Thursday, November 21, 2013

What to Feed Your Chickens

We are still learning on the fly (PUN, giggles).  We don’t begin to know everything and highly recommend doing your own research.  Those of you that keep chickens, please comment on things you do, so that we can continue to learn.  Thank you!

How much should I budget for feed and what do I feed my chickens?

First let’s establish that we are discussing standard-sized egg-laying chickens, not bantams, chicks or broilers.  We are also discussing chickens with no special needs, not molting, brooding or healing from an injury. 
A Mille Fluer Leghorn Pullet.  She is
almost the perfect back yard chicken.
Nearly every day she'll lay a great big
whit(ish) colored egg and she only
weighs 6 lbs so she won't eat much.
That's a really good ROI for feed.

Time and again sources prove that the average adult hen will eat nearly a quarter pound of feed a day if she is kept in a caged environment.  Here is one source:   Our hens run around and we feed them kitchen scraps so I know they eat less than .25 lb a day.  For budgeting purposes though, we use that figure.

The average family of 5 people will need about 8 hens.  This will provide 6 -8 eggs a day in the summer and maybe 2 or 3 in the winter.  
Unless of course, there are lights in the coop.  But that’s a topic for another day.  
So 8 hens will eat 2lbs of food a day.  This means that a 50lb bag of feed will last 25 days.   

If your chickens are free range and supplemented with kitchen scraps, odds are high that you’ll manage a month on one bag.  We buy organic feed which is more than double the cost of non-organic.  Regular feed is $12 - $14 in our area.  Once you are past the initial investment, your eggs could cost you $14 a month.  

That’s pretty impressive, especially if you are getting 15 dozen eggs in that month!  Remember that home grown eggs will have a nutrition value that far surpasses store bought eggs, even if you choose not to use organic feed!  Besides, fresh eggs taste SOOOO good!

If you are the food-saving type, here is a great blog on how to keep your eggs all year long!
I highly recommend reading that blog page if you ever have too many eggs.

What kind of feed should you buy? 
Buy chicken food.  Not dog or cat food.  Chickens have special needs because they are doing a special thing when they lay eggs! 
Feed.  A complete layer pellet will have no less than 15% protein.  Soy protein works best – if GMO’s concern you –then hunt for GMO free, soy-based chicken feed.
Grit.  Chickens don’t have teeth.  They depend on stones in their digestive tract to grind up food.  If they free-range, they’ll find their own grit.  If they are penned up, make sure you supply grit in the form of sandy pebbles, store bought grit or real dirt, sand and weeds to play in.
 “The eggshell for each egg that your hen lays is about 95% calcium carbonate by dry weight.  In just one year’s time, the amount of calcium that a hen will put into her eggshells can equal 20 times the amount of calcium that is contained in her bones. That’s a lot of calcium. In order to stay healthy and produce strong egg shells, she needs to consume a steady supply of calcium.”  McMurray
You can see that calcium is important.  So if your feed does not have enough calcium, or you allow free range or feed lots of kitchen scraps, you will need to supplement.  Oyster shell is cheap and worth it.  Some people suggest feeding egg shells to chickens.  Never do this!  It teaches them that eggs are food.  Oops, you don’t want them eating YOUR breakfast!  More information on calcium:
Treats!  Chickens LOVE kitchen scraps.
The short list is what NOT to feed them.
1.     Avocados.  They kill chickens.
2.    Bananas.  They kill chickens too.
3.    Chicken.  Don’t encourage cannibalism. 
4.    Moldy food.  Not to worry, that odd grape, berry or tomato with mold on it is not the real problem.  The real problem is that 3 month old cheesecake you found in the back of the fridge.  Use your common sense—don’t feed that to animals that can get sick from it!  Chickens have very delicate respiratory systems.  If you don’t want your mouth near it, odds are high they don’t either. 
5.    Egg shells, already covered that.  Eggs, however are fine if they’re cooked and in other scraps.  Do not feed raw eggs.
6.    Milk products.   They can’t digest it.  Use real probiotics not yogurt.  (That will be a topic for another day).  Don’t worry about that little bit of cheese in the taco salad, just don’t pour milk in the feeder.
Another blog with more in-depth information about feeding chickens.

