Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Winter Egg Update

In mid-November I shared that our hens had stopped laying eggs completely due to molting, cold weather and minimal daylight hours. Though chickens can and will lay occasional eggs during cold, dark winter days, we decided not to endure an entire winter of feeding chickens who aren’t ‘giving back’ (or the shame of buying eggs at the grocery store)! After research and input form other homesteaders, we settled on the following plan:
  1. Add artificial light in the early morning hours so that the hens receive at least 14 hours of light a day.
  2. Use an eco-friendly white light in our heat lamp. Saves money and energy.
  3. Avoid using a red heat lamp to insure against the scenario where the chickens get used to the extra heat and we subsequently lose power.
  4. Feed more protein to the flock.

Today I’d like to give you a quick update on the progress of our plan.

First, I bought an outdoor automatic timer found in the holiday lighting section of Menards (less than $10). Though I can only plug one thing into it at a time, it allows me to create several (maybe a dozen?) different schedules for times of the day and days of the week. We’ve opted to turn our light on from 2:30 AM to 8:30 AM every morning. It’s a little longer than necessary, but based on the shifting time of the sunrise it will keep us covered without me having to remember to revise the schedule. (Call me lazy…)

The day after I finally go the light installed I went out to feed the chickens. I peeked into the coop from the door opposite the nesting box to see if there were any eggs. (I’d been doing this for several weeks – since the chickens hadn’t laid in egg in sooo long – and because it’s easier then hopping the fence to get to the nesting box.) I noticed that an egg was laying on the floor of the coop below the nesting box; it must have rolled out. How exciting! We had an egg! I hadn’t expected the light to work so quickly…

I hopped the fence, opened the nesting box and, imagine my surprise, when I discovered 16 eggs! No wonder one had rolled out…

The lesson: Yes, chickens still lay winter eggs naturally in the absence of supplemental light and heat.

True as this may be, I had no idea how many eggs per day this 16 represented (it had been three to four weeks since I’d checked… I think… I wasn’t keeping track) and one egg every few days is still not going to cut it as justification when Mr. Shank is reviewing our feed bill.

At any rate, using the light seemed to work fairly well. The girls started laying about 3 eggs a day. Recently we’ve had several four-egg days.

winter eggs

By adding supplemental light and heat we’ve been getting about three eggs a day.

winter eggs

Three eggs a day ain’t bad!

However, two things happened that made me alter the plan. First, the chickens did seem to be getting restless, even a little aggressive from their 6-hour stints locked up inside the lighted coop. Also, on very super cold days (of which we several in late November/early December) they stopped laying completely. With these things in mind, I decided to switch to the red heat lamp.

red heat light lamp chicken coop

As I mentioned in last month’s winter egg production post, red light has proven to be useful in calming chickens’ nerves. (Weird, right?) I’m certainly not conducting a scientific experiment here, but I can say that the hens seem to be calmer now that we’ve been using the red light. I have no idea if it’s just a factor of time or if it has to do with the warmth of the heat lamp, but the two chickens whose feathers were very sparse have filled back in nicely.

So far things are going well – we’re pleased with three or four eggs a day. I’ve been cooking up food scraps (like carrot peelings, apple cores, sweet potato leftovers, bits of steak, etc.) into a warm batch of… goop… for the hens to enjoy. And though I know they’re a heavy breed intended to withstand winter just fine on their own, I can tell that they’re not fond of the snow. They come out in the morning to eat and drink but usually spend their day in the coop.

I bet they can’t wait for six-eggs-a-day season spring.

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Holiday Henhouse

This is our first winter with chickens. As I was putting up the Christmas decorations this year I thought it would be fun to spread some yuletide cheer to the chicken coop. It’s nothing extravagant, but it makes me feel extra Christmas-y every morning when it’s time to feed the hens and gather the eggs.

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

The coop looks especially neat in the early hours of the morning when our red heat light is still on. (The lamp is currently on from 2:30 am to 8:30 am every morning to provide enough light and heat for egg production.)

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

I’m already looking forward to getting extra-creative with decorating the coop next year.

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Winter Egg Production

If you live in Michigan then you don’t need me to tell you that the weather is getting cold and the days are getting darker. Our yard has already been covered in a dual blanket of leaves and snow several times this month. Another sign at Arcadia Farms that cold weather has arrived can be found in the chicken coop. Or, more specifically, can’t be found in the chicken coop. No eggs. Our hens have stopped laying completely. We’ve been eggless for over a week now.

