Monday, July 27, 2015

Chicken Feed

We've owned chickens for 4 years and have come a long way.  We certainly were novices when we started out.  Even the basic information on what to feed them was foreign to us.  Fortunately, our local Atwoods store, where we bought our first chicks, makes things easy for new chicken owners by providing a basic starter kit that includes a little feeder, waterer, heat lamp and a bag of chick feed.  So, home we came with our new babies and got them all set up to start life in grand style.

Reality, however, set in a few weeks later when they outgrew their brooder and we had to improvise a bigger pen for them until we could get their permanent home ready.  By the time we got their coop ready, they were looking more like mature chickens than baby chicks, and we realized we could not feed them chick feed forever.  So, back to Atwoods we went to look at the alternatives.  As it turns, out there are a variety of poultry feeds and it can be somewhat confusing.  So, here's the low-down on what we have learned.

Below is a picture of the kinds of feeds we currently have on hand.

The bowl on the left contains an all purpose "growth" formula.  It contains high protein and can be fed to all poultry regardless of their age.  The middle bowl contains "layer" formula.  It is lower in protein, but high in calcium and is meant for mature hens who are actively laying eggs.  The calcium helps make the eggshells strong.  Layer formula should not be fed to young chickens, as they are actively growing and need more protein than it contains.

When introducing young chickens who are not as yet laying (these are called pullets) into a flock of older hens, you can feed the entire flock the growth formula until the pullets begin to lay eggs.  Then, switch them all over to layer formula.  It is a good idea to put out some calcium in the form of ground up oyster shells while you have the flock on growth formula to give the laying hens the calcium they need for strong eggshells.

The last bowl contains "scratch" feed.  This is a mixture of several grains, such as cracked corn and millet.  It should only be used as a treat because it does not contain enough protein.  I keep it in a kitty litter bucket in the shed next to their coop and give them a couple of handfuls each day.  They have learned to recognize that bucket and get all excited when I bring it out.

Once the bucket is open, they can hardly wait to get at it.

 I normally just throw the scratch feed out on the ground and let them peck it up off the ground.  They love it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Organizing the Chicken Coop

I had a brilliant idea last week.  It involved devising a way to make our chicken coop a little more organized.  First of all, our chicken coop is very small, just 6 feet by 11 feet.  Inside the coop we have 3 nest boxes and the waterer on one of the long sides, 2 roost bars along short end opposite the door and the feeder opposite the nest boxes.  So, it is pretty crowded in there. 

I like to provide the girls with grit and a calcium source.  The grit helps them digest their food and the calcium helps keep their eggshells strong.  The calcium source is either oyster shell or crushed up eggshells.  Until last week, I put the grit and calcium source in clay flower pot saucers which I set on the coop floor.  The drawback to this is the chickens either scratch out the contents, or they step on the saucers, turn them over and spill most of the contents. 

Last week I was trying to figure out a way to keep the saucers from turning over.  I tried setting a brick on them.  This kept the saucers from being upended, but the chickens still scratched the contents out onto the floor.  So, I was thinking if perhaps I built a low shelf up off the floor, then it might keep them from scratching the grit and calcium out.  One idea led to another and here is what I came up with.

This shelf is just big enough to hold 2 saucers.  They are held in place by a couple of "hooks" made from 2X4 pieces.  Here's a closer look at how the hooks work.

The saucer lip fits under the hook to keep it from being tipped over and the shelf is low enough the chickens have no trouble reaching the saucers.  Also, being up off the floor keeps the contents from being scratched out, as well as keeps the saucers from picking up debris from the floor.

This was a simple project using materials we already had on-hand and it does not take up much space in our already crowded coop.  However, I have to admit that I only came up with the idea, but enlisted Tom's help with cutting the board and hooks.  I'm a little squeamish about using power saws.  They give me the creeps.  But, don't you agree it was a brilliant idea!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Smart Pots

I am a dedicated fan of the program Oklahoma Gardening on our local PBS station OETA.  In fact, ninety percent of the programs I watch are on that station, but that is beside the point.  A few months ago, I watched a segment where they were using "Smart Pots".  These are produced by an Oklahoma wholesale company.  Here's a link to their website.

These are soft-sided fabric containers that can be used to grow a wide range of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants.   Technically, they are called "aeration bags".  The cloth provides aeration to the roots to encourage healthy growth. I decided to give these a try and ordered two of them.  Here is one of them filled with potting soil.

The fabric sides encourage roots to "air prune" or branch when they encounter the edge of the container.  This prevents roots from circling around the container.   The smart pot stays cooler than many other containers because it is breathable and able to release heat through the fabric.

Smart Pots are being extensively used by a Canadian non-profit organization that spreads awareness of urban agriculture.  One of their prominent demonstration sites is located at Quebec’s National Assembly.  This site showcases edible gardens in 200 square feet of bed space using Smart Pots.

I planted a parsley plant in one of the pots I purchased.

I have trouble getting parsley to produce well in our hot Oklahoma summers.  I'm hoping that using this Smart Pot will help with that.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preserving Garden Goodness - Zucchini

Summer is here, along with zucchini season!  Zucchini is such a versatile summer squash and can be used in so many different ways.   However, it is also very prolific and sometimes you get an oversupply.  You hear jokes about folks sneaking around at night leaving bags of zucchini on their neighbor's doorstep.  This blog article gives you an option to that.

