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Rain barrel and pullet eggI always get a kick out of the first pullet egg of the year.  In 2014, our young ladies started their productive careers at 18 weeks of age, seven days younger than when I wrote this post a couple of years ago about when to expect your first eggs.

I liked this shot because Mark captured our new rain barrel as well as the tiny egg.  Rain barrels aren't really chicken-related...except that this barrel has been primarily used for filling buckets of water to carry to the chicken coop.  It's astonishing how many steps a rain barrel can save over the course of just a few weeks.  If you're sick of carrying water, adding a rain barrel near (or on) your chicken coop can make your life much easier!

Posted early Monday morning, July 21st, 2014 Tags:
Ducks dining on duckweed

Around the beginning of July, it was as if a flip was switched within our little ponds --- the duckweed started growing like crazy!  Our ducks are too big to be worth moving back to the ponds to dine, so I figured --- why not bring the duckweed to them?  It only took me a couple of minutes to scoop up about a gallon of duckweed, tadpoles, and water bugs, and after the ducks realized the bucket wasn't going to bite, they dived in with relish.  Within minutes, every bit of greenery was gone.

Duck bucket

I wrote last week that our ducks are too lazy to produce good-quality eggs since they don't forage much.  However, my duckweed bucket suggests that I'm just not embracing the duckness of ducks (as Joel Salatin would say).  Although you can raise waterfowl on dry land, that's not the role they're best suited for.  Perhaps a bucket of duckweed a few times a week is a happy compromise that will keep our ducks healthy and make them a more sustainable part of the homestead?

Posted early Friday morning, July 18th, 2014 Tags:
feeding june bugs to chickens

What's a good way to feed June Bugs to chickens?

Fill a 5 gallon bucket half way with water. Place the bucket under a light and leave it all night. The next morning you should have 10 to 20 June Bug snacks ready to feed to your flock. Spill the bucket near your chickens and watch them get happy.

A few might get away, but most will be gobbled up before they can achieve flight.

Image credit goes to Wikipedia.

Posted early Wednesday morning, July 16th, 2014 Tags:
Duck and chicken standoff

After whittling down our replacement layer flock to a cockerel and three pullets, I decided to merge the chickens with our young ducks.  The starplate pastures where the young layer flock has been browsing is pretty barren at the moment, since the sward hasn't entirely developed yet and since lack of rain has slowed regrowth of what herbaceous plants do exist.  In contrast, the duck coop has three lush pastures around it, very little of which the ducks are deigning to eat and almost none of which the Cornish Cross broilers consumed.  Why not move the hens down to eat that greenery, and also save me from having to manage food and water in two separate coops?

Mark and I always move chickens at night, counting on the birds' inability to see in the dark to make the transition go smoothly.  Plus, if a hen wakes up inside a new coop, you often don't even have to shut her inside for a day to teach her that's her new roosting spot --- she just heads back inside the next night to eat and sleep.  I didn't count on how aggressive the ducks would be at having their slumber interrupted by gallinaceous interlopers, though.  The ensuing ruckus was so loud that I began to despair of the two flocks' ability to merge successfully, but I crossed my fingers and went to bed.

Chickens hanging out with ducksThe next morning, there was a standoff in the coop --- ducks on one end and chickens on the other.  When I opened the pophole to let them all out onto pasture, the rooster immediately took his harem up on the hill where ducks couldn't easily waddle, and he stood guard between his ladies and the terrifying waterfowl for hours.  However, when I dropped back by after lunch, a hen was walking between the ducks with no one batting an eyelash, and the other chickens were inside enjoying their repast --- a good sign for domestic tranquility to come.  Despite the initial drama, it's looking like merging a duck and chicken flock will be easier than putting two packs of unfamiliar chickens together.