Making the transition from egg producers to egg consumers has highlighted how blessed we are to have our own chickens. Last Friday my grocery list included eggs for the first time in about six months. I confess that I felt almost like a fraud as I reached into the cooler of eggs at Meijer. In addition to my farmer-shame, I discovered that ‘natural’ eggs at the store are up to $4 a dozen now – Yikes! I’m eager to get our girls back into production, so here’s the plan.

Why Hens Stop Producing Eggs in Fall/Winter

why chickens stop laying eggsIn early October our hens’ egg production slowed to four or five eggs a day rather than the usual six. We suspect that the hens were in the process of molting. Molting is when chickens produce new plumage for winter and shed their summer feathers. The process is aimed at preparing the bird for winter and takes a significant amount of energy to complete. The energy normally spent on egg production is consumed by the molting process.

We’re cool with losing out on a few eggs here and there while we wait patiently for nature to do its thing. Or at least, we were, until nature started to look like an empty nesting box.

Last week our chickens abruptly stopped laying completely. The event coincided with me cleaning out the coop and refreshing the bedding. Though I knew that was an unlikely culprit in the lack of eggs, I decided to keep the hens in their paddock for an entire day to make sure they hadn’t just picked a new favorite spot to nest. No dice eggs.

Thanks to a little research and feedback from a homesteading Facebook group I discovered the other two reasons why chickens stop laying eggs as the weather cools: Lack of warmth and lack of sunlight.

Chickens require about 14 total hours of sunlight per day to produce eggs. An article on Backyard Chickens does an excellent job of explaining why:

“Chickens are ‘told’ to produce eggs by their endocrine system, a system of different glands and organs that produce hormones.  As the daylight hours shorten in winter, changes in these hormones shut down egg production. Adding additional light triggers the endocrine system into action, causing them to produce more eggs. Continuously giving chickens light in the winter fools their bodies into thinking that the days aren’t getting shorter at all.”

Another cold-weather factor impacts egg production is (no surprise here) temperature. Chickens lay best when the ambient temperature is between 52 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures fall outside of those parameters, egg production slows or stops. Also sudden, extreme changes in temperature can trigger an equally sudden stop to egg laying. (If ‘sudden, extreme change in temperature’ doesn’t describe fall in Michigan, I don’t know what does!)

Our hens had already begun molting in early October (with a subsequent drop in eggs) but during the week of our first official snow (which contained a sudden and large drop in ambient temperatures) they stopped producing entirely.

How to Re-Start Egg Production

The prescription for getting our hens producing again is pretty straight forward. Step 1 is to provide more light. After research and discussion with experienced chicken owners, it appears that adding heat and changing diet may be helpful but don’t always prove necessary.

Winter Lighting in the Chicken Coop

Artificial lighting can be used to supplement sunlight and provide chickens with the total 14 hours needed daily to produce eggs when days are short. We’re not able to hardwire a light in our coop at this time so we’ve run an outdoor extension cord to the same light we used to keep our birdies warm when they were chicks.

lighting chicken coop

Based on my research the best practice is to add early-morning light rather than evening light. Additional evening light can have an impact on the birds’ temperaments and might also result in adjusting the birds to be afternoon layers. For some people these potential side effects might not be a burden. In the event of adding evening light, a low-tech way is to turn the light on in the evening when you’d normally turn your house lights on (5:30ish these days) and turning them off when you go to bed. For early-morning light, or for those of you who want a more hands-off approach, installing a timer will do the trick. I plan to spend between $20-$30 at a home improvement store to find the right solution to add early-morning light without having to get up in the wee hours of the morning.

lighting chicken coopI’ve talked to several homesteaders who’ve had success getting their hens to lay in winter by simply using a white light bulb (40 or 60 watt). Using a high efficiency bulb can make this an environmentally and financially friendly option. Meanwhile, using a red heat lamp (like the one used to keep little chicks warm as they grow) costs more to operate; however, the red light may actually be more beneficial to your flock. Research cited by Animalens Inc. shows that chickens who wear red-tinted contact lenses (yes, seriously) “behave differently from birds that don’t. The chickens are calmer, less prone to pecking and cannibalism; the mortality rate is lower. For a variety of reasons, some not fully understood, they also tend to eat less feed while producing, on average, the same size and number of eggs as other chickens (even a bit more).” I’m not itching to run out and buy contact lenses for my chickens (especially at $20 per pair!) but I’m willing to buy the fact that red might be overall better for the disposition (and egg production) of my birdies.

