Chicken musings

The garden is coming up: mustard, turnip radish, buckwheat and carrot. Still waiting on spinach, chives and cilantro.

Hauled in more compost materials for the chickens this morning. They are machines. The run has a nice layer of straw now.

Last night Kenny switched the far doors around. They opened to the back inside, which made it difficult to open them once I started hauling in compost materials. We had to wait until the chickens went to bed so none got out. My five youngest chickens, four pullets and a cockerel hatched last spring, were the past to go in. They were very reluctant for some reason. The last two I tossed in because it was already so dark.

I find it extremely relaxing to watch the chickens scratching. And I’m not the only one.

Rainbow the kitty loves it too.

I moved the hen who was attacked by Sheba out into the open. Every time I checked on her she had moved to a different spot inside the tiny coop where I had her. Now she is standing nicely. I put her in the run with the other chickens yesterday to see how she did. She can move around okay, but she was having to run from the others picking on her so I pulled her back out and put her in a pen next to the run where she can visit and be around other chickens without risk.

Yesterday while I moved her new pen, she stood outside the run and communicated with one of the other hens, who would pick up straw and drop it and cluck at her. The little red hen alternated grooming herself with standing still and watching and occasionally talking back.

She has a pretty strong will to live and I think being around other chickens strengthens it.

She is a hen who loves to scratch in compost. Usually when she sees me with a pitchfork or shovel she is hot on my heels and very attentive to whatever I turn over. I hope that she regains the use of her legs.


Splinting a broken foot

Little black goat kid has a broken foot. I’m guessing Coco stepped on her. The goats rush to share the cow food every evening. She was fine before I fed. I heard her scream and went to check on her and her foot was floppy. I wrapped with self adhesive wrap, splinted it, and then wrapped again. I just hope it’s not too tight. I don’t really know how to tell. I gave her a bc powder and crushed up vitamin c, dissolved in water. Shot it down her throat with a syringe. She is able to move from one spot to another.

The injured doeling with her splint. She is hopping around fine by day three after the injury and the pain seems to have lessened.

Supposed to leave splint on 10 days.

I get all my info for goats from Pay Coleby’s Natural Goat Care. It’s an awesome little book.

I also have her book on cattle.

My favorite book for goat care.

I am still enamored with Fort Clux. I just hauled in a pile of ruined hay and the chickens are working it over, spreading and turning it, looking for food: insects and seeds mostly. As they continue to work it, it will break down into fertile soil for the garden, which I will plant directly in this run after I rotate the chickens out.

The chickens work over a pile of ruined hay. It keeps them entertained, feeds them and provides me with fertile soil for planting.

Today I broke up the opposite run for a fall garden: I plan on putting in mustard, turnip, radish, carrots, cilantro, chives, lettuce and spinach.

My fall garden spot.

The Turkey will find a new home today. He is quite the bully, probably because he wants a mate. He tortures the hens and hogs the roost at night. The new coop and runs are not ideal for him. So I’m taking him to the auction today.

The Turkey has to go. He is headed for the local auction today.

This is the first of several culling decisions I will need to make with my new set up. I’m not sure what the perfect number of chickens is, for eggs, compost, meat and replacement stock, but I look forward to figuring it out.

Loving Fort Clux

The new chicken coop/run is awesome. After hauling in some pine straw, cow manure, persimmons and kitchen scraps, I’ve sat and watched the chickens for a few hours.

Several thoughts have occurred. The enclosure simplifies making decisions about culling. I know who is the bully, who is at the bottom of the pecking order, who is stressed out and who is laying. There’s trick to that I’ll talk about in another post.

In addition, I can plant a fall garden in the extra run immediately. When the garden is done producing or I’m tired of eating from it, I can rotate the chickens in and plan a different garden for the space they’ve just vacated.

The chickens are currently in the south run.
Soon I’ll plant a fall garden in the north run. When I’m done eating from it, I’ll rotate the chickens into it and begin planning a garden for the south run.

As Dev pointed out, I can also use the extra space to raise chicks if need be. Or, I can use it for selective breeding.

The possibilities are exciting, for sure.

Dust to Dust

I picked up two wheelbarrow loads of compost material this morning. As I was working I pondered the nature of compost.

The word “compost” can be a verb meaning “to convert (a material, such as plant debris) to fertilizer” or a noun, meaning “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.”

To me, compost is an illustration of how God works:

“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 | NASB

God is the father of composting. He is constantly stirring things up, repurposing, and making things anew out of that which is old, dying and dead.

Only God can make beautiful things from dust.

The song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor asks the question “could a garden come out from this ground?”

The answer is always yes.

I think, from God’s perspective, we are both the ground and the crop that He grows.