If you keep chickens, do you have a daily routine for feeding them scraps?  What do they love best?  Our chickens come running when they hear my voice - do yours?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Late Night Chicken Calls

This morning I went to get the honey out of the bathroom. 

I know what you are thinking.  It goes something like this “There’s something strange going on at that house!”

Let me assure you – you are absolutely correct.

And it involves a chicken.

In the bathroom checking out her comb, I think her part is a little off.
Let me back up a few hours into yesterday.

I was out doing chores and a Buff Orpington (9 months-old so technically a pullet) is sitting in a bucket hoarding five eggs.  I finally move her aside and take the eggs.  In disgust, she gets up and leaves the bucket.  Whereupon I notice her back end is all scraggly like a long-haired lady fresh in from the rain.  An Orpington behind is supposed to look like this:

Now imagine wet and bedraggled.  No I did not take a picture.

Normally I would chase down a chicken that looked like that – after all, I love examining chicken vents.  (Sarcasm)

Lucky for me, I was late for parent-teacher conferences at school so I had to run off.

Later, much later, we were doing chores by flashlight when I saw that wet bum again.  

Still?  We don’t have any puddles.


What is that coming out of her hind end?  

I’m so green I had to run in the house and Google “my chicken’s vent is inside out.”

That was after making supper and feeding the baby twice.

So here it is 9:30 and I’m pretty upset.  It says here on all these technical sites that a well-cared for, young chicken rarely has this problem.   When it does happen, it’s from trying to pass too large of an egg, or uterus default from a calcium deficiency.  The midwife in me understands that kind of talk!

Now we feed our chickens an excellent, complete food, plus we supplement.  However, if they free range enough and don’t eat said food – a calcium deficiency is possible.

I’m woefully short on chicken tending skills but I understand the term “could be fatal.”

I mixed up a chicken cocktail for her to drink while I was researching how to fix this problem at home.  The cocktail was postpartum tea (it works on human uterus’) heavy on raspberry leaf (high calcium content), liquid dispersible vitamin/mineral mix to combat shock, raw apple cider vinegar to help fight infection, and liquid dispersible probiotics.  Looks like a liquid cure to me!

Google came up with many horrifically intimate instructions for reversing a prolapse.  I prefer non-invasive techniques so we decided to try those first.  Besides, this was thumb sized, not a monstrosity. 

Evidently honey will reduce swelling and fight infection.  First a hot bath to clean and relax the area.  We added a small amount of hibi-cleanse to the water.  

Then Nolan did like James Herriot in all his late night animal calls, and stripped to his shirt-sleeves and cap.  Thank goodness this didn’t require wellingtons for mucking about.

WHOAH!  It voluntarily went back in!  The cocktail must have scared her.  

We honeyed her bum for good measure.  Kept her warm and dark all night then put her in an isolation cage, also dark, to keep her from trying to lay any eggs. 

She might be fine.  Odds are high, according to Google, that this will be a repeat occurrence.  They recommend culling (removing from the flock) but we will withhold judgment. 

The Chicken Spa.  She never once fussed.  She must have known a honey rub was coming!

Meanwhile, I’ve put the honey back in the kitchen.

Links for those of you who need to know about chicken prolapse:

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's a Wonderful World - SOUP

 Don't you just love it when a recipe you invented turns out to be just what you wanted the first time around?  That's what happened here.

We were having that kind of night where the parents are rushed and the children naughty.  I was so overwhelmed that I left immediately when daddy got home from work.  The groceries wouldn't deliver themselves!  Our children had traumatized me anyway and I needed a break.  