Warming the Chicken Coop in Winter

Of course using a red heat bulb in the coop helps to address both lighting and warming. If red lighting isn’t an option for you, proper insulation will go a long way to helping your chickens to stay warm. Your inclination might be to simply close up the coop tightly, but remember that proper ventilation is important! You don’t want a direct breeze blowing on the place where your hens roost, however, air flow is important to keep molds and mildews from building up as your chickens add heat and moisture (body heat and breath) to the coop. Overarching all of this is the admonition to select birds that do well in winter weather. In general heavier breeds will be more likely to thrive during cold weather.

A good point to keep in mind is that if you heat your coop your chickens will learn to depend on that warmth. What happens then when if you lose power? A natural way to add a small amount of heat to the coop is to use the deep liter method. With this method the decomposition of liter and manure will add some (not sure how much) heat to the coop all winter long.

In addition to what’s around them, chickens can be kept warm by what is in them. One site suggests feeding the chickens corn in the evening so that they are digesting during the night (adding warmth). Warmed water may also help your birds stay warm. You can buy water heaters from a store like Tractor Supply Company.

heated base chicken waterer

Or you could try something like this…

Should We Re-Start Egg Production?

You can see that re-starting egg production (or keeping it from stopping) when the days become short and cold can be very straightforward – add a heat lamp. But before you head out to the coop, consider this: Should you?

Healthy, happy chickens are likely to produce at least some eggs during the winter. Clearly adding artificial light and heat means you’re adding things that naturally-raised chickens have survived without for many, many generations. There’s some debate about whether or not adding artificial light and heat may have long-term negative effects on the health of your chickens. More specifically, there is debate about the health impact on a chicken who is forced to continue laying when she should be molting.

One fact that is not up for debate is whether or not adding artificial light will shorten the laying longevity of a hen. Chickens are born with all the eggs they will ever produce, so, inducing them to lay (by using artificial light) when they naturally would not (cold, light-deprived winter days) is essentially hastening the day when your hen will be ready to retire. For those of you keeping chickens as pets, this is a serious point to consider. For those raising chickens for their eggs, it may be of less concern.

Our Plans

I want to treat our chickens humanely and provide them with a healthy environment. However… I also want eggs. And though I am planning to keep these birdies for their whole life, I’m also planning on their life ending right about the time they stop laying (likely about 3 years). After that, I’ll keep them… in a ½ gallon canning jar on the shelf or sealed in my freezer. You can imagine then that I’m not too concerned about hastening the advent of each hen’s final egg. I am, however, concerned about raising my hens in a way that is healthy for them (and ultimately, my family). I don’t like the idea of our flock adjusting to artificial heat (i.e., red heat bulb) because I worry about the potential harm it could do to them if when we have one of those famous Michigan winter power outages. Though red light may be more soothing than white, my hope is that providing light from a regular bulb will feel more natural when delivered in the morning (kind of like an early sunrise… maybe I’m kidding myself…). If I see a change in temperament in the flock I’ll likely switch to a red light for good since I also read that switching back and forth can be even more stressful than simply using a white light.

I’ll need to do more research, but I’m considering giving our flock a good 4-6 weeks off each fall (October and November) to molt without the presence of artificial light and heat. After that time, then I think I’ll move on to adding artificial white light. What do you think? Any concerns about that plan? Any tips you can provide this rookie chicken-keeper with? You know I appreciate all of it!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Our DIY Chicken Coop from Scrap Materials

chicken coop with metal roof

Chicken Week ended many days ago. All the same, there’s one mildly important feature in our chicken raising plans that I have yet to share with you: Our chicken coop. Why the delay? Well… in short, the coop wasn’t done when I expected it to be. It was scheduled to be completed at the beginning of Chicken Week… and then at the end of Chicken Week… and then… well, the coop was ready early the following week.

That’s how life goes when you approach projects with a do-it-yourself perspective. Our DIY chicken coop was created by Ryan and Papa over the course of about three weeks. (Ryan spent nearly every free moment he had on putting this puppy together). I owe them a huge thanks! Mostly today’s post is a tour of the coop. If you have technical questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to get back to you with the answer.

