Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chickens and egg production in your yard

Have you wondered how to raise a few eggs for your family on a small yard or lot?

Most people think of chickens in farm settings, perched on a fence crowing. But that isn't necessarily the reality when it comes to raising chickens.

Chickens can be raised in healthy environments within a small yard, and you can control where they will be placing their droppings too (which can also help your garden compost!)

You can either build a chicken tractor, which is a mobile chicken pen and house, or you can build a small chicken house and run in a fixed place in your back yard.

Let us talk first about chicken tractors. A chicken tractor is, as I said before a mobile chicken house with pen or run.

The one we built was made from reclaimed lumber, reclaimed shingles and reclaimed plywood. The only thing we paid for new, was the nails and the hardware wire. Even the two wheels we used were reclaimed (bought from the Habitat ReStore in Brookings)

The benefit of a chicken tractor, is you can move your poultry to new feeding areas, but within the safety of a cage that keeps stray dogs, children and predators from getting to your chickens. The other benefit is the chickens fertilize the soil in the areas they are placed. Over wintering them in the flower bed area next to my house, means the excess of straw and droppings will create fertilizer for my flower beds that otherwise wouldn't get such nutrients. In the winter, the birds benefit from being sheltered up against the larger house, from the northwest winter winds.

This format works best for smaller numbers of birds, but if you choose to have more than 5 or 6 birds, it may be necessary to consider a larger hen house. One of the easiest ways of creating this small shed is to consider one of the garden sheds you can get from Lowe's or other Home Do-it yourself retail stores.

By creating a space for your own backyard poultry, you not only get to enjoy a few unusual pets, but also get free fertilizer for your garden and flower beds and some very delicious eggs to boot!

Chickens come in a great many colors, sizes, and physical types. You can even train them to accept being Lap birds, just like you would a dog! They will happily clean up the left overs from your family dinner, as well!

I first got introduced to chickens as a child, with my aunts raising hundreds each year. They had hen houses as well as broiler pens (i.e. chickens intended for butcher later in the summer season).

Few people realize you can raise chickens organically, without the use of commerically mixed "mystery feed" as I like to call the unidentifiable mix that is sold as poultry feed. Since the dog food fiasco with chemicals that faked proteins, and kills numerous pets; I no longer trust mixed feeds that don't list their ingredients precisely - let alone where those ingredients came from! I'd prefer to have a greater knowledge of my food's source. For this reason, I support the "buy local" programs and groups like Dakota Rural Action.

If you have never had chickens before, lets start with some basic information. There are numerous hatcheries out there that you can find online *1, *2, *3, *4, *5, that will allow you to order by mail. Yes, by mail, your new chicks.

Its important to read the details about breeds and find breeds that fit your situation. Not just what you'd like, but also what environment they will have to live in. If you are in a small postage stamp sort of yard, you don't want to get a group of cochin hens! These birds are HUGE in comparison to the average chicken, but quite beautiful.

Instead, if you really fall for these giants, consider their miniature cousins, the cochin bantam, for your small yard. This bird, is only about two pounds, unlike its larger "cousin" who tips the scale at about 10lbs. They will fit nicely into a small yard and bring a great deal of enjoyment to the family, and produce small eggs that are just as edible as the large store bought eggs.

Remember that if you want to have hens raising baby chicks in the future, you have to also have a rooster. Hens will lay unfertilized eggs regardless of whether there is a rooster, but the rooster is essential if you want baby chicks hatching in your backyard!

Many urban families are beginning to raise small flocks of chickens in their yards. Many cities are beginning to change their ordinances to allow small flocks of poultry. So its important to find out, before ordering chickens, what your city ordinances are and make sure your future fowl will make you run afoul with the law.

When it comes to feeding your feathered friends, you can go about it two ways. You can buy premixed commerical feed or you can make up your own mixes based on locally available grains and nutritional ingredients.

These may include: sprouts, stale bread (but not moldy), limp lettuce from your local stores, cabbage, kale, steamed potatoes, chopped up sweet potatoes, garlic, over ripe tomatoes from the store, boiled & crushed egg shells (recycling is good even for chickens), dried milk, cracked corn, corn sprouts, wheat sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, chopped up winter squashes, and many other items. Remember that sprouts have a limited "shelf life" and stores have to get rid of those that have "expired" so they are a great source for poultry greens! Also bakeries are another source and restaurants for old stale bread, old veggies (both cooked or fresh). Make sure you boil egg shells before feeding them to your chickens, so as to make sure you aren't passing to them some illness.

Winter time feeding needs to include more of the carb selection mentioned above. The birds are needing to stay warm and still produce eggs for your table! So they need to be able to burn more calories to accomplish this! They are NOT on a diet so don't assume carbs are bad for them!

You can even give them some of your red worms mid winter or go to a local bait shop or pet shop and buy the feeder crickets

and meal worms to give the chickens added protein. The birds will love you for this dedication! Trust me, they will go nuts for it, and you don't have to necessarily touch the bugs if you buy a container of crickets from a pet store. They carry the crickets for lizards and other insect eating pets.

One source suggested this break down for chicks and chickens, based on the season and age of the chicken:

First Week (feeding 6x daily)

Wheat Bran
rolled oats
chopped, boiled eggs (one per four chicks)
chopped young stinging nettles
chopped plantain
chopped dandelion greens
left over lettuce leaves (chopped)
whey, skimmed milk or powdered milk

1st week chick worming protection

grated carrots
crushed garlic, with cottage cheese churds or whey

2nd week (feed 5x daily)

1 egg, chopped & boiled / 6 chicks
rolled oats, dry
greens, no longer finely chopped
cracked corn, (evenings)
worm recipe once every 3 days
fruit and veggie left overs

Week 3 & 4
(feed 4x daily)

1 boiled egg/ chopped / 8 chicks
steamed potatoes, chopped
substitute calcium source w. crushed egg shells that have been boiled to sterilize them
churd mix once/week
red worms or meal worms

Begin allowing them to run in confinement yard

Week 5-8
(feed 3x daily)

give smaller amount of rolled oats
give grain mix of 25% finely ground corn, 50% cracked wheat, 25% barley

8 weeks PLUS in age
(feed 2x daily)

allow drop door to open into run before dawn, so they can begin foraging for insects in run at day break, before bugs dig deeper into soil

after sunrise about 1 hr, feed mix (25% corn-50% wheat -25% barley) and greens to fowl

* steamed potatoes
* table scraps
* boiled, crushed egg shells
* oyster shell meal
and sand, grit and fresh water

Moulting Formula Feed

* Raw shelled sunflower
* cooked/steamed squash
* steamed potato
and feed mix

Forced Moulting Feed Mix (if you aren't seeing signs your birds are moulting/resting)

reduce nutrients for one week. Moulting will reduce egg production, but healthier eggs will result later and healthier hens too following "rest" period during moulting.

Winter Feed

* Steamed potato
* garlic water (2 to 4x /winter. Note no other water can be offered when providing garlic water, so birds will drink this medicinal water)
* Spouts of wheat, oats, corn, & barley
* mesh bag hung from rafters during enclosed winter period, with potatoes, sugar beets, fresh kitchen scrap, cabbage, sweet corn on cobs.

(this is said to help reduce boredom & pecking of each other)

Winter Feed

* feed mix (25% corn-50% wheat -25% barley)


* made by finely chopped garlic cloves (5-10 cloves/3 pints of water), added to water. Boil. Let stand 24 hours, then provide to poultry.

Winter Dusting Box

*Sand mixed with wood ash. Wood ash prevents sand from freezing together and also acts as a natural insect deterent in the process.

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