July on the Farm: Chickens

kids in the chicken yard

Finally! Rodney the Rooster is going to be a father! One of his ladies is sitting on a big pile of eggs! This is great news. For months, these chickens have been living in a separate area of the farm, designated specifically for reproduction! We were beginning to wonder what was wrong. Why is it that ladies in the laying area will go broody all the time? Then we put three ladies and a rooster in a beautiful wooded area, just to have babies, and NONE of the ladies wanted to brood. We honestly were getting very close to dispatching Rodney and putting his three ladies back in the laying area. I think they have finally come through though. One lady is brooding away. Rodney looks proud. Maybe it took longer than we expected for them to adjust to their new home.

Barred Rock 2

Meanwhile, back in the laying house, the ladies are hard at work. We finally seem to have gotten the upper hand on the snake problems. I’m not sure if we relocated enough of them to thin out the population, or if summer is just time when there is so much food available to snakes, they don’t have to be bothered with going in the chicken house.

black snake

Some of our young hens are thinking about laying their first eggs. We found a very tiny egg recently. Often, young hens will lay really small eggs when they first start laying. It was barely bigger than a robin’s egg! The mature ladies are hard at work doing a good job with their egg production. They haven’t slowed down much due to heat. They normally are quite happy in July, because they get some of their favorite produce. Chickens absolutely love tattered old kale that we pulled out, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and melons. We throw tons of these types of scraps to them in the summer. They can eat bins and bins of produce scraps in no time at all. The only thing bothering our chickens are the hawks coming around. We have young hens, that are small enough for a hawk to think it can snag one. These young hens are small enough that some of them squeeze through the fence and get out into the open area, where hawks can see them. That normally doesn’t end well. Not only that, but once hawks realize there are easy-to-snag chickens around, they tend to come back again and again.

young hens on the loose

We heard a big ruckus in the chicken yard the other day, and a huge red tailed hawk was out there sitting on the ground eating a hen. The chicken was too big for the hawk to carry away, so it killed it and just sat on the ground to eat it. Needless to say, the other ladies were not happy at all about this. Jay shooed the hawk away and composted the poor dead hen. Without a doubt, this hawk will be back. Many chicken farmers struggle with how to deal with this situation without resorting to shooting a beautiful and protected hawk. It is difficult because, as I mentioned, now that the hawk knows where dinner is, it will be back. Our solution has been to put tomato stakes in the ground all over the chicken yard. The goal is to create a space that is so littered with stakes, the hawk can’t get in there and navigate very well with its broad wingspan. You can tie long strands of silver ribbon to the top of each stake to make the area even more confusing and difficult for hawks to swoop in.

ladies and yard stakes

We also make sure there is plenty of overhead cover, such as a shack they can run in, and huge oak trees to hide under. Although these strategies work pretty well, none of this is perfect. This is one of the main challenges with growing chickens with full outdoor access. It is so much easier to keep them in a protected house. Now you know why eggs from pasture raised chickens cost more. It is because pastured hens are so much more difficult to manage. Chicken farming would be much easier and cheaper if we just closed the hens in the henhouse and let them happily lay eggs, well protected from predators. Sometimes I wonder if they might be calmer and happier under such a scenario. Then I come to my senses and consider how happy chickens are rolling in the dust and chasing around bugs and worms. I also believe eggs that come from hens that are eating a diverse diet of plants, bugs, worms, and anything else they can find, are of much higher quality and better taste than any other eggs. So our ladies are going to have to keep dodging the hawks!

Eat your veggies,
Robin

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