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Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Did you know that pumpkin seeds (and to some extent, the flesh) have anti parasitic properties in ruminants? Our sheep always come running when they see the tasty round orbs in my hands as I approach their fields. I admit, it’s super satisfying to watch them explode across the ground as I toss them into the field, too!

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Our sheep aren’t the only ones who enjoy the pumpkins, though. Our chickens and ducks do too, and I’ve broken up more than one squabble as the hens have fought over the perfect pumpkin seed or strand of pumpkin guts. Our turkey, however, cannot be bothered by treat-like morsels this morning. He is too busy professing his love to one of the Cochin hens, strutting about and poofing up like a love-struck teenager. Poor chap, I’m not sure if it’s more sad that he’s crossed in love, or that his days are numbered in general.

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One other form of natural parasite control that we use is pine needles, and the sheep get branches from our windbreak weekly throughout the winter. For now, though, I find myself begging and bartering for leftover pumpkins and squash into the depths of the fall season.

Have you ever used a natural form of parasite control for your livestock or pets?

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Not Dabbling has been on my daily browsing list for quite some time now. I will admit that I am a lurker. Always reading – Never posting.

I grew up in rural Tennessee on a 150 acre farm. In the late 80’s I ran a small poultry operation. I used a recycled box truck bed as a coop, experimented with no-till farming to feed the birds, and used the bird manure in the garden. I didn’t know what organic was back then, but by today’s standard, both the eggs and meat produced would be pretty close to organic. In the early 90’s I moved to the city and left my farming life behind.

Today, I am a technologist by trade. I don’t consider myself a true computer geek, but I suppose most people would. I am the guy with the smart phone, laptop, busy schedule, project deadlines et al. My life today is VERY plugged in. Needless to say when my wife suggested getting into poultry, I was the consummate skeptic. I didn’t think we had the time for birds because I remembered all the DIFFICULT things about it, I also wasn’t sure Jennifer was really up to the task.

I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

As Jennifer went down the path of poultry husbandry, I followed right behind with a watchful eye. I was tasked with housing, and was able to tap into latent abilities learned on the farm many, many moons ago. I began to remember the REWARDING things about caring for birds. I began to connect with dormant parts of my history.

Now that Jennifer is 100%, certifiable bird crazy (read that any way you want), I continue to find other connections in her blog. I also connect to what all of you do. At one point or another, I have been reminded of the person I once was by every Lady on this blog. Your writings and photographs clearly relay the passion that each of you has for Not Dabbling in Normal. That passion helps me unplug from time to time. I stop to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

Thank you Jennifer. Thank you Ladies of NDIN. You all have a great thing going on here. I will continue to lurk as long as you all continue to write.

- Cody

 

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Poultry has become a big part of our life here at Unearthing this Life. When Hubby was young and in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H, he raised a large number of chickens. He even went so far as to grow much of the food for the fifty-ish birds he had.

fluffy butts

Fast forward about twenty years, and we decided to raise chickens again at my prodding. Like many others, I’d gotten tired of the seeming deception of the marketing of eggs. I also wanted the waste for my gardens since our soil is so poor. Also, we have a tremendous tick problem and so I knew having birds would be a boon to many of our “issues”. Hubby was hesitant. His memories of poultry weren’t necessarily positive. He was a ::cough:: rebellious teenager, and being tied down to such a huge responsibility wasn’t what he wanted. The birds stank, they were loud and obnoxious, he had his own opinions of the way things should be done and his parents didn’t listen much. Overall, they were a chore.

Last year I talked him into letting me start with eight chicks. He thought I’d hate them; having to feed and water them multiple times a day, cleaning out pens and coops, the obligation to a bird. I believed it would be an excellent way for our daughter to learn about where food comes from. What neither of us would understand until just recently, is just how much I would fall in love with chickens. Yep. I adore them.

chicken coop

We allowed our girls to free-range around our yard. It’s nice having eight acres, even if half of it is wooded. Our tick issues cleared up quickly, but so did my mulch. My gardens were a mess as well as our porches. The chickens ate all of my potted herbs and then had the gall to take dirt baths in the remainder. Unfortunately that wooded area on the side of the yard was an excellent hiding spot for wild dogs, and our girls started disappearing by twos. By the beginning of March, all eight of our chickens had been killed – even after we’d started keeping them in what we thought was a safe environment.

