Friday, 27 April 2012
We keep a small flock of 12-15 chickens. We like the fresh eggs, and usually have enough extra to sell or barter. I have a chicken bucket in my kitchen instead of a garbage disposal, and their manure heats up my garden compost pile. The girls are pets, really, so we keep even those too old to lay until they die of old age.
unheated, and the floor has big gaps the babies would fall through, so we can't put the babies outside. An upside-down dog crate, on top of the coffee table in front of the wood stove, works for us.
Chicks are shipped, either to you or to the Feed Stores, the same day they're hatched. The hatcheries will only ship in large groups so they'll keep each other warm in transit, but once you get the chicks keeping them warm is the most important. They survive without food for a couple of days after hatching (if a hen is hatching out a clutch of eggs this allows her to set on the late-hatching eggs a couple more days without having to get up and find food for the first-hatched) because they're still nourished by the remains of their yolk sacs.
My feed store sells chick feed by the pound, so depending on how many chicks we get I'll buy 2-5 pounds - aiming for enough to last for 10 - 12 weeks. I line the crate with paper for bedding (chopped hay or wood shavings could also be used, but that would be too messy in the house. You want to use bedding material too big for them to eat, especially at first, so sawdust isn't a good idea). For their first week, newspaper is too slick for the babies to stand on and could lead to leg problems, so if I've got day-old chicks I'll use paper towels for the first week to 10 days. You also have to check their butts for the first week - cleaning them off with a damp towel if they get pasted up with dried poo.
This year, I'm using a heavy-bottomed water dish designed for a reptile terrarium. In the past, I made a waterer they couldn't stand in from of a soup can with a couple of holes punched near the rim, filled with water, and then flipped into a glazed plant saucer, a pointy tippy rock on top of the can to keep them from trying to perch on it. Once they go outside, I make a bigger one using the same method, out of a coffee can flipped into a cake pan.
Day-old chicks need 90F temperatures for the first week, and then can handle 5º less each week. For their first few weeks, I rig up a red Christmas bulb to hang down close to the floor of the crate. By 3-4 weeks of age, they're ok with temperatures in the middle-70's. By loading up the wood stove each night before bedtime, it stays warm enough for them through the night. They'll be huddled together for warmth in the morning, but quiet. As soon as I start a fire and open the shade to let in the sun, they're up and scrabbling about, happy little cheepers.
Chicks will let you know if something is wrong - they let out a loud, sharp alarm call. When they're content, they make a soft twittering noise. Having the dog crate upside-down puts the windows down at their level, and gives me a place to wedge a perching stick down close. They can be a bit messy scratching about, so I have a big sheet of plastic underneath, wrapped up over the top on the couch side of the crate to catch any bits of food or paper they may toss out. I have to vacuum underneath the table every day, as I leave the room side open. I like watching them watching me when I'm sitting in my chair, listening to them twitter.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Moulin Rouge sunflower
My checklist for February may be different than many of my readers due to weather conditions but I hope you can find something of use here for your like season.
Check garlic and other overwintering alliums for growth and mulch as needed for weed control.
Take hardwood cuttings of small fruits such as: grape, kiwi, currant, and gooseberry.
Harvest scionwood of fruit trees such as apple and pear for grafting.
Divide perennials such as rhubarb, hops and horseradish, & raspberries.
Order seeds if you haven't already.
Start seeds of slow growers like celery root, and herbs.
Take a freezer/pantry inventory now that winter is waning and see if you really need so much of whatever is left. Adjust seed order and garden plan accordingly.
Inventory food preservation supplies, stock up on lids etc.
Check chick equipment and repair or replace as needed.
That is just a few things we've been working on, I've had a two year hiatus in the dairy department so I will be dusting off my milking supplies, ordering fresh minerals for my heifer, and getting prepared for the big event in May.
How does your list differ from mine? Are the differences weather or season related?
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Not many backyard chicken urban farmers think about the return on investment of their flock very much, as chickens are more of a passion than a business, and as I have mentioned in previous posts about chickens, not only are they great pets, are willing workers in the garden, they also lay the best eggs ever.
Not only do these eggs taste much better, they are nutritionally better as well! Mother Earth News mentions that eggs from chickens that are allowed to roam on grass (instead of being confined to cages as is the case for the majority of commercially produced eggs) have;
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
I know that in economic terms this is an intangible benefit, so how does one calculate the Return On Investment for your backyard chickens?