He allows the chaos, crap and mess of our lives, that decaying matter of life, to layer on top of us, to bury us beneath the load until we can’t breathe, can’t see our way clear, can’t survive, at least not the way we are used to, not the way we want to.

Think of any horrible situation: death of a loved one; loss of a job; financial ruin; betrayal; broken relationships. It really doesn’t matter what the situation is. It all becomes material that will condition us, fertilize us for the next season of growth.

It is both unbearably harsh and comforting at the same time to know that God will use the awful things of life to make us beautiful.

Compost: Feeding from the Pile

Chickens were hungry this morning. Instead of adjusting their feeder for them right away, I began flipping compost pile 1. Many more chickens were interested this morning in what I was turning over than ever have been before.

Perhaps they need their appetites to be stimulated by not being offered so much food?

The pile was still heating up in spots. I uncovered some ants and a few maggots.

I also dug around in the topsoil in the yard, uncovering red worms. Finally had a chicken go for the worms. My little red hen is the best forager I have.

When she sees me with the pitchfork, she always comes to check things out. Typically she is quick to analyze everything I turn over. But it wasn’t until this morning that she tried a red worm. Once she got a taste, she devoured every single one I offered.

I added one wheelbarrow of cow manure and ruined hay to pile 2. I also went out into the pasture kicking over rotten stumps, smashing up rotten logs and stirring things up. The chickens followed right along, investigating whatever I turned over. The red hen found herself a big lizard and had to defend it against all comers. She did so successfully. I noticed lots of termites and other critters in the stumps and other wood and logs scattered in the pasture. All of this woody material is left over from having cleared the area. At first I was going to burn it; then I wanted to chip it. Then I discovered that the wood actually rots quite fast in our humid environment and along the way it provides habitat for lots of critters my chickens enjoy eating. So, for the most part I let all this wood lie where it falls. Sometimes I pile it up. Often I go out to flip logs over, stomp rotten limbs and stir things up. Sort of like a long slow compost.

Eight eggs today, ranging in size from 64 grams to 45 grams. I kept the three largest in the hatch carton. I am getting a surplus of eggs, even more than I got in the spring. Perhaps I can sell a couple dozen.

Compost Update and Other Musings

So busy the last couple of days. Yesterday I spent all day in AI training.

Chickens have been scratching through the compost. It was still a pretty tall pile this morning so I flipped the top foot or so. It was steaming inside.

I reassembled the pallets and have so far deposited four wheelbarrow loads of manure, hay, straw and leaves inside. Three of those I picked up today. I have decided to be liberal in picking up hay with manure. Who knows what my ratio in the pile is? I’ve read that it can be as high as 30:1. I’ll experiment with what I’m doing a bit.

The chickens are doing a good job of finding Coco’s manure and scratching through it. But they are not finding all of it.

The deer feeder had again reached its dispensing limit this morning. Two hours after I pushed the feed down, it had again reached its limit. I pushed it down again and the chickens are busy making grain drop. Definitely need to raise the whole thing up so that I’m in more control.

One of the two chicks that my buff hen hatched was missing this morning. I found it stiff as a board in their bucket. I suspected it had coccidiosis as it looked sick with a pasty butt. Lots of lessons from this batch: put the hen in a bucket flat on the ground as soon as possible after hatch. Don’t put them in the coop where grown chickens roost.

Rain is in standing heat this morning. I’ve seen Max attempt to breed her once or twice.

I’m pretty sure he bred Bella on Nov. 30.

Coco was showing suspicious signs this morning: very frisky and affectionate; rubbed tail head and hips. I didn’t see discharge or swelling.

Eleven eggs today. Eight yesterday.

I kept 11 in the hatch carton, ranging from lightest at 57 grams to heaviest at 64 grams. The eight for eating range from 56 grams to 46 grams.

End of Week 1: Digging into the Compost

I could not wait until Tuesday. I removed the pallets and flipped the compost as soon as I possibly could this morning. It was only about three feet high, but seemed very compact. The outer edges were dry.

The pile without pallets and before flipping

I was astounded at the amount of heat coming off the thing when I dug into it. I’m curious to know how hot it actually got and will probably invest in a compost thermometer just for kicks. The steam started rolling off it when I got about a foot down and continued to do so until I got about a foot from the ground. There was a slight smell of decaying meat (from the deer carcass) and also a smell of ammonia.

However the only sign of the deer carcass was bits of fur here and there, which I put into the center of the new pile.

There is no smell, except a musty earthy smell, now.

The chickens and turkeys investigate after I’m done flipping the pile.

The chickens and Tom turkey were very interested in the pile. I did not see signs of insect life until I got to the bottom where ants were scurrying like mad. I saw a few worms, some sow bugs, maybe a couple other varieties. There were lots of intact kitchen scraps and persimmons on the edges of the pile.

