Not much to say about this other than chickens….
Not much to say about this other than chickens….
Sheldon and I were discussing chicken feed the other day. Super sexy talk for an old married couple, right? Well, for homesteaders it’s the backbone of your chicken flock. Sure, chickens can scavenge for food during the spring/summer but if you want them to lay with consistency (and lay eggs strong enough to make it to your fridge), you need to put some thoughts into what you feed them when they can’t feed themselves so that they get enough nutrition, grit (for digestion) and calcium (for shell strength), etc.
I came across this article from Mother Earth News from the mid 70’s that talks about working with local “silos” to formulate an exact mix.
TLC has this recipe for Organic Chicken Feed
And Examiner has this recipe that seems to be very nut/seed heavy and isn’t any cheaper (but honestly, I’m sure better feed) than commercial brands
However, with the desire to do more with less and ultimately become as self-sufficient as possible, I still don’t feel like we have cracked the code. So, I’m wondering…for all of you other cluckers out there-what do you feed your chicks/chickens on a regular basis? Commercial? Organic (gulp, expensive in our part of the country)? or home-made? I would love it if we could share some ideas!
Well, the chicks were safely moved out to their brooder in the “garage.” They all made the journey well and did just fine overnight. We had a bit of consternation trying to get the temp right. Is it one brooder light or two? Is it tarp on or off to stop any heat loss? Do we have enough insulation or too much? At any rate, they all did just fine. We did notice that the change of scenery was not pleasing to them (apparently they have less short term memory than a goldfish) since we noticed that there was not a single peep out of them on Saturday. However, they were all cheeping and moving around happily by Sunday.
But, another learning experience….I noticed when Blueberry and I were out on a walk with Kya, when we came back to put her towards the garage I noticed a funky smell. I honestly have to say that my first thought was “hey, I didn’t know my neighbor toked up. I never would have guessed that.” But then I noticed that the “toke” smell was coming from my garage and since I know that my husband and I do not partake, it had to be either the cats (and seriously-where would they score pot anyway?) or something else…
Well, short story shorter, one of the brooder lights had fallen down and had started to smoke the hay. Yikes! Everyone was fine and we were SO blessed that I happened to be walking by and did not just assume that the smell was my neighbor was just smoking a joint on his porch. However, we had even more learning from that:
1) While the barn cats were completely unable to get into the brooder, they were in fact able to mess with the cord coming out of the brooder, and that was just too much temptation. Someone messed with it and knocked it around ultimately leading the brooder light coming off the teacup hook that Sheldon had it on, leading to….
2) The Brooder light needs to be securely fashioned so that a bump, lump or swipe of the power cord can’t knock it off. A teacup hook was probably not the best choice, but sometimes the engineer of the house doesn’t account for outside influences like nosey cats. And while everyone is getting used to their new surroundings, you should…
3) Check on them often. Don’t select a spot that is so inconvenient for you to get to that you don’t go out to peek every few hours. Thank God that I happened to be walking by. While the smoke detector would have eventually caught the smoke, it would have gotten pretty thick in the brooder before it went off.
4) Alfalfa hay smells like pot. Yep. Not exactly a learning because I noticed it the first time I put it down in one of Kya’s spots, but when there is some heat applied, it really smells bad. Like my college roommate’s boyfriend’s apartment bad. Oh, and for the record, we don’t actually think my neighbor smokes pot. I just always assume it’s someone else simply because I can’t stand the smell. Peeeyeeeeuuu.
So, that’s it! We’re making bread and cheezie weezies today out on Blueberry Acres Farm along with a huge batch of red sauce. Also working on sources to bring in some additional fill dirt because we’re hitting some rock layers in our garden. Hope you are having a great day-happy homesteading!
So, we recently received a batch of chicks from Murray McMurry hatchery. It was a fairly small order as we are hoping to be able to propagate our own brood going forward. But wait…what about those chickens that you already had you may ask? Well, that first batch of chickens included one fabulous chicken named Lana who we think is a Plymouth Rock, a couple of Polish (aka Tophats) roosters (do NOT recommend), and a big bunch of Silkies. We decided to cull the herd and gave the Silkies away. Who knew these were such beloved pet birds, but we discovered quickly that they were. No thanks to pets who walk around with poop on their legs. After we got rid of the Silkies, we noticed that the three remaining roosters were merciless with Lana. Every time she went out to the yard, it was like a bad 70’s porn all over again. She stopped wanting to stay in her yard and would roam around by our house just to get a break from these 3 idiots. As a result, our 3 roosters became 1 rooster a few Sundays ago. Whew. All of that to say this…we needed more chickens!
So, enter these cute little babies. In preparation for our order, Sheldon had built a very nice brooder that they would live in for their first many weeks until they were able to go out into the enclosed on all sides (and top) yard before ultimately moving into one of our chicken coops. Did we have a learning from that first chick experience? Oh yeah we did-a bunch!
1) If you are ordering your chicks, perhaps be smarter than us and don’t order them to arrive in January. Too freaking cold. Chicks have to be kept at temperatures ranging between 70-95 their first few weeks and this is a hard temp to maintain in a brooder that is outside. Which brings me to….
2) Determine in advance if your brooder can maintain a 95 degree temperature in all weather. We found out quickly that ours could not despite solid construction and insulation. Experienced chicken farmers I’m sure already know this, but us chicken noobs had no idea. We needed our brooder to be located inside one of our outbuildings where it would be better insulated from the elements. It’s now inside the building located closest to our house so we can easily access it to check on these demanding little boogers. If this isn’t an option for you in advance, you’d better have a…
3) Plan B before your chicks arrive. For us, we were able to quickly transition them to our basement bathroom. It was far from ideal, but we were able to maintain temperature and conditions easily just giving up the second bathroom in our house. Not perfect, but it wasn’t the end of the world. And I don’t think they minded:
There were some things that we did right…um, not much but we did have thermometers that we could keep in there to constantly (and remotely) monitor temperature. We also made sure that we read up on keeping chicks safe, warm and happy. It’s not just about opening up the box and randomly dropping in food. You also need to make sure that you are using bedding that is appropriate to their age (start with newspaper and remove it within first week for leg development), using chick grit (NOT the same as chicken grit) and frequently (oh so frequently) changing out their water because they throw more stuff in that water than our 4-year-old.
So, Sheldon just came back in the house to grab some coffee and eat some breakfast. Chicks are getting huge and I need them to get the heck out of my bathroom so I can spend 10 hours cleaning it. Blech. But, in a few months, we will have a huge bounty of both eggs and bug eaters that will contribute greatly to the overall health and welfare of our family farm…and hopefully we will do the same for them! Good luck and happy laying!
For those friends who have been following our city to country exploits, this weekend’s activities reached a new level of “keepingitrealness” when we processed 2 chickens. By processed I mean we took them from mean little buggers in the backyard to fried chicken on our plates in one day without leaving our house. Now I know that to some of you, this is gruesome, nasty business. However, we made the move to Blueberry Acres Farm so that we could provide what we hope is a more authentic life for our little Blueberry. We hope to be able to provide her with organic meat, produce and dairy-much of which we produce ourselves. So, before you give me the “eww, gross”, just remember that if you are an omnivore like us, your meat comes from somewhere people and I guarantee, most of it ain’t pretty. Anyway-back to the whacking…neither myself nor Sheldon had ever done this so we had to figure it out as we went along. Armed with several books and a healthy desire for self-sufficiency, we prepped our area and offed our first chicken. Actually, Sheldon did the offing-I was just the manual labor. Here’s a picture of me cowering behind the garage a safe distance away while he was taking care of business:
A couple of things that we learned from that first chicken:
1) If at first you don’t succeed, try try again becomes a necessity when chickens are involved.
2) Barn cats can materialize from thin air when chickens are involved.
3) It’s best not to wear one’s Sunday shoes when chickens are involved.
In the end we realized that the many hours it took us to process these birds could have been significantly cut down had we spent a few minutes prepping in advance with a few things:
1) Better kill method. Sheldon found that the method he found in one of his books did not work as exactly as promised. Since we have tried to treat these birds as humanely as possible, we needed to carry this through even through death-especially through death. When we do this again, we’ll end their lives faster with less chance for pain.
2) Better pluck location. After ensuring death, we strung the birds up to pluck feathers. Alas, when we had one of us on each side, we found that the bird swung back and forth not only meaning more mess but also less efficiency.
3) Better knives. I figured this out very quickly. None of our large knives did the trick of effectively butchering it without destroying the meat. Non-serrated knives work best and if you can handle it, get a cleaver.
Things that we did that seemed to help our process:
1) Worked as a team with little complaining. Let’s face it-this can be pretty gruesome your first time out. I had to take a couple of breaks and my husband was cool about it all. Don’t judge if the other feels a bit queasy.
2) Had plenty of cutting boards and clear work space to butcher. This made moving around as needed much easier than if I was tripping over clutter.
3) Had disinfectant ready to go. Can’t. Stress. This. One. Enough. When we do it again, we’ll do it outside b/c frankly, this process gets a little stinky if you are sensitive to smells, however having a food-friendly disinfectant like a vinegar/water solution mixed up and ready to squirt was a very good idea for us.
Our overall result was actually pretty good. We got a fair amount of meat from the birds and while it was a little gamey (they were roosters), it was good meat. Kevin made fried chicken and fried tomatoes and it was all quite tasty-100% Blueberry approved.
Well, that’s about it for now. We will be processing again in a couple of months and hopefully by then, we will have perfected this process as much as two hobby farmers can. Happy eating!