Well do I have the tool for you! I found a fantastic calculator on-line that you can figure out the financial benefits of your chickens. Here is the link to it. http://www.ruleworks.co.uk/cgi-bin/PoultryROI.exe?Guide=Poultry&t=Poultry%20ROI%20Calculator
Here is how mine worked out.
Now even though it says I make a profit because they are great value for money, I personally wouldn't care if I made a loss. They are just like any other household pet as far as I am concerned (unless of course you breed your chooks for meat). No-one questions the ROI of a dog or a cat, and they certainly don't lay eggs for your breakfast!
"Poultry ROI CalculatorYour Poultry cost per year is $ 27.20
Housing cost per year is $ 52.00
Feed quantity required per year is 321 Kg for 8 Large Fowl
Cost of all feed products per year is $ 354.05
Consumables / other cost per year is $ 202.00
Total Cost per year is $ 635.25
Your eggs sold value per year is $ 87.75
Hatching eggs sold value per year is $ 0.00
The remaining eggs valued at shop prices $ 351.00 for your own use.
Total Return value per year is $ 822.75
Your Total Profit is $ 187.50 per year.Well done. Of course this profit calculation does not include your labour costs"
So for those interested, I would love to see how your ROI comes out. Don't forget to select the right currency for the calculator. It doesn't affect the calculations as it just changes the currency symbol on the calculator. It just looks better, that's all.
Anyway, happy ROI calculating. It is simple and easy to do if you know most of your costs on a monthly basis.
Give it a go and let me know how you went.
Friday, 28 October 2011
Living in an urban/wildland interface zone, we see (or see evidence of) many wild creatures around our home. I'm a live-and-let-live kinda person. I prefer to fence them out or otherwise protect my home, livestock, and garden over killing of predators and pests if I can.
Sure, I have mousetraps set inside the house and garage, especially this time of year. But if I find a live mouse in the bathtub I'm more likely to trap it with an upended trash basket, sliding a magazine underneath, and toss it outside. This year, the little cottontail rabbits are thick out in the yard every evening. But I've dug trenches down, then out, 'round the chicken pen and garden, and buried 1" chicken wire to keep them out. Likewise, my little orchard (now, after losing a few young trees to wintertime bark stripping years ago) has 3' tall wire cages around every trunk. If we get a snowfall deeper than that, I'll stomp the snow down around each tree so they can't get to the branches by walking atop the snow.
But this fall, I've come up against something different. Caveat: there's always something new - last summer, when Bambi discovered the garden, we had to raise the height of the fence; earlier this summer we had to build a top over the chicken pen, after a bobcat family moved in nearby; luckily, still no bears or mountain lions - knock on wood, we know they're out there.
Rats! A few weeks ago, I started hearing spooky bumping and thumping on the roof a few times in the night. One late night, sitting at the computer, I heard a bunch of thumping and scratching right outside the open window. I shone a light out through the screen just in time to see a rat! a pointy-nosed, naked-tail rat! run across the window sill outside. Ok, that was new! Mice, ground squirrels, the occasional kangaroo rat, even chipmunks, but I've never seen a rat around here before.
And then, about a week later, we were awakened about 3 a.m. by something scratching about in the ceiling above our bed. Oh no, it had somehow gotten into the attic. We checked the roof, vents, and eaves a few times before finally finding a hole scratched into a spot under a soffit where an addition had been made to the original building. We patched that up, stopping anything else from getting in, but still had something scratching above our heads every night.
Our attic is merely a crawlspace, with some areas we can't really get into. No luck with a snap-trap, nor with the box trap. Rats are too smart, I guess. What to do? Besides the creepy feeling and loss of sleep, we can't have it up there chewing wires or destroying insulation. I don't like using it, and never would anywhere other animals can get to it, but we finally resorted to putting poison up there. Luckily, we live in a desert climate where a dead animal dessicates and mummifies instead of rotting. After a couple more nights, peace returned to our house.
But wait, there's more! We have an outside, underground cellar. In the fall, we open it up nightly to start cooling it down, and store quite a bit of our harvest. The cold air sinks down the cellar steps, and then there's a vent pipe in the opposite corner ceiling for the warm air to rise. We have a screen framework we put over the top of the stairs when we open up the door below, to keep critters and falling leaves out. Always before, it's worked very well.