The chickens were hungry today and met me at the property line. They had eaten their grain until it could no longer fall in the feeder. I fixed it for them. I will have to wait until it is empty to adjust it. Otherwise I risk spilling all the grain on the ground.

There was a wheelbarrow load of cow manure to pick up, which I did and dumped where I plan to set up the pallets next.

Disassembling and turning the pile and gathering materials for the next pile took about 40 minutes. Turning was quite the upper body workout. My heart rate went up to 127.

It is kind of embarrassing how much joy and excitement I get from composting.

Eight eggs today ranging in size from 65 grams to 44 grams. Three heaviest were 65, 62, 58.

Eight things I pondered while doing my chores this morning

Sometimes when I do my chores I’ll take the time to watch the animals and observe things. Often, this practice can lead to more informed management decisions and practices.

Here are eight things I pondered while doing my chores this morning:

1. The insect activity around the persimmon tree is crazy active this morning. I see honey bees, wasps, fruit flies, houseflies, blowflies, grandaddy long legs, butterflies, ants and yellow jackets humming around all the fallen fruit.

It is sunny; temp is 70 degrees on this first day of December. There is still a significant amount of fruit on the tree. One more good rain and it will likely all be on the ground. Conclusion: Persimmon trees in the pastures and chicken yards can feed not only the insects but also the chickens through all of fall. To do: research persimmon trees and how to get them growing where I want.

2. I tossed a gallon bucket of the dropped persimmons and the kitchen scraps, which were mighty slim because we ate out last night, directly into the compost bin. A few hens surprised me by hopping in there as well, relieving me of my worry that they were not capable of flying into the compost bin.

3. The automatic deer feeder had reached its point of needing new feed this morning. Conclusion: it needs a five gallon bucket of feed added every third day if I start with two five gallon buckets and continue with this rate of feeding. Question: Does that mean the chickens are eating a five gallon bucket of feed every three days?? It is possible. This needs more thought since I am trying to move away from buying feed.

4. Adding grain to Coco’s diet has increased the spreading of her manure by the chickens. Conclusion: Manure spreading could be a job for chickens. Question: If I cut back on the chicken food, will they spread ALL of the cow manure? How will this impact the composting system? Which is more important? Also, what about when I wean Coco from grain? Will the chickens still spread the manure then? They did not last year, but…perhaps they didn’t need to because I was also feeding them.

5. It is possible to cut back on the chicken feed by raising the feeder out of the reach of the chickens and by adjusting the timer. I can also control whether the chickens are under foot when I go out to do chores by adjusting the timer to coincide with my chore time. However, when raised, the feeder then becomes less manageable by me….unless I hang it or have a better tripod built. The legs it came with are very unstable.

If the legs could be made fixed instead of simply propped, and wheels added, that could work. I would have to have a step stool to put the feed in and check how full it is. 🤔 Needs thought.

6. The current feeding plan has not adversely affected egg laying, as I collected 9 eggs this morning. Five were pullet eggs. So perhaps I can cut back on grain?

7. I am sure that my compost pile will not be completely full after 7 days. I am not generating enough waste for that. Tomorrow will be seven days since I began constructing this first pile. However, I had a good start on it already, with approximately one third of its contents already gathered. It will take me much longer to construct five piles using only inputs from the farm.

8. Not raking leaves may be better for the chickens. The leaves have made a good blanket in the area where the chickens hang out. My theory: the blanket provides warmth and habitat for insects, or live chicken food. The same is true in every area where I feed the ruminants hay. The hay that is wasted provides a habitat for insects. Moving the hay ring once a week will provide lots of little habitats.

Perhaps this is another less work -intensive way to compost?

Next steps: I will adjust the automatic feeder by raising it up so that the chickens cannot make grain fall. I will also adjust the timer so that it goes off for five seconds at chore time. This will coincide with the unveiling of the first compost pile. Over the next week I’ll observe and record egg production and chicken behavior. If there is no significant change, I’ll adjust the timer again, taking away five seconds.

Update: composting for chickens

Yesterday I wet the compost down, which significantly reduced its volume. It is now half full. Alongside it, I have a small pile of kitchen scraps, manure and ruined hay.

I’ve created this pile because the chickens have not figure out how to get in the compost bin. Arguably, they never will if I keep pampering them. However, I also have chicks that scratch in the pile a lot and one super mean tom turkey who gets hangry at me. For now, I will continue this method.

The bin is three days old and half full with manure and ruined hay along with various and sundry other items. Seems to be going well.

I have also switched from using buckets to pick up manure to using the wheelbarrow, which holds significantly more volume. I was able to fill it today with manure even though I also picked up manure yesterday. Things will truck along faster this way I think.

Click here for an explanation of how the compost fits into creating a sustainable flock.