Moving Chicks to the Coop and Safe Introductions

All seven of our rescued factory farm chicks are doing great.  Little Dixie is still half the size of everyone else and the others take turns keeping her under their wing (literally) to keep her warm and comfort her.  She sings all the time and is very happy.  One of the chickens that we deemed Burn Victim Barbie, because of how messed up her neck was, looks a bit more like a Ken.  His comb is larger than the others.  Still too early to tell sexes though.  Their feathers are mostly in, even though most of their stomachs are still bare from being plucked and sleeping on deep layers of waste before their rescue.

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My farmhouse is beginning to smell like a barn and I decided that two weeks in the guest room was long enough.  The chicks are no longer sick and they are growing well.  They moved out to the coop with the big girls yesterday.

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Dixie

Every year different acquaintances on social media show off their cute baby chicks.  When they move them to the coop with the other chickens, the same devastating tale is told.  One story in particular stays with me.  A gal I know put the chicks out into the chicken yard and when she returned they were all dead.  One was almost decapitated.  Bloody, little bodies strewn about.  What happened? she thought.

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One would not bring home a shelter dog and just throw him into a room with the present house dog and leave, would they?  Or cats that don’t know each other?  Chickens are smart, they have hierarchy, and protect their own spaces just the same as any animal.  They need a getting-to-know-each-other stage.

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In the past we would have gotten our chicks in the spring so that at six weeks old it would already be fairly warm outside.  These chicks are ten weeks old today but outdoors they still need a heat lamp.  It’s just too cold, particularly at night.

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Note: to know what temperature your chicks can handle, count backwards 5 degrees from 95 degrees per week.  So my chickens can handle 45 degrees.

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I set up the portable fencing that was in the guest room (a portable fence is invaluable on a farmstead) and set up a folding table inside as a top to keep the big girls out.  I put their food and water inside the square.  We attached the heat lamp and kept it low over the fence.  Nothing touches the lamp!  I am a little fearful of fire.  I used an old piece of pallet, some wood, and this and that to cover holes and make the space secure.  If it is too hot, they will move to the other side of the sectioned off area, if they are huddled under the lamp, they are cold.  You want them comfortably wandering.  I can remove the pallet to reach in and water and feed.

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Eloise checking out the new tenants.

In one or two weeks as the weather warms and the other chickens get used to the babies, I will let them out, keeping the pen up so they have a safe space to run to.  Eloise can be quite a bitc….ahem…difficult.

It won’t be long though before they are all scratching and bathing in the dirt, soaking up the sun, and scrambling for treats all together.  Just use precautions and slowly introduce for a happy chicken household.  Now…to get the smell out of the guest room…

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

The Hens of Pumpkin Hollow

20180214_152811They, too, wait for spring when fresh greenery pushes through to be pecked at and enjoyed by the hens of Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  I love chickens.  And the thing we missed most when we were away from a farm was having chickens.  They make a farm a home anywhere you can keep them.  Their colorful feathers, changing in the sun, their strut through high weeds and the way they tilt their head to look at you with one eye.  They are hilarious in demeanor and each one is as different as my cats.

Yogi and Hindi are Jersey Giants and we refer to them as the Jersey girls.  They tend to stick together.  Their large black feathers sparkle emerald in the sunlight.  They lay large brown eggs.  They were late bloomers but seem to be catching up with others.

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Eloise was supposed to be a Marans but she lacks speckles and I think she is actually an Australorpe.  She lays small tan eggs wherever she pleases; outside the coop door, near the chicken food-as if the egg popping out surprises her.  She wants to be pet but then changes her mind.  She sleeps by herself and is a little…um…special.  But she is very sweet.

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Buttercup is the tiny queen here.  A clean, white egg can be found each day.  Her breed is Buttercup which is what led to her name.  She looks like a miniature leopard with a rose shaped crown.  She wants nothing to do with us.  Unless we have a bit of cracked corn.

Owlette is an Auracana.  This lovely breed looks like an owl and lays blue-green eggs.  I would like a few more of these ladies.  They are sassy and good layers.

