Monday, December 13, 2010
tips, rules of thumb, gathered words to the wise
Belle here, cutting into the blog. I thought I would list all the advice we've been given about chickens that has proven true. The Nutshell on eggs!
You and Your chickens
-- chickens understand people and are not afraid of people. They see you as someone to boss around. They will talk to you and tell you what they want/need.
-- treat them like pets, talk back to them, feed them scraps and they will live 6x as long (normal chicken dies in 2 years).
--they are highly adapted to people. Hold them carry them around, call them when you have scraps, they will get used to you and be easy to handle in a few days
-- get a group all at the same time. I think this avoids chicken rivalry. They are very social and cliqueish. Bringing in a new hen later is not easy. So far our chickens are not pecked and no one is being ostrasized.
--our chickens eat about 25 pounds of feed a month. That is 6 chickens x 30 days = 180 chicken days. 25/180 = .13pounds of mash/day/chicken.
--"mash" is the all purpose, all inclusive, layer feed. Scratch is for other types of chickens like fryers or broilers! Mash has higher protein level. Your laying chickens need feed with 18-20% protein. Most of that protein is in soy. We buy Coyote Creek Organic Mash at Buck Moore Feed. A 25 pound bag costs about $28. Callahans has it but I don't know their price.
--chickens need a lot of water. If you buy a watering jug, buy a big one. We have one of the kind that hangs from the inside rafter in the hen house. It holds about 5 gallons and we need to fill it every 3-5 days.
--chickens love scraps and especially greens. They adore grape vines with leaves, or just about any grasses. We have been told not to feed them coffee grounds or chicken. (That seems respectful.) Our chickens go wild over leftover oatmeal.
Eggs/Production/Number of hens
-- each hen, when healthy and happy, will produce an egg a day. Some days she will take a day off. So, count on 6 hens laying 6 eggs a day.
-- Our family of 4 eats on average 3-4 eggs a day when we are doing a fair amount of baking. 3-4 chickens is a good number for us but we have 6 so that we can share with our neighbors and have eggs to give away... and so that if we have a low few days we still have plenty of eggs.
Coops/hen houses and Runs
--Only a few architectural elements are essential to chicken happiness:
1. A place to run around --- the run
2. A place to sleep safely - the roost inside the hen house (typically)
3. A place to lay an egg -- the nesting box
-- they need room to run around in the run, the more the better as they get bored, restless and need space to exercise.
-- most chickens can fly up at least 4 feet and some pesky ones can go straight up 6-8 feet. The fence needs to be high but does not need to be terribly sturdy as chickens aren't going to push. They are going to flutter over, or squeeze under.
-- some runs have fencing above to keep predators out and the flying hens in. We don't have a top on our run... but our chickens do go into the hen house at night and spend the night "locked up" and safe from predators.
-- chickens gone feral will roost in trees. What a chicken wants to do is to get up as high as possible to sleep. The way they get killed is from above; the way they fight back is from above by landing on a predator with their claws. Remember when you are building the roosting rail that they will vie for the place closest to the ceiling.
-- chickens sleep squatting on a rail (formerly a branch). They like something the size of a 2x4 on end, with the 2" size (actually 1.5") facing up. They will grip this part of the rail and then lower themselves down in a crouch and sleep. When it is hot they will spread out on the rail to allow air to move between them. When it is cold they will huddle in as small a space on the rail as they can. Rule of thumb is about 8" to 12" per bird along the roosting rail.
-- lice can attack chickens. Rubbing or painting motor oil on the rail will keep the lice at bay. (So far so good.)
-- depending on the height of the roosting rail the chickens may like to have a sort of ladder to hop up to the rail. This can be a very simple structure. The chickens will hop from rung to rung.. they can easily jump 2 feet or so.
-- wads of chicken poop will accumulate under the roosting rail. We pile up hay and occasionally rake it out and put it in the compost. (bought a bale of hay at Callahans and have 9/10s of it left...doesn't take much to fill the hen house)
--don't put chicken poop directly on your garden, it will burn up your plants. Let it sit for 6 months or so and then mix it into the soil. We are composting our hay and chicken poop.
The Nesting Boxes
--We tried our nesting boxes in various places but found that our hens like them on the floor. They like to walk around and look at them and they like them where they can see other chickens. We made simple boxes out of wood crates...the same size as a milk crate. We filled them with hay. They hop in, lay an egg, and hop out. The next hen hops in, lays and egg and gets out of the way. All 6 of our chickens lay in the same box and ignore the other 2. Occasionally we will find an egg in the other boxes. To our eyes they look identical.
The hen house/coop where all of this stuff is squeezed in looks like this:
-- The roosting rail is opposite the front door and runs the width of the hen house
-- the ladder up to the roosting rail is along one side wall
-- the nesting boxes are lined up along the other side wall.
-- the water jug feeder is hanging from a ceiling rafter
-- the feed trough (a homemade V on legs) is sitting just inside the door.
-- we got very good advice to make the hen house easy to enter, clean and so forth. We didn't follow that advice as we converted a playhouse into a hen house and it is only about 4 some feet high so we have to bend over to get in and out. O well. We do advise making it easier on yourself and your helping friends by making it walkable.
-- high security! I think chickens are chickens... and feel vulnerable to predators. My intuition tells me that when they feel safe and cared for and secure, they produce more eggs. When they are disturbed and scared and on the alert, they stop producing, or produce less. We strive for healthy and happy hens on Maple Ave and so our hen house is a small fortress. The windows are tightly covered with hardware cloth -- that strong 1/4" metal screen -- but much stronger than screen. No rat can enter by scratching or chewing or wiggling its way through.
The door, which we latch and brace at night, shuts tight. A mouse might be able to squeak in, but a raccoon or a possum would never make it. The floor is solid plywood and thick. The walls are tight against the roof/ceiling.
--heat and cold. We have Red Sex Link which my friend raises in NW Colorado so I know they are super hardy. In the heat of the summer, when temperatures were in the 90s or higher, we were told to wet the earth around the coop... not to spray the chickens. The explanation was that chickens cool themselves by panting and need moist air otherwise their lungs will dry out and they will die. Obviously they also need all the water they can drink and must never be without water. Our gals would dig around in the dampened earth and go belly down in a bowl when they got it like they liked it. They panted and looked hot but nobody died.
--generally they like plenty of air circulating. Windows and good ventilation is a must. Just be sure it is also predator proof.
--like people the chickens like shade in summer and sun in winter. Our chickens are spending a lot of time in the sun now that fall/winter is here.
-- we use a thick 6" or so layer of hay on the floor for a removable carpet/chicken box.
The Schedule/Chore List
AM: Allen lets the chickens out into the run and props the coop door open. Gives them about a quart of mash in the trough.
Anytime: Anyone takes them "compost" scraps from the table or from weeding around the house.
Afternoon: Yoli checks for eggs (they lay in the morning) and refills water if needed.
PM: Belle closes up the hen house door (they go in and roost on their own at dusk) and gives them another quart or so of mash.