But this year, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed gnaw marks on my fruit down there - rat-sized teeth marks. Now the whole idea of a rat in my cellar is a bit icky, but I wouldn't mind quite so much if he took one whole apple and ate on that night after night. But he had to gnaw bits out of four or five different pieces every night. Nothing was safe, either. He sampled my Asian pears, apples, the tomatoes and peppers, even an onion and the end of one of the big zucchini. He could either climb or jump even onto the highest wire racks. And the screen didn't stop him. The lower cellar door did. On nights I didn't open it up, I'd find rat poop outside the lower door, so I knew he was managing to get under the upper slanted door, but the fruit inside was untouched.
But I couldn't just keep the cellar door closed - it's still too warm inside right now for keeping stuff, and later in the season it'll be too cold outside at night to open the door. This is the time of year I have to open it up at night if I want to have my winter stores last until spring. So, we tried snap-traps - they were tripped, with the bait gone. The box trap tripped but empty, night after night. I put a couple of rat-sized glue traps along the edges of the floor. And one morning last week, we found half a bushy tail, along with quite a bit of gray fur, on one. This guy had chewed off his own tail to escape! You have to admire that kind of survival instinct, but that's my food you're messing with!
Hmmm. That's not the tail of a pointy-nosed rat rat. Onto the internet, to see what kind of nocturnal beast we're dealing with. And came up with the bushy-tailed woodrat - a kind of packrat. Ok, something different yet again, but I still want him out of my food supply. And then, just this morning, we got him, in the box trap up by the garage.
Oh, damn! Does he have to be so cute? Those big, nocturnal eyes (and obviously, he's our guy, with only half a tail). And damn you Disney! I've seen Ratatouille - you would have to animate rats into something sympathetic. So now, what to do? It's hard to drown something so cute, especially after he's sacrificed his own tail to live. Even though I haven't seen one around here before, they're not endangered. How far would I have to take it before it wouldn't make its way back? Is it illegal to transport rodents? Transporting him probably dooms him to a winter without food and shelter, or a quick death from an owl or coyote. Ah, what to do?
Thursday, 7 July 2011
From Spiral Garden
We have been so busy! I agreed to farm sit again for my neighbours just under 2km up the road (we are almost direct neighbours, there are very few properties between us). And the day after they left, I took surprise delivery of a new house cow! The cow is on loan to me while Lucy is dry, and she is just lovely. So I have once again been juggling twice-a-day milking with twice-a-day farm sitting!
I take one or more of the children with me when I visit the farm. It's nice to have their help and company, and sometimes we've had jobs which take more than one set of hands - like manouvring hungry goats so I can squeeze out of the feed room door, holding gates ajar, tipping 20kg bags of grain into high storage drums and dragging a billy goat back into his paddock!
When our neighbours go away, they give us a tour of the gardens and animals, reminding me how to pump water and where everything is... They give me a key and some contact numbers, and tell me the date they'll leave and return. I always take notes so that I can remember the right feed mixes and other details.
Since I'm not staying at the farm, I carefully plan our days to allow enough time for all of our tasks. Sometimes we do some preparation for the morning if I know we'll be rushed. Sometimes we'll do a lot of extra work one day so we can pop in and out more quickly the next. When we're going via the farm on our way home, we have our work clothes, boots and raincoats in the car. By being really organised with our farm sitting tasks, just as we try to be with our own farm, the extra work isn't such a very big deal (as it could be)!
Some of our tasks include:
* feeding and watering animals - some twice daily, some daily, some every couple of days
* cleaning up after animals as necessary
* collecting eggs, harvesting from the garden
* watering the gardens, potted plants and seedlings, covering plants in case of frosts etc
* collecting mail
* caring for any sick or injured animals, often taking them home with us
The best things about farm sitting are:
* spending time with different animals (goats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, aviary birds, cats, and guinea fowl this time)
* walking in others' gardens - admiring their planning, and harvesting the bounty
* getting some exercise - squeezing farm jobs into an hour, up and down hills, carrying buckets etc, is hard work!
* doing something to help others - our neighbours could not go away if they didn't have reliable farm sitters
* sharing chores with my children - team work, being outdoors, learning together, supporting each other
* earning some (shared) pocket money!