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We have fallen for Salmon Favorelles.  These girls are beautiful in their French finest and petticoats.  They lay pink eggs regularly and are very friendly.  Bubba is especially sweet.  Our granddaughter named our chickens.  Bubba and Chichi are cute names indeed.

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We feed organic layer feed and organic scratch.  They eat scraps from the kitchen as well.  They have a large fenced in area that was likely a dog run in the past with seven foot fencing.  They live in an adobe house with trumpet vine that climbs prettily up the side in the summer.  We are all ready for a little color and for winter to pass!  They are able to wander the yard on the days the puppy goes to the shop with me.  I don’t trust his puppyness quite yet.  Chickens are very easy to keep.  They require little more than a straw strewn shed or chicken coop, fresh water, scratch, oyster shells, scraps, and feed.  They love dirt baths and bugs and sunlight.  They put themselves to bed in the evening at last light.  All you have to do is open the door in the morning and close the door at night.

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We are vegan but we do eat the eggs from our own chickens.  Our chickens lead a very nice life with pets, treats, and lots of wandering adventures.  They will live here their entire life and so in that way they are lucky.  No factory farms, cages, enclosed barns, or slaughter for them.

So now as spring approaches we have the question to answer; do we “adopt” five more chicks even though the hatcheries are horrific and provide five chickens with a beautiful future or do we wait and see if we are sent five chickens that need rescuing?  There are many moral decisions to be made on a small hobby farm.  We do know that chickens make this mini-farm a happier place to live.  A farm without chickens is not quite a home.

The Littlest Farmgirl Strikes Again (and choosing backyard chickens)

How does a nearly four year old remember life on a farm so vividly two years ago?

“We need to get goats,” she says casually.

“We can’t have goats here,” I replied, “but guess what we are getting?”

“A cow?”

“Uh, no.”

“How will we get milk?” she exclaims!

“We are getting sheep though.” she continues.

“Uh, we can’t have sheep here.”

She sighed as if mustering patience for me.  “But I love sheep!” she exclaims again.

“We are getting chickens!” I said brightly.

She told me all about chickens and how we get their eggs and take care of the chicks and feed them.  The sunny opening of the soon-to-be shed beckons and I can nearly see the ladies pecking the ground in the sunlight, rolling in the dirt, and having their lively conversations.  Today we go to the feed store and reserve our chicks.  Two of our favorite breeds were our originals, Golden Buffs and Jersey Giants.  Neither breed is very interested in flying the coop and they are dang near cuddly.  They are also great layers.

Trying to appease the child I said, “Well, I think we can have ducks…”

“Oh good!  We’ll get a little swimming pool for them again..” Maryjane told me how we will care for them and did some quacking for good measure.  My goodness, what a memory.

Once a Farmgirl, always a Farmgirl.

Tough Chickies

 

IMG_2297My goodness, we used to obsess over our chickens.  We practically brought them in the house if it were cold.  They lived in a cushy 10×10 with windows and heat lamps and were carefully stowed away at night to hide them from all the chicken dinner seekers that come out with the stars.

These are my housemate’s chickens.  The rooster I have dubbed “Genghis Khan” for his reputation, which I have not yet countered.  He is kind to me through the fence as I throw over melons and this and that.  He lives in his bachelor pad alone.  Again, not the nicest fellow, so I hear.  No other chickens to keep him warm, generally not locked up, but he has four walls.

The ladies live in the smallest apartment I have ever seen.  They seem to enjoy it and must be quite warm with body heat.  How they all survived last year’s negative zero temps I will never know.  They do not get locked up.  They did lose three sisters this year but these girls, even on nights their door slams by wind without them in and the have to sleep outdoors, have escaped all manner of frostbite and skunk marauders.

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Perhaps I was too coddling with my hens.  If there is an animal we miss most, it’s chickens.  I suppose when we get our own we will again be ridiculously overprotective chicken parents but at least I will have the wisdom that they are a bit tougher than I give them credit for.