What?

chickens and whey

I actually cried for my chickens.

Now that spring is here, we’re starting a new family of birds. This year we have eleven chicks, including Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, “Araucanas” (Easter Eggers), Gold-Laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons. To keep the fluffy butts safe, we’ve hired, er, purchased some Guinea fowl as well. These loud ground birds startle easily and will help to warn the chickens of any oncoming danger. (Guinea fowl babies are called “keets”). Finally, I couldn’t resist a few broad breasted bronze turkey poults which we’ll harvest in 3 more months. We’re doing our best to stay as close to heritage breeds as possible. Any more poultry will come directly off the Slow Food USA, Ark of Taste list and be a heritage breed.

poult

birds

Thanks to my… impulsiveness… we’re working on a new design to house all these birds. First off, turkeys really shouldn’t stay with chickens because they can get an illness called “blackhead”. It’s not pretty, but it can be cured. It’s best to avoid it by keeping them separate though, especially if you’re trying to stay organic. Secondly, because we have so many birds, the coop we built for our eight last year won’t hold them all. Thirdly, guineas and turkeys prefer to roost in trees. Chickens will roost in trees as well, but they are better of protected by a coop or fencing since their natural defenses are weak and they can only sprint for short distances.

spoiled birds

Finally, next year we intend to begin raising our own production birds for meat. Our hopes were for this year, but we had to put it off one more year until we could deal with housing first. The design Hubby’s come up with is great, and I can’t wait to see it in action. It will allow the birds to pasture without being completely free-range and in danger. We’re still in process of building and painting as they’re portable permanent structures. When they’re complete I’ll be sure to share some photos. Our hopes are that the Orpingtons will be broody Mums for the chicks or eggs we get next spring so that we humans will not be emotionally attached to any of the production birds. Only the egg layers will have any kind of relationship with us.

So what does the future hold for us here? Well, a lot of eggs, poultry poop, and very few slugs, ticks and mosquitos. Perhaps even a few ducks and definitely more turkey. Hubby’s even begun to adore the birds and has promised to help take better care of this batch and the Kid wants to be Mommy to be responsible for the Wyandottes this year. It’s funny. I always thought I was a “cat person”. I never imagined I’d be a “poultry person”.

You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life blarging about living a modern life in rural Tennessee. There she homeschools, raises birds, keeps bees, gardens, and somehow manages to stay sane.

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This year we ordered 8 heritage breed hens for laying. We’ve had so much fun with the girls that we’re considering raising more poultry for meat this next year. While my Hubby raised lots of birds in his younger days, this is my first time around poultry. And there’s a lot I’ve learned about raising my first flock (all while listening to Hubby in the background saying, “I told you so!”).

Eleanor 

I was adamant that we allowed our hens to free-range. When they were younger we had much more room for them inside their portable run, but now that they’re almost fully grown the run is barely big enough for two girls. So, they pretty much have the freedom to run all over our property.

portable run

During the hot afternoons I can usually find the gals underneath our porch, cooling off. Once the heat starts to wear off, though, I’m in for some trouble. About 6:30 pm every day they enjoy a nice stroll, pecking, pecking, pecking their way up to my edibles garden. A few will even head up toward the roadside to find goodies in the brush. I can almost set my clock to it.

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When they’re not under the porch, the girls are busy shredding up my garden beds, ridding me of weeds, insects, and mulch. Judging by this display I’d consider their work leans toward the Post-Modern.

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They also like to make work of my compost piles.

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I’ve learned to put plantings up high and out of reach. Chickens are like 2-year olds – they have their limbs in EVERYTHING!

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And even putting things out of reach doesn’t guarantee that they will be safe.

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Of course the fresh eggs almost make up for the messes. But it’s a moment like this that reminds me to giggle.

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What have I learned these first few months? Broilers and Roasters will definitely need a bigger portable run!!

Jennifer can be found at Unearthing this Life where she shares snippets of her rural life, recipes, and other blarg-worthy stuff.