The worst things about farm sitting are:
* when things go wrong, like a sick animal
* working in the rain and mud
* dealing with animals we aren't comfortable around
* the extra responsibility - we must be there, no matter what's going on in our own lives - there's no one else!
Farm Sitting Resources
It will depend on the level of care (article)
Farm Sitting Checklist (pdf)
Farm Sitters Australia (database)
Monday, 27 June 2011
We butchered our meat birds yesterday and so now I have all my final facts and figures in place enabling me to see just how much it costs to raise this portion of our food.
I used the standard Cornish Cross meat bird because I appreciate the growth efficiency that has been bred into them. They provide lots of bang for the buck. Not to say that they can't be fraught with problems if you don't follow the instruction sheet. Basically these are race car chickens and they need the high octane fuel, My old 6 banger hay truck doesn't need race car fuel and it is slow as heck, but it gets the job done. So if you want,need, or desire a slower growing chicken by all means grow that type of chicken, but please don't try to fit the industrial Cornish into the slow growing, low protein type feed, it can end up very sad for both birds and the people raising them. There's plenty of opinions out there on what breed of bird, type of feed, and raising methods to use. I am not addressing any of that here, I am just reporting what it took to from hatchery to freezer on my farm. My equipment is already off the depreciation schedule so I haven't included start-up costs. And labor costs vary depending on how much you think your time is worth or what you are willing to pay someone else to do your work for you. Obviously the longer you raise your birds the more time you have into them.
$ 126.00 - Chick Cost (day-old includes shipping)
$ 450.00 - Feed (custom mix non-organic broiler feed)
$ 5.00 - Electricity(brooder)
$<581.00> - Total Expenses
*VALUE (*reflects comparable product available in my area)
$1764.00 - Meat 441 pounds @ $4.00 per lb
$14.00 - Hearts/livers 10 lbs @$2.00 per lb
$ 29.00 - gizzards 14.5 lbs @ $2.oo per lb
$72.00 - feet 18 lbs @ $4.00
$1885.00 -Total Value
$1304.00 - NET
I started with 77 birds and lost two, one within hours of receipt, and one a week later when I stepped on him. Ouch. He ran off, but was dead the next morning. Looking at the figures above my birds cost approximately $8.00 each to raise. More than the Fred Meyer version and less than if I had to buy them. By the time I get my husband's lunch meat for the week, 2 more meals at least, and 5 quarts of broth, plus dog food I have gotten my moneys worth. Most of the birds weighed in the 5 and 6 pound range with a few outliers at 4.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. I used 1500 of feed for the Cornish and pullets in the 8.5 weeks, which works out to about a 3:1 feed conversion rate. The leftover feed from the ton will be used for my pullets and with some cutting of protein my adult hens can eat it too.
Another factor that you have to take into consideration is processing costs. I butchered at a friends house, and will help them butcher when their chickens are ready. Processing at a state facility in my area starts at $3.50 per bird. Which is worth it if you're squeamish.
As for feed, I co-oped with a neighbor who needed pig feed. I did the ordering and delivered the minerals, and when the feed was done, they picked it up. Still we had some costs involved in time, and fuel. I also raised my replacement pullets for eggs with this flock and it would be hard to track what they ate in the 8 weeks.
And certainly with some ingenuity and attention to detail you can really gather some good chicken manure for your garden in the time you are raising these birds. I have some good material from the brooding stage and used the birds to renovate a small pasture that needed some help.
So while not for everyone, raising chickens for meat is certainly a good place to start. Chickens are small and easy to handle and in two months plus, you have a product to eat. Much quicker than any other type of meat animal.
And it is delicious!
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
I love porridge and so do my chickens! In fact the whole family loves porridge, even the dogs.
Such a versatile breakfast, all full of goodness to start the day. Rolled oats (or Quick oats) and milk (or water) in a ratio of 2:3 (oats to liquid) and cook until thick. Kim and I have it with a teaspoon of jam to sweeten it up, and I have an extra dash of milk, but other than that, no other additives. It is also one of the cheapest breakfasts you can buy.
