Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Innovation in Raising Chicks...

So! I just realized that this post was completely unfinished. Now is the time to finish it!

Chris and I came up with an awesome way to raise chicks. As far as we know, no one else has done this before, but please don't hesitate to comment below to tell us if you have done this! We would love to share the credit!

This NEW WAY to raise chicks came about because Chris doesn't like to clean up poop. His train of thought probably went something like this:

"I am so excited about baby chicks! BUT I really don't like cleaning up the poop, and you know they poop alot... Maybe Lindsay will do it... (Lindsay shoots glaring eyes in his direction) Nope, that's out of the question... I have worms composting stuff already, I wonder if they will compost the baby chicken poop. I could keep them IN the worm bin and then I won't have to clean anything up! I just have to keep the top from getting compacted...I'll use a cultivator to rake and turn the dirt. OH! and by the way, this will give the little guys a chance to learn how to scratch and eat worms! Great food supplement... This is a really great idea! Let's do it!"

Here are some things that we learned from it:

1.) Don't use newspaper unless it's shredded up really small. It compacts too easily. Instead, use sawdust or wood shavings. These work really great for retaining the moisture for the worms and they don't get too compacted.

2.) Keep the birds in an appropriately sized container. Too many birds = Too much compaction/poop/eating of worms = No more worms = No more worms composting the chicken poop! I'd say that 6 chicks or less in one of those big plastic totes is plenty. We had almost thrice that many. It was too many. (Yes I just used the word thrice! Isn't that awesome!)

3.) Don't forget to add kitchen scraps like onion peels, bell pepper leftovers, and the like. The worms need food, and so do the chicks. They will both benefit from eating these. You will probably still have to feed the chicks some sort of chick feed and grain, but you'll certainly need a lot less of it, and your birds will be healthier. (or so I think)

4.) Don't forget to provide your chicks with some sort of roost. Otherwise, they WILL roost on top of each other and some of your birds may get smothered. Just a warning...

5.) Make sure to turn the worm dirt at least every couple of days. It will keep the "dirt" from getting compacted and give the chicks a chance to eat the worms that are lying below the surface. Chris really liked to get in there everyday, but I think that you could do it every other day and be just fine. 

19 Chickens and Counting!

Actually we did have 20. We decided to use Chris' rotisserie to get rid of a rooster that was being meddlesome. But that's besides the point!


I'm so excited to see if we actually get some little chicks. It looks like our hen Millie is sitting on about 10 eggs. It would be cool if we got just one little chick! But we will have to wait and see.

All in all we have 4 Ameraucanas, 4 Red Fryer, and 5 Australorp chicks that we bought from our local feed store on the 11th of April. We have what looks like a Rhode Island Red Rooster and a couple of interestingly colored hens of unknown breed that were given to us shortly before that. Plus we have a rooster 
That we bought to butcher for Chris' class that didn't get butchered.

We let them free range and we love everything about it. Well, everything except the poop and getting into the garden! That's why we have fences...

Just in case you are looking for a little education on how to keep chickens, let me 'esplain a few things:

Here are some reasons to keep chickens:
1.) They produce eggs! If you do it right, raising hens to produce your own eggs can be cheaper and more rewarding than picking up a dozen from the grocery store... IF YOU DO IT RIGHT!
2.) They make great compost! When you manage your chickens properly, you can produce all of the compost you will ever need for your garden and yard.
3.) They can keep your lawn mowed, aerated, and fertilized!
4.) They make great pets... Not necessarily the kind you keep on a leash, but it has been done!

Really the list goes on.

As far as how to keep chickens, it's really simple. Here are some things that your flock will need in order to be happy:

1.) Feed. This can come in the way of food waste in a compost pile and be supplemented with the proper grains, insects from your garden and yard, forage from plants that you planted for them, etc. You'll have to wait for another post from me about feeding chicken's for free or check out this video from Geoff Lawton, or read this book. Both are awesome.

2.)Hen House. The Chickens need some sort of house that will contain the nesting boxes and roosts. This can come in so many different forms and can be anywhere from permanent to movable. There are lots of options here!

3.) Roosts. Chickens like to roost at night on sticks, trees, anywhere that is up high and protected. We have a hen house that is currently under construction, but when it's done I'll post photos. Roosting is instinctual for chickens. They'll find some place to roost no matter what so it's important that you give them a specific place to do it or else you'll have to deal with the consequences of birds pooping where you don't want them too!

4.) Nesting Boxes. These boxes provide a designated spot where your chickens can lay their eggs. If you don't have nesting boxes, be prepared to go on egg hunts and find rotten eggs all over your property!

5.) Fencing, and the like. Chickens will go where they want to go. If you need to keep them contained, or restricted from certain areas, then you will need to invest in some sort of fencing, plant borders, and more.

6.) Grit. Chickens don't have teeth. They have a really cool organ called a gullet and   they need grit like sand or oyster shell to "chew" their food. Mostly chickens find their own grit but you can also provide them with it in a dish separate from their food.

If you can have chickens, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences for me as a city-turned-farm-girl.

AND if you want help designing a system for keeping chickens, give us a call! Chris is starting his Permaculture Design Consulting business and needs some clients! Chicken systems are one of the many things he can do for you.