The Materials

The structure of our coop is made entirely of re-used or re-purposed materials. Most of the framing came from a large, old dog house that I mentioned way back in this post. The remainder came from scrap wood that Papa had in his barn (which is where the coop was built). The metal used for the siding and roof were leftovers from when the barn was built. The area under the peak of the roof was put together using wood from our old kitchen cabinets (we remodeled the kitchen this year). Paint for the doors and trim came from a gallon of outdoor paint I purchased last year for the house (it matches our trim and shutters). The only new materials on the coop are the hardware – hinges, clasps and carabiners to keep racoons out. The coop is currently resting on landscape timbers but will eventually sit on cinder blocks.

The Design

The coop is 4? x 6? in order to provide the recommended 4 square feet of space per bird. Windows on two sides (lined with welded wire secured from the inside) provides for ventilation. Eventually we will also add ventilation at the gable ends. And at some point in the future the windows will receive working shutters to close out drafts on cold nights.

chicken coop window

The window is lined with welded wire to keep critters (especially racoons) out.

chicken coop close up

The front of the coop has two windows and a door.

There are doors on three sides of the coop designed to work with the paddock system we have planned. Having a door on all sides of the coop means that no matter which paddock the chickens are using that week, we can leave one door open during daylight hours for easy in-and-out access at the chickens leisure. The fourth “door” is at the back of the coop; the entire bottom half of the back wall opens on hinges. This not only will allow the hens access to the back paddock but will also enable us to more easily clean out the coop when the time comes. Because we’re using the deep liter method for the bedding, clean outs should be infrequent (somewhere between every 2-6 months). It cost about $11 to (deeply) fill the coop and nesting boxes with pine shavings from Tractor Supply Company.

chcken coop door latch close up

All of the doors and nesting boxes have these high-quality latches which will be used with carabiners to keep predators out.

west chicken coop door

Here are the windows and the door on the west side of the coop.

chcken coop door latch close up

In the back of the coop, the entire back half of the south wall opens up. We still need to add hooks for keeping this door secure while open.

Speaking of deep liter, the floor of the coop is lined with vinyl flooring to make clean up easier. It’s high quality vinyl too – a remnant from my in-law’s kitchen flooring! (Thanks again!!!)

vinyl flooring chicken coop

The floor of the coop is covered in a vinyl remnant for easy clean-up.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

View of the back door from the inside.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

High-quality vinyl flooring (for hens with discriminating taste!).

On the east side of the coop there are two nesting boxes. (You should have one nesting box for every four laying hens; two boxes will be just right for our six girls.) The roof of each box lifts up on hinges for easy access to eggs without having to crawl into the coop. These also close with a latch and carabiner to keep pesky but nimble racoons out.  Nesting boxes are topped with the same metal used for the roof. A metal roof allows us to collect rain water from the coop without worrying about dangerous chemicals from commercial shingles leaching into the water. Our intent is to use the water for the chickens but more design thought and work is needed to make a healthy, sustainable system.

chicken coop nesting box

Based on recommendations I’ve received you should have one nesting box for every four hens. We have two for six hens.

chicken coop nesting box

Boxes open from the outside-top for easy access to eggs.

chicken coop nesting box

Although they weren’t attached at the time of this picture, the nesting boxes have the same latches as the doors.

Inside the coop hens are able to roost on the trusses of the roof structure. There are a few areas that need weatherproofing with a wee bit of caulk. But even with that in mind, it is a very comfortable structure for our hens to call home.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing front of the coop.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing back of the coop.

inside chicken coop

This is a view of the front door from the inside.

DSC03960

Front door and windows.

inside chicken coop

See, I told you the liter would be deep! (Don’t worry, the chickens pack it down some when they scratch.)

front of chicken coop

Everything is ready for the hens to see their new home for the first time!

DSC03971

Just waiting for chickens…

chickens in coop

Bam!

chickens in coop

So much more room than the dog crate brooder! What will they do with all that space?

DSC03980

Security system is operational…

chickens in coop

Welcome home, girls!

What do you think? Any thoughts on how we could make the coop even better? Any innovations you’ve used for your chickens that you think we should consider? As always, I’m 100% open to any ideas you’d like to send our way!

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The Chickens Next Door

The moral of today’s post is that a major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good neighbor… sweater or otherwise.


Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had. Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without hampering your own.

Fencing

People like their privacy. In general, people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about each purpose.

Keeping Chickens In

Many ordinances require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.

Keeping Predators Out

You and I aren’t the only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others. For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.

Controlling Views

View of trees lining a country road against blue skyIf your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property. This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views, you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty, attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout (such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.