The chickens get it straight up and thick which they love. Here is some pictures of me feeding them some warm porridge this morning. They just go crazy for it.
|Fever pitched excitement amongst the chooks.|
|They just can't wait to eat it straight from the spoon.|
|We've got lumps of it out the back.|
|Line the wagons up in a circle, Pilgrims!|
|Nice breakfast Mr Man. You're welcome, Miss messy face.|
|Don't worry girls, there is lots more.|
|I just love their messy little faces.|
As you can see, they prefer the warm porridge than they do their complete seed mix. Well, if I was a chook, so would I. It is full of protien and calcium for making strong bones and eggs and warms up their tummies on a cold, cold morning.
Go for it girls!
Monday, 2 May 2011
Justifying the purchase of a hoophouse can be hard to do if we think of this useful structure as just a place to grow warm weather crops.
That's a good use for sure, and in our cool, maritime climate, a hoophouse is insurance of a pepper and tomato crop. But building a hoophouse isn't cheap. Our 20' x 20' hoophouses came in at about $500.00 not including labor to build. That price included metal legs and bows, hardware, and greenhouse plastic. We used scrap lumber for end wall and door framing and if you had access to cheap lumber you could also build a frame from lumber instead of the metal bow system we used.
Actually we built hoophouses this size specifically for brooding chicks for our egg business. And I have to say a light and airy chick brooder is the way to go. Natural light encourages the chicks activity in the early days. We provide heat lamps but most days the lights are off only being used at night. Not using the lights so much is a cost savings, and a huge improvement over our earliest efforts at brooding chicks in a dark area with the only light being provided by heat lamps.
What is good for the chick - a light, warm draft-free environment is also a good place to start plants. To utilize more of our space we have our plant starts above the chicks suspended on temporary shelves. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that is true in this case. Once mice discovered how cozy the hoophouse was with a ready made larder, (chick food) they moved in as well, and discovered a liking for pepper and spinach seeds :(
It's hard to pin down the single best use of our hoophouse, all are important in our food raising plans. The more ways we can utilize this space throughout the year, the faster we get to the payoff of the original expense.
Time line for our small hoophouse:
January - nighttime sheep housing during inclement weather.
February - ditto.
March - begin starting plants with supplemental heat and covering as needed.
April - continue plant starts, and prepare for chicks.
May - finish brooding chicks on deep bedding, continue succession seeding.
June - move chicks outside to pasture, remove deep bedding, prepare for planting warm weather crops inside.
July - warm weather crops.
August - ditto.
September - harvest crops.
October - remove plants and rest space.
November - rest.
December - nighttime sheep housing in inclement weather.
Of course each situation will be different, and more uses could be found:
1) Such as winter time housing for rabbits, chickens, sheep or goats on a deep bedding system. In spring when animals are moved to pasture the bedding material could be removed and utilized for garden areas, still leaving enough residual to grow a summer crop of ??? Larger hoophouses make excellent winter time housing for hogs in high rainfall or cold areas.
2) A place for rapid growing succession crops such as mesclun or braising greens.
3) A place to raise broiler chickens off-season if you have a year-round market for your birds.
4) Hen house, provides natural light during the winter, and with shade cloth provides summer time housing.
Keeping all this in mind, planning a gap of at least 90 days from fresh manure to harvest of any vegetables to avoid any possible contamination of edibles, the possibilities are almost endless, with just our "ideas" to hold us back. Hoophouses can marry the idea of livestock and vegetables on a farm in a way our ancestors wouldn't have thought possible.
Thursday, 3 February 2011
We buy our eggs from our farmer neighbors, who keep laying hens in a large chicken coop by the side of our house. These eggs are so fresh that they're often still warm when we get them. Each egg is different in color, texture and size, depending on the age of the hens, their diet, and the time of year. Young hens lay smaller eggs. Sometimes our neighbor warns us to handle them with extra care because the shell is thin and frail, and he'll need to add some calcium to the chicken's forage.
These eggs are never clean, but our neighbors have taught us not to wash them before storing them. In fact, eggshells (when they're intact, and come from healthy animals living in sanitary conditions) are coated on the outside with a cuticle, a protein-like covering, which helps protect the contents of the shell from dehydration, and from bacterial infection through the shell's pores. Washing eggs removes this cuticle, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg.
Eggs must be refrigerated. In wintertime, we store our eggs in a basket hanging in an unheated part of the house (centuries-old stone houses are refrigerator-cold in the winter!), but in the summer we keep them in the fridge, stored in a sealed container to avoid possible contamination.