Posted early Monday morning, July 14th, 2014 Tags:

Cedar chicken roostThe multi-tiered roosting station Mark made in the starplate coop has been working like a charm.  Local legend has it that using red cedar branches in this application will keep mites at bay, but I have to admit our chickens are so healthy we've never seen a mite with or without cedar perches.  Still, the cedar roosts are well-received, with everyone who fits perching on the top tier and with any spillover enjoying the middle perch.  (The lowest perch was for chicks, and it did its job well.)

The astute reader will notice that there's no bedding under the roost.  Usually, I like to keep all coop floors completely covered with leaves and/or straw, counting on the high-carbon material to hold onto the nitrogen in the chicken manure.  With such a big coop and with so few birds involved, though, I've let the chicken droppings just fall onto the dirt floor in the starplate coop.  I plan to scoop the manure out soon and apply it to the poor soil in the tree alley, which should take care of any slight smell that would otherwise develop in the coop.

Posted early Friday morning, July 11th, 2014 Tags:
chicken trying to eat mouse

Will a chicken eat a mouse?

I wouldn't expect a Cornish Cross to even try, but most other breeds might give it a taste test if they're hungry enough. I've never heard of anybody raising mice for this reason, but it might work as a feed supplement if you fed your chickens the smaller, younger ones.

Image credit goes to Youtube user ThE cHicKeN cHaNnEL Fowl Play.

Posted early Wednesday morning, July 9th, 2014 Tags:
Anna Lazy ducks
Flock of ducks

I hate to admit it, but our duck experiment was a dismal failure.  We chose Ancona ducks because they came highly recommended by Carol Deppe, but either the breed or the species seems to be a poor fit for our homestead.  When the ducklings were small enough to dabble in our sky pond, I loved the way they foraged for their own food, but keeping them on dry land has been much more of a hassle.  The requisite open bucket of water turns into mud within hours, and the ducks then proceed to turn the entire area around the bucket into mud too.

Lazy ducks

I could probably deal with the mud problem, though, if our ducks weren't so darn lazy.  At first, I thought maybe the waterfowl were spending their entire day hanging out in one spot because they were in a hillside pasture, and hills were too hard for their webbed feet.  However, I moved the flock into a flat pasture full of low weeds and clover (and even took away their open water bucket) and the waterfowl still lay about all day.

Busy chickens

For the sake of comparison, here's what the tractored hens were doing on the same hot afternoon that I took the second photo in this post.  Despite being confined to a small space, these Red Stars were busy working up the ground where I plan to set out fall broccoli next week, hunting for worms in the process.

If we were in the market for pets, not working livestock, ducks might be keepers, but Mark and I both agreed that we'd be better off cutting our losses before we have to deal with open buckets of mud in the winter.  We'll soon be dining on ducks and hunting down a few point-of-lay pullets to expand our new laying flock.

Posted early Monday morning, July 7th, 2014 Tags:
Puny buckwheat

The photo above shows the new tree alley in our starplate pasture, where I'm focusing on soil building this year.  I grew a rye cover crop there over the winter, left the chickens in the pasture for two full weeks in May, then tossed down buckwheat and sunflower seeds.  My goal at the time was to do back-to-back buckwheat plantings the way I do in the vegetable garden to build organic matter fast in summer-fallow areas, but one look at the blooming buckwheat changed my mind.  Clearly, this soil is still very poor, since the cover crop is blooming at a third to a half of the height it does in my vegetable garden.

Cockerel on pasture

I haven't done a soil test in the starplate pasture, but my eye-balling of the earth while digging swales suggests that it's got a good texture and is well-drained.  In the vegetable garden, I'd add a couple of inches of horse manure to an area like this and would be able to plant into it right away, but I never have enough horse manure to "waste" it on a pasture.  The solution?  Chickens, of course.  I'll turn our young flock back into this tree alley for another week or two, letting them eat what they can and add plenty of manure to the soil, then will plant another round of buckwheat and see how the cover crop grows.  My goal is to have the tree alley in good condition by this winter when the time comes to plant out my spring-grafted apple trees, and I'm willing to force our flock to graze on subpar pasture in the interim if necessary to reach that goal.

