Grit Blogs >

Haven Homesteaders for Grit

Working Chickens, Part 7: Utilizing Your Flock

LindsayIMG_20160517_162459526 (1)

When folks first get chickens, they often think of the obvious reasons for having them: meat and eggs. While these are both great reasons to keep chickens, your flock could be doing so much more for you. Here is a quick and easy list of ways you can get the most out of your chickens.

Chickens scratch and till.

It is natural for a chicken to scratch and till up the top layers of ground. It’s what they do! It’s how they find food. You can put your chickens on a garden bed that is full of weeds and spent plants, and they will prep it for the next planting season with ease.

Chickens make great garden food.

Chicken manure is hot. Not necessarily in temperature, but chemically. That just means that you have to let it compost for a certain amount of time before you can use it without chemically burning your plants. It is recommended that you compost your chicken manure for six months to a year. If you are using a deep mulch run, then you will have plenty of manure composting from year to year, and letting it set is not too much trouble.

If you are interested in the NPK values of chicken manure, check out this article over at Allotment and Gardens. Chickens and rabbits. my friends ... (That’s what we have here at Haven Homestead!)

Chickens can be good pest control.

Chickens will make short work of nearly any insect that moves. Our chickens even eat slugs! Here’s a great article from MOTHER EARTH NEWS about using chickens as a natural way to control pests.

We often catch bugs, worms, beetles, and slugs and toss them to the chickens. We also toss aphid-infected plants into the chicken run. Our chickens love it, and our garden thrives.

Chickens can help clear unmanageable land.

As previously discussed, chickens like to eat greens and bugs. If you have a brambly, grassy, weed-infested piece of land, pen your chickens up there for a few months. Their scratching and grazing should at the very least help knock it back to where you can manage it. At most, you will have bare dirt that has been well fertilized and is primed and ready for the cover crop seed of your choice!

Chickens are great “garbage disposals.”

Every kitchen produces kitchen scraps. Onion skins, potato peels, apple cores, leftover pasta, bread crusts, soup gone bad ... You name it, and we’ve fed it to our chickens. This accomplishes two things: it keeps my garbage can from getting stinky, and it helps to lower the feed bill.

You do have to be cautious that you aren’t going to make your flock sick. Chickens shouldn’t have citrus peels or anything with too much sugar. Some folks say you should avoid uncooked green potato peels, uncooked or undercooked beans, or any part of the avocado for toxin reasons. Here’s a great chart from Backyard Chickens (Scroll down to the bottom for the list on what not to feed and why).

Chickens are great entertainment.

Chickens are fun to watch, plain and simple. Just pack a camp chair out to the pen and chill. Watching your chickens can be more fun than watching TV; at least, I think so. It’s like meditation entertainment. I love it.

Chickens are great learning tools.

We don’t just raise animals on our little farm. We raise kids, too. Having animals, especially chickens, is a great opportunity to teach your children responsibility. You can use chickens to teach your children about anatomy and biology. You can use chickens to teach your children about God. You name it, you can probably use chickens to teach it. Thus, our chickens are also learning tools. Yours can be, too!


The last installment in this series is coming soon! It is:

Raising Your Replacement Flock, Roosters and Chicks


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

Working Chickens, Part 6: Grit, Dust Baths, and Other Necessities

LindsayIMG_20160826_062713601

Here on Haven Homestead, we keep a number of different animals. We have meat rabbits, ducks, a goat, a cat, a dog, and of course, chickens. The one thing that surprised me about the poultry was the differences in anatomy between them and me. There is not much different between rabbit and a human on the inside, but chickens and other poultry ... They are different!

Before we raised chickens, I had heard of gizzards, but I never really knew what they were; and I could only guess at how eggs were made. This article is all about caring for your chickens and the specific needs they have that are different from the other animals on the farm.

Water and Feed

It goes without saying that your chickens need to be fed and watered. But what do you feed them, how much, and how often? That is where things get more complicated.

As far as feed goes, chickens need three things: grain, greens, and proteins. For some really great information on chicken feed, visit this website: http://www.lionsgrip.com/intro.html. I really like what they have there.