Don’t even try and tell me you’ve never been there.

Toss in day four of a 5-day fever and there you have it.  I really needed to walk down the aisle with no helpers and lean on a cart.

I couldn’t think what to fix for supper – stuffed sinuses will do that – so I needed to hit the stores and just look at the food.  Inspiration waited for me in the vegetable aisle.  Yes, I went to town contagious.  Isn’t life great?  No choice really.  Just have to drag myself around, wipe down the carts and avoid talking to people.  

I know you've done that too, quit being so horrified.

When I got home daddy had restored a semblance of peace to the household.  Wow, do I ever love that man!  He has serious Daddy skills.  He had brought up music youtube videos of Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo`ole. 

My 11-yr old set in and helped me chop veggies.  The baby tried singing along.  The 8 yr old started dancing so the baby was waving her arms and dancing along.  Quick tears stung my eyes as the exhaustion gave away to joy.

Out of that came this soup -

It’s a Wonderful World – SOUP

      Small qualifier here - I don't measure anything.  So these amounts are all approximate.  
      Use a 6 qt + pan
·         ½  a very large onion or 1 small one, diced
·         2 Tbsp chipotle olive oil
·         3 cloves garlic minced
·         ¼ tsp curry
·         Pinch of ginger
·         10 cups of chicken broth
·         4 cups of chopped raw butternut squash (I bought pre-prepped cubed and cut into smaller pieces because I was in a hurry)
·         4 med. Size Yukon gold potatoes chopped
·         4 carrots sliced
·         Salt
·         1 cup of quinoa
·         1 cup canned coconut milk (not cream)
·         2 cups snow peas cut into 1” pieces.  Not the big fat peas.  The skinny ones that are flat and have the hardest time making it past your mouth into the pan.
·         Optional – cilantro

Find this link

Listen to the song repeatedly.  Perhaps find some of his other music.  Dance with your spoon. It’s okay, the spoon doesn’t care if you miss a beat.

Toss the onion into a hot pan with the olive oil.  
This is a little extra brown because the batch I was intending to photograph - well I messed it up right off the bat.
I grabbed the balsamic vinegar not the olive oil!  Splashed about a Tbs on the onions.
Went - WOOPS!   Didn't feel like chopping more onions, so just went with it.
How I measure water, I like this old square mason jar
If you don’t have chipotle olive oil, use plain oil and add chipotle powder but go easy, you want the heat to be delicate.  Hot sauce can be added at the table for those addicted to the adrenaline rush of heat induced asphyxiation. 

Add the garlic.

When the onion becomes clear, add the curry and ginger.  Brown it with the onion/garlic.
Pour in the chicken broth.  Scrape all the brown off the bottom of the pan.  This is where the flavor is, so don’t neglect this step.  Also, if you get lazy here, odds are high it will burn and you’ll ruin your supper.

 Add all your veggies in one fell swoop (careful not to splash yourself, silly).
Salt as much as you think it would need.  I use a French grey rock salt and toss it in as my hand feels is right.  Now you try it.  Be careful!

Bring your veggies to a boil.  Back off heat, simmer until almost done.  Watch closely, this may be about 15 – 20 minutes -- depending on your heat and pan situation -- it could be as long as 45 minutes!  I sincerely hope not because you want SOME nutrition left in your veggies.

Admire your soup.  Isn’t this the most beautiful pot?  Just lovely and it gets better..

Just before the potatoes are done – by the way – Yukon Gold’s have a better nutrition structure than Irish whites so they won’t look done.  Test it with a spoon.  If it’s a tad underdone, now is the time –

Throw in the quinoa and give it a stir.  Isn’t it fun to toss things about in a kitchen?

The quinoa is your protein source.  You could add meat such as chicken or bacon but this is a lovely clean soup and doesn’t need meat.  Quinoa is gluten free and a complete protein with all the necessary amino acids.