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Going through this real foods plan has really bolstered my opinions about the foods we eat. For the past two years I’ve been working toward being less reliant on ready-made foods and eating out of our garden or avoiding plain and simple:  junk. Part of my goal towards a more self-sustainable life has been to raise chickens. My first batch of chicks will be arriving in a matter of days. I feel like an expectant mother again with all the preparations: Do I have the right kind of food; can I take good care of them; will they have all their digits; what if they don’t like me; what if I fail at being Mama?

Hubby’s good at reminding me I’ve got nothing to worry about regarding most of those concerns. You see, he used to raise chickens way back when he was a kid. He was a member of the Future Farmers of America and even judged chickens. He had upwards around 50 chickens at one point in time – and he grew some of the feed himself. Quite impressive for a little punk in high school.

So as I worry if two heat lamps will be enough, he rolls his eyes and tells me one will be plenty. As I fret over having the right size of pine litter he tells me we could get some cheaper in the future. As I show off the starter feed, feed trays, and watering dishes, he snickers at me. “Hon, why did you buy two feeders?”

“No, I didn’t. Look here, these two pieces fit together … and … well, they were supposed to. They were next to each other on the shelf,” I proclaim.

“Look here, Jen. You got the base of a feeder and the top of a watering dish.” He puts the two pieces together. “All the water will dump out – and they don’t even screw together and if….”

“Okay, okay. I guess I’ll replace that one.” I feel like a big dork, to borrow one of Kim’s phrases.

“So, what are you going to keep them in?” he asks.

“Well, I thought I’d go try to find one of those plastic swimming pools and,” I start.

“Don’t do that. Just get a storage box to start with. They’ll be okay. They’ll be in the coop before too long.”

I continue to debate whether the box will be large enough for eight birds and question if two boxes of four birds would be better. He assures me they’ll be better as a group because they’ll stay warmer.

Then I figure it out – our coldframe! We found a winner!

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dog pen to be reconstructed for chicken coop

 There have been several discussions where my research has paid off, however. Back when Hubby raised birds it was commonplace to clip their beaks. I’ve successfully talked him out of that one. He’s changed my mind about the coop several times. I’m determined to build a portable tractor out of scrap material. We’ve met in the middle about 100 percent free-ranging versus bagged feed.

A week! Panic strikes.

Mama again. And this time with Octuplets. Oh my, I’m the Octomom of chickens!

I have to remind myself just why I’m getting birds. Fresh eggs. Manure. Tick control. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Most of my birds are heritage breeds. I felt it was a no-brainer. They’ll be shipped as one day old birds, already sexed and vaccinated. Our daughter is excited about our bundles of cuteness (I am too). She’s even prepared for the off chance that we get a rooster. She has been playing her make-believe games with roosters named “Dinner”, “Lunch”, “Fried”, and “Chicken Fried”.  I don’t know at this point if I could do the deed – I apologize to earthworms if I sever them while digging. I about cried when I found our wild honeybee hive was dead.

Perhaps the outcome of my first year with chickens will determine whether we produce chicken as food in the future, instead of just for eggs. The idea of real farm fresh, free-range chicken by true definition excites me. I’d love to have confidence knowing that my food has actually been out in the open air, in the pasture, eating what they’re supposed to. I would never have to doubt the integrity or quality of our chicken dinners. If we decide that’s the route to take then perhaps we’ll keep one rooster around and call him “Papa.”

Do you have any ideas about food that have changed since starting the Real Food Challenge?

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We have been producing and selling eggs for the last five years.  Our flock is made up of a mix of old fashion and cross bred production hens.  We have maintained a flock of 25 birds of various ages.  We have also collected some data on productivity and cost using different feeding strategies. 

The charts below are based on our 25 hen flock, locally produced conventional chicken feed ($12.00 for 50 lbs.), and three different feeding strategies. 