As far as amounts go, we tend to feed our chickens as much as they can eat. That means we toss out an amount of feed and check back later in the day. If there is still a lot feed left on the ground, then we feed less the next day. If there is nothing left and it’s only been a few hours, that is a sign that they need more feed, so we feed them again. If we visit the chickens a few hours after feeding them and there is only a little bit left, we keep feeding them that amount.

Another sign for proper feeding amounts is the number of eggs that are being laid. If your hens aren’t laying, try feeding them more. As long as they aren’t broody or molting, that should up your egg production.

And for water, we always make sure there is easy access to as much water as they can drink. Your hens will thank you for doing the same! There are a lot of different styles of waterers on the market, but the important thing to remember is that chickens will poop in anything they can roost on — even the edge of a waterer. Keep that in mind when you are deciding on the style you use or design for your flock.

Grit in the Gizzard

As we’ve already discussed, chickens need food and water to survive. But did you know they don’t have teeth? In order to masticate (if you can call it that) their food, chickens have to have grit in their gizzard. A gizzard is a special muscle that moves the grit and food all around to digest it, and that is why chickens don’t have teeth!

What does a chicken need for grit? Well, rocks, pebbles, sand, and oyster shells are all good. The oyster shell also has the added benefit of being a great source of calcium (which I’ll talk about later). You can add it to your feed. Sometimes commercial chicken feeds have grit in it. Birds of different sizes and ages need different things, so become friends with the guy at your local feed store and he can usually help you figure out what your flock needs for grit.

I find that if I give my chickens access to our gravel drive on an occasional basis and oyster shell regularly in their feed, they chickens are happy and healthy.

Eggs Need Shells, Shells need Calcium

Everyone needs calcium for strong bones, but chickens need calcium for eggs as well. Actually, the shell of an egg is primarily made up of calcium carbonate crystals.

I mentioned earlier that oyster shell is a great source of calcium. You can find oyster shells at most feed stores, and it isn’t usually expensive. Egg shells are also a great and easy source of calcium, plus they have the added benefit of being mostly free. Some folks even use kelp meal as a calcium and an all-around mineral/vitamin additive, but I don’t have access to that for cheap so we don’t bother.

All you have to do is mix your choice of calcium with their feed and viola! You’ll always have nice, strong, egg shells.

Some folks say you have to crush, rinse, bake, or otherwise treat your eggs to keep your hens from eating their own fresh eggs. My husband was talking with an old chicken farmer, and he said he always fed his chickens back their shells whole and untreated and he never had a problem with thin shells or egg-eating chickens. We find if we keep the hens well fed and well calcium-ed, we can throw our egg shells in with the other kitchen scraps and they do just fine.

Dust Baths

Chickens get mites. It is a fact of raising chickens. The best way to treat for mites is by having a dust bath available to your chickens. You can up the ante by adding diatomaceous earth, but regular old dust and dirt is okay, too.

Now, we have a problem living here in the pacific northwest: It rains a lot. That means no dry dirt in winter. No dust. We haven’t quite solved this problem on our farm yet, but I imagine that we will one day build some sort of chicken gazebo with a dust bath underneath that we can change out if it gets too wet. Until then, we use a special mite dust that we buy at the feed store and dust them at night while they are roosting. We dust about twice a year. We don’t like it, it’s not natural, but it’s what we have to do to keep our hens healthy for now. Of course, I’m open to suggestions if you have any!

Vent and Crop Health

One of the main anatomical differences that chickens and other poultry have when compared with mammals is that they have a vent. They poop/pee/lay eggs out of one hole. As such, this vent is susceptible to some problems such as vent gleet or prolapse. If you keep dust baths, a clean coop, and plenty of water for drinking and preening, your birds should be healthy enough. In case of problems, I find a Google search on the issue usually turns up plenty of treatment options.

Chickens also have something called a crop. This is where they store all of the food eat during the day. It’s where digestion begins. At night when they roost, the food moves from the crop to the gizzard. If your chickens don’t have enough water, their crops can become impacted, so don’t forget to water them well!

