30-45 mins work a day, compared to about an hour a week in the summer. We’re not early risers so the worst bit is having to melt the drinkers in good time in the morning – but we know it’s only a short term thing so we get on with it.

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    • Grant Geiger on January 8, 2011 at 11:57 am

      Yes the chickens are more work in the winter but not too much. My chicken coop is insulated and we keep a light in it to keep the water and eggs from freezing. And yes I have to clean the coop a lot more because they don’t go outside so they only poop in the coop. So average for me it is 7-12 minutes a day.

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  4. Joan on January 8, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Chickens in Maine: We have a 6’x6′ chicken coop with an attached pen which is approximately 16’x24′. It’s relatively predator proof (except for weasels) because we sunk the wire for it into the ground so nothing could dig under, and it is set up to have wire across the top if we ever have problems with animals coming over the top.

    In the winter I go out at night and shut them into the coop if it is going to be much below freezing, otherwise they have free run of both. I run out first thing in the morning to give them fresh (unfrozen) water, and if I’ve locked them in for the night, to let them out of their coop. I also go out once in the afternoon to check for eggs, and to make sure that their water is not frozen. I don’t clean out their coop until spring. Once in a while I’ll throw a bit more shavings on the top. That’s it. Pretty simple and easy, and I don’t mind the trip out in the morning because it gives me a feel for what the weather is like that day.

    If I’m going to be home for a few hours in the afternoon, I’ll let them loose to wander, and then at dusk they’ll find their way back into their coop to roost. Again, pretty simple.

    In the summer, we move them into a chicken tractor and move them around, so that is a little more work, but not much.

    I love my chickens – they are so much fun to watch, and give us fresh eggs, and manure for our garden. And if you build a chicken tractor, they can do any heavy weeding in the garden for you – just move them onto an empty weedy patch of ground and they’ll clean it up beautifully!

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  5. The Mom on January 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I think they’re incredibly easy. We have 5 hens in a tractor. In the summer I move them once or twice a day. In the winter, they are in a set location to give them access to electric for their water heater and lights. They get any leftovers that we don’t get to, or don’t want to give the dog. A lot of what used to go into the compost now goes to the girls. I’d say I go out twice a day for them. You could probably do once a day in the winter if you timed it right. I love my chickens!

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  6. ryan on January 8, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I have chickens and pigs. The chickens are relatively easy… The thing is… despite having to go outside in the cold to let them out or let them in at night, the fun of collecting eggs and having farm fresh eggs all the time is worth that little extra effort :)

    I am actually putting off getting garage cats because of the perceived extra work and the fear they would be cold in the winter but your experience is proving to me it would be not so much extra work!

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  7. Anne on January 8, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I don’t have chickens, but I do have a cat that looks just like Miss Mama, only trim! She is half Himalayan, half random male so it’s always fun to see another cat that looks just like her.

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  8. Tracy on January 8, 2011 at 10:43 am

    We have chickens and they are relatively easy, even in the winter. We have a coop and enclosed run. Each morning we let them out of the coop, give them fresh water, and check their food situation. We check them again in the afternoon to make sure their water isn’t frozen over, and collect eggs, and once more after dark. It’s then that we collect any final eggs from the day, empty the water so it doesn’t freeze overnight, and shut the coop.

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  9. Michelle on January 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I love having chickens. I live in city limits…I keep them in a coop in my backyard. It’s plenty of room for them to live comfortably…but I do let them out to free range. They tear up the yard…so i would recommend having a specific place for them…a coop as well as a large area to scratch. Or like the other gal mentioned…a chicken tractor so you can move them around to help plow your garden! Since it’s not real popular here to keep chickens in one’s backyard, I aslked all of my nieghbors in advance if they’d mind. And they all said they wouldn’t and were actually excited at the idea of it! So far so good…

    But..yes…winter is a bit more work. But overall…chickens are great. And you can’t beat a fresh egg…

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  10. denimflyz on January 8, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Love your kitties. I have 2 ferals, a brother and sister. Got the sister spayed last February, the brother is very unsure of me though he loves his food. Outside cats are not hard to keep, just like chickens or any other livestock. Just needs a place out of weather, food, and water, and a little looking after.
    I have several insiders that look like Miss Mama, she is very pretty.
    Love your blog,
    Take care

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  11. Heather on January 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I’ve always wanted chickens too but alas, it’s not something I can handle or have realistically now. Love that you are taking care of those kitties. We have 3 older rescues and they are all indoor kitties now. I’ve taken care of quite a few litters and mama’s in previous days, in fact one of our beloved kitties came to us on mothers day as the mama (mama maxine we named her) brought her litter to our back porch that AM. We found homes for all the kittens and I’ve got friends who still have a couple siblings to ours. Other than the cats we just feed the birds in the winter.