First, trim the ends off the zucchini and shred it, either using a food processor or by hand.  Being the lazy person I am, I used my food processor.

Next, measure the shredded zucchini into one-cup portions.

Place each portion in a sandwich bag.

Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can with your hand.

Fold the bag over and squeeze more air out of the bag.  Then, place the folded sandwich bag inside a freezer bag, like this.  You can put several sandwich bags of zucchini in each freezer bag.  Label and date the package and freeze.

There are lots of recipes for using grated zucchini.  A quick search of the internet revealed squash patty recipes, Julia Child's zucchini sauteed with butter and shallots recipe, scrambled eggs with zucchini, a whole plethora of recipes on Pinterest and, of course, zucchini bread, zucchini cake and zucchini cookies!

So, don't let zucchini season get you down.  You don't have to sneak around in the dark leaving your extra zucchini on your neighbor's doorstep.  You now have an option that will allow you to enjoy your zucchini all year long.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Native Pollinator Workshop

Earlier this month, we attended a workshop at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  The workshop we attended was titled "The 3 B's - Bees, Butterflies and Beneficials" and focused on how to identify and attract native beneficial and pollinating insects.

We got some very nice handouts, including a couple of books.

For years, agriculture has relied on honeybees to pollinate crops.  Believe it or not, they are more valuable for pollination than for the honey they produce.  In fact, a huge industry has developed around renting bee hives to farmers for pollination purposes.  Here's an article about how honeybees are used to pollinate the almond blossoms in California and the costs involved.  

This article was written in 2012.  At that time, the average cost for hive rental was $150/hive.  During the workshop, we learned that since then the average cost has risen to $350/hive!  Honeybee populations have declined drastically the last few years due to disease and something called "colony collapse disorder".  The reasons for this decline are not well understood, but it is generally thought to be a combination of several factors.  Here's a good article by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the issue.

However, there are other types of insects that pollinate crops.  In fact, honeybees were brought over from Europe by the colonists and are not even native to the United States, and we have plenty of native pollinators that can do the job as well.  The workshop focused on identifying these insects and learning how to attract them.

Here is the agenda for the workshop.

During the morning session, a woman from the Xerces Society (Xerces Society) presented a slide show that was very interesting and informative.

After lunch, we had a tour of the Kerr Center gardens and observed the native plants they were using in their flower beds.  

During the tour, we took pictures of insects we saw on the plants and texted them to a Kerr Center employee who put them into a slide show that we viewed after the tour.  The gal from the Xerces Society helped us identify them.  Here are a couple of pictures I took.

I find myself noticing more insects now.  It's not unusual to find me cocking my head and peering at some winged creature on a flower.... some of them stinging insects!  I'll swear there were there were 4 or 5 different kinds of wasps working over the flowers on my fennel plants this morning.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Girl Scout Chicken

This week I want to report on a fun experience that Bossy (see previous blog post Meet the Chickens) and I had at a recent Girl Scout day camp.  We were invited by Bailey Norwood to come out and give the girls a hands-on learning experience with a live chicken.  

We arrived just in time for the girls' afternoon Popsicle break.  Bossy was given luxury accommodations with food and water.

She was quite concerned when we first arrived, but settled down after a while and strutted around for all to see.

We had an attentive bunch of girls.  They asked a lot of questions and volunteered a lot of information about chickens they had seen.  Several of them had chickens at home or had grandparents who had chickens and they were eager to share everything they knew.  :-)

I brought along a few "props", such as some of the chicken feed we use, some grit chickens need to help them grind their food and some nesting material that we put in the nest boxes.  I passed these around and let them feel of the different items.  This seemed to keep their attention.

All in all, the visit appeared to be a success.  It would be interesting to hear what sort of stories the girls took home to their parents about the "chicken lady" and her chicken!  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Meet the Chickens - The Young Girls

The last installment of "Meet the Chickens" introduced the Old Girls.  This one introduces the Young Girls.  These are the chickens we got in the Spring of 2014.  They are now in their prime egg-laying years and are fat and sassy.  These hens are Rhode Island Reds, or RIRs as they are often referred to.  They are a deep dark red, as you can see below.  This one is named Bossy.

She got that name because she has always been very vocal, even from the time she was very young.  She clucks and fusses at us as if she is bossing us around.  Bossy is the only RIR in our flock that has a "stand-up" type comb, as opposed to a "rose" comb, as shown below.

Next is Matilda.  See the difference between her comb and Bossy's?

Also, notice that she has a growth over her right eye.  She has had this for most of her life.  It does not seem to bother her, but it makes her easy for us to identify.  The problem with pure bred chickens, like RIRs, is they all look alike and are sometimes difficult to tell apart. 

Next, we have Big Bertha.

She and Little Bertha are very difficult to tell apart unless you see them together.  Big Bertha is slightly larger than Little Bertha.  In the blog article Incarcerated Chicken, I misidentified the hen who became "broody" and wanted to set on the clutch of eggs as Big Bertha.  As it turns out, that chicken was Little Bertha below.

Notice she has an orange tie on her leg.  I put that on her when I realized that I had confused the two chickens in the blog article.  Hopefully, I won't make that mistake again!