Free-Ranging Your Chickens

Free-ranging your chickens can seem idyllic and peaceful. Watching them roam in the backyard, pecking at bugs, can be soothing. But in reality, there are some dangers to be aware of. Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart offers some tips for the care and feeding of your free range flock in this video.

 

Helpful tips:

  • Chickens will eat ticks as well as many other bugs that infest gardens
  • Free range makes chickens more vulnerable to predators, so be sure to place them in the coop at night
  • Egg Producer provides them a healthy balanced diet so they’ll continue to lay eggs

 

Bedding in the Coop

When it comes to bedding in the chicken coop, there are lots of options for backyard flock owners to choose from. Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares his thoughts on the most common types, and the pros and cons of each.

 

Helpful tips:

  • Shavings and straw are the two most commonly used types of bedding
  • Do not use sawdust as it can cause respiratory issues
  • Avoid redwood and cedar as some woods carry toxins that can cause respiratory and eye issues
  • Use natural dirt or sand to lay down underneath the bedding
  • Your nose will tell you how often to change the bedding

 

Egg Production in Backyard Chickens

One of the most obvious benefits of raising backyard chickens is the eggs you get. But how does the laying cycle work? And how many eggs will a chicken lay in her lifetime? Learn answers to these and other questions from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart in this video!

 

Helpful tips:

  • Chickens will start laying at around 20 – 24 weeks of age, depending on the breed
  • Most hens will lay their best in the first three seasons of life
  • Most standard laying breeds will lay around 250 – 300 eggs per year
  • Providing artificial light enables you to get eggs from hens year-round
  • Stress and dehydration can cause hens to stop laying

 

Keeping Chicken Feed Fresh

A big part of keeping your backyard chickens happy and healthy is providing them high quality chicken feed, like those from Nutrena! But if you don’t store your feed properly, no matter what brand you buy, you can run into trouble. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart a few key tips to keeping your feed fresh and your girls happy!

 

Helpful tips:

  • Dump feed in a metal trash can with a lid on it to keep out rodents
  • Save the tag from the feed bag
  • Keep feed in a dry, cool place
  • Buy a little less feed in the summer time, more trips to the feed store

 

Biosecurity in the Coop

If you are raising backyard chickens, you need to consider biosecurity. Not just for your chickens, but for your family as well. Check out this video for Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart’s advice on keeping everyone happy and healthy.

Helpful tips:

  • Don’t kiss your chickens!
  • Wash your hands after you handle chickens
  • Have a pair of “coop shoes” that you do not wear anywhere else
  • Do not borrow equipment from friends
  • If you bring in a chicken from someone, quarantine them for a minimum of three weeks

 

Feeding Chick Starter

If you are bringing home baby chicks soon, you’ll need to know what to feed, and how to feed it. Listen in as Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares tips on properly feeding chicks for a healthy start and a long life.

Helpful tips:

  • Use baby chick starter crumble. Lay crumble calcium content is too high and may damage kidneys of the chicks.
  • Chicks may pick out larger pieces of crumble if they have a hard time eating them.
  • Feed chicks as much as they want as they self-regulate.
  • Medicated chick starter helps to prevent coccidiosis. It is not an antibiotic.

 

Chickens in the Garden

Few foods are as appealing to a hungry chicken as a bunch of young lettuce or spinach sprouts poking through the spring soil. Given the chance, a few hens will quickly devour plants intended for their owner’s kitchen.

Ironically, few soil additives are as appreciated by lettuce, spinach and other vegetables as chicken manure. Plants seem to leap from the ground and produce human food in abundance when stimulated by the droppings that chickens produce every day.

The trick to achieving both healthy chickens and an abundant garden is managing the flock in a way that the hens help the gardener instead of their gobbling down valued veggies.

Here are a few ways to manage a flock for garden abundance:

The Double-Run System

Probably the best and easiest way to manage a flock and garden is to create a double run. The chicken run is simply the fenced in area where the birds enjoy daylight hours lounging, dusting their feathers, and foraging for seeds, insects, tender sprouts, and bits of stone that helps their digestion. Over the course of the day they deposit their droppings randomly.

Most coops have just a single run, but often the owner can convert this into a double-run system. The bigger and sunnier the area the better.

Stretch a wire mesh fence six or eight feet tall to split the run roughly in half. Devise a way to allow the chickens to access only one side of the run at a time. The rest is easy.

In one gardening season let the hens into only one side. Plant the garden in the other. Next year, reverse it. It’s an outstanding way to rotate crops and nutrients.

Seasonal Helpers

Many flock owners don’t have enough room to create the double-run system described above. They can still use chickens to help with gardening chores.

For most common garden vegetables, it’s vital to keep the birds excluded during the growing season. Otherwise they’ll harvest the crops. However, usually there are several weeks after the snow melts but before it’s warm enough to plant seeds. Come fall once the season’s last vegetables are harvested, there is often a long cooling window of time until the ground freezes and snow falls. These are prime times for chickens to enjoy gleaning tasty morsels from the garden.

Chickens have superb vision, strong legs and feet, and nimble pointed beaks. They gleefully spend hours scratching up the soil. Humans might call it tilling. Their sharp eyes spot tiny weed seeds and insect eggs and larvae. Their pointed beaks snatch them from the soil and turn them into delicious protein filled food. Chickens remove the seeds and bugs that can pester next year’s vegetable plants and convert them to food.

Turn a flock loose in early spring or late fall and hens will usually head right for the rich garden soil hiding delicious goodies, but there’s a way to encourage them to target the places that need the most chicken foot rototilling. Bait them by scattering a few handfuls of dried mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds – those in the hull – in the garden and rake them gently into the soil. Hens love mealworms and sunflower seeds. In the process of hunting these goodies they’ll loosen and soften the soil and discover hidden insects and weed seeds.

Excluding Chickens from The Garden

Many people can’t let their chickens forage in the garden, but they can still blend vegetable and chicken husbandry. It’s simple. Weeds and vegetable waste mixed with chicken manure and manure-laden litter decay into outstanding compost. Work the compost into the soil before seed planting and watch the vegetables flourish upward.

Much research is being done on the benefits of using chickens to restore degraded grasslands in China and Europe. Essentially scientists are finding how helpful it is to let hens access land. Dr. Carl Rosier works for the Rodale Institute at Etzel’s Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying ways to improve soils in cropland. “Chicken manure stimulates plant growth and increases soil productivity, water holding capacity, and nutrient retention. In a nutshell chickens, when incorporated into the garden correctly, can help bring balance to the soil ecosystem,” he said.

Many families that keep chickens also enjoy growing beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. It feels good to bring both fresh eggs and crops into the kitchen. Meshing chickens with gardening is a perfect way to maximize food production while improving the soil’s health.