A Halloween Treat for Hens

‘Tis the season of treats – and while we don’t recommend fun-sized candy bars for your birds, the truth is that every once in a while a flock of hard working hens needs a diversion and snack. One treat your chickens will enjoy is a humble and inexpensive bale of straw or hay.

Put a bale in the chicken run and get ready for hen enthusiasm as they gleefully tear it apart. Each bale holds thousands of tiny tasty tidbits hidden amid grass stems. Insects, seeds, and bits of dry green leaves are devoured as chickens quickly convert the rectangular bale into a horizontal mass of vegetation. Leaving the strings intact (or just clipping one and not both) will help ensure your hens don’t act like grade school kids and overeat this “candy”.

Chickens readily attack either hay or straw bales.The former are usually more expensive and may hold more snacks, but straw bales are sometimes easier to find in suburban and urban areas where they are sold for decorations and mulch. Straw and hay bales are often sold in garden and farm supply stores. Prior to Halloween many grocery stores sell them as decorations, but usually with a healthy mark up.They may sell them inexpensively, or even give them away, the day after Halloween.

Not only is a bale a good treat, but your hens need something to do, especially during long winter days when there’s no greenery to scratch in or bugs to chase and snack on. Nothing relieves hen boredom or offers more interesting winter exercise better than tearing apart a bale.

Winter thaws sometimes turn chicken runs into gooey mud, but having an inch or two of fresh straw on the ground insulates the soil, keeping it frozen and reducing mud.  When the ground finally thaws the straw absorbs moisture and offers a better walking surface than gooey mud. By mid-summer the straw will have completely rotted into soil organic matter, leaving only happy chicken memories of tearing the bale apart and finding delicious treats hidden in the stems.

How to Winterize Your Coop

If you live in the north like me, the nights are getting chilly, the leaves are changing and there has even been some frost on the pumpkins in the mornings. All this means…winter is coming! Whether we want it to or not, it will soon be upon us. So instead of scrambling with frozen fingers when it’s really cold and snowy, prepare your coop now for a healthy flock through winter.

Check the health of your birds. Any health issues will be exacerbated by the cold weather. Treat any ailments, keep waterers and feeders topped off so their immune systems are at their peak.

Things to do:

Clean and disinfect feeders, waterers and perches

  • Healthy birds require a clean environment. Wash away any microorganisms that have grown happy in the warm weather.
  • Perches and laying boxes are often forgotten during cleaning. Birds spend a lot of time in these places and bacteria are plentiful! Don’t forget these spots.

Muck out and deep-bed your coop

  • Remove the bedding you use in your coop and replace with a thick layer of pine shavings, sawdust or straw.
  • Pile the bedding up against the walls or leave a few bales of straw in your coop so if you need to remove some bedding during the winter during cleaning, you don’t have to haul fresh bedding in.
  • Piles of straw provide a warm place for chickens to cuddle through the coldest weather.
  • Don’t forget to place straw or other bedding in the nesting boxes. Soft, dried grass makes a great (free!) nest that protects eggs from cracking.

Feed and supplement your birds correctly

  • Chickens need a source of calcium all year, so don’t neglect providing oyster shells in winter.
  • To stimulate the scratching instinct and keep birds entertained, provide scratch grains periodically.
  • To beat boredom, consider adding a Scratch Block to the coop for a healthy distraction!

Check for drafts

  • Drafts can cause respiratory problems and sickness in your flock.
  • Check for drafts where your chickens roost and spend most of their time when in the coop.
  • Make any repairs to your chickens’ house while the weather is still fair.

Set up any heat lamps and water heaters

  • Develop a plan so your chickens have access to fresh, unfrozen water 24 hours a day.
  • Frozen water isn’t any fun. Set up your heating devices early so you’re prepared and safe.
  • If you use a heat lamp, make sure you have a spare bulb on hand.

Hopefully this got you thinking and adding to your winter-prep to-do list. I know I have a big list for my husband and I to work on in the coming weeks!