To keep the entire digestive (and reproductive) tracks healthy, many chicken keepers say that putting apple cider vinegar in their water helps the treatment and prevention of a lot of ailments. I haven’t yet had the opportunity, or a large enough supply of it to try this, but if you have a glut of ACV then I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to your flock's water supply. It’s like Johnny Appleseed said, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

That’s it for today. Just remember to take care of your birds. Observe and interact. Your chickens will thank you for it.


Stay tuned for more on the following:

Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize
Raising Your Replacement Flock(I added one more!)


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

Working Chickens, Part 5: Roosts, Coops and Nesting Boxes

LindsayChicken run and chickens

Now, I am not what I would call an expert on chickens, but we’ve been keeping them for a few years now and we love to experiment. That means we’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way here at Haven Homestead. Based on this, here are some ways you can make your chicken coops work for you.

More Chicken Math: Coop and Roost Space

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know that I know that numbers matter, but for me numbers are hard. That is why I love having a community to help me with it. The best resource I’ve found is this article on the Natural Chicken Keeping Blog. Check it out for the numbers and math you’ll need to do before you build your coops.

Keep on reading for some stories and lessons we’ve learned from experience.

The Chicken Tractor Experience

When we first got hens, my husband was greatly enamored with the idea of a chicken tractor. It was a moveable coop, we wouldn’t have to feed the hens as much or build a run, and we wouldn’t have to do any mucking out of anything. They pooped where you put them, and that’s where you left it!

In all, it wasn’t a bad experience. The trouble was that we didn’t give them enough roosts so they roosted in the nesting boxes. If you’ve ever had chickens, you’ll know why this is a bad idea. Chickens poop all night long while they are perched on their roosts. If your hens roost in the nest, that means you have to clean out your nesting boxes every day, hopefully before the hens start laying, or else you have to deal with poop-covered eggs.

Two lessons we learned from our chicken tractor was that:

1. Roosts should be somehow separated from the nesting boxes.
2. You need the right amount of roosting space.

The Free-range Coop Experience

After the tractor, we tried free-ranging. We thought it was much easier than having to move the pen twice a day, and we didn’t have to feed them quite so much. In fact, I once had a pile of chicken feed lay out in the yard for nearly a week before I had to feed them again.

All in all, our free-ranging experience was pretty good, but I can tell you with surety that free-ranging is not for the faint of heart.

First of all, let me premise this with the fact that half of our flock at that time were Americaunas. They are one of the more flight-prone, wild breeds of chicken.

Second, we did what we were supposed to, but the chickens didn’t. Whenever you move chickens to a new coop, you need to keep them cooped up for a while so they get used to it. The idea is that they will remember where to roost and lay their eggs. Our chickens didn’t seem to know that.

At the beginning most of the chickens roosted in the new coop, but almost from the start the Americaunas preferred to roost about 15 feet up in our fir trees. After awhile, we had hens roosting in the trees, under the farm truck, and we even hens roosting on our porch and pooping in our shoes. Not to mention the daily egg hunts were a bit much. I prefer to have egg hunts once a year. On Easter. And I prefer to hide the eggs. That was the end of free-range chickens for me.

We learned that having a dedicated coop with roosts and nesting boxes simplified the whole chicken-keeping, egg-gathering process, and it kept our shoes clean!

The First Coop

Next, we built a dedicated coop and run and talked about building paddocks. We had read some books, heard some podcasts, and talked with some folks about the benefits of having paddocks. We soon decided that paddocks would be our next experiment. Our first coop was four pallets nailed together with some tin roofing screwed on top. It was set right on the ground, and we could move it if we needed to. We kind of used it like a chicken tractor until we built our first paddock. It had no nesting boxes at first, and we just tossed hay into the bottom of it. We had sticks stuck between the pallet boards for their roosts. It worked well to have the roosts on one side and the “nest” on the other, but that coop was not easy to get into.

From this experience, we learned we needed nesting boxes that were easy to access from the outside.

