Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chicken Update - Ten Weeks Or What to Feed a Chicken!

Our chicks are growing unbelievably! I can hardly believe that ten weeks ago they were just fuzzy balls! Though they are not up to full size, of course, from a distance they look like real chickens scratching in the dirt with their tail feathers erect.
It has been a month now since we first left then out of the chicken house. That first day we needed to push them out of the house and catch them to get them back in! Birds with very small brains can still learned quickly and the next time we left them out they entered and exited the chicken house on their own.
We had built a small temporary run for them until they were accustomed to the big outside world. Some of them learned they could fly over the fence but then they frantically tried to find a way back in with their friends! After we were certain they knew where "home" was, we took down the fence. Now every morning before work, Ed opens up their door and they eagerly rush for the entrance, squeezing through two or three at a time!
I love the idea of free range chickens. It seems they should enjoy fresh air, exercise and salads as much as I do! And they seem to! They are in and out of their house all day but especially active outdoors in the mornings and evenings. Even a light rain does not seem to discourage them from being out.So far, they have not made it to our garden. We purposely placed the chicken house out in the pasture hoping they would find plenty to occupy them there. But each day they seem to be a few feet closer to the pasture fence, so it may be only a matter of time. I am hoping they don't discover the garden until the seeds are up and plants established. Then I'd love if they visit the garden and eat bugs and deposit their contributions without harming anything! Is that wishful thinking? I know that chicken scratching can be very destructive. I also don't want them visiting the neighbors. Though we have almost three acres, our lot is narrow and the border between us and our neighbor is quite close to the chicken house. Already their favorite place seems to be a our neighbor's thicket in the fence row. As long as they don't get any further, I don't think they'd mind. We may need to make a permanent run for them but I'm hoping it is not necessary.
We were hoping to save some money in chicken feed by feeding our chickens some home grown food. I've heard that if you want your chickens to eat table scraps and such, you need to start them young. So, as soon as the first spring grass sprouted, the children and I would gather hand fulls and throw it into the chicken house. We've also given them kale, lettuce and potato peelings. They ate all of it eagerly, until we began letting them out on the pasture. Now apparently they are getting enough greens on their own and they are not as interested in the things we pick for them. We still give them grain each evening and they rush for the feed trough when we fill it. Hopefully some of their food requirements are being met by grazing.
I still enjoy observing them. I watched one chicken this week devour several dandelion seed heads. How's is that for a great free food?!

I've read that chickens will only be vegetarians if they are forced to. We've seen them eat earthworms and once we saw them carrying a baby bird. I've heard that they will even eat mice.
Our son has become The Terror of the Chicken Yard! He loves chasing the chickens! He stands at their door waiting for one of them to poke it's head out and tries to pet it! He certainly has no fear! But they do! They run for their house when they see him coming!

I've planted my garden somewhat with the chickens in mind. I'm especially trying to grow some plants that will be harvested late in fall and can be kept over winter when there will be little green grass in the pasture. Mangle beets (a huge beet that farmers fed to their livestock in years past), swiss chard, and kale are some of the new (to me) vegetables I've planted. Of course, extra zucchini, greens, and carrot tops can also go to the chickens. I may start a pile near the chicken house for vegetable peelings and such for them to work over. Whatever they leave can be added to the compost pile after a few weeks.

I found several helpful articles on the web on gardening for your animals.
"Animal Gardening" at Countryside Magazine
"The Homestead Poultry Flock" at the Modern Homestead

If any of you have experience in free range chickens, growing your own chicken food, or any other hints for us newbies, I'd love to hear it!
Also, our chicken house is getting full! I think we can now tell the males from the females by the bright red combs and wattles. We really don't need ten roosters! We will probably be sending some of the roosters to auction or butchering them. If you are interested in a pure bred young rooster of the Black Australorp, Speckled Sussex or Partridge Rock breeds, let us know!

1 comment :

  1. Gina,

    Thanks for the update. I have no advice but, enjoyed seeing the pics and reading about them. Good luck with raising them and enjoy the eggs when they come.



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