JANINE MARSH tells of how she looks after her chickens, ducks and geese in cold weather
With Janine Marsh
It gets cold in the winter months here in the middle-of-nowhere rural France, where I live. Early spring can be hellishly chilly too. For me that means bringing more logs in for the wood fire to warm up my old farmhouse, which doesn’t have central heating.
For my chickens, ducks and geese, it means a bit of extra care and attention is needed. They’re always excited to see me, but on very cold days they are positively delighted when I open the back door and they see I’m about to take care of them. A cacophony of clucks, quacks and honks fill the garden, prompting the wild birds to stop pecking at the fat balls I put out for them and look around in wonder.
I do all the usual things like making sure there’s plenty of dry straw in the birds’ shed and ferrying buckets of fresh water from the house when their water bowls and ponds freeze. Some days when I really feel sorry for them I’ll make some rice or porridge and give it to them slightly warm. I have about 60 birds in total so cold weather actually means quite a lot of work for me, but they’re worth it. On some mornings, when I slide about on the ice and my fingers freeze, I tell them just how lucky they are to have me.
Neighbour’s advice The other day my neighbour Bernadette, who has kept chickens for decades, told me that I also need to check the pens very carefully to make sure each bird is safe and well since on very cold days it’s not unusual for a bird to find its feet frozen to the ground.
“I’ve had to chisel a duck out of the icy mud many a time,” she assured me.
“Surely not,” I said, “that must be a joke?”
“Non,” she said firmly. “It happens. You must check that none of your birds get stuck in the ice.”
Back home I told my husband Mark what Bernadette had said.
“Surely not,” he said, “that must be a joke.”
“That’s what I said,” I told him, but neither of us were sure so we took some old palettes down to the pens and placed them on the ground to give the birds somewhere to keep off the mud when it freezes.
I’ve been checking, but despite the extreme cold – sometimes going below -10°C – I’ve not seen any indication of Bernadette’s prediction coming true. The birds, however, love jumping on and off the palettes and playing chicken king of the castle on them.
ABOVE: Snow in the chicken pen