The Second and Third Coops

I don’t know if I can really call these different coops, as they are just the first coop that we changed up and added things to, but I will anyways. We first added nesting boxes that were above the roosts. Then we put the coop up on stilts. We thought it would keep them from pooping in the nesting boxes. It didn’t work like we planned, though.

From that experience, we learned that chickens like to roost high up, and they like to nest low to the ground. (Sure we could have read that in a book, and probably did, but hey, it’s a well-learned lesson that you learn from experience, right?)

The Most Recent Coop Iteration

Again, we still have the pallets nailed together and a tin roof, but it’s been reinforced and raised off the ground. We blocked off the higher nesting boxes and added some that were lower to the ground but were outside of the poop zone. We have, in a word, success.

We even had a broody mama hatch out a chick, and he did very well with our lower nesting boxes.

The Next Coop

The next coop we build will have something like an extra shed roof to help keep the hens out of the rain and snow. Our roosts and nesting boxes are in a good way, but our hens don’t have enough floor space when we’ve got harsh weather. I hope that this is a lesson for you that it’s okay to experiment and change things up when they aren’t working.

In Short ...

• You need a dedicated coop for a lot of reasons.
• Make sure you have enough roost space.
• Don’t put your nesting boxes above your roosts.
• Keep the nesting boxes clean (and out from under the roosts)!
• Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Good luck with your coops, roosts, and nesting boxes. Let us know what works for you!


Stay tuned for more on the following:

Having Dust Baths, Grit and Other Necessities.
Keeping Them Watered
Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

Working Chickens, Part 4: Creating Paddocks and Deep Mulch Runs

LindsayLittle girl holding chicken

During the first few installments of our Chicken Care series, I talked about how we came to the paddock system, how to choose the right number of birds, and how to feed your birds for cheap or free. Today, I will talk about creating a paddock system that works for you and what it means to have a deep mulch run.

Designing a Paddock System

When I say paddock system, I mean a group of pens that are segregated from each other with the intent that the chickens will have access to each paddock only at certain times of the year. I suggest that at the very least you have two separate paddocks. A good number to have is three or four.

Our system currently consists of three paddocks, and we have plans to expand that to four or five by summer. The first paddock consists of a coop and run area. The run area is what I call a deep mulch run, and the chickens will always have access to this area. I’ll discuss what I mean by deep mulch a little later in the article, so keep reading.

The second paddock is our garden. The chickens will only have access to this area immediately after the harvest and only for 1-2 months; they clean up any insects and things that need to be taken care of. They scratch and fertilize as they go. I also make sure to dump any kitchen scraps into my garden beds so that the chickens will focus their scratching and fertilizing right where I want them to.

The third paddock encloses a wild blackberry patch. It was probably not the most well thought-out plan, just because the chickens love the security of the brambles and often lay their eggs in there rather than in the nesting boxes, but it has worked out all right.

The fourth and fifth paddocks will have fruit trees, which we planted over the last two years, hardy berry bushes, and other such things. The idea is that each paddock will serve a double purpose: we will be growing forage for our flock and our humans at the same time. The thing to keep in mind is that tender plants should be protected if they are included in your paddocks. That can look as simple as turning a five-gallon bucket upside down on top of your artichokes, which is what we did this year. Hardy plants, like rhubarb and most fruit trees once they are old enough, will work out really well.

Things to Consider Before Design

When you design a paddock system for you own yard, you’ll need to take into account a few different things.

1. Chicken Access to the Coop and Paddocks: Will your coop be movable, or will it be central to all of your paddocks? How will you move your hens from one to the other?

2. Human Access to Each Section: You are going to need to access your pens or paddocks, the coop, and the run for maintenance, harvest, and sometimes in order to catch a stubborn hen for mite dusting. Make sure you can get in there!

3. Predator Protection: What kind of predators are in your area? This will determine what kind of protection you’ll need. For example, if you have owls or hawks, you may need to have some sort of netting over your coop and runs. That will probably mean you’ll have to keep your paddocks small enough to make that netting economical.

