Archive | September, 2016

All About Eggs; Part 3: Chicken Behavior and Other Miscellany

23 Sep

Since raising backyard chickens has soared in popularity, there are many blogs about chicken behavior. A lot of that is different when you are raising large numbers of birds and moving them between homes in summer and winter. We are constantly learning how best to deal with our chickens.

Winter is not a fun time for chickens. They don’t really like getting out and about if there is too much snow. Because of this they spend a lot of time with the coop doors open, but very few venture outside. This can cause some stir crazy chickens. When chickens get stir crazy, they start pecking on each other. (Think of your kids being cooped up in the house too long.) Pecking can quickly get out of hand. If blood is drawn on a chicken, everyone joins in and can peck a bird to death.

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Inside the winter coop.

We have tried many things to keep our chickens entertained in the winter, some kind of silly, but the best seems to be having scratch grains available all the time. Enter; barley. We have been feeding free choice barley for the past year and sprouting it in winter for fodder, and have had very few pecking issues.

When spring arrives and we move chickens from their winter home to the Winnebeggo, they are really befuddled. We prepare to move the chickens in early spring, by parking the Winnebeggo next to the chicken coop the day before, then wait until dark when the girls have roosted for the night. Andrew and I then don headlamps, catch sleeping chickens, and put them in the Winnebeggo. Early the next morning, we move the Winnebeggo and accompanying gear to pasture. We have to make sure to move the Winnebeggo far from the chicken coop, or the chickens will find their way back to the coop and we will spend much of our summer trying to catch chickens in the coop and shuttling them back to the Winnebeggo. It doesn’t matter to the chickens that living conditions are far better on pasture; they are creatures of habit.

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Winnebeggo’s maiden voyage.

One of the first issues we encounter when moving to the Winnebeggo, is that the first few days in it, the chickens are clueless about where to roost at night. They figure out the nest boxes fairly quickly, but when night falls we are faced with chickens roosting mostly under the Winnebeggo. We spend several nights crawling under the Winnebeggo, catching chickens and putting them inside. In an earlier post I explained there is usually a manure buildup under the Winnebeggo, therefore, catching these chickens is not a pleasant job. Luckily, after a few nights of doing this they start to figure out we would like them to roost inside.

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Chickens roosting under the Winnebeggo.

Egg eating can be another problem. Like us, chickens love the taste of pasture raised eggs. If an egg breaks, which they do sometimes, they will race to eat it. This can develop into a habit of chickens breaking eggs themselves and eating them. We try to control this by keeping next boxes very dark, so they can’t see the eggs. They prefer dark nest boxes to lay in anyway, so this seems to keep egg breakage and eating to a minimum.

Because they are allowed to free range, our chickens like to find other places besides nest boxes to lay their eggs. I spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where they might have lain their eggs and have found clutches of eggs in some unbelievable places. These eggs can’t be used for human consumption, so when this happens, our dogs usually get a treat. We had a chicken hatch 8 chicks last summer because she hid her nest too well in an abandoned pig waterer.

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Broodiness, or a hen trying to hatch a clutch of eggs, is a problem we deal with regularly in spring and summer. When a hen “goes broody” she doesn’t lay eggs, neglects her own health, and takes up space in the nest box. Some breeds are more prone to broodiness, so we take that into consideration when choosing a breed. We have tried many methods to try to break a hen’s broodiness, but what seems to work best is Chicken Prison.

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Chicken prison is built with a small mesh wire floor to allow for maximum air circulation. When chickens are broody, their chest/breast area is very warm to the touch due to hormonal changes that prepare them to incubate their eggs. The theory is that if you can cool them down and not allow a comfy dark space to nest, they will get over being broody. Usually a week in chicken prison will do the trick. We also use chicken prison for injured birds.

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Someone on this farm is a comedian.