Just before we use our eggs, we wash them carefully. Health experts advise to use eggs within two weeks of the time they were laid, and to cook them thoroughly (and not to eat them raw).
Monday, 29 November 2010
Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.
In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?
Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.
The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.
Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.
And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.
Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...
This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.
So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies
And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Living the Frugal Life
Over the summer we built a highly mobile pen to house poultry with the help of our first WWOOF volunteer. It was intended for the turkey poult we ended up with, without much planning. When I designed what we now call the poultry schooner, it was with multiple uses in mind. It wasn't to be just a place to keep our poult, but also a means of allowing our laying hens to do a great deal of our fall garden cleanup. This year we reorganized the garden so that all our beds are three feet wide. The poultry schooner is also exactly three feet wide.
This means that it fits neatly over the beds where we've been ripping out our tomato plants as the first frost approaches. The growing turkey was moved to the pen normally occupied by the hens, and the hens were set to work under the schooner in the garden. Scratching through soil, tearing small seedlings from the ground, and eating insects in every stage of development is what chickens want to do. The poultry schooner facilitates them doing it to our benefit.
Not only do the hens perform the service of weeding the beds, but they also add their manure to each bed at the same time. I wouldn't be keen to add manure to a bed in the spring, when I was about to plant my crops. But now, in October, planting is at least five months away, and longer for most crops, and we also have months of sub-freezing temperatures to look forward to. I can't refer you to any science on pathogens in chicken manure, nor their breakdown. I know I have healthy living soils in the garden, and I trust the hugely diverse microbial populations there to process a light topping of raw manure by the time I'm ready to plant. The hens only occupy any part of the garden for two days, so we're not talking about an excessive build up of manure.
On the first day the chickens decimate any seedlings, and work the top few inches of soil. This light and superficial working of the soil would pass muster with living soil enthusiasts as no harm is done to the structure of the soil, mycelium, or (many) earthworms. The chickens also are eager and happy to help me with the work of breaking down half finished compost. I don't turn my compost pile but once per year. This year about ten gallons of the stuff from the bottom of the pile was tossed in to the hens on their second day of occupation on each garden bed. Their excitement with this material was abundantly clear. They showed more interest in the half-finished compost than in their morning grain ration.
The plan was to lasagna mulch over each bed as the chickens were moved on to the next newly cleared area. But through procrastination I discovered yet another benefit of using my hens in the schooner. Just days after the hens were removed from a bed, a whole new crop of seedlings sprang up in the lovely, loose soil. Of course most of them were weeds. When I was finally ready to do the lasagna mulching, it occurred to me that I could make the hens happy, save myself some work, and deplete the store of weed seeds in my garden by placing the hens back on the beds they'd already worked for just an hour or two. I was able to rotate the hens over four beds in the course of a day's work, and they cleared all of them of weed seedlings with chilling efficiency.
It seems to me that this technique could be used to great effect to combat the worst weeds. Even if chickens have no interest in eating a particular plant in the seedling stage, their scratching will decimate the seedlings anyway. The fact that four hens can clear a 30 square foot area of such seedlings in a matter of hours suggests that the process could be repeated several times in the weeks of waning sunlight in autumn. Come springtime there would be far fewer seeds left near the surface capable of germination. Add in a good lasagna mulching job, and the weed pressure is bound to be minimal.
I'm looking forward to spring 2011.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
This is a repost from last year; but still a timely reminder. When I first posted it, many of the comments were about the pros and cons regarding infant immunizations. This is an informational post aimed strictly at adults. Parents will want to do their own research, and make their own decisions, regarding the health care of their children. ~Sadge
When I was about eight years old, and visiting my Granny on her farm in Texas, I stepped on a rusty nail while exploring around back of some old sheds. I limped back up to the house, the inside of my shoe squishy with blood. Mom washed my foot with soap and hot water, checking to make sure no debris was left inside the deep puncture wound. Then Granny sat me down in the kitchen, my foot soaking in a pan filled with hot water and a heaping handful of Epsom Salts, "to draw out the toxin," she said.
