Winter Hens on Hay


Ameraucana, Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red Hens on Hay

These three hens hang out with the pigs on the strawberry plateau. Each group of pigs has a flock of birds who’ve assigned themselves as support staff. We don’t sell chicken or eggs but we have a lot of chickens, as well as ducks and geese.
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The poultry eat bugs, slugs, frogs and mice, clean up, break apart manure patties and smooth out the soil. They also trim the grass under fence lines although not as much as I would like. Lastly they provide eggs which we boil to double the available protein and concentrate towards the weaner and younger grower ages of pigs.

These are truly pastured eggs since we don’t buy commercial chicken feed. In the warm months the chickens support themselves entirely with foraging on pasture and in the winter the chickens eat pigs and mice. The pigs we provide in the form of scraps left over from our weekly butchering. This replaces the chicken’s summer diet of bugs.


We have burned no fire for the last day but the cottage is warm since it was a pretty sunny day. Before that we had a fire after I cleaned the ash out of the stove but before that we had gone three days without fire. The 100,000 lbs of thermal mass in the masonry of our cottage stores the heat from the sun and the morning fires when we do them so overnight fires aren’t necessary and many days we don’t even have to light a fire if there is good solar gain. I like thermal mass!

Outdoors: 11°F/-16°F Mostly Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 63°F/57°F

Daily Spark: All of the people in history who sought immortality have one thing in common, they’re dead. -Ben Jeffries rephrasing Stephen Cave

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Winter Hens on Hay

  1. Eric Hagen says:

    Do you have to cull your flock to make sure each bird has enough forage in the summers, or is that not a problem? Also, do you mostly buy in chicks, or do you have a self sufficient flock? I know you’ve brought in chicks in the past, but I’m wondering if you’ve stopped.

    • We only have 300 to 500 birds so we don’t have so many that culling the for warm season grazing would be necessary – there is plenty of pasture. We do cull back in the late fall. Some of our poultry are born here, some we’ve bought as chicks or ducklings. The original geese were given to us by our post mistress.

  2. Patrick says:

    Cool birds and great choices. Those Ameraucana are perfect bug hunters. Half my little flock is comprised of them – the other half is Black Australorp. We haven’t added any heat or light this winter and they did fine; though the egg production dropped to almost nil during the darkest days.

    The little brown Ameraucana birds are annoyingly adventurous. They range farther and have no issues at all running into the woods for a day before coming back in the afternoon. Our tick population is way down since having them around. I also see the birds crowding under cherry trees in the forest waiting for the moth caterpillars to drop to the ground. That alone is worth having them – my wife has some odd aversion to caterpillars (she agrees it is odd but she is tough as nails otherwise).

    These are the birds that don’t go back into protected spaces (coops, runs) at night – they just hang around those spaces. They are also the ones that build nests under the root balls of fallen trees, under equipment, between wood piles, in flower pots or wherever. Their eggs are bluish-green so the kids love chasing around for their daily “Easter egg hunt” trying to find where they dropped them, this time.

    They are funny little birds, even if they get eaten by Mother Nature a more often than others. Live by adventure; die by misadventure.

    Also: we had a few of their roosters and they got to be fairly aggressive once mature. Other breeds not so much. I don’t want to disparage an entire breed based on a few roosters, but people with young kids might want to watch carefully. These roosters went after everybody, but kids are more vulnerable. FWIW, they tasted great. Like you Walter, we eat the mean ones.

    • I like the Americauna/Auracana. Their genetics has quite a bit of variety in it. We have two quite nice roosters from them right now but have had some in the past that earned the name Stewie. The Buff Orpington seem very calm.

  3. Diane N. says:

    Great, a post about chickens with a photo! Keep them coming.

  4. Laura Dille says:

    I am wondering if your chickens make nests or if you have nesting boxes for them. I donot imagine you want to spend much time hunting for eggs all over the farm?

    • Mostly the chickens lay in the provided egg box nests. Some make nests elsewhere and we find the nests, or not. Those we don’t find end up hatching. If one listens they’re easy to find as hens cluck when they lay eggs. I don’t mind that some lay and hatch eggs as that adds to the flock.

  5. Matt Richwine says:

    Do you have a hen house?

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