Posted early Friday morning, July 4th, 2014 Tags:
do chickens like to swing?

This is an experiment I've been wanting to try.

It seems some chickens really like that slow swinging effect you get when suspending a solid branch with some chain or rope.

Image credit goes to Buttercup and Youtube user ThePartyAnimalVideos.

Posted early Wednesday morning, July 2nd, 2014 Tags:
Mixing your own chicken feed

Most books recommend that you lower the protein content of your chicken and duck feed from around 20% protein (starter feed) to about 13 to 18% protein (grower/finisher feeds) when the youngsters pass their peak growth period (by the time they're two to three months old).  You don't want to just change the pullets over to laying pellets at this time, even though the protein content of the feed is right, because excess calcium before a bird starts to lay can damage the birds' internal organs and skeleton.  And even though I've raised pullets all the way to laying on chick feed in the past, this option isn't the best either since it can make birds grow too fast and not develop properly (and since chick feed is more expensive than lower-protein feeds).

While it seems simple to go to the feed store and pick up some grower/finisher feed, ours only stocks three kinds of poultry feed --- chick starter, laying pellets for adult hens, and scratch feed (which is just mixed grains, appropriate for treats only). We don't have the storage area needed to mix our own feeds, so I was glad that Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks suggested a simpler option.  The author recommends adding whole, rolled, meal, or pelleted oats to your ducks' rations at a rate of 5% by volume the first week, then an additional 5% each week until you're feeding 25% oats and 75% starter feed.  Since oats are 12% protein, that drops the protein content of your mixed feed to 18% (if my math is right).

Overturned chicken feeder

I went back to check on our pullets and cockerels a few hours after giving them their mixed feed to see if they pecked around the oats.  To my surprise, I found that they'd actually broken apart their automatic feeder so they could eat up all the oats first --- I guess the chickens knew they needed more carbs in their diet and were itching for the extra grain.  That was at 10% oats by volume, so I guess I'll move the chickens right up to 25% grain and see how they do.  The ducks, on the other hand, are younger and are reputed to be pickier about changing feeds, so I'll keep tapering their diet down to a lower protein level over the next few weeks.

Posted early Monday morning, June 30th, 2014 Tags:
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I just purchased your chicken nipples and bit, but I have a question since I'm new in the chicken world. Do chickens need direct sun almost all day to lay eggs or are they happy with a few hours in the morning and streams of sun through the trees. They are out in there pen from 8am until dusk.


Comment by suzanne roemer late Wednesday evening, July 27th, 2011

Especially in the summer, chickens will actually gravitate toward the shade. They do like to have some sunny spots for dust-bathing, and like more sun in the winter.

The longer the day length, the better your chickens will lay. But that doesn't mean they need to be in direct sunlight during that time, just that there needs to be enough light to keep them awake and active.

Comment by anna late Saturday afternoon, July 30th, 2011

My chickens go out of there way to try and find sources of the stuff, I have Styrofoam (polystyrene actually) insulating the outside of my package heat pump. They finally figured it out and have peck/eaten a large chuck out of one section, maybe 1 ft in diameter. They have found the stuff before, and they didn't seem to have any adverse affects, I try to keep them out of harms way. I assume they will be fine this time, and I have blocked them off from the area. but my question is, Should I eat the eggs? I have 2 buff orpingtons and a white silkie(the bad influence).They are known as betty white and the golden girls. the buffs had just started laying a few days ago. Any ideas?