Keeping a Rooster

Neighbors of a family keeping a few backyard hens may not even be aware there are chickens nearby. Hens cackle occasionally but the sound doesn’t carry. Roosters, however, are a different story. They announce the dawn with repeated crows that can permeate a large neighborhood, advertising the presence of a chicken flock. Because so many people don’t appreciate an early morning racket, most towns that allow people to keep hens forbid roosters.

However, keeping a rooster is an interesting part of the poultry raising experience and those who can legally keep one enjoy the interesting dynamics he brings to the flock. Fertile eggs and gorgeous colored feathers are bonuses added by a male bird, even though he lays no eggs and eats costly feed.

Roosters grow larger than hens of the same breed and have an instinct to protect the girls. While some roosters are non-aggressive and never threaten humans, others work overtime to intimidate an approaching human.

If a rooster is to be part of the flock a few tips may help in keeping him a more pleasant experience:

  • Acquire a rooster that’s not overly aggressive.  This is easier said than done, as the personality of the bird may not be known until he’s well established.   If buying a rooster from someone who has several ask for the one that’s least aggressive.
  • Never let the rooster intimidate you or any other human. An aggressive rooster will try to make a person number two on the pecking order. He will puff up his feathers, cluck or crow loudly, and aggressively approach a person. The bird must be convinced that humans are number one and he’s number two on the pecking order. Once he recognizes that he is number two, you should get along peacefully.
  • Keep children safe. Young kids are not much taller than a big rooster, and the bird could attempt to intimidate them resulting in a traumatic experience for children.

How to Hold Chickens Properly

You may have some chickens that allow you to catch and hold them with no complaint. Other birds, however, may be a bit more cautious. Orpingtons, Brahmas, and a few other heavy breed chickens seem to enjoy being caught and held. Sometimes they’ll even sit quietly perched on an arm or hand, especially if they are held frequently while being softly talked to.

Unfortunately, they are the exception.  Most birds don’t like being held and furiously flap their wings and can kick, which risks an injury to the bird or to the handler. This unruly behavior can generally be avoided by using a simple technique:

  • Once you have caught the chicken, gently but firmly grab the bird with both hands –  one hand over each wing so she can’t flap her wings.
  • Manipulate the bird so she is facing the opposite direction from you.
  • Tuck her between your ribs and upper arm. This prevents flapping and helps keep the bird calm.
  • She’ll still try to kick, and this can be prevented by holding her legs between the fingers of the hand pinning her body between ribs and arm.
  • This leaves your other hand and arm free to gently pet her, or to part the downy feathers on her rear end to search for parasites, or to check the pelvis to determine when hens are about to begin to lay
picture of man holding a hen

Upcycle your empty feed bags #2 – Garden Planter Tutorial

Here is another great tutorial from our friend Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily:

When you raise animals you naturally end up with lots of empty feed bags. It’s such a shame to just throw the Nutrena feed bags away because they are really pretty, as well as sturdy and water-resistant.  Why not sew some of yours into these cute patio garden planters? They are functional and light enough that you can move them around as needed into the sun or shade. The bag drains really well but also holds moisture. One of these planters with some started fruits, veggies or flowers would also make a great Mother’s Day gift or housewarming present!

 

Here’s what you’ll need:
One Nutrena feed bag,  rinsed off and dried
Cotton webbing (or fashion straps from the excess you cut off the feed bag)
Piece of window screen
Potting soil
Seeds or plant starts
Coordinating spool of thread and bobbin
Sewing machine fitted with a 90/14 medium-weight needle
Tape measure
Pinking shears
Sewing scissors
Straight Pins

Here’s what you do:
Cut about 8 inches from the bottom and four inches from the top of the bag.  Turn the bag inside out and sew a straight line across the bottom edge, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance.  Then with the seam side facing up, fold each bottom end into a triangle to form the flat bottom and sew across each diagonally, about four inches from the point.

Cut across, removing the triangle tip of each end, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance.

Fold the top of the bag over twice and pin some cotton webbing in place to make handles. The handles don’t need to be very long nor fancy since they will only be used to move the bag on occasion as needed.