 

Last in the Series: Part 4: Predator Problems and Solutions

Kahlua Pulled Pork

15 Sep

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Although we love smoked meats, our time in the summer is very limited, so we take shortcuts. If you have the ability to smoke your pork in a smoker, this recipe is not for you. After searching and trying several pulled pork recipes, we have come up with one we think is best, and easiest. The recipe uses liquid smoke, but before you discount using this “fake” ingredient, remember all liquid smoke is not the same. It is possible to get a more natural product.  Read all about liquid smoke on Serious Eats website:

www.seriouseats.com/2013/11/pantry-essentials-liquid-smoke.html

Here is a shortcut to get some delicious pulled pork.

One 3# pork roast ( shoulder and fresh, uncured ham works best for shredding)

2 tsp Hawaiian sea salt

2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Pierce pork all over with a carving fork. Rub salt then liquid smoke over meat. Place roast in a slow cooker.
  2. Cover, and cook on Low for 16 to 20 hours, turning once during cooking time.
  3. Remove meat from slow cooker, and shred, adding drippings as needed to moisten.
  4. Serve on buns with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Cooking time can be shortened by cooking part of the time on the high setting. Also, recipe can easily be doubled. […]

All About Eggs; Part 2: What Makes Our Eggs Different?

7 Sep

Aside from the color variations of the shells, most people who try our eggs notice their bright yellow yolk and rich taste. This is due to our chickens being out on pasture as much as possible.

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(Our eggs on the left, other nameless “free range” eggs on the right.)

Additionally, studies have shown the superior nutrition of eggs from chickens raised on pasture. Mother Earth News conducted such studies and here is what they found. Compared to commercially raised eggs, pastured eggs contained:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat

• 2/3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E

• 7 times more beta carotene

And 4 to 6 times more Vitamin D

 

To maximize our ability to keep our hens on pasture, Andrew designed and built what we call the “Winnebeggo”.

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Winnebeggo on the right, me and Chuckwagon in the middle. Bullit in the foreground.

This is a mobile home for the chickens where they live from the time pasture first appears in the spring until their water starts freezing in the fall. The Winnebeggo has nest boxes in which the chickens lay their eggs and roost bars where they roost at night, allowing us to lock them up and keep them safe from night time predators. It has no lounging area which forces the chickens to do their lounging out on the pasture, thereby encouraging them to eat more bugs and grass. This is what produces the bright yellow yolk color and rich flavor.

I have seen firsthand, farms who call their eggs pasture raised where chickens roamed around in a single fenced dirt paddock. In all fairness, those paddocks may have been grass in the beginning, but a chicken’s natural behavior is to scratch the ground and they can turn a grass paddock into a dirt paddock very quickly. If you buy your eggs elsewhere, be sure to ask if the hens are on actual pasture or in a dirt yard.

We move the Winnebeggo once every two days to a fresh piece of pasture.  It is moved so often is because the floor of the Winnebeggo, under the roost bars, is a wire floor, which allows chicken manure to fall through to the ground below. When chickens wake up in the morning, the first thing they do, before moving from the roost is…..you guessed it, poop. If we allowed that manure to build up on the ground for more than a couple of days, the concentration of fertilizer would burn up our pasture. By moving them regularly, we spread natural fertilizer on our pasture and have no chicken house to clean out. Win – Win!

Chickens cannot survive on pasture alone, so they are provided free choice feed while out on pasture. Because we keep the Winnebeggo far away from the barn and the food and water sources,  Andrew devised what he calls the “Chuckwagon”, a mobile food and water system.

Once the chickens’ water starts freezing in the fall, and the pastures become dormant, we are forced to move the girls into their conventional chicken house. They are still allowed unlimited access to the outdoors during the day and locked up at night.

Because we believe in the value of the chickens eating green stuff all year, last winter I started growing barley fodder to feed once they were moved to the chicken house. Fodder is made by sprouting and growing seed indoors under grow lights. We sprout non-GMO barley we grew on out farm last year. Producing enough fodder for 400 plus chickens is very labor intensive, but I must admit it is fun seeing how much the chickens enjoy seeing me arrive in the morning with their winter “pasture”. They flock” to me. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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This photo shows fodder about half way through the growing process. Once it is ready to feed, the growth looks like a thick lush carpet of barley grass. The chickens also eat barley unsprouted, free choice year round in addition to their regular feed.

Up next: Part 3: Chicken Behavior and Other Miscellany