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Posted on Wed, Dec 23, 2009 : 8:32 a.m.

Backyard chickens a la snow

By Corinna Borden

Borden - chickens in the snow

The downy feathers of the chickens keep them warm in the winter.

Corinna Borden | Contributor

Our girls will be 5 months old at the end of December and are still not yet laying. According to the collective wisdom pullets become hens and start laying eggs sometime between 5 and 6 months (depending on the breed) and are light dependent. What do I mean by light dependent?

If a hen is triggered to lay an egg and it is sunny there will be an egg laid, if it is dark, there will be no egg. (It has to do with the light stimulating the hormones to kick in.) That is why commercial chicken farms always have the lights on.

We decided not to do that.

However, winter is not sun-drenched in Michigan, as you know. Therefore we have begun augmenting the daylight with a light in their coop for a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night. I am hopeful there might be an egg in the New Year.

In the meantime, I am enjoying watching the chickens in the snow. The first time I opened their door it took them 30 minutes to gradually emerge from the confines of their coop. A few days later, they are running around fully comfortable, pecking for scratch I threw into the snow-drenched patio.

I find caring for the chickens a very meditative experience. Watching them feels like watching dogs play in the dog park: their absorption in the experience absorbs me in the experience. Like watching a worm wiggle, a crab scamper, or a fish push against the tide - it is nature being natural, and I love it.

When I put my hand out for them filled with scratch (because their pecks are not gentle and it is good to have bountiful amount of food) I can feel the heat from their necks and wattles. When I open up their door I can hear their sleepy clucks and cackles. At times they will all be moving and then suddenly, stop.


There is no movement, all is stillness.

15 seconds later they will start moving again. Why? What did they hear? I couldn’t hear anything, is there a bionic chicken hearing phenomenon that needs to be studied by NIH?

The feathers on their bottoms are getting more and more downy and petticoat like. When they are standing very still it is possible to see their breath in the movement of those feathers. I am sure that an 18th century woman wearing petticoats would have been able to relate.

I wonder at times if I am in danger of creating an anthropomorphic caricature of our girls. I haven’t yet felt the need to make them clothing so I guess I am okay.

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