Wednesday, August 31, 2005

City Chicken & the Savage Chicken-Inspiration & a Giggle Respectively

If by this time in the blog you might be thinking, "Hey, I'd like to do this too! I'd like some chickens, but where do I start?", I'd like to turn you on to the site that got me started, Katy Skinner's magnum opus The City Chicken

Katy's site takes you through the basics, FAQ, how to house the chickens, legal issues (not everyone can legally keep chickens in the city), how to care for chicks, as well as her totally cool pictorial history of her various flocks and their domiciles. Her helpful links include some of the best online resources available for the home poultry enthusiast. Katy's site literally convinced me that we could raise chickens successfully in the city. When I had questions, her encouraging response was great too!

After you visit Katy's site, you might want to cruise on by Savage Chickens for a giggle. All cartoons are done on post-it notes.

Let This Be a Lesson to You

This week we learned a painful lesson. Saturday I purchased not quite 40 winter garden starts, various boc choi, tatsoi, collards, and rainbow chard to plant for our summer garden. I was very excited that our weather had forecast rain and cooler temperatures for Monday and Tuesday, as winter garden crops don't like high heat.

Saturday hubby slaved bringing a truckload of compost, and I shoveled most of it into the garden, on top of some buckwheat cover crop and coop poop-laden straw (say *that* three times fast). Sunday Michael slaved breaking up the soil and mixing it all in, and I planted, watered heavily, very happy with myself that we were just in time to utilize the wet weather.

At work Monday, I waited excitedly for the rain to begin, and was so pleased that I wouldn't have to water in my starts again because it was being done for me.

When I arrived home I walked over to the garden to see how happy the starts were and noticed what appeared to be a start eaten by a slug. I thought, "Oh drat! Oh well, they do get some of the starts." So I looked at the start next to it, and it was eaten down to the stem too. Then I looked at the start next to it and it was also suspiciously missing leaves.

At that point I panicked and looked over every single area we had planted and saw nothing but bare spots or stems! Our slugs in the Northwest are aggressive in the garden, but no slug, even with the help of a little slug army, could eat nearly 40 starts in one evening! In fact, only one creature would be interested in such a thing--chickens!

I was so furious, that I will confess I thought about cutting a few feathered lives short. Later, when I talked to Michael about it, he did mention that Rocky, Mary, and another hen did get out and he put them back, but it never occurred to him that they had decimated the newly planted garden. While I was upset for a fair amount of the evening (ok, I confess, I don't get over things as quickly as I'd like), I'm happy to report all the hens are present and accounted for.

The moral of this story is good fencing is everything. Make sure all your chicken fences are high enough to keep chickens from flying out, with no gaps they can easily go under. We found at least one area where the chickens could easily get out and increased the height of that fence. We are now down to 2 hens that still get out, Seiji, who is so well mannered she would never destroy our garden, and Mary Mary Quite Contrary, who obviously didn't hesitate to eat a garden to the stems. At this point her main escape route letting her into the garden has been sealed off, so hopefully we will not have a repeat of this.

Portrait of Man Relaxing with Hens & Cats

Here is a portrait of the lead coop builder with the hens...sad thing is this was such a sweet shot just about 1/2 second earlier. All the flock was milling about him, until I came out with the camera. Unfortunately I think they thought it was food, and they rushed over to see what I had. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Leann's Happy Hen Gourmet Mash

Here's an "action shot" of the hens enjoying my world famous Gourmet Mash. 9.5 out of 10 hens agree this is the meal of their lives!

The mash often consist of a small quantity of layer pellets with yogurt, cottage cheese or kefiili (like kefir, a cultured milk product) plus odds and ends of whatever is available. The cultured milk products are very, very good for helping chickens stay healthy.

This weekend I made an amazing gourmet mash which made the hens extremely happy, and wanted to share this recipe with you poultry enthusiasts. Since it involves meat, if you are a new visitor, please check the archives for my post on chickens as omnivores--other poultry enthusiasts have assured me they see the same dietary behavior in their flocks too! We don't often feed them meat, but it has a dramatic positive health benefit when we do. Consider adding meat to your mash recipe in the early spring to help boost immunity after a long winter, after an illness, and during a molt to help protein depleted birds (feathers are all protein). You can also omit the meat or other items from this mash and add your own ingredients.

Leann's Happy Hen Gourmet Mash
feeds a flock of 20 (with enough left over that everyone gets some)

1-2 pints yogurt or other cultured milk product
1 pint low-salt cottage cheese
2 pounds ground beef
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch lemon balm
1 head garlic
1-2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
1 pint baby tomatoes
enough pellet feed to make a mushy consistency

2-3 casserole type pans

Put all the pans on a counter or work space where you can evenly divide the ingredients between the 3 pans.

-Add the yogurt & cottage cheese
-Remove leaves from lemon balm and add to pans
-Take parsley, and using scissors, snip entire bunch into small pieces
-Put in ground beef, yes, raw
-Slice all tomatoes in half and add

Mix with hands, getting ground beef and cottage cheese thoroughly mixed

-Add a small quantity of pellets to mash, enough to make it thicken
-Peel most of paper husks off garlic cloves, and add cloves to Cuisinart
-Add pumpkin seeds to Cuisinart, and blend until both garlic and seeds are in bits
-Add this mixture to mash

Mix well, and serve (put the dishes in various parts of the run so all hens, low and high in terms of pecking order, can eat freely)

I don't always use all these ingredients, but a little about what the benefits are for your flock:

Cultured dairy products are as beneficial for hens as they are for humans. Cultured dairy is high in protein and calcium, and the friendly flora helps prevent diseases and parasites in a flock.