Quinoa is done when you see the little white rings floating around the nucleus.  About 10 minutes of simmer.

You can see the Quinoa here; it is the little white circles.
Add the coconut milk.

Taste it.  Add salt here if necessary.  If it’s close, just put your salt grinder on the table.  What?  You use Morton’s?   FOR SHAME.  Get some good salt.  I like the Himalyan Pink salt in the grinder from (drumroll) COSTCO!

Do not allow the soup to return to a boil.

Just before placing on the table, add the snow peas.

Garnish with cilantro if you are of a mind.

Side note: I found Costco carries prepared butternut squash, ORGANIC for the same price as not prepped, not organic in other stores.  Enough said.

The pictures are not quite accurate because I made this the second time in a hurry.  Couldn't quite figure out what was wrong.  The soup was strangely disappointing.  I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and had an AHHA moment.  

Yes, these moments wake me up.  

I had forgotten the coconut milk!  
Don't forget the coconut milk.  That single ingredient transforms this soup from a nice vegetable soup into something extraordinary.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Livestock Protection Dog

Looking through the picket fence
A People Petrifying Pup Lingers Laughing at the End of His Line  

A few days ago I noticed an oddity, unknown random kids coming down our street.  Two of these creatures were on bikes and one was pulling another on a street board of some sort while a fourth ran alongside.  

These kids were pushing 20.  Or else they were just really big, jaded 14 year-olds. 

Open windows are a beautiful thing.

Overheard from aforementioned kids,“Whoa (unrepeatable word) did you see that (unrepeatable word) dog in that yard?”

Kids all stop for a look.

Dog wakes up, shakes himself and charges; baying as if he were a demon-hound bent on tearing these roadside gawkers from limb to limb.
Chaos ensues with multiple shrieks of “RUN” and “Faster” being the general theme.

Until the dog reaches the end of his line and stops.  Just at the edge of the road.

Sweet at 3 months old
Let me tell you how we got here, to this place in life where we listened for screaming neighbors on a regular basis.

We got our son a dog who would grow to be a protector.  

We had a bear problem.  No joke, a rat terrier just wouldn’t cut it at our house.  

So, we get a Husky, Great Pyrenees cross.  The mom is 80lbs and the dad is 60.  

He isn’t supposed to top 80lbs with those genetics, right?  

Follow me down this rabbit trail to our 130lb behemoth named Kona.

Super sweet as a little guy.  Probably 30# here.

At one year old he is sweet and gentle, often knocking full grown men over with his tail.  When he stands up, which is often, he tops my husbands 6ft+.  

He has learned to protect and night after night he puts on his big boy bark and stomps the perimeter of our property letting the bears know that KONA is here.  

Our neighbors are relived he’s on the job too.  The bears make a giant detour around all our properties now.  

Hopefully he’s worth the chewed bicycle seats.  The only seat to survive in the entire block was the one stored in the attic of someone’s garage.  He didn’t just nibble either.  He ate the entire seat.   
All of them.
8 months

He also ate a queen size mattress cover from off the clothes line.  We hid the remnants before our neighbor noticed it was gone. Once he brought down remnants of a black negligee.  That was just too much.  We hid that too.

He also stole an entire chocolate cake from off her porch.  She said it stank because she burned it so it was okay.  She misses the Bundt pan though.  I was surprised he could swallow it.  Perhaps he didn’t and future archaeologists will find it buried with his other stash. 

A stash that includes things like outdoor furniture cushions, socks, blankets and miscellaneous tools. 

Even if I HAD a tendency to exaggerate, let me say right now – this is no exaggeration.  His puppy hood was fraught with embarrassment because he literally ate everything and anything. 

Due to feral dog and coyote packs running wild, Kona developed a passionate hate for other dogs.  He will hunt down and kill a coyote.  Our neighbors’ dogs were safe because they were there before him.  He’d run through the yard, doing his protection rounds and the little neighbor dogs would attack, hanging fiercely onto Kona’s belly fur until they were drug out into the woods.  This happened multiple times every day until the old one died of sheer exhaustion.