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  12. risa b on January 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

    In our climate in western Oregon, ducks are far easier. But chickens are ok — neither is hugely productive in the winter (except Khaki Campbell ducks).

    The layout we have evolved is the “Chicken Moat with Orchard” model. The chicken pasture runs round much of the property, and is also the orchard. Deer fenced on the outside, chicken fenced on the inside. Within the chicken fence is the garden. Here there be ducks. Bugs must get past the chickens to reach the trees or the garden, and the chickens clean up under the trees. Ducks clean up in the garden. They have their own pasture to retreat to, though, in summer, when the garden is for us only. We’re picky like that.

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  13. Melissa on January 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

    We love having chickens! They’re not really more work than any other pet. We do let them out to free range during the day, so they must be put away at night. But really, they all go to the henhouse of their own accord when it gets dark. We use the deep-litter method, so we’re putting out fresh straw weekly (sometimes less). It’s very little work in relation to what they provide us… fresh, organic, free-range eggs everyday. Yum! It makes me wonder why we have dogs when they provide us nothing in return. ; ) (Actually, they keep the coyotes and foxes at bay, so they aren’t completely useless.)

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  14. Missy on January 8, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Remind me next time your over and you can have Ollie’s heated mat to try out.

    Reply to Missy's comment

  15. Joshua on January 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    My chickens are a little more work in the winter than the summer, but not much. On freezing days, I handle water by simply bringing a bowl of water out to them and taking the frozen bowl into the house. I swap the bowls again in the evening if it’s cold enough to have frozen the morning-bowl over the course of the day. Feeding is no different than the summer: they eat feed from the feeder and scratch on the ground. I keep my chickens in a run enclosed by electric netting. The run is more to keep a certain local neighborhood dog out than to keep the chickens in, although it does keep the chickens in. At night, I close up the chickens’ coop to provide protection from more-persistent night-time predators. A fox or coyote wouldn’t think twice about getting around the electric net fencing, but they don’t come out in the day. As for the manure, the chickens are out of the coop, in the run, near all day, so that’s where they deposit much of their poop. At night, they leave a big pile under the roost where they sleep, and I keep some boards down there so I can easily transport it to the compost pile and scrape it off. As a previous poster mentioned, if it’s cold, the poop is frozen, but I just wait for an above-freezing day and do it then. All told, maybe fifteen minutes of work a day, and only that because it’s a two-minute walk out to the area where the coop and run are.

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  16. Les Burkholder on January 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    They’re not much trouble. I have a heated waterer I made myself. Before this one that holds 2 gallons of water I just used one of those heated dog water dishes that can be bought at RKO or TSC.
    I use an old vertical feeder that holds around 40 lbs of feed so I only have to fill it up about once a week fo 21 chickens. I only go out in the barn once a day to gather the eggs and check that they have feed and refill the waterer. Have Marty & Wendy bring you out to see our set-up, after all some of these chickes are theirs.

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  17. TreeHugginMomma on January 8, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Make sure you ask for internal stiching (this is generally done on ferral cats as they don’t have to come in and have them removed), but our local spay and nueter program does traditional stiching and then doesn’t tell you you have to get the stiches removed by a vet, not through their program….

    Reply to TreeHugginMomma's comment

    • Susy on January 8, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Yes, when we had Miss Mama fixed we didn’t have to take her back in for stitch removal. They even let us take her in without getting her any vaccines.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  18. annie on January 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    My chickens are super easy but I’m not sure how they would be in super cold climates.

    As for complaining neighbors and HOAs… it’s amazing the mollifying effect a regular dozen of eggs has on the neighbors :-)

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  19. Jennifer Fisk on January 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Chickens in Maine again: They are a little more work in the winter because the spend more time in their house than in the summer. They go to roost between 2:30 and 4 depending on cloud cover. Their light comes on at 2 AM when they find their food hopper is adequately full, cracked corn scattered on the floor and water is available in the heated waterer. I open their door by 7 and can usually gather 6-8 eggs then. I had to construct a smaller covered pen from kennel panels because the resident Goshawk is opportunistic this time of year and has taken 3 of mine and 2 of a neighbor’s Guinea hens. I close them up by 8-9pm when I take the dogs out for the last time. I am also using the deep litter method so have to add shavings and straw fairly often to keep the litter dry. I also sell organic eggs to neighbors.
    Is the work worth it. Absolutely, especially when the egg goes from hen to frying pan in just a few hours. Most grocery store eggs are 45 days old before they are on the store shelves. The chickens have been fed all manner of nasty things like antibiotics and other animals waste and have a miserable life cramped in a tine cage. Yes, having chickens is worth it.

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  20. Susy on January 8, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks for all the great info on chickens. One of these days I might pu Mr Chiots to work building a coop!