"Lockjaw!" I heard from every adult relative that came in and saw me sitting there. I'd seen The Wizard of Oz. I imagined the rust from the nail creeping up through my body, freezing me up just like the Tin Woodman, until I couldn't even utter the word, "oilcan" (good thing I didn't know it would also mean painful muscle spasms throughout the entire body, plus elevated temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate, on-going for weeks). Mom assured me I'd be fine - I'd had my DT shots, before I started school just a couple of years earlier. I didn't know what a Deety was, I was just glad I had it.
Ten years later, when I was ready to go away to college, I first had to submit my immunization records. The university told me I needed a DT booster vaccination (which I now knew stood for Diphtheria/Tetanus) - the immunity lapses after 10 years. I've made sure to keep my immunity updated every decade since.
So why am I writing about this in a sustainable living blog? I now know rust doesn't cause Tetanus, but rusty cans and nails can often be found in areas harboring tetanus bacteria. The rough surface of a rusty object provides the perfect habitat for the tetanus bacteria to reside, and the sharp edges can make just the sort of break in your skin that provides the bacteria a route into your body. Tetanus bacteria spores are carried in the feces of animals, such as horses, cattle, chickens, dogs, cats, and guinea pigs. Anyone cleaning up after animals, making compost from manure, or using it in the garden, comes in contact with tetanus bacteria. Just getting your hands dirty while in your garden means you're probably carrying the spores on your skin. Tetanus bacteria thrives in hot, damp climates where the soil is rich in organic matter - exactly the type of environment organic gardeners strive to create.
Tetanus occurs when an open wound becomes contaminated with the bacteria. I know there are plenty of opportunities to cut, scratch, and puncture myself while working in my garden - splinters, insect bites, working around the cut ends of chicken wire, pruning roses and my particularly vicious blackberry brambles, to name only a few. Mom knew, even if you have a current tetanus vaccination, it's still necessary to immediately wash open wounds thoroughly with soap and water. Regarding Granny's Epsom Salts treatment - soaking in salt water really does draw toxins out of a wound - certainly not a substitute for a doctor's care in serious situations, but I do think it a natural remedy worth mentioning.
Vaccines can prevent tetanus, but the immunity needs to be updated every 10 years. Since it can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to form, if you need a booster shot try to get it before your gardening season starts. Tetanus is fatal in 10 to 20% of reported cases (death occurs mainly in adults over 60, also the most likely to have let their immunity lapse), but even in less severe cases, with treatment, full recovery can take more than a year. Being sick and miserable, especially when it's easily preventable, makes no sense to me. I'd rather be safe than sorry, and stay healthy out there in my garden.
Monday, 14 June 2010
It has been a challenging year here in the Pacific Northwest weather-wise, for gardeners and farmers. I wrote several weeks ago about my gardening challenges during the rainiest spring (since 1888) on record. This week I will share some of the challenges the rainy weather has had on our other livestock.
While our cattle have enjoyed the cool, damp weather and the pastures have flourished, our meat chicken flock has been in a holding pattern waiting for more moderate weather.
Ideally, we brood our chickens for about 3 weeks and then move them outside to their floorless pasture shelter for the remainder of their grow out time. This year the challenge was finding a window of 3 days or so for them to make the transition. It didn't happen. During the month of May and now into June our location never had more than about 20 hours without rain. I learned a long time ago not to be afraid to break the "rules." I could have stuck to my guns and pastured those birds from 3 weeks, but it wouldn't have been prudent to do so. On one hand we want them to have access to fresh pasture, but the flip side of this too, is that we also don't want them to be miserable, and consuming food just to keep warm. So we waited and we brought greens to the chickens, and patiently waited for spate of sunny days.
Finally, a stretch of dry weather was forecast, so yesterday we caught the broilers and pullets and moved them outside to their pen. The easiest low stress way (for them and us) is to just use a piece of plywood to block a few in the corner of the brooder at a time. Any scrap will do, this one happens to be my hanging plant shelf, and is about 2' x 8'.
Moving to greener pastures.
To move the birds a short distance and to make the move easier on everyone, we use what we call the CHICKSHAW. Basically a wheelbarrow with a lid of some sort. My husband had fashioned quite an elaborate Chickshaw out of an old wheel barrow, complete with a hinged lid, but it has seen better days. So we just improvised, and used a scrap piece of hardware cloth for a makeshift lid on our stable cleaning wheelbarrow.
Arriving at their new home.
