Posts tagged Chickens in the Garden
New Pocket Guide to Poultry Breeds
“Photography by © Adam Mastoon, from   Poultry Breeds  , © by Carol Ekarius, used with permission from Storey Publishing.”   

“Photography by © Adam Mastoon, from Poultry Breeds, © by Carol Ekarius, used with permission from Storey Publishing.”

 

 

This is a great time to scour your seed catalogs and make your "seed wish list" for this spring and summer. If you raise chickens, like I do, this is also a great time to check out online hatcheries for specialty breed day-old baby chick selections. Poultry Breeds by Carol Ekarius is a great new pocket size book that gives you a lot of information at your finger tips. Ekarius describes 104 essential poultry breeds and their attributes, along with beautiful photos.

As I mention in my book, Gardening with Free-Range Chickens for Dummies (Wiley 2013)chicken breeds are as diverse as dog breeds, so do your research on what types of chicken breeds will work best for your and your family's lifestyle, location, and specific desire for raising chickens.

I have two remaining hens, Copper Penny and Amelia, from my original flock of ten chicks in 2012. Some of my flock I gave away to good homes, and some passed on with shorter life spans. Copper Penny and Amelia have ended their egg drought recently, having molted and stopped laying for about 8 weeks. With increasing day lengths and turning 5 years old this May, it is really amazing. I won't get eggs everyday at this age, but their eggs are golden. My seasoned hens will help with my new pullets (young hens) this spring, showing them the ropes around the chicken coop and garden.

I am currently looking at some of the more uncommon poultry breeds, supporting the Heritage Poultry Conservancy. Lifestyle expert, P. Allen Smith, at his Moss Mountain Farm in Arkansas, is a great advocate and enthusiast for heritage poultry conservancy. Three great online hatcheries I recommend to order a variety of day-old baby chicks are: My Pet Chicken,  McMurray Hatcheryand Cackle Hatchery. Hurry, as I see many breed selections are sold out for the time being or have limited availability already this spring.

Remember, "Love Thy Chickens, and Keep on Clucking!"

 

 
Chickens Dig Dirt Baths

Charley Diggin' Dirt Meet Charley, short for Charlotte, she is a White-Crested Blue Polish hen, one of three new bantam hens I have added to my blended flock at "Coop de Manion" recently. More on this to follow.

Isn't Charley beautiful. She is as soft and fluffy to the touch as she looks. Her floppy white crest exaggerates her movement and personality. Honestly, I have had my beloved hens for about eight years, and Charley is special, she doesn't even act like a chicken. If I am crouching near the ground, she practically jumps in my lap, like a giddy teenager. With that said, she loves to be out in our garden, and loves to burrow in our soft sandy soil and create a dirt bath for herself.

In the above photo, Charley is demonstrating the fine art of a chicken "dirt bath." Don't ask me how they know how to do it, or where they learn it, they just know. Maybe they learn from their elders. If you have a prize-winning garden, this is about the most destructive a chicken will be. Chickens pride themselves in burrowing in the soil, making an indentation, and flicking dirt over themselves. If you have an exposed vegetable garden, this is another story because chickens love to help themselves to the latest gourmet treat emerging in your garden.

Charley is demonstrating her "dirt bath," in this sunny, sandy corridor where I have planted herbs along this pathway. All of my hens love to gravitate to this area, and wallow deep in the sandy soil. It is their favorite spot in the garden.

I have mentioned before when speaking of chickens in the garden, chickens love dirt baths to cleanse their feathers, cool themselves, and for general relaxation. It is sometimes hard to move a relaxed hen from her sunny dirt bath spot.

Now that you know the finer points of the chicken "dirt bath," I hope to put your mind at ease, and not be too concerned if you see your chickens doing the same in your garden. Rest assured, it is one of their little life pleasures.

Please share if your chickens like "dirt baths." Please share with us a little about your favorite chickens and their personalities.

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Chickens in the Garden

Julia, J.Lo, Fanny, and Coco at Home in the Garden Even if you provide your chickens with a chicken coop "extroadinaire" and an adjoining spacious outside pen, their preference will always be out roaming free in your yard and garden. So much garden to explore, bugs and worms to forage, dirt baths to indulge in, and plain ol' sunshine and breeze to enjoy.

I encourage you to let your chickens out to roam and free-range in your yard and garden, mind you with a watchful eye. It is important that you protect your chickens while they are outside of their pen, and on the "flip side," you are aware of the necessity of protecting your flower and vegetable gardens from your chickens, too.

If you let your chickens out in your yard and garden