4. Forage and Feeding: Chickens have to eat, and if they don’t eat enough they will end up eating each other. I’m not kidding! You’ll need to have plenty of space for them to forage if you plan on having them forage for themselves. Chickens can be hard on a piece of land. You can easily avoid cannibalism in your flock by keeping your chickens rotating through the paddocks regularly and by feeding them plenty of food when forage is hard to find or otherwise exhausted.

5. Timing: How long does it take ten hens to deforest a piece of land ten feet square? That sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, but I tell you what, it’s a serious question. Chickens will pick every little green thing that they can reach, so you’ll want to make sure you keep in mind the amount of time your birds will spend in each paddock and plan appropriately.

Deep Mulch Runs

One of the most noticeable features of chickens is that they scratch. In Washington state, or any other similarly wet climate, this means that your chicken run will be turned from grass to mud in no time flat.

It doesn’t matter if you run your birds in a chicken tractor or if you let your birds free-range. It doesn’t matter if you only have one chicken in a huge lawn! Your chicken’s favorite scratching areas will soon be mud. The plain and simple fact is that mud will abound where ever the chickens roam.

The good news is, there is a way to manage that. Some folks choose to have a concrete chicken run. This might work for you if you live in a city and need to hose down your run occasionally, but I think there is a better way. That way is to deep mulch your run.

Take straw or hay or any other kind of mulch and lay it thick in the run. I’m talking 1-2 feet deep. The birds will scratch and poop and scratch in it all day long. If any spot gets especially thin, or if you get a lot of mud along one side, you can rake it from another spot or add more hay/straw/grass clippings/etc.

The best part about this is that once a year or so you can rake this all into one big pile, let it compost for the next year, and lay a fresh layer of mulch down. Then, after a year of resting, you have wonderful compost for your plants. I hear garlic really loves chicken poop. This deep mulch compost has the potential to grow some pretty awesome garlic.

Why Paddocks and Deep Mulch Runs?

The thing I like most about the paddocks is that it provides a circular system for the chickens and gardens to interact without us having to deal with mass destruction. Not to mention that having the mulch/manure/compost is a great way to feed your garden without breaking the bank. Plus, in a well designed system, the poop is where it is supposed to be without as much back-breaking work to get it there!

Don’t for get to K.I.S.S.

My dad always told me to Keep It Simple Stupid/Silly/some other S word that you prefer! When you are designing you paddock system, just keep it simple. Complicated designs often require more work, and they are harder to alter or adapt when things aren’t working. You need to stay flexible, especially when you are first starting out with chickens, and even when you’ve had chickens for awhile. You need to observe what is working and what is not and then change the things that are not. Keeping things simple always makes adaptations so much easier!

There’s no one way to have chickens, and this is what works for us. What do you do for your chickens? Leave us a comment below.

That’s it for part 4!


Stay tuned for more on the following:

Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
Having Dust Baths, Grit and Other Necessities.
Keeping Them Watered
Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

Working Chickens, Part 3: Growing Forage

Lindsay20140328_190254

Planting Forage and Chicken Gardens

One of the biggest complaints I hear when people talk about keeping chickens is that they cost more to feed than the humans can sell the eggs for. This can happen, but if you do it right, it doesn't have to.

I read this wonderful book called "Free Range Chicken Gardens" by Jessi Bloom. She does a great job describing how to create a chicken system that works! One of the things she focuses on is how to plant chicken gardens and forage.

With a well-planted chicken garden, you can greatly reduce and maybe even eliminate the cost of feed. Though to eliminate it altogether would take a lot of space to grow a lot of food…

Chickens Like to Forage

Chickens naturally prefer foraging for food. In my free-range chicken days, I saw a pile of grain go mostly untouched for days while the chickens were out in the forest finding their own food.

In general, I've found that chickens love blueberries — really any kind of berry — clovers, grasses (I'll never have to mow my lawn), and quite a few herbaceous plants like comfry and borage. Of course, they like their cereal grains, too. I suggest looking up that book by Jessi Bloom. She gives some great plant profiles. (Just to be clear, I get nothing out of saying that except the pleasure of sharing a great resource. This post contains links to resources, but they are NOT affiliate links.)

It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Letting your hens forage for at least some of their own food can be as easy as letting them into a pasture. Just make sure your fences are chicken-proof!