Walking my husband to work (the snow plow in this instance)
He’s pretty incredible really.  He can run 22 mph while jumping forest brush and stumps, pacing us the entire mile UP to the main road.  He’s partnered with the cat and hunts down wood rats in old brush piles.  He herds the children – this was actually tough for our 6 yr-old.  And best of all protects his people.  When uninvited guests come down our road, he sits in the middle of it and barks.  Most people would generally just back up – not bother to turn around –the entire 500 feet up to the next parking area. 

No one ever breaks into our house.

We became the livestock worth protecting to our genetically coded livestock protection dog (LPD).

At one year and over 6 feet tall, roughly 130 lbs.  Don't mess with this dog.  He's serious about protecting his peeps.
Would classify him in the 'doesn't share well' category.
Enter a major move from the mountains to the valley where he is suddenly a liability.  We had to put him on a run because we didn’t expect our new neighbors to understand the benefits of being adopted by an LPD.  

After all, there were no neighborhood bears threatening the children at dusk.  

Watching the flock.  He likes the Chickens
He does do a good job with our livestock, they all – including the 1.5lb free range rabbit – drink from his water dish, and he protects them from small predator animals like fox, coyote, raccoon and opossums. 

Before you all get wound up about a dog being tied, let me explain that he’s on a 100 foot run with a 20 ft lead.  This means he can go 20ft either direction for the entire length.  Many people with dogs don’t even have back yards 100 x 40 feet.  So he’s not hurting.  And neither are the people he charges.
True Story
An innocent, beyond middle-aged, heavy set woman is plodding down our street, strung behind two stodgy, Corgi looking crosses.  Her head is down, arms swinging as she tackles her constitutional exercise with a determination that shuts out any enjoyment of the outdoors.  Certainly her powers of observation are obstructed by her chuffing and wheezing. 

We are in the garden watching.  Just waiting.

The dog perks up.

Since the bears are scarce he has to settle for anything that crosses his path. 

He charges, baying once again like he’s out for blood, protecting his people from any perceived threat. 

130lbs of white fury is charging full tilt.

The woman throws up her hands, screams and drops her leads.  Not only has she lost her wits but her dogs are loose!

My husband takes off running to catch the dog by his collar before he can tear into one of these poor corgi- looking things which are headed straight for our dog.  They are yipping happily like they want to make friends with him!  They must be a singularly stupid variation of an ordinarily intelligent breed.

I’m moving my (really) late pregnancy body and yelling at the woman “Get your dogs, get your dogs!”

Kona hits the end of his line.
Our people petrifying pup
This dog is vicious.  Everyone wants to pet him.  It's a big mistake.  Don't get near our dog.  If you don't belong to him, he will attack you.  He loves his people and livestock to the point of complete devotion.  This is his genetics.  He's typical for an LPD.  If you have a small urban farm and you want to protect your livestock, an LPD could be the way to go.  Just do your research and realize that should you face such major life change as a move, these devoted creatures are impossible to re-home.  You are theirs, and theirs alone for life.
Taking care of his children even if it means sledding with them. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Re-purposing and Recycling

The Making of a Cackleberry Castle

Cackleberry Castles are not found at Wal-mart® down the lego® aisle.  They can be enormously expensive and much harder than lego's® to put together.  We believe that to be truly sustainable a project cannot cost more than it will be able to repay before natural termination.  Most chickens slow down at laying eggs into their 2nd and 3rd year.  They really need to pay for themselves before the end of year one.  So, that means housing cannot cost an arm and a leg.  We put on our creative caps and came up with a Cackleberry Castle of wonderful dimensions that (only) cost us (LOTS) of time, two 2x4's, equipment fuel, and a roll of chicken wire.  Here's how it worked.