The Enchanting Urban Homestead (a field trip, class, and future)

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Farmgirl school is supposed to be uplifting, inspirational, and full of fun and hope.  It is also about our life so I suppose not everything can be as such but I inadvertently caused a storm of emotions for many people across the continent and beyond in empathy for us.  We want you to know that we just do not have the extra strength or energy it would take to rip out the wood stove, pipes, fittings and fix the ceiling at this point.  We have no emotional attachment to the stove.  Our hundreds of plants will feed the local wildlife and a lot of hungry girl scouts that are coming Monday to take home a transplant since they helped create the garden in the first place!  We are not sad over these things any longer.  With the encroaching wind mills and the negativity here we are more than ready to head out on our next journey.  So let’s get back to the inspiration and hope part of this blog!  Yesterday we visited a lovely urban homestead that was so enchanting and complete that I am ready to get back into the city.  We were there taking a cob building class to make outdoor structures.  Doug and Chris will be creating a chicken coop, bread oven, and who knows what else!  Tomorrow I will take you through our class to learn to make cob.  But today I want to take you through the enchanted homestead of my friend, Niko and his wife, Brandi at Folkways Farm.  

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It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote a blog post about Old Colorado City (which is a bike ride away from where we are going to live) and that is where we headed this fine evening.  I met Niko three years ago when Joel Salatin came to speak at a local farm.  He sat with me and Nancy and we talked all things homesteading, about his family, his work as a cobb builder, and we told him about our adventures in homesteading.  I later ran into him building a yurt with our friend when we went to visit the goat she bought from us, and then at the homesteading store, and then…well, you get the picture.  We were meant to meet.

His beautiful wife held their youngest daughter on her hip and spoke freely with the guests.  His middle daughter came up to me and took me with her on a tour of the “forest” where a silent cat lay secretly in the high weeds below trees.  They are easy people, barefoot, comfortable in their surroundings and self and I was instantly drawn to them.

They have created an oasis in town, a secret place of sustenance and wealth.  Herb gardens, Permaculture gardens of food, honey bees, goats, a shed-barn, and places to get lost and read or dream or be.  The plot of land is about the same size as the one we are moving to and I was so inspired and overwhelmed with ideas and joy.

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The cob structures look to be out of a fairy tale.  A sweet chicken coop stands off the back porch.  Another is a bit more elaborate and whimsical.  It is a chicken coop with a bread oven on the side.  One could start a fire in the cooking area to heat the coop on the coldest nights while making some delicious thin crust pizzas.  A door on the other side lets the chickens out to wander a closed in area that felt roomy and lush.  A towering apple tree above provided shade.

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The greenhouse built in the back yard was a structure of fine art and skill, a transporting place out of the cold.  A place for tea and books in autumn and a place to grow starts in the spring.  All made from reclaimed windows, mesh, wood, straw, clay, sand, water, manure, and painted with beautiful slips.  Niko is an artist above being a builder.

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One can meander from the front herb garden, past the vegetable gardens, visit the bees, duck under the apple tree, wade through weeds and medicinal herbs, follow a path past the goat yard, past bins of delicious compost, a pile of wood, the beautiful green house, wave to the chickens, pass the hemp plants growing tall for fiber, onto the back porch to sit a spell, and visit with the kind family that lives there.

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I spoke with Jillian at the end of the class.  She wanted to make sure that I considered our new venture to be our homestead. I asked what if we jumped forward fifty years and there we still were and her then much older daughter would mention to visitors that her crazy aunt lives in the back.  “That would be fine,” Jillian replied.

And so begins our urban farm adventure.

Chickens (rock star babies, paper mache eggs, roosters, and enclosure needed)

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The lambs have taken over the job of farm dogs, the goats are having adorable kids, the ducklings have added a whole new level of freaking cute around here, and the cats are still their goofy selves.  There are three indoor kittens here, a madhouse.  A. Madhouse.  The chickens haven’t been getting a whole lot of attention lately except for praising them for their contribution of eggs each day and the untimely death of one.  But, now it is their turn.