Here at Haven Homestead, we have penned in a wild blackberry patch, our garden, and we will be penning in our orchard this year. All of these areas make great paddocks because they are full of food, we can let each area rest a bit as needed, and the chickens help keep certain pests away. We’ve also planted different plants around the perimeter of each area, and the chickens stick their necks through to forage on what they can reach.

Some Other Resources

Don’t forget to check out the chicken forums on Permies.com, particularly the one titled "Best Perennial Chicken Feed." You'll be overloaded with information.

Once you have the numbers figured out and the gardens all planned, you'll be ready for the next step: designing your chicken habitat to work for you!


Stay tuned for more on the following:

Creating Paddocks
Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
Having Dust Baths, Grit and other necessities.
Keeping Them Watered
Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize
Roosters and hatching chicks


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

Working Chickens, Part 2: Counting Hens

LindsayIMG_20160506_150852810-small

Why Do You Want Chickens?

It’s really important to consider why you want to keep chickens before you talk about how many you need. If your purpose is just for the pleasure of watching their antics, then one or two is more than enough. Pest control? Same. You don’t need many chooks to keep pests at bay; that is, of course, depending on the size of your garden. However, if you want working chickens that provide eggs, compost, and tilling services, you’ll need to figure out what size flock fits your purpose and space.

Numbers Matter

In flock management, numbers really do matter. You need to make sure you have the right number of birds, as well as the correct amount of space per bird. Too many birds in too small of a space means endlessly cleaning poop and a big, muddy, stinky, mess of a chicken run. Too few means you’ll be working more than your chickens.

Counting Hens - The Formulas in Word Form

I am going to share with you my “formulas” for deciding on the correct number of chickens to keep. Now, keep in mind that I am not good at math. I love math and the order that it can bring to my life, nevertheless numbers can sometimes make my head go fuzzy and my eyes go crossed. If you are the same, please don’t stop reading! I'll try my best to make it clear, and there’s a lot of flexibility here. If you love numbers and are good at them, please don’t hesitate to make my formulas more precise. These formulas are meant to be a starting point, and you can take them anywhere you want to go.

You can either start with the number of eggs you consume or the amount of space you have. Space wasn’t a consideration for us, so we started by thinking about how many eggs we eat each week. My family of four goes through about 1-2 dozen eggs per week, though that fluctuates. When choosing a breed (which I won't talk about here) consider how many eggs a week each bird will lay. One of our Black Australorp hens produces about 5-6 eggs per week. By that math, we will need 2 to 4 hens to meet our egg needs. Unfortunately, it’s never really that simple. So, to cover for times when chickens are molting or broody, I recommend doubling that number.

The next thing to think about is how much space you need for your chickens vs. how much space you have to keep them in. They need about 2-4 square feet per hen in the coop if they have plenty of run, or 8-10 square feet if you will be keeping them cooped up a lot. If you ask me, our coop is a little on the small side, but the hens do have plenty of run/paddock, so they do alright.

The Formulas In Math-like Form

In mathematical notation, the formulas look something a little like this:

• #eggs consumed per week / #eggs per week laid by your choice of breed = #of hens needed. (Multiply your answer by two make sure you’re covered when hens are broody or molting.)

• #of hens x 2-4 square feet = coop square footage (if there’s plenty of run)

Or

• #of hens x 8-10 square feet = coop square footage (if there’s not a lot of run)

How Much Total Space?

As far as runs and paddock space goes, you'll need 4-10 square feet of runs per chicken. Some larger breeds may need more, while bantams could probably do with less. What I have noticed is that if you keep too many birds in too small of a space, they will keep nearly anything from growing. That can be a problem if you are trying to grow forage for them.

The amount of space you need will greatly depend on what you have, how many eggs you want, and what your hens will lay, so you will need to do a little experimenting on your own. Hopefully this helps give you a launching point.

Other Things to Consider

Don’t forget to consider broodiness when looking at the different chicken breeds. Some breeds don’t go broody very often, and others go broody at the drop of a hat. When a hen is broody, she isn’t laying eggs!

