Our Chicks are growing
With the hurricane in August we were expecting our roof for the chickens to disappear.
But now thanks to our new staff member, Tony Jackson the chickens can roast with confidence.
Read more to see what the chickens now have.
I have spent hours researching calcium supplements for chickens and am still a bit confused. From what I have found, the form of calcium in eggshells, calcium carbonate, is not digestible to humans. What I cannot find is if chickens are somehow able to break it down and get free calcium. Everyone feeds their chickens eggshells or oyster shells as a calcium supplement. Apparently in the wild chickens do not lay everyday.
Some sources say our domesticated chickens are laying 10 times the amount of eggs they would in the wild. That is a lot of calcium in the form of eggshells they have to come up with. If they run low the eggshells become weak. Most people give their chickens layer feed with calcium in it, but free ranging chickens can come up with calcium from the bugs and plants they eat. In my research, the calcium in egg shells is freed up for absorption only with an ion exchange.
Two weeks ago our little flock of chickens celebrated their first year of life on the Natural Farm. It was a day of feasting- as every day is- of bugs and duck weed and kale and kitchen scraps. So to sum up our first year of back yard chicken raising- it has been delightful! We had no idea how much fun and learning we were in for.
A Year of Chicken History
We started with 30 Rhode Island Red/White Leghorn mix pullets and 1 rooster, all 24 hours old. They were shipped from a family business in Honolulu. The arrival was exciting and a bit stressful- having to worry about the temperature and food and water constantly- but they all survived and thrived! They received hundreds of hours of handling from the children that live on base and have never, ever pecked a person! Even when our first hen hatched 3 chicks several weeks ago, as protective and careful as she is, she still allows us to hold her babies without fussing. These 3 chicks all look different (a bit perplexing to us) and are doing well. It was so much easier with this generation as they had a great momma to take care of them and we didn’t have to think about keeping them warm or teaching them to eat.
About six months into the adventure we sold 6 hens to a local farmer friend who needed more layers, one hen mysteriously died ( appeared to be a broken neck- maybe flying and landed wrong) and during the year 3 have had to been put down due to the bubble eye infection. They never developed any other symptoms and only had 1 eye infected, but they would scratch and get so miserable we had to have mercy and put them down. According to our internet research this is a respiratory infection that is common in chickens, but ours never developed any other symptoms. This has been a demoralizing situation. We tried all natural remedies- borax solution, tea tree and oregano and garlic and black tea washes; nothing ever remedied the situation. And yesterday we found yet another hen and had to separate her. This fourth hen takes us over a 10% loss to the mysterious eye disease.
Our original rooster became chicken soup after getting aggressive and attacking me one too many times. We received a young rooster from a friend but the hens did not accept him and we let him loose. Another friend was using our old hen house to hold a rooster given to him for butchering, but he was too busy to get around to doing it. In kindness we let the rooster free but he came back into the fenced area to join the hens and he has been a perfect gentleman!! He has never been defensive toward a human but people have witnessed him warding off mongoose. And to top it off- he is very beautiful!
We have experimented with feed. They do receive store bought layer pellets (and the donations we receive for the eggs is about twice the cost of feeding them) and we have also grown some grains such as amaranth, sorghum, sudan grass and sunflowers, along with comfrey and kale leaves from the garden. They also free range and eat bugs (love cockroaches but not too excited about sowbugs) Recently we have put a large barrel of water with duckweed and azola growing in it- the chickens love eating these water plants and actually clean it out so thoroughly we are have to reseed it every day! They get daily bits of greens from the kitchen and any other treats random people bring them. I have come to find out that many of us keep a bucket of scraps in our fridge at home to bring to the spoiled chickens.
Over the summer we accumulated several batches of random chickens but decided to give them all away, except for the 3 silkies. They were very young when they arrived and now it is apparent that we have 2 roosters and one hen- but they are such good bug eaters and so interesting to look at that we kept all three. One rooster was getting “aggressive” (he would do a little sideways dance and then peck at our shoestrings) so we put them in the “back 40” and they are perfectly content. The young hen started laying 2 weeks ago. The eggs are super small but we are hoping she will decide to brood someday soon cause we are all super curious what silky chicks would look like.
This year some old familiar terms suddenly make sense. I now know what the pecking order is all about. And being cocky has a whole new meaning now that I have seen roosters in action (and even had to eliminate one for his attitude!) Birds of a feather, bird brains, the drama of laying an egg, nesting; I have a vivid picture in my mind when I hear these phrases. Yes- there have been some escapades and minor damage from chickens scratching where they don’t belong. But they always come back home and when they bust out running to come and greet me I find instant forgiveness! There is a special sort of love that hits your heart when you get greeted by twenty-some excited to see you again bird brains.