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Meet Pat Benetar, Stevie Nicks, Cher, Chaka Khan, and Janice Joplin (names courtesy of Shyanne and Doug).  My dear friend, Jamie gave me five chicks that she hatched herself using a good looking Brahma dad and Araucana mamas.  They have the beautiful coloring as well as feathered feet!  Stevie Nicks enjoys standing on top of the waterer as we sing, “Just like a white winged dove…” for her.

The dream chicken enclosure!
The dream chicken enclosure!

The landlords have decided that they prefer that the chickens stay locked up.  So, they are going to have to stay in their coop and small yard.  I would like to build a bigger fenced in enclosure.  There is no money right now but maybe we can scavenge enough stuff or find donations.  That space is too small for them and with two roosters?  The hens will never find peace.  So, what do I do with the roosters?  I love hearing their singing.  They are beautiful and have done no wrong.  The girls haven’t gone broody with them there so there are no new chicks from our farm.  They are not needed for protection if they are in an enclosure.  And their singing voices aren’t enough to allow them to have their way (kind of violently) all day with penned up females and eating at the all day organic chicken feed buffet.  There is a locker plant down the way, or someone might like them as a pet.  Or…oh I don’t know.  They need a job.  And their job is about to be eliminated.  Sometimes I wonder if I am cut out for this.

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On a brighter note, look at this egg!  This is Peep’s egg.  She was our first chicken (also named by Shyanne) and continues to lay these outrageous paper mache eggs due to her age.  It’s a lucky egg!  Should you find it in your carton think of sweet Peep.

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Emily, Shyanne, and Peep 2012

Problem solving and dilemmas are always a part of the joys and memories of farms but at least we will be serenated by five rock star chickens while doing so!  No matter what comes up, this is still the good life!

Saturday, May 16th, 2015 from 10-? on the farm we are having a work party day if anyone can help we would be ever so grateful!  Extra fencing, creative minds, helping hands, donations, anything welcome.  I will feed all helpers!  7080 Calhan Road South, Calhan, CO, 80808.

Keeping Chickens (glamour, ew, green eggs, and opera singing)

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It was my turn to see if there was an egg stuck.  Ew.  If you didn’t read The Embarrassed Chicken and need a laugh, you ought to check it out.  That was Doug’s turn.  So, I found a produce bag because we didn’t have any gloves and went in to see what was the matter.  Oh, the glamours of chicken farming.  There was not an egg stuck but I do not know how far up you are supposed to reach!  Her vent was swollen and she seemed to be clogged but I couldn’t find anything.  So, we stuck her in a pot of warm water.  See if we could soften things up a bit.  She laid there like it was a hot tub and she’d had a hard day hiking, or fending off boys.  We took her out and put her in a warm corner of the coop.

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Daffodil was one of our last three chickens from our original flock.  She laid eggs religiously for three years.  She was tired.  I had read that chickens lived twelve years.  Seeings how Doug and I are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types, we figured we’d see these girls for a long time!

Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.
Daffodil and Peep, two of our first chickens.

My friend Sandy’s chickens (she and Bill are not really the ax wielding, chicken beheading types either) lost almost all of their three year olds last year.  Just dead, face down in the dirt.  Sandy commented that she understood now why the farm women in the past culled two year olds in the flock.  You didn’t want to waste meat and if you waited too long you’d find them dead!

Daffodil lay on her side, barely breathing, her feet sticking out.  We moved her to the rabbit hutch because Owl wouldn’t stop humping her.  Teenage boy chickens, I tell you…

She died overnight.  We had known something was wrong because she was floofed up, sitting in corners, head down, eyes glazed.  But what exactly was wrong could have been anything from being constipated, a virus, or old age.  ‘Tis the life of a chicken.  She had a pretty good one here though.

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On a positive note, we have an interesting chicken.  I had looked at the local feed stores to see if they would get Olive Eggers but did not see them on the list.  The next day we had an egg in the coop that was a beautiful olive green.  The green against the blush, beige, blue, and chocolate colored eggs was breathtaking.  Our own Easter egg hunt each day.  Reeses, who was assumed to have been an Araucana like her sisters, must be an Olive Egger.  Does anyone know?  She is very friendly as well as showy.

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And our final surprise was when Owl started crowing alongside Christopher Robin.  There is a lot of opera singing going on around the chicken coop!

