Next I rummaged around and found some flat concrete paving stones. I put two in the corner of the hen house, and a third next to it to be a little step. This way their heated bowl is slightly elevated, so hopefully they won't kick a lot of shavings into it while they are scratching around. Curious things, they checked it out right away. It's always a neat trick to prevent them from unplugging the bowl, but I'll hope for the best.
Chris ran a long extension cord from the garage outside, behind the chicken coop, and there we set up a deeper bowl for the ducks. Ducks have to be able to submerge their nostrils when they drink, to keep things clear and clean, so they need a deep bowl. I will also take them 3 gallons of warm water each morning and put it in a low pan so they can have a little splash. When it gets really cold the water begins to ice over within the hour, so they learn to splash fast. I feel sad that their wading pool days are over, but they are. They will have to adjust to the reality of winter just like the rest of us. Their pool was frozen solid, so it has been dumped out and we will tuck it away to be enjoyed in the spring.
Meanwhile we had a big discussion about the duck house. The house they have always had is a small, sturdy, (heavy!) wooden structure. It was originally built to be a dog house. The ducks fit in it comfortably while they sleep, but it gives very limited room to move about. This is OK if the weather is fine, because they are out waddling around all day and just go in the house to rest at night. But if the weather is crummy they'd be stuck in a small space. Chris suggested we move the house out and put a larger shelter there for them. With quite a bit of effort the heavy house was moved, the ground smoothed, and a fiberglass calf hutch tucked into the space where the former house was. I put a fresh bale of shavings in and fluffed them up. This change gives the ducks more than triple the space of the old house, so if we have a lot of snow they can at least move about a little. They eyeballed the new digs, looked skeptical, and went back to pottering about the yard.
At dusk I went out to find the ducks sitting just outside their spacious new condo looking a little confused. To my delight it only took a bit of encouragement to get them to step up and in. I fastened the door to keep visiting foxes out, and felt very pleased with the situation.
Meanwhile...I got brave this weekend and started letting the chicks come out of the coop to explore the world. They have been quite excited with their new horizons, nibbling on blades of grass, scratching through the fall leaves, chasing a late moth. I am pleased to say that they have mastered going in and out of the coop with no difficultly, and both nights have tucked themselves into their safe coop as the sun went down.
After I got the ducks tucked safely in, I stepped up into the coop and counted beaks. 8 of the chicks have learned to roost at night, but the remainder pile up in one corner of the coop. I counted, 20. I counted again. Still 20. I was missing a chick! I got my flashlight and looked under the coop. No chick. I listened to see if I could hear a bird chirping in distress. The evening was silent. I tried to think like a chicken. Apparently I am pretty good at that, and I turned the beam of my flashlight into the duck house. The ducks had already snuggled into the deep, clean shavings near the entrance. I pointed the light back further, and way in the rear, nestled deeply, a white chick was sleeping. Perhaps she was looking for a space of her own as she bedded down this evening. I left her there. Hopefully tomorrow night she'll rejoin the rest of the chicks.
The winter readiness check list got a work out today. Hopefully we will get even more done tomorrow.