Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Oh There Are Chickens In The Trees . . .
OK, so it's not the best picture, but we had fun crowing at each other with the flakes falling on us. Trouble is an Ameraucana roo, and the lowest in the boys' pecking order. Even the bantam hens give him a hard time. He was supposed to be a pullet (the reason some of you haven't gotten any green eggs yet!) and always seems to find himself on the wrong side of the fence (sometimes literally). Ah well, I guess this bodes well for next year's pullets--at least I know they'll be tough! He was even eating snow when I first saw him.
As always, I'm excited for next year's batch of chicks. I'm going to try some exotic breeds--Jersey Giants for their docility, size, and egg size, Black Copper Marans for extra-dark brown eggs, Barnevelders for laying ability and hardiness, and Silver Laced Wyandottes for laying and hardiness (and the Barnevelder and Wyandottes should be eye candy too!). Plus some Ameraucana pullets (for green eggs) and either Black Stars or Gold Comets (simply because they're laying machines!). I'd love to get some Salmon Faverolles but it seems like all the small order places are sold out.
Then there's the broiler project. I'm going to pick up 5 Cornish Cross broilers just to make sure I can kill and process them . . .then, if that works, I'm going to invest in Freedom Rangers (also known as Label Rouge) and possibly Rainbows. They take a little longer than Cornish Xs to mature, but taste better, forage better, and are hardier. And they're prettier. Just so happens that a friend of mine makes feather jewelry, and I think she'd love these!
Looks like I need more coops and/or chicken tractors. I'm gonna make these birds pay off one way or another. I'm still working on the childrens' books (and have gotten a great response so far!) and spend WAY too much time on the phone either talking to publishers or finding out where to get cheap business cards. Then there's the plans for the chicken tractors. Yep, I hear ya. "What's a chicken tractor?"
At its most basic, a chicken tractor is a mobile coop. When used properly, those chickens can forage for their own food (greens, worms, bugs, etc) PLUS till your garden up for you AND fertilize it. Some great books about it are: Chicken Tractor by Andy Lee, The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery, and Day Range Poultry (again by Andy Lee). I'm trying to come up with my ideal design and measurements--I've read about every book I can get my hands on about it, but none of them is exactly what I want. And, if you get to know me . . .I'm not usually a control freak, but there some things that I'm a Nazi about. I want my tractor the way I want it, and I don't want to have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for it. Humbug.
On a slightly more negative note, those of you that are considering getting your own backyard cluckers would do well to steer away from Chickens magazine (put out by Hobby Farms). I paid $6 for that sucker (cos on first perusal, seemed to be some neat stuff in there) and found it to be one of the biggest wastes of paper on the planet. Plenty of great pics of chickens, but ONLY ONE picture (of Cornish cross chicks, pic supplied by Ideal Poultry) had the breed labeled on it--the rest were from Shutterstock. There was even a pic of a chookie with the worst scaly leg mites I've ever seen (again from Shutterstock). It truly makes me wonder if these people have ever had chickens. You'll be better off spending your money on Backyard Poultry (which features FACTS and healthy chickens . . .and you'll usually see which breed!).
OK, always end positive. I would sincerely like to thank Harvey Ussery and Don Schrider for their articles about open air coops (BYP, Oct/Nov 2011). Since I don't have electricity out to the coop (and not NEARLY enough extension cords!), I was worried how the chookies would do this winter. SERIOUSLY worried. Because everything I read told me to insulate and heat the coop and shut it up tight. Harvey and Don, you are right. Even here in hardiness zone 5, I leave the windows (and the door, if the wind isn't blowing precipitation in) open 24/7. You see, VENTILATION is the key to healthiness. If you let that moisture from chookie breaths and manure get trapped, they'll not only get frostbite, but respiratory illnesses. Stewie, my lead roo, has a magnificent single comb. So far we've had about two dozen nights below freezing--several below 20--and his comb and wattles are as majestic as ever.
I'm also using a deep litter system. "what? you don't clean your coop every week?" you gasp. NOPE. I haven't cleaned my coop (except for knocking poo off the roosts) for 6 months. I have family and friends save their fall leaves for me, and save the remnants of the horses' bales. About every other week, I go dump a fresh bag in the coop and run. Those leaves absorb the nitrogen from the droppings and give the chookies something to scratch in on days like today, plus they'll make excellent compost for later. If I get it right, they'll start composting INSIDE the coop, creating additional heat and food sources for the chooks. "What about the smell?" you're saying. "What smell?" I reply. The only thing you'll smell in my coop is dry leaves, and cedar chips when I refresh the nest boxes. Don't believe me? Come see for yourself. Even my mom (who was raised with chickens) is amazed.
So, I'm a chicken brain today. Wish me luck--I always need it!