Posted in 1 Garden

Chickens Love Organic

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I feed my chickens organic.*

To buy organic feed lay feed (no hormones, just the right mix of nutrients), we make a trip from our little town to “the city” about three times a year – not a problem.

Then we supplement their lay feed with:
* a little (organic) chicken “scratch” now and then
* their own shells crushed small
* vegetable and fruit trimmings from the kitchen
* dandelion leaves gathered from walks around the neighborhood
* sunflower seed heads (their favorite!) we grow and enjoy first as summery greenery and flowers
* herbs (such as burdock root and nettles) mixed into animal fat
* grasshoppers off the highway during “plagues” (we can harvest a quart in a few minutes)
* free produce trimmings from the food coop
* and more – sometimes friends bring them things.

DSC04453Our girls are of various ages, all producing about equally, all pretty happy (no ugly hierarchy acting out) because they have enough space, and we get an average of over 2 eggs a day all year long for a total of about $100/year.  This means we get happy-bird, organic eggs for less than $2/dozen!

And sometimes the three birds have even laid four eggs in twenty-four hours!

And when we sing on the back porch, they jump up on their roof to look over the fence and watch.  They’re wonderful friends and great entertainment too!

* I’ve eaten almost exclusively organic food since the late 70s.  People tell me it costs too much, but I think eating non-organic food is very unhealthy, and will cost more in the long-run.

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Posted in 3 Chickens

In Praise of – and Supporting – Leghorns in Winter

DSC04230On the frostiest mornings, our birds don’t seem to be bothered a bit by the cold, which jives with what I’ve learned – that Leghorns are not only some of the most reliable layers, but they also endure the Southwest’s heat and our high elevation’s cold equally well.

Of course, I’d looked forward to more exotic looking birds and colored eggs before I knew much about chickens.  So when these three white birds were offered for free, I was slightly disappointed, but not for long.  Not only are they great layers, hardy in our hot and cold temperatures, but they are as personable and enjoyable as any chicken.

DSC03916We built our hen house in the only area on our lot that was legal (20′ or more away from neighboring houses) and that had any chance of sunshine.  The sunshine, though, is scanty in December, so we hoped the birds would take advantage – as they do sometimes – of their branch-roosts and rooftop to get more sun, but they don’t seem to need it.  They do climb on the roof occasionally to look over the fence at the cars or on the other side at us on the patio; but they don’t seem to need the direct sun for additional warmth.

Winter Warming Recipe  Still I want to make sure I’m giving them all they need, so I recently made a recipe I found in a backyard chicken magazine:  Herbs (I chose burdock root and nettles) plus seeds (they love sunflower, and I happen to have a lot of sesame) are mixed into rendered lard, then the mixture is poured warm into a wire form (often sold with birdseed loafs inside) lined with plastic wrap to harden, then removed from the plastic into the wire form to hang up for the birds to peck at.

I like the wire form a lot, as the birds can easily access the food but can’t step in it, which sometimes results in it being crushed into the dirt and straw and becoming unrecognizable – and wasted, except for compost.  Within hours of the wire form hanging there, the three birds had finished 2/3 of it!

This recipe also seemed like a great way to use other left-over bacon fat, but my local organic meat supplier said NOT to use bacon fat because of the high salt content.  I did it once before she told me, and the birds seemed fine afterward, but I haven’t since.  If anyone knows more on this, please leave a comment.

Egg Production  Oh, yes – and we’re still getting an average of over two eggs per day – despite the cold when hens are supposed to start slowing down.

A number of things cause egg production to slow, including fewer hours of daylight.  One thing that might help our birds keep going is that they have plenty of space:  a 3 x 6.5 house inside a 7 x 9 coop with 3 x 6.5 space below and above the house.  We’d planned to have six chickens, but just accepted the gift of three and decided not to stress them with the addition of more right away.  Now we don’t think we will.  The pecking order exists but in its most benign manifestation.   None of the birds show any physical damage from being pecked at, and even the lowest bird in the hierarchy has rights to assert herself.  It’s a much nicer experience to watch them than other flocks I’ve seen.

As for other factors in egg-laying, their home is not heated (as some do in colder climates), but we designed it with a heat-reflective barrier inside the walls, and even though it has good air flow, we designed it to not have drafts.  The temperatures have been down in the 20s this last week, and the birds seem unbothered by it.  We also have a large east-facing window to let in sunlight first thing in the morning, which is also a major factor in egg-laying.