Smells

Some people say chickens are smelly. While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just saying…)

All the same, chickens do make waste and depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some good-neighbor ways to address smells.

Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising

The first tactic I recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise your chickens, check out this post.

Frequent Cleaning

Unless your birds are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.

lilac

Lilac flowers

Deep-Liter Method

To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell, you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less often (between one and four times a year).

Fragrant Planting

If your birds have access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom, the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near property lines or both places.

Noises

Even the most docile of chickens will make some noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise on your neighbors.

No Roosters

I love sleep. I wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban settings).

Wind Chimes

Be careful. Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think about wind chimes.

Bring on the Birds

Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!

robin

A Water Feature

If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.

Melodious Plantings

According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens, the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass, quaking aspen and quaking grass.

Other Considerations

We’re fortunate to have great neighbors whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens. Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property. If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will) it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum, they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.

Picking a chicken breed that is docile and quiet is also a good move for suburban chicken owners. Click here and here for resources to help you pick the right breed.

Also, the appearance of your coop is important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).

Being a good neighbor is an important part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the good stuff.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Though the iconic mental picture most of us get when it comes to raising chickens is the standard coop and run, there are many methods for raising chickens. Here’s a quick overview of your options:

  1. Coop and Run. A dwelling for the chickens with an attached, enclosed cage allowing the birds some outdoor space.
  2. Chicken Tractor. A small but moveable pen which is rotated around a pasture, usually every week.
  3. Truly Free Range. Allowing birds to find their own food, water and shelter on your property.
  4. Pastured Poultry in Pens. Similar to a chicken tractor but much larger and moved more often (i.e., twice daily).
  5. Pastured Poultry in Paddocks. Chickens rotate through several paddocks planted with food chickens can self-harvest.

About the Options

coop and run showing no vegetation

Typical run. Look mom – no grass!

Each of these methods have their pros and cons. To be completely transparent, I’m not here to tell you about all the pluses of each option – if you want to know the pros, you’ll want to do some extra research.I’m here to talk to you about the option we’re using: Pastured poultry in paddocks. However, to adequately tell you why I believe #5 is the best option, I have to talk a bit about the challenges of the first four so you’ll understand how using paddocks addresses the limitations of those other options. Brace yourself – the negativity is about to get a little deep for a paragraph or two here.

The Coop and Run method is first. The problem here mostly be summed up on one word I repeatedly tell my seven-year-old not to say at the dinner table: Poop. In a Coop and Run system, lots and lots of poop piles up in one location. The result is a stinky mess and a flock that lives (walks, sits, eats, drinks) in pathogens from their own feces. (Doesn’t that sound appetizing?) Even when chickens have access to the outdoors (the Run) there’s still a messy accumulation of poop. Also, the chickens completely obliterate any green vegetation that used to exist in the pen. So in essence, these birds live in a poop hole and a mud pit. This is not good. #drops the mic

chicken tractor

Typical chicken tractor

With all of that accumulation of yuck, at some point you’re going to have to clean it up. Which means either a) you’re constantly cleaning up after chickens or b) you hardly ever clean up after chickens but they live in filth. And as Paul Wheaton points out, when you do clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne for at least a little while.

Next let’s talk about Chicken Tractors. This is an improvement over the Coop and Run method because there is less accumulation of poo in one area. However, the tractor sizes tend to be on the small size (just because you can put birds in an area that small doesn’t mean you should). Also, the effectiveness of the method depends heavily on how often the tractor is moved. Here’s what Mr. Wheaton has to say about it:

“A few people will move a chicken tractor once or twice per day, such that the chickens will consume about 30% of what is growing in a spot before moving on.  This is an improvement over what most people will do which is to leave the chicken tractor in one spot until all vegetation is gone.  Or worse, beyond that point. Consider that in general, 40% of what grows on the ground is probably good for chickens to eat.  30% is slightly toxic and the rest is very toxic. If left in one spot for more than a few hours, the chickens end up eating their own poop that has fallen on their ‘food’.”

free range chickens in pear tree

Free-range chickens need a home

Our next option is truly free range chickens – as in no coop, no pen, no tractor, no nothing. The challenge here is that we’ve taken on the responsibility to care for these animals but left them vulnerable to predators and possibly lack of available food (depends on what your land is like). In addition, eggs will be laid all over the place and you’ll have no idea how old they are. Aaaand this romantic idea of letting chickens run free like they do in the wild will loose its appeal quickly when your patio furniture and car and lawn mower and dog house and back lawn and swing set and swimming pool are all slathered in chicken droppings.