Comment by David L at noon on Thursday, February 9th, 2012
I've heard from other people whose chickens go after styrofoam. I figure it can't be good for them, so I'd do my best to keep them away from it. As long as the chickens are healthy, though, I doubt it will affect the eggs, but I don't really know!
Comment by anna Thursday evening, February 9th, 2012
i have a week old chick that was doing fine until yesterday. Now he is not eating and just standing around or sleeping. I put him in a box by himself with a heating pad. I have been trying to get him to drink water with probiotics and electrolites. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Comment by Anonymous at teatime on Thursday, June 21st, 2012
Anonymous --- I'm so sorry to hear about your sick chick! Unfortunately, chicks sometimes just dwindle away, especially if they had some trauma in the egg or soon after hatching that didn't show up at the time. That said, solitary confinement in a warm place sometimes helps them bounce back, so it sounds like you're doing just the right thing.
Comment by anna early Sunday morning, June 24th, 2012
I cook for my chickens.I have four girls. in the morning they get laying food and cracked corn then I give then lettuce and bread they go gaga for it. in the afternoon they get a combo of rice flax seed sucker seed canned green beans. they don't get anything green in Michigan in the winter unless I give it to them. they never got the memo that they don't lay in the winter. their pen is protected and there is no snow in their pen i live my girls.i live in the city and have never had chickens before
Comment by Linda Monday night, March 25th, 2013
Linda --- Sounds like you've got happy chickens!
Comment by anna late Monday morning, April 1st, 2013

I was contemplating buying a hydroponic system for Fodder production (green forage) for my horses. With the rising, and unrelenting price of fuel to make the hay, hay has become very expensive ($5.50-7/bale)with NO end in sight. I wanted to be sure that my horses would eat this type of forage readily. I started to grow it in my DARK- no light available- cellar. Fodder can be grown without any light source, but it will be white and not green. I did, however, use a grow light for 2hrs/day. This made the fodder very green. It took a little bit of trial and error to get the water amount needed just right, but it worked. The animal consumes everything in the tray at the end of the week, seed casing, roots and all. There is no dirt, and the animals do LOVE it. Since fodder can be fed to ALL livestock, I fed to my ducks, chickens, and horses throughout the winter. basically as a treat, as I was only using seed starter trays, and my cellar isn't that big to have the number of trays I would need on a single layer all over my floor. ;) You need to soak untreated seed- Barley works the BEST! And, 85% of it is digestible, so they get a lot of good nutrition from the fodder, unlike hay which is 15% digestible. Protein levels of barley fodder equal that of corn, so you can save on feed! Steps- 1) soak seeds 15 minutes in 5 gallon bucket with 5% solution of bleach or peroxide:water ratio. You just need to make sure all the seed is covered. (you can use this solution to clean your trays after your seeds are soaked, so after the 1st day, don't throw it away. Literally, it takes only 10-15 minutes/day to maintain this feed source! 2) Rinse and fill up with only water- seeds need to soak 24hrs additional. 3) then drain again, after the 24hrs. 4) Place soaked seed inside your trays. 7lbs of DRY seed/day will fill a 12' long channel, and feed 4-6 horses and 100 chickens for the day. SO measure, and adjust the amount of seed you need, to account for how long your trays are and how many animals you need to feed. whether this is going to be your feed source, or if you are just giving them a treat. 50 for the 2nd day, I usually just use a spray bottle to water the seeds- enough to thoroughly soak them, but not enough for a lot of standing water. Then, spray every other day, put in 2cups water/tray every other day, starting on day 3. 5) Each day do a tray- with just enough for each days use. This gives you fresh fodder daily. Each tray takes 7 days to reach the right height. 6) Turn grow light on, if green fodder is wanted, for maximum of 2hrs/day. Materials needed: 5 gallon bucket; (2) 5 gallon buckets with lid are ideal! Spray bottle Water bleach or peroxide scrub brush to clean out trays before 1st use, and after every use to kill and inhibit fungi and mold growth 7 seed starter trays liquid cup measure SEED from seed distributor (online) and place to dry store seed. Garbage can with lid works great! Grow light bulb and brooder lamp works great! Spot where water run off/spillage won't damage property. I placed trays near our sump pump.

You can make your own feed, know what your chickens, ducks, and other animals are getting as a seed (you can be sure that there are no GMO's in your feed, and thus end up in your belly) And, they get fresh feed which they gobble up!

Comment by Heather Thursday afternoon, May 15th, 2014

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