The girls are now ready for winter.
Their coop has been cleaned and fresh straw put in. They were very serious inspectors when this project was done. I did change the orientation of their nesting boxes so that they don't sit over them so frequently (less poo in the boxes). I will need to hang a pole on the one side sometime soon, but that's about it.
There is a huge tarp covering their huge area. I threw it all on myself (nasty sucker, heavy and not easy to manage), if I do say so myself. BUT, then my lovely neighbor and friend, Joe and Vince, revamped the tarp, rolling up certain areas and propping another area up so that it drapes over the far side. EXCELLENT! This was a great surprise to come home to after San Francisco. I do plan on having plastic at the ready, just in case we are expecting some crazy strong wind or very cold weather. It may make the pen a bit stale-smelling, but at least the birds will stay warm (and not have rain blown in on them).
I bought a bale of straw for $2. Yes, $2. Amazing, right? I thought I'd need more, but it turns out one bale of straw is MORE than sufficient to cover and entire pen and stuff a coop. WOW! The girls were beside themselves with happiness.
Picture a flock of 14 chickens (soon to become 16 when the two littles are moved outside probably tonight) prancing around, tossing straw into the air, scratching, clucking happily, and rolling. It was a joyous scene.
Besides their enjoyment, the straw is good for many reasons. First, it gives the girls something to do. And, the straw is covered, so it stays dry. I may find that I will need to remove some of the straw that gets rained on around the edges of the coop, but that should be somewhat minimal. The straw does do a good job at poop absorption, as well as keep the ground insulated. The pen does feel warmer now that the straw is on the ground.
Last night, I took my grandfather's old tool light (the kind with the cage around the lightbulb that hangs) and hung it above the door in the coop. The girls still went into the coop at dark, but they were wide awake when I went to close the door. YES! I'm trying to make them think it's still summer hours and longer days. This will help increase egg-laying in the wintertime. I need to buy a cap for the outdoor socket (to protect from rain-- it's under the overhang, but still) and possibly a timer. That would make the on-again-off-again light switch much easier to manage.
I switched the girls to Purina's Layena pellets. These seemed the best for all-around food, giving them a good amount of protein, calcium, and other necessary ingredients to promote egg-laying. Best of all, it doesn't break the bank. They seem to like the new pellets. Of course, they still get lots of greens and such, but it's good to have a change in their foundation food. I'm hoping, after being on this for a few days, their egg production will increase. I realize that all the changes may have funked them up for a while, but we'll see. If this doesn't work, more research will be had.
This is the only thing I have not yet solved. I think I may move their water bowl into the coop when the weather gets nasty. I'm hoping that a) the coop being insulated inside the pen and b) the coop being shut up with warm chickies inside will mean the water will not freeze. We don't get too much below-freezing weather that will freeze water during the day, but we do have cold nights here. So, I want to figure out how to make it work so the girls have water. I could just take the water in at night too.... to be determined. And also partially dependent on the winter we have.
So that's the update. The girls are pretty happy.