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Ups and downs and ins (ew) and outs, having chickens is fun, entertaining, sometimes sad, mostly fabulous work.  And the dozen plus eggs we are getting each day isn’t a bad reward!

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Just Duckie

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I think I will just keep the farm animal ball rolling this week.  While we’re at it, let’s talk ducks.

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Last year I posted some pretty darn cute photos of our ducklings.  They were so soft and added quite a lot of smiles at the Easter dinner table when I let one run across.  Three inch high ducklings are a force to be reckoned with in the ridiculously adorable animal category.

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They were a mess.  They love to splash.  They love to get their water everywhere, in the food, in the straw, all over themselves and the patient chicks they were housed with in the bathroom. (I think those chicks thought themselves to be ducks.)  Finally at five weeks old, the whole crew was placed in the chicken coop in a portable fence so that they could get to know their roommates before running for their life from the older hens.

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Doug placed a kiddie swimming pool outside and they spent hours and hours delighting in the water and splashing enthusiastically.  Not always swimming, sometimes they would stand outside the pool with their head in the water.  As they got older we noted that three were female and we had one male.  One drake out of four straight run fowl isn’t bad.  I could have as easily had three drakes and one sole girl!  He was their protector and would only allow the three chickens that they had been raised with to be near them.

We would come home from a farmer’s market and our intern, Ethan, would casually say, “Ira had Yetta’s head in his mouth again.”

“Ira had Sophia’s head in his mouth again.”  He didn’t hurt them but we weren’t sure what the future would bring.

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Well, what it brought was a move.  A move we had been praying for and that I had been writing about for two solid years.  The move to our homestead.  More land, more opportunity.  Lots of room for animals, right?  We moved in the fall during our peak of garden production, farmer’s markets, then transplanting herbs to the new farm, and then a strenuous move.  There wasn’t time to build a separate coop for the ducks and we still didn’t know if we were going to let the chickens free range outside their enclosure due to the significant large bird population that lived nearby (owls and hawks don’t mind free chicken).  And the coyotes singing in the fields (they like a bit of chicken as well).  And Ira with a chicken in his mouth.  No, no, that would never do.  We couldn’t keep them all cooped up together any longer.  So, I sold them for a very low price (as I am so prone to do).  They went to live next door to my friend, Lisa.  I mourned their absence immediately.  I did love the ducks.

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So now spring is approaching (oh wait, it’s only January) and I have BIG plans.  Do I plan any other way?  So we (when I say we, I mean Doug) is going to build a jaunty fenced in run along the west side of the garden where the majority of grasshoppers seemed to be last fall.  The ducks will have a job!  West border bug patrol, duck manure for the compost, and fresh eggs for the cast iron skillet.  They will have their own digs, their own kiddie pool, and their own small coop.  Now, I sure hope I don’t get three drakes and one duck egg layer.  Let’s go for all four girls!

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I miss their quacking on an early summer morning.  Their humorous waddles across the grass.  The sound of water splashing and raucous playing.  A farm without farm animals is simply a garden.  I love my gardens and the farm we are creating here and I need my Noah’s Arc menagerie to make it complete.

How Much Do You Feed Chickens?

I think I was starving my chickens.  I am not proud of this.  Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!

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So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight.  Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set.  We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good.  Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August.  Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate.  We blamed it on our move, then their molting.  We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard.  We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it.  We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it.  They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds.  They did indeed descend from dinosaurs.  Velociraptors, I think!

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I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens.  They stopped laying eggs all together.  They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy.  Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops.  Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!

“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!

So, he filled up the two foot high feeder.  And it was half gone the first day.  But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that.  Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.

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We read several articles and books.  None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up.  In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat.  I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die.  I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.

Henry Higgin's replacement.  Meet Christopher Robin.  Let's hope he's nicer than Henry!

Free feed.  Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such.  They need more food in the winter to keep warm.  They produce eggs for me which is food to me.  They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food.  They deserve a red light in the coop.  It was negative twenty-two degrees last night.  We turned on the lamp!  They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals.  I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.

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I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”