Maria recieved his name before his crowing days. He was a young adolescent rooster when a sweet little Norweign girl decided upon his name. I found some humor in having a rooster named after my mother- not sure if she ever fully appreciated the honor. I was surprised to learn all the roles of a rooster and we enjoyed watching Maria bloom into a protective caretaker of the hens. Until the protectiveness meant protecting the hens from me. He has surprised me a few times coming at me from the back and last week he was determined to fly into my face. Over and over I kicked him away. His intensity was starting to scare me- the aderenalin was coursing as I kicked him away over and over again. The very same day he decided to attack another staff person. Luckily she had a shovel in her hand and he went rolling down the yard. I was not convinced that you can teach a chicken- but I must admit that the next day when he saw me with a shovel I could see the wheels turning in his little bird brain. Nevertheless, the problem with Maria must be solved. We have little people visitors everyday and will not have a rooster bullying them. I have a friend who is more than happy to give Maria free anger management counseling- something about a magic stewpot…… We will be looking for a different breed of rooster, one known for more mellow ruling of the roost. Goodbye Maria. I enjoyed singing this song to you and hearing the hills come alive with the sound of music:)
Now that my spoiled baby chicks are laying eggs I have been introduced to yet another interesting topic of natural farming. How does one wash the eggs? Here is what I have gathered thus far. Eggs are laid with a special antibacterial coating referred to as the “bloom”. Many natural farmers I read say they just wipe off any feathers or poop with a dry cloth or touch of sandpaper in order to not disturb the bloom. If that stays intact eggs will stay fresh for 1-2 months without refridgeration. This explains why so many of my friends from around the world stored thier eggs in the cupboard. I always wondered about this. Once the protective coating is removed the eggs have to be kept cool.
A couple of other facts about eggs- they are not laid “dirty”; a special flap called the “cloaca” seperates the vaginal canal and the intestinal tract when an egg is being passed. Eggs become dirty from the nesting boxes themselves- therefore we keep ours full of fresh mulch and check them daily. It is also said for long term storage (few months) in the fridge to store the eggs pointy side down. There is a small airspace in the rounded end, so keeping that end up helps retain moisture.
If you suffer from OCD and just must wash those eggs for peace of mind, do NOT wash in cold water and do NOT immerse them in water. The cold will open up the shell’s pores and drive bacteria into the egg. The best practice is to wash with warm, running water. Of course the food industry adds a bit of toxic bleach to the end of a torturous, unnatural egg production line and warns the natural backyard chicken farmers about food safety. Makes me want to sing the old Amy Grant song, ” you got to know who to, who not to listen to”.
Here is an informative article about egg storage
If you have ever had a melt down because your boiled eggs won’t peel ( I am not naming names here) this article can explain your pain
March 3rd was our first wing clipping day. It was forced upon us suddenly by chickens jumping the rock fence and exploring the road. Why did the chicken cross the road? The grass looked greener, the bugs juicer, destiny calling- who knows. All that matters to me is the silly chickens stay home. Lucky for my feathered friends, our Science and Approriate Technology director just happens to be a well renown bird biologist. Vernon Byrd (yes- ironic name) kindly came over after church and we had a quick wing clipping party. The only hard part was convincing them to join our party:) At least we weren’t serving hot wings!!
Here is a great site that shows how to clip chicken wings
March 20th was just a normal day on the farm. Pumpkin the spoiled cat was begging for canned food and tripping my every step, the sheep were calling for thier lazy lambs to catch up with them and the birds were dive bombing the garden between songs. As I was tending to our baby plants (funny how I traded a couple decades of working in a hospital nursery for plants. It’s much quieter here and no diapers to change!) when one of the chickens began to make a ruckus. Soon after that the rooster began crowing. Or should I say, attemping to crow. He had to suffer a crackly voice changing period like any other adolescent male. He continued to crow all afternoon long and I remember asking him what he was so proud of! I thought he was just practicing his wake up call. When I put the chickens away for the evening I found it. An egg! A beautiful shade of brown and oh so perfect! The girls were not due to start laying till thier 20th week birthday which was April 1st. The next day 2 eggs appeared, then 3 and today we collected 15. I am so proud!! I guess this makes me a grandmother:) But then, no self respecting grandmother would scramble her grandchildren for breakfast
Our current flock of laying hens hatched November 14th, 2012. They are a cross between White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. We raise chickens in order to learn and then create teaching material that will encourage families in developing communities to cultivate backyard flocks that will provide them with inexpensive protein and supplemental income. This has been a delightful experience and we are learning much more then expected! I have been greatly helped by a couple of books and backyardchickens.com in gathering information- especially the interesting topic of how to create feed for our chickens. Before this adventure I had no idea that black soldier flies existed and now we are collecting them and other types of maggots. Now there is a great dinner topic for your next party:) We are also growing scads of pumpkins, aquaponics is growing azola and we seeded 3 different grain plots all as an effort to feed as self suffiently as possible. Due to the nature of our property and the abundance of mongoose the chickens are unable to free range, but they do have a large outside area to explore during the day. We now understand the affection so many back yard farmers feel for thier chickens- they really give a lot in return for a little shelter and care. Bug control, kitchen scrap removal, child entertainment, soil enrichment and tilling and of course the incredable, edible egg! Their eggs are sold within the YWAM community and the money is used to finance thier feed and the purchase of small farm tools.
Our chicks have turned into full blown chickens. No trace of those fuzzy little cheepy chicks anywhere. Still 8 more weeks until they start laying. This week we are planting small patches of heirloom sorghum and amaranth in order to increase our seed base for larger plantings. If the plants suceed here then we will have some grain for the chickens. They have also been eating the azola and any greens from the garden or kitchen we bring thier way. I am pleased to say all 31 chickens look healthy and they get along well. The last couple of afternoons we have let them run free inside the fence- all is well thus far. Thier roof was repaired from the windstorm/tree damage. The original material is broken and brittle from sun exposure and it’s expensive to replace, so we now have a beautiful blue tarp roof. Just can’t escape those wonderful, versital blue tarps!!
posting a picture of our nifty chicken feeder. PVC pipe with holes drilled for multiple feeders at a time. Our original bucket design- which I prefer cause it keeps the mice and bugs from eating the feed- is not working well. Until we can figure out how to make the feed flow and keep from clogging up we will be using the PVC pipe. Next week I will show you the awesome automatic waterer John created for us.