    Reply to Susy's comment

    • Allison on January 9, 2011 at 9:52 am

      That’s what I’m doing to my husband. We’ll see how he makes out in the spring. Find good blueprints for a coop is hard!

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  21. Louise on January 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    We live in the city and have 6 chickens that free range all day in the back yard and go into the coop on their own when it gets dark. I so enjoy having them; it gives me a great sense of connection to the land.

    They are funny to watch and have their own personalities. Chickens are not that much work when they are grown up from the chick stage. They are quite independent.

    I raised our chickens from chick stage and to get a good connection with them you have to spend a lot of time with them. They really become like a pet. Three of our chickens know their name and come when called. When one of our bantams laid her first egg she seemed worried and hopped unto my lap and laid the right there; it was a very special moment.

    We have two cats that we trained not to attack the chickens, you can do this by introducing the chickens during the chick stage and letting the cats smell them and interact with them while being closely supervised. We have never had any problems with the cats and chicken combo.

    Having chickens is really great; the fresh eggs are wonderful, and the entertainment and company is fun. They trim the grass in the yard and fertilize it at the same time. Having chickens is one of the best decisions we have made. I highly recommend it!

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  22. Lisa on January 9, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Chickens, chickens, chickens…..Miss Mama looks like she ate three chickens. And I wouldn’t get ANY chickens with those two crafty kitties wild and free. And frankly, while the chickens will give you egss…those two cats are, well….the Cat’s Meow.

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  23. Cheryl on January 9, 2011 at 2:14 am

    My mother keeps chickens through Utah winters. She has what she calls a “Chicken Condo.” It is a shed that they divided in half. Half for yard tools and half for her girls. The Chicken condo is two levels with a ramp from the lower level to the upper level. All of that is just strange trivia.
    When my father built the “condo.” He insulated it and used a good double pane window. The waterer sits on a thermostat controlled waterer platform that keeps the water thawed. And they have a light on a thermostat also.
    She has black and gold sex linked chickens. She prefers the Golds because the eggs are bigger and the color is deeper. The black ones lay a little bit smaller egg with surprisingly a more fragile shell. Even though all of the girls eat the same diet.
    The girls have to be checked daily a couple of times and especially at night. One day last week there was some sun and the girls roosted in the hen yard on the branch perches for the night. They could have been injured by the overnight lows had my Mom not noticed and chased them inside.
    One more thing. Her girls are carefully protected from the cats and Raccoons in the hen yard. But, they did have a MINK in the hen house last year. It slipped in somehow. My mother met a mink in the nest box and there were 3 headless chickens.
    She screamed for my father (I was on the phone with her when she found the Mink) and he came out and took care of the mink.
    She has also had evidence of digging. Something has tried to dig under the hen house and fences. But, her hen yard has a floor under the wood chips. Mesh works well.

    Best wishes,


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  24. Cheryl on January 9, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Oh, and one more thing… My mom buys sex linked chickens to be sure she does not end up with a rooster to bother her neighbors. The previous neighborhood where she lived did not allow them and with the blessing of her neighbors she quietly had them the whole time I was growing up. If somebody is cranky though it would not work.

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  25. Mrs. Whimsy on January 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    A great post for me to read all the comments, because we will want chickens when we buy our dream farmy type home. I’m thinking though…I will spend a lot of time in the garden every summer night after work, but in the winter when there is no garden, then I will be trading off that time to clean and feed the chickens.

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  26. Nancy from Mass on January 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Funny that you would post this…I have actually wanted chickens for about 8 years now and my son has mentioned it a number of times in the last year. I know we can have chickens in our town (but no roosters) and hubby is starting to consider it. I wondered how much more work they would be in the winter, so I was happy to read the comments. I have already asked my brother to help me build a coop (should we decide to do this) and have printed out a movable coop plan from Mother Earth News. I would like to find 3-4 month old hens to start with though rather than chicks because I work full time and would not be able to check on them during the day.

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  27. Miranda on January 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I must admit, Winter isn’t really “Winter” in Austin, so i can’t offer much insight on cold weather care. I’m sure that’s already been covered by your other readers/commenters. I just wrote a little update on my girls:

    I would imagine water would be the most difficult thing. Chickens really do take care of themselves. They only need to have their bedding freshened, their water kept clean and unfrozen, and maybe some extra food when it’s chilly. I so love having hens, though i’m looking forward to a new homestead that will keep them in their own area and off the porch. Wiping chicken poo off your puppy’s feet every time she comes inside is quite irritating and gross.

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  28. […] The dog is loving her new diet, she gobbles up her portions readily every morning and evening. The outdoor cats are also loving their new diet of local chicken and vegetables, which they supplement with mice, […]

    Reply to Real Food Roundup: Week 4 « Not Dabbling In Normal's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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