Is there room for a sheep in the henhouse?

Sheep in the field

Sheep in the fieldA sheep in the henhouse may evoke images akin to a bull in a china shop! No, you shouldn’t keep a sheep in the chicken coop. But what about the sheep’s fleece?

If you have a few sheep along with your chicken hobby then you will most likely have some spare wool hanging around. Not all wool is created equally and some is valuable and some is worthless.

At our small farm (Wooly Acres) we divide our wool carefully after shearing time in the spring. The fleece is unfurled onto a large table where we carefully skirt it, removing less desireable parts, especially the wool from the neck, head and legs.

The best wool is bagged and made ready for show and sale. The middlin’ stuff is still saleable but instead of going through the hassle of that we donate it to the local 4-H spinning and weaving club. The poopy wool loaded with manure tags (we call them dingleberries) goes straight to the compost pile. But that still leaves a category of Unclaimed Wool.

WoolThis last category is not worth spinning for handspinners and probably has hay bits terminally embedded deep within. But it is dingleberry-free. Previously I have taken this wool to the local wool pool where I invariably do not earn enough to pay for the gas to drive there in the first place. I was to the point of deciding to compost it too.

Then someone gave me the idea of bedding the chickens nesting box with wool. The Unclaimed Wool would be PERFECT for this task. What could be better than providing my broody hens with a warm, soft nest, that applied a little natural lanolin to their nether parts as a bonus. It’s practically like a day at the spa!

In true scientific fashion I filled half the nesting boxes with wool and the other half with traditional straw. Then I waited for them to “flock” to the luxurious option I had provided. Well, to be honest, they avoided the wooly boxes at first. Actually, some avoided the straw ones, too, by kicking it all out of the box and laying the egg on a pure wooden board—Puritan style.

A month has now passed with my experiment and the results are mixed. Though not an overwhelming success, it appears that some hens personally prefer the wool and some prefer the straw (and one likes the plain, unforgiving wood). I am hoping that as temperatures continue to plummet for winter that they will see the benefit of a wooly nest. But if they don’t, I am content at this point to offer them choices– a true luxury in the coop!

Julie Helms Article: Julie Helms

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About Julie Helms 8 Articles
I have enjoyed the hobby farm life for 20 years. It all started with my first job where I lived at an SPCA that catered to farm animals. Since then I have had horses, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens. We currently have a flock of Corriedale sheep with award-winning fleeces. My favorite of all has always been the chickens. After a disaster with predators last year we maintain only a small flock now of 8 White Orpingtons.

5 Comments

  1. Hello, Thank-you for sharing, it’s an interesting experiment in anima behavior. Do chickens ever build thier own nests? Smiles, now I’m curious, I’m going to google wild chicken behavior…

    “Chickens build their nests on the ground by scratching out a shallow indentation in the soil, from here she will reach out to pick leaves and twigs which she places on her back. Thus laden with her nest building materials and after setting back into her nest hole she lets the material fall off her back forming a rim. She continues in this manner until her nest reaches her requirements.”

    “Chickens do not just live in the present, but can anticipate the future and demonstrate self-control, something previously attributed only to humans and other primates, according to a recent study.”

    Neat, Have a great day! Thanks-again. this is where I found the quotes http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/sentience%20in%20farm%20animals%20poultry%20chickens.htm

  2. That’s really interesting, Jessica, about chickens in the wild. One of the problems with selective breeding is sometimes these natural behaviors are bred out accidentally. I had one hen that insisted on laying her eggs in a large coffee tin in my husband’s workshop full of pointy, pokey nails and screws! We could NOT figure that one out!

  3. Hi. Great article. My chooks sleep on the floor of my hen house so to protect them from the damp from rising up from the ground in the winter I put a layer of bubble-wrap underneath the newspaper and straw. Keeps them warmer and drier.
    🙂

  4. Liz, your description brings to mind a funny picture of hens tip-toeing over the floor so as not to pop the bubbles!
    Wool would serve the same purpose as it is known for absorbing great quantities of moisture and yet keeping the wearer dry– see a good excuse to acquire a sheep! 🙂

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