Onward to Pastured Poultry in Pens. This is similar to a chicken tractor only the pen is larger and moved more often (2 times a day). Less waste accumulates in one spot, and (if you’re really on top of things) the chickens don’t decimate the ground cover before they move. The challenge here is that making it work requires you to move the pen twice day. I don’t even like to answer the phone twice a day, let alone move a big chicken pen around my yard.

Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Now with all that negativity behind us (where did that sarcastic girl come from?!) let’s sweeten things up a bit! After much reading I have become convinced that using paddocks is the best way to raise chickens.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including the reasons paddocks are superior and tips on using them effectively.

 
 

Chicken Week (Psst! We Have Chickens!)

Guess what? We have chickens!

chicken close up 1

We are the proud owners of six ISA Red egg-laying hens who are six weeks old as of today! If all goes well, they’ll be supplying us with fresh, brown eggs by the end of the summer. We selected ISA Reds because they are docile, quiet and good egg layers. Those traits make them a good fit for our suburban setting and our need for a family-friendly flock. Our girls came from Tractor Supply Company on Shaver Road in Portage. Here’s a tip I learned from one of the TSC employees: If you show up the day before the next batch of chicks are scheduled to come in, they’ll sell you the week-old chicks at a discounted rate to make room for the newbies. So you spend less AND TSC nurses your chicks through the first week where some chicks tend not to make it. The chicks were origianly $2.99 and I paid $1.00 for each of them. Winner winner chicken… well… *ahem*.

DSC03632

When I was growing up, my aunt raised chickens and turkeys (Hi Aunt Bonny!) so I have a general idea of how to chase care for them. But as an adult, I have to admit I was (am?) a wee bit clueless about what goes into raising healthy birds. I’ve heard that chickens are super easy to care for so I set out to learn how and why. I started my search for chicken knowledge on the good ol’ world wide web. I found lots of helpful info at www.backyardchickens.comAbout.com’s Small Farm pages and a few other blogs which I’ve saved to our Chickens board on Pinterest.

But by far the most helpful information I found came from the forums at www.permies.com. (If you’re interested in sustainable living, the information – and support – in these forums will make you drool. Grab a napkin and go check it out!) This website was created by Paul Wheaton (dubbed the Duke of Permaculture) and provides an avenue for him to share his knowledge on the subject as well for others to contribute. In this ongoing forum post, Paul describes five ways to raise chickens (coop and run, chicken tractor, truly free range, pastured poultry in pens and pastured poultry in paddocks) and then provides compelling arguments for why pastured poultry in paddocks is THE way to go. This info helped me think outside the box regarding how to raise our chickens in a manner that is healthiest for them and ultimately for us. I’m working on putting my own this-farm-is-in-the-suburbs-and-needs-to-look-nice-without-costing-a-lot spin on it. More on that later this week…

 

In addition to information and inspiration from Paul Wheaton (and other permies), I also received great practical and design advice from the book Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. To be honest, I’m a sucker for packaging, and it was originally the beautiful front cover that compelled me to check this book out. The whole thing is full of brilliant coffee-table-worthy photos but thankfully the book itself is worth as much as the pictures. This book provides a practical overview of how to raise chicks to become healthy chickens along with detailed advice on how to design your yard to meet your chicken’s needs without sacrificing style or function. I’m glad it’s in my micro-farm library!

 

Now that I’ve gathered all of this great info on chicken-keeping, I’m no expert, but I am a well-armed newbie! In celebration of our girls’ first week living outdoors, I hereby dub this week “Chicken Week” at Arcadia Farms and plan to share all of my new-found poultry insight with you. If you’ve been thinking about raising backyard chickens but have wondered what it will really entail, come back for more throughout the week as I share with you both what I’ve learned from experts and what I’ve experienced in real life. I’ll be talking about:

  • Why we decided to raise backyard chickens (and why you should consider it too)
  • Which birds make good urban or suburban chickens
  • How to care for baby chicks
  • Designing a chicken-friendly garden/yard in the suburbs
  • Reducing (or eliminating!) the cost of chicken feed
  • Building a chicken coop (ours cost $0!)

Also on our Facebook page we’re running a contest this week where you get to help us name one of our hens. Stop by and vote for your favorite name (or make a suggestion of your own) and then please stop by Friday to see who wins!

I can’t wait to share Chicken Week with you!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.    

 
 
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