Ideally, I would have liked to have the birds on pasture sooner, but we have to play the cards we are dealt. There are always pros and cons to everything and on the positive side, while the birds were in, we were able to add to the compost pile with the extra manure and bedding.
Signing on to raise our own food, sometimes means changing direction and following a different route.
Friday, 11 June 2010
From Spiral Garden
We have 20 acres of grass which supplies most of the food required, year-round, for our 2 horses, house cow and calves. It doesn’t snow here, and frosts are mild only browning off the lowest sections of grass. The grasses grown here are tropical varieties on which cattle do well, but horses do not always do so well. We supplement the horses with minerals and have a mineral lick available for all of the grazing animals to access as they need it. One of our horses is a bit fat, the other has been affected by the high levels of oxalates in local pasture and doesn’t do so well here. With supplements we hope he can improve condition. It is interesting that they metabolise the same feed differently, like humans I guess.
When I’m keeping any of the animals in a small paddock, for whatever reason, such as training the horses or keeping a close eye on the house cow or calves, I feed them other plants to prevent over-grazing of that space as well as offer variety. In the larger paddocks there are many shrubs and a wider variety of grasses to choose from.
In addition to the grazing animals we have a few ducks, a few dozen chickens, and several guinea pigs.
Some of the plants I feed the animals include:
Choko Vines and Fruit
Sweet Potato Vines
Pigeon Pea branches - leaves and pods
And ‘trimmings’ from the garden. I normally remove the outer leaves from celery, comfrey, spinaches, cabbages and lettuces. I feed them corn stalks once I’ve taken the cobs for us (and feed them the outer husks of cobs), I throw in any excess herbs – parsley is a favourite, and add some land cress, nasturtium, dandelion and other suitable 'weeds', and kang kong as well. We call this a “salad” and mix it up in big buckets for the animals – choosing what is best for each one. They search through, tasting everything and eating their favourite foods first (just like children) and nibbling on new flavours or discarding bits they dislike after that. Sometimes we will harvest different grasses as well, which grow only in certain areas but I know are okay for stock.
We also feed kitchen scraps to the chickens, ducks and guinea pigs – each has their own bucket as they prefer and tolerate different foods.
I would like to grow more grains, and harvest more hay, as these are feed items I buy in for the animals, especially the chickens.
I wish we could provide more homegrown food for our cats. They eat mice who dare to venture in or near the house, but otherwise rely on bought food. We don’t eat very much meat ourselves, but I imagine if we were eating more chickens, ducks and beef there would be leftovers for the cats to eat.
Are your animals eating homegrown food? Tell me more…
Saturday, 5 December 2009
I don't normally grow pumpkins, saving my space for more productive winter squash is more up my gardening alley - but if I do happen to plant pumpkins, I don't pass up a chance to make pumpkin pickles. An oddity for sure, but a fond childhood memory from my gardening mentors. After Halloween, the few pumpkins they did grow became pickles for their holiday meals. I never realized until I was an adult, that these pickles gleaned from a vegetable that is grown by the acre just for decoration for the masses, was another exercise in frugality by these folks who taught me so much. Sometimes the lessons were very subtle.
A sweet, hot pickle with a solid texture, pickled pumpkin is probably an acquired taste. The consistency and the deep orange color are not what we think of when we think pickles.
A hatchet job for sure. The skins are very tough.
Remove the edible seeds for drying, and scrape out all the pulp.
The hardest part of the process is peeling. Cut the pumpkin in small slices about the size that you would a melon for serving.
Cut the pumpkin into uniform chunks. Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt, vinegar, water and spice sachet. Cook for about an hour on medium heat or until pumpkin is tender.
To make spice sachet, cut a square of cheesecloth or muslin large enough to hold 2 to 3 Tablespoons of pickling spice. Add or remove hot peppers depending on taste preference.
While the pickles are cooking take the spoils to the hens and barter for eggs :)
When pumpkin is tender, fill hot, sterilized jars.
Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal, or fill jars and refrigerate. These will keep indefinitely in the fridge.
A few jars to last me until ... . Actually I like these pickles on sandwiches, potato salad or in chicken salad. The unusual color also makes them good addition to a gift basket. The possibilities are endless.
5 quarts peeled and cubed pumpkin (about 1 medium pumpkin or 2 small)
5 cups sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 - 3 Tablespoons pickling spice in a bag (remove before filling jars)