After sewing a zigzag stitch along the lower seam, flip the handles up and sewed a straight stitch seam along the top edge to secure the handles in place.

Turn the bag right side out and cut some generous drainage holes in the bottom with scissors and then cut a piece of window screen to fit on the bottom to help hold the soil in the bag and put it in place.

I placed the bag up on two bricks on our back patio to elevate it off the ground and allow for better drainage and then filled it to within an inch of the top with some composted soil from our compost pile.  I planted some lettuce, kale and Swiss Chard seeds and then covered them with more soil and watered them well. 

A wide variety of mini crops can be planted in a bag container like this. I chose cold weather crops that are hardy enough to be planted early in the year but other vegetables with shallow root systems would work just fine as well.  Strawberries would make a beautiful bag of goodies also.

In a week or so, your bag should look like this and in a few more weeks be ready for picking! 

What could possibly be better than fresh greens right by your back door?  The bags can be emptied, rinsed off and reused, or used several times through the growing season for different harvests.

Tutorial courtesy of Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily
www.fresh-eggs-daily.com

 

 

Upcycle your empty feed bags: garden/chore apron tutorial

Do you ever wish there was something fun you could do with all those empty feed bags? In the tutorial below, courtesy of Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily, you’ll learn make this fun and easy care apron from one or two of those empty feed sacks!

Nutrena feed bags are not only attractive and use vibrant colors, they are also made of waterproof material.  I thought the pattern on this particular Nutrena Layer feed bag would be a natural for a garden apron that will not only keep you clean, but be a cinch to hose off when you’re done. This apron would also be perfect for washing the car, mucking stalls, tending to a sick or injured hen, or any other messy chores. If you’re the least bit crafty you can whip up an apron in just minutes! 

Here’s what you’ll need:
One Nutrena feed bag, rinsed off and dried (you’ll need a second one if you choose to add the optional pocket along the bottom)
Two 30″ long pieces of webbing or wide ribbon for the waist ties
Coordinating spool of thread and bobbin
Sewing machine fitted with a 90/14 medium-weight needle
Tape measure
Pinking shears
Sewing scissors
Straight Pins

Here’s what you do:
Cut off the bottom of the bag and then cut straight up the back of the bag so it lies flat. 

Centering your cut depending on the design on the bag you choose, cut out your apron using the measurements below.

 From one of the discarded side panels, cut your neck strap to measure 26″ long and 2 1/2″ wide.  If you choose to add the optional pockets, cut a piece from a second bag the same width and 10″ high to match the design of lower portion of your apron.

 

To assemble your apron, fold each long edge of your neck strap over so it ends up being about 3/4″ wide and then sew using a zig zag stitch up one side and down the other to secure.

 Sew along the top edge of your pocket then align where it will go on your apron and pin it in place.

Turn the curved edges along the sides of the apron under about 1/4″ and pin, then turn all the straight edges over 1/2″ and then 1/2″ again and also pin in place, positioning your neck strap and two side ties in place and securing them also with pins.

 Tuck your neck strap and side ties under the seam allowance and then flip them over into place.

Starting at the bottom edge, sew all the way around along the seam, removing the pins as you go.

 

To make your pocket compartments, sew straight up from the bottom edge to the top of the pocket – one or two times depending on how many sections you want. 

And you’re done! 

 (apron without the optional row of pockets along the bottom)

(apron with the pockets)

Your apron can be hosed off, sponged off, or even tossed in the washing machine.  I wouldn’t put it in the dryer though. And don’t try to iron it unless you use a cloth in between the iron and the apron.  Same goes for using this as a bbq apron….while not flammable, the apron WILL melt if touched with an open flame or hot bbq utensil, so use caution and common sense.

Tutorial courtesy of Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily
www.fresh-eggs-daily.com

Keeping Hens and Horses

A recent post on our Nutrena Chicken and Poultry Feed Facebook page asked an outstanding question – is it okay to let my chickens out in the pasture to range with my horse? Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed seperately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.