Hens also wont lay after they are a certain number of years old, or when they are very young, or when they are molting.

Another thing to think about is the number of paddocks you have. Later in this series, I’ll be discussing how to create a paddock system, but it bears saying now that you can fit a larger flock into a smaller space if you rotate your birds in the proper amount of paddocks in a timely manner.

If you have a limited amount of space and a large egg need, you can do some things to optimize your space. You can also keep the chickens you can, and supplement your egg need by buying eggs elsewhere. There’s no shame in that!

Here at Haven Homestead, we have about twelve hens and one rooster. Some of our hens are old, some are newly hatched this year, and others are at prime laying age. As long as the entire flock isn’t molting, we usually get around a dozen eggs each week.


That's it for Part 2. Now go and figure out how many chickens fit your need. Do you have any other tips or comments? Leave us a note below.

Stay tuned for more on the following:

Growing Forage
Creating Paddocks
Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
Having Dust Baths, Grit and Other Necessities
Keeping Them Watered
Using Chickens to Till and Fertilize
Roosters and Hatching Chicks


By Lindsay Hodge
Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com

An Introduction to Working Chickens

Lindsay20140323_162958-crop

We've put our chickens to work...

When it comes to keeping chickens, you'll hear all about how they eat things they aren't supposed to and that they poop a lot! It's true, and it can be very frustrating. Here at Haven Homestead, we’ve experienced several iterations of chicken habitat and systems. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from each period. The main lesson we have learned is that you need to put your chickens to work!

During our free-range period, we learned that chickens will roost and poop wherever the heck they want to. It makes a huge mess. I had to fence off my front porch at one point so that they would stop pooping in my shoes! They also have favorite plants, and they will eat them into nothing-ness. Our one and only blueberry plant (at the time) was picked clean almost as soon as it leafed out, but they wouldn’t touch the dang ferns and blackberries that abound in our wee forest.

During our chicken-tractor days, we learned that they will roost in (and poop in) the nesting boxes. That required almost daily cleaning of the nesting boxes. Plus, we had too many birds in that tractor, so it needed to be moved twice a day. That was a lot of work, and a lot of money spent on nesting material. The work we put into the tractor did not equal the amount of work we got out of our chickens. 

The hens needed to be put to work, or else we were going to be worked to the bone. In the past two and a half years, we have tried about four different housing and run methods, including free ranging. We are still experimenting and growing.

As of now, we are implementing a paddock system with ample forage planted in and around the paddocks, and we free-range the birds on the weekends or whenever else we feel like it. We also feed them kitchen scraps, and they help us clean the garden out at the end of the growing season. We've designed our coop so that the poop cleaning is minimal and easy!

It’s been a little while since we’ve changed things around on our hens, but we have some plans to update our paddocks and possibly rebuild our coop. As we continue with our experiments, we keep making things better for us and for our flock. Here are some things that we keep in mind as we adapt:

1. Really low cost feeding. We don’t make a lot of money, and the point of having chickens is so we can save money on eggs and gardening. It doesn’t make sense to spend more on chicken feed than we would otherwise, so we have to make our hens work on a budget.

2. Just the right amount of work. Let’s face it, keeping animals of any sort is hard work. There are, however, some hacks or designs that will enable you to put your hens to work, so you don’t have to work so hard!

3. The poop is where it should be. We don’t like dealing with poop. It stinks, it’s messy, and nobody enjoys mucking out nesting boxes on a daily basis. Again, some thoughtful preparation here helps in making this a breeze.

You can put your chickens to work, too!

I’ve put together a series of posts where I will share the things we’ve learned about chickens and flock management so you can put your hens to work, too. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. As I mentioned before, we are still experimenting with things, and I could use your input!


Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the posts in this series. I’ll cover:

• Numbers Matter
• Planting Forage
• Creating Paddocks
• Deep Mulch Runs
• Designing Roosts, Coops, and Nesting Boxes
• Water, Dust Baths, Grit and Other Necessities
• Using Chickens to Compost, Till and Fertilize


Haven Homestead
www.havenhomestead.com