Meat, as I've already mentioned, can be an excellent periodic supplement to a flock diet. This is especially true after winter, illness, or a molt when a hen's protein needs increase dramatically. Additionally, according to the Weston Price Foundation, there are fat soluble vitamins and activators that only meat can provide. Since raw is better, put your meat in the freezer for 2 weeks prior to feeding to your birds, to kill any possible parasites, etc. Feel free to search the archive for a post about feeding raw deer liver to the flock--they loved it!

Lemon Balm is a powerful antiviral--our flock was exposed to viral poultry pox, which is sort of like human oral herpes in that it is non-fatal and they carry it for life. So for our flock, treating with lemon balm is a good thing.

Parsley is extremely high in minerals and vitamins. I've also been known to use granulate kelp and dulse.

Garlic is a potent antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitical, and antibacterial. Organic poultry farmers rave about use of garlic, and the mash is the best way I've found to get the girls to eat it.

Raw pumpkin seeds are noted in Chinese medicine to be excellent at expelling worms and other parasites in humans, I hope this is true for hens. If nothing else, it's a great vegetarian source of protein and zinc for the flock. Zinc is another immunity booster. Sunflower seeds are a great substitute if all you want is the protein boost.

Tomatoes are reputed to be useful in changing internal ph so that a hen's body is not hospitable to parasites and other disease bearing invaders. I have also heard that pomegranete seeds and cranberries are useful for the same thing.

Have fun making your own mash--your hens will love you for it!

Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 22, 2005

Protocol Change

Hi Folks,
One of my other blogs was comment-spammed by a bot--translated from geek speak that means some programmed spam found its way into the comments field on another blog. For now, folks will need to complete a verification prior to posting comments. Thanks for that extra effort, it keeps the blog on track and free from unwanted advertising. Back to our regularly scheduled chicken post!

Eggs-citing News!

And now for something completely happy! Here's a comparison pic of the egg laid by Mary, our first hen in the younger girls group to begin laying. This is officially her 2nd egg--yesterday's was even smaller if you can believe it, but our daughter wanted it for breakfast so this morning so I don't have a picture to share.

The first eggs a hen lays are always smaller; compare Mary's egg with the egg in the photo from a mature 1 year old hen. You might remember I wondered about whether Mary was a rooster since lately she seemed, well, generally not nice. Her transition to laying might explain why she took a turn for the worse, personality-wise. (Just the other day, when retrieving her from someplace she wasn't supposed to be, she was flapping at me frantically and I found myself saying, "Mary, you make me want to cook you! Now cut it out!") We noticed a general irritability in the older flock hens as well, right before they started laying. It seems like they know they should be doing something, can't figure out what that something is, and might even be physically uncomfortable until they lay that first egg.

Frankly, it makes sense to me--I can imagine I'd be pretty darn uncomfortable too, and I really don't understand how they lay eggs day in and day out and stay so even tempered! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Rest in Peace...

Today has been a very sad day. The hen pictured in the foreground, Heather, suddenly developed a condition that quickly proved to be fatal. We had a very sad evening burying her, and hope that she is enjoying the chicken equivalent of Happy Hunting Grounds, where the dandelions are always green and leafy, there are plenty of worms and bugs to be had, and enough grain to fill the gizzard...sleep well hen Heather. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Integration Process--An Update

Some folks have inquired recently--how is the integration of the flock going? At this point the little girls are about 16 weeks old, and not quite 3/4 the size of the big girls, so we are still being cautious. Michael tends to be more full steam ahead than I am about these things, so sometimes we find a balance!

What's at risk, they're all just a bunch of small-brained chickens, right? Perhaps brain size is part of the issue, who knows--but the whole pecking order thing is very, very real. One piece of reality is that dominate hens in a flock will keep lower ranking hens from food, and sometimes water. I observed that with our first group of hens, and am seeing it now with this group as well.

So, some days we open up the portion of the young pullets' (that's technically what I should be calling the non-laying juvenile hens, pullets) run so they have access to the mature hens' run. Mostly the mature hens invade and eat all their food, while the pullets run to the back 40, and have to be coaxed back to their coop before sundown. I prefer that we only open that fence on the weekends at this stage, since if the hens are in a "mood" on a very hot day and keep the pullets from water, the pullets could quickly overheat and die. But Michael being more daring likes to mix it up a little!

We are still waiting to see if there are any roosters in the younger group--initially we thought one of our barred rocks, Rocky was a rooster, but now I have my doubts as s/he is pretty darn mellow. However, the New Hampshire (red in color) has become a rather pushy creature, and spends a lot of time running around making odd screeching and squealing tire type noises--which could be the beginnings of learning how to crow!

There are still a few more weeks for any roosters to mature enough to be the strutting, regal and noisy creatures we expect them to be...stay tuned for the next episode!