August on the Farm: Chickens

barred-rockI have bad news about Rodney and his women. All the eggs are gone and his broody lady is now off the nest and roaming around. My best guess is that something got in there and took the eggs. I know we have had snake problems in the past, but I don’t think a snake would eat all of the eggs. I’m guessing some other type of pest, such as a possum or raccoon, did the dirty work. Jay says a possum or raccoon would also kill the chickens. He thinks the lady went crazy and cracked her own eggs. I don’t believe that. I think hens might crack eggs when they are in an unhealthy confined area, but not so much when they are in a healthy situation, where their natural instincts are at work. These hens live in a huge area in the woods with a small shelter to roost and get out of the rain. Life doesn’t get much less stressful for a chicken. At this point, it is too late for the hens to hatch eggs because it will be too cold. We probably will put the three ladies back in the laying yard. I’m not sure about Rodney. Does anyone out there want to babysit him until spring, when we can try again? Chicken breeding failure!

chickens-on-the-farmOur laying hens are doing great. We got to work this August, enlarging and securing our pasture area. We have had problems in the past with chickens getting out of the pasture and roaming through the vegetable fields, taking random bites out of everything. Not only that, when they are out of their safe space they are easy fodder for hawks and predators. Once the predators realize a chicken dinner is available, they tend to keep coming around and the problem gets bigger. The life of a pasture raised chicken is dangerous. We had such problems with this that we had to close off the big pasture. This limited the hens to a big yard that they quickly turned into a big chicken dust bath. Chickens are funny that way. They love to have a dust spa. They dig big craters and burrow down in them. They will lay there for hours, with only an occasional wallow or wing flap to spread the dust on their back. It is hen heaven. They have been getting most of their nutrition from the vegetable scraps we toss in there every day as we are picking and packing. I’m glad they like it, but I want them to be foraging through the pasture! That is why we are working on securing the fencing and moving the pasture area to a spot under our huge oak trees, where the hawks can’t see them or swoop down on them so easily. This project should be completed in September, and the hens will be turned out to clear some new land.

barred-rock-hensWe have been toying with the idea of a “chicken tractor” type set up. Lots of small farmers us this method. There is a good grower down the road from us who has at least six chicken tractors rotating around their pasture all the time. I have always thought of this as just another type of confinement, because the chickens are still crammed in there pretty tight. I’m beginning to rethink things. There is no perfect solution. Anything is better than the confined situation commercial birds live in. Allowing our hens to freely roam around a big pasture has problems with escape and predation. Chicken tractors are a fairly tight space for chickens, but at least they are outside and have access to fresh air and real forage. We are still working through this. We better think fast though, because we just ordered fifty new laying hens to supplement our flock! This many birds will be too many for the dust spa, so we will have to have another set up, either tractors or a very secure large pasture. I vote for both!

babies-are-out

We met another chicken farmer in Union County, almost in Wingate. She has a great set up. They sunk some serious time and money into it. The hens have a lovely roosting and laying house, that even has a poop collection method so they can compost it. The house has an automatic door that opens up into a beautiful pasture that is nothing but pure grass! The pasture is then sectioned off with low electric fencing, to allow them to rotate the hens around. I am quite sure this set up was expensive, but it has some attributes we can learn from. Maybe our hens can live in their old roosting/laying house, however, we can create different secure areas using some fencing like they do. That might allow us to rotate our pasture better. If we had some moveable shelter in each area (like a chicken tractor), that would protect them from weather and predators, it might work just fine!

good-dogs

It seems like we are always working and learning about growing chickens!

Eat your eggs (and veggies)!
Robin

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