Monday, May 24, 2010

A Fowl Weekend

Sometimes having a deadline doesn't always work, as illustrated by my dilapidated chicken coop in the yard and the 26 chicks and 3 ducklings in the garden shed. Knowing that for at least the first four weeks of their lives with me the chickens would be in a brooder, staying warm and practicing the scratch-and-peck technique mastered by so many before them, I focused on other more pressing projects and the coop has remained untouched. A few days ago Wino and I were given two great vintage doors that will go on the coop. They need to be stripped, patched, trimmed to fit and painted. In my mind I was waiting on the doors because that would give me the design for the rest of the coop. Well, no procrastinating now!

We picked up the chicks at the farm store on Friday. It was crazy when we walked in because they had temporary brooders with heat lamps set up throughout the store- it's not a big place to begin with. There were hundreds of chicks, all chirping.
Usually there's only one or two other people in the store but it was packed that day, not only with people picking up chicks, geese, or ducks, but with mothers who brought their children to watch the chicks and play with them. And a local farmer had set up in front of the attached house to sell veggie and herb seedlings. It was crazy!

The chicks and ducklings are in a brooder made of a recycled compost fence for the walls, cardboard to keep out drafts, quilts laid over the top to keep in the heat, and shredded paper to soak up their droppings. They have a heat pad and a heat lamp. The brooder needs to be kept at about 95 degrees for the first week and 5 degrees less every week until the outside temp matches the inside one. On the first night, we thought they would be fine without anything covering the corral since it was 95 degrees in the shed itself during the day. When I went out to check on them they didn't scatter when I reached in to pick one up. I thought I had gotten some really friendly chickens! Not so, the temp had dropped and they were lethargic. Oops! Some quilts
to keep in the heat and a different bulb in the lamp and they're scootin' around like crazies, jumping on each other. The chicks like to jump on the backs of the ducklings and ride them around. It's quite entertaining. Our town limits the number of farm animals residents can keep based on acreage and zoning. We are allowed 12 fowl so half of the chicks and the all the ducks are going to my Mom. She lives on a lake and the ducks will have a good life but I would keep them in a heartbeat- they are so cute!

I've been asked a few times why I want chickens and it's not just for the eggs. Now, the eggs are the main reason since "pasture fed" eggs have been tested to be high in the good stuff (omega 3 etc) and low in the bad stuff (cholesterol, fats) and it's really hard to find eggs labeled "pasture fed", outside of a true farmers market. This doesn't mean free range or cage free, both of those are arbitrary to the farmer- to label eggs "free range", the farmer only has to provide access to the outside, whether the birds actually go outside doesn't matter. And cage free just means they are all packed into huge coops, often with their beaks trimmed off so they don't fight and injure each other. "Pasture fed" means a portion of their daily food comes from foraging for bugs and seeds in the outdoors. This is where my other reason for having chickens comes in. They eat bugs. They dig up grubs that eat the roots of plants.
They eat ticks and fleas and beetles. They love ant eggs which cuts down on the population of ants. They eat slugs and snails. They eat flying insect eggs that are in grass, reducing the insects around the house. When moved around the yard, they leave behind healthier grass with less weeds since they eat seeds too. They eat a lot of the food garbage that we put in the compost since we can't put it down the sink, like the stalks of broccoli (shredded) and apple and veggie peels. Since they scratch and dig for their food, they turn the top layer of soil, aerating and making it healthier. This is also the reason they shouldn't be confined to one area, they'll overwork it and it becomes a muddy mess. They stay close, usually the boundaries of a yard and can be trained to come when called (with the sound of a treat shaken in a jar), they put themselves to bed in the evening, relying on their humans to close the coop door and make them safe. As I've said before, this is an experiment, hopefully all of the things I've read and been told by other backyard chicken farmers will be true in my yard and I'll not only have delicious eggs every day, but a healthier yard without spraying chemicals.

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