First we tried full feed for a year.  We fed 1/4 lb of chicken feed, half layer mash and half scratch grain.  The hens had access to the pasture, but didn’t need to forage for any of their food.  This method produced the most eggs.  It was also the most expensive.  Eggs sell for $2.00 per dozen in our community (you can find them for less if you are willing to drive a bit.)  Using full feed we were able to produce eggs for less than $2.00 per dozen about half of the weeks in the year.  We probably broke even, but certainly didn’t make any money.  (We use recycled egg cartons.  People are happy to donate them.  Buying new egg cartons is rather expensive.  Even if you buy them by the  thousand they end up being around $0.25 each.  That adds a big cost to egg production.)

Our second experiment was 1/2 feed for a year.  We fed 1/8 lb of chicken feed and expected the hens to forage out in the pasture for the rest.  We rotated them behind the goats and cows.  They ate lots of greens, bugs, and did a good job cleaning up the pasture.  Egg production fell of quite a bit when the weather got cold, but they kept producing at at least 50%.  Using this method our production costs stayed well below the selling price.  We made a profit of at least $0.50 per dozen on all the eggs we sold.  In the peak production time it was closer to $1.00 per dozen profit. 

Our last test was to feed them nothing.  We ran this test for a year too.  (we did give them kitchen scraps, but we have done that with the other two tests, so it didn’t change anything.  This was the least productive and the lowest cause.  I was supprised how productive they were in the warm season.  Very close to what we got on half feed.  When it got cold and dark they really dropped off.  We let them have complete access to the animal pastures, the gardens, and the yard.  The only other negative I noticed from this method was the mess.  They can take apart a flower garden or a lawn in pretty short order, and they will as they look for food.  Even though this method had the best production cost, we will not do it again.  Having a third of the year where there are very few eggs is a good way to lose customers.  It was also pretty hard on the gardens, the lawn, and my nerves.

 

 

We will be continuing our production flock this year.  We’ll use our half feed/rotational grazing method.  It is a lot of work, but we got the most out of it, both financially and in pasture improvements.  We will be experimenting with adding light into the coop this next winter (not easy when you move the coop every few days and it can be as far as 600 fee to the nearest electrical outlet.)  That should help keep our winter production up a bit.  We will also be trying some grain production to see if we can economically grow our own feed.

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I don’t know about you but at the end of the main growing season I always have all these notes in my head about what I loved and what I would do differently next spring.

So instead of taking the time to go try to find some paper that isn’t wrinkled and scribbled on and a pen that actually has ink…and then try to keep track of the list for 9 months…

I am going to make my ‘notes to self’ right here on the blog…hope nobody minds.

NOTES TO SELF

  • Tomato cages are wayyyyy better than this…it worked well for the cool spring but tomatoes need cages to grow up in…those tunnels did not control them nearly enough.

tomato tunnel

  • Remember to build more tomato cages before next year.
  • Yarn does NOT work as well as twine for green beans, it stretches in the rain and all the beans fall down…so don’t be lazy and go find the twine next time!
  • Put a self-closing hing on the garden gate…the dog likes cucumbers.
  • While we are on it…cucumbers do well with water.  Bitter is not the best flavor.Plant more flowers…

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  • Make more compost.
  • Growing peppers and eggplant in tunnels is an EXCELLENT idea, please remember do this again.

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  • Pumpkins are great fun to grow…more are needed next year.  Try some new colors.

blk wht pumpkins

  • Squash takes up a LOT of room, remember this so the compost bin doesn’t get covered with vines.
  • Barrels are great for potatoes but you would need many, many more to have a large harvest.
  • Plant out gourds sooner…

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  • Plant out cantaloupe later.

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  • Yum, yum peppers are simply the cutest and sweetest peppers ever…grow lots more!
  • 6 foot wire fencing is perfect for growing peas.

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  • Chickens fly…chickens escape…chickens invade!
  • Chickens love young pumpkins, which will grow up to be ugly hen pecked pumpkins.

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  • Remember to enjoy the process…
  • Always, always  involve the kids…even when they annoy you.

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  • And don’t hate the camel for doing what a camels does…

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Which is anything he can do to try to reach your precious garden.

  • Reinforce the garden fence!

Finally…

Remember why you do this every year…

For the health of your family and the health of the planet.

Besides…

Its fun!

So fellow gardeners…what notes have you made to yourself for next year?

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