I know there’s a daunting amount of words but the pictures will come.  Promise.  Stick with me for a show and tell involving two tractors.  Yes, we used tractors on our Cackleberry Castle!

One of the most important premises to any successful renewable farming project is re-purposing and recycling.  What is the difference? 

Are you still with me or did you totally lose focus and head for Krispy Kreme?  That's totally sounding good to me too.  Remember, those doughnuts are not good for you.  Avoid making it a habit, okay?

ANYWAY, let's drag ourselves back to the subject at hand,

Definition of repurpose according to Cambridge :  to use something for a different purpose to the one for which it was originally intended:

Google’s definition (because Cambridge reads like a professor) of recycle: convert (waste) into reusable material.

On Cackleberry Farm in Modesto (Find us on Facebook with that title) we do both and are proud of our efforts! 

Example of recycling on our farm:

Jeremy brought home a bundle of old redwood fencing that he had removed for a customer.  He built me a raised bed then he had the children help.  Wow, does that ever take time – letting children help!  They built me three 3 x 12 beds for the garden.  We still have some material left for another project.  

We took trash (unbelievable what people will throw away) and made something wonderful.
Hard at work
How things grow inside my recycled redwood beds.
I’ll admit, now I’m just bragging!

The trouble with chicks is that they grow and lay eggs.  All this requires planning on the part of their humans.  What are they going to live in and where shall they lay their eggs?

For starters, we use an inherited hen house (from my maternal grandfather who never called an egg anything less than a cackleberry his entire life).  It’s our broody house and cannot properly house more than six adult hens.  A broody house, by the way, is not a place for moody birds.  It’s where a structure and people take the place of a broody (momma) hen and raise chicks to a viable age.

Bright idea!  Offer to haul away someone else's unwanted item.  Then re-purpose said item to fill your need.

We asked for an old, unused cherry hut that belonged to my paternal grandparents.  We have repurposed it into a cackleberry castle.  Here is the chronicle of that adventure!

First, the building had to be loaded onto Jeremy’s trailer for hauling.  I wasn’t there for this part.  Then the tractors had to be roaded to our house – via as many canal banks as possible.  Since this was exactly one week before our new baby’s arrival; I wasn’t there for this part either.  

The part I got to see -
At 13'8" this is just 4" inside legal height limits.  Moving an 8 x 12 building intact requires serious ingenuity!

Placing boards for lifting the building.

Our 13 year old helper, Nolan.  He did a super job, many adults can't run a tractor with his finesse!  Yes, his eyebrow is taped shut.  He ran into a semi-trailer with his bike.  The man spent weeks fixing his trailer with a welding torch.

Daddy giving instruction to a very nervous boy!  Afraid he'll do something wrong.

The bucket is using aforementioned boards as leverage.  Daddy is instructing the proper angle of bucket here.

Why we needed our son to help.  Goes better with two tractors -
and I can't do the job he can, even if I could fit inside the cab!

Jeremy hops out of the bobcat, pulls the truck forward and Nolan (see his body language) takes a breather.

This is a trick you don't see every day!

Scooting into place.

And if that doesn't work, have your son haul it into place.  (Joke people, it's a joke!)
Oh, that mess in the background is where new countries are invented.

A load of chickens in a re-purposed ice-chest, being introduced to their new home.  We use this ice-chest for many different animal related chores.  I don't know how many times it has been sterilized and re-used!  It is integral to our project as it's what we use when our chicks are brand new.  It makes a heat lamp super-efficient at keeping babies warm!
I should have gotten a picture of the girls.  They cleaned this building out. It had been empty - except for spiders - for years.  What a dirty job!  But they tackled it beautifully.  Once we had straw on the floor we started moving birds. 

A few weeks after moving in - happy pullets!  No eggs yet
We are in no way done with the cackleberry castle.  It still needs laying boxes.  More on how we re-purpose 5-gallon buckets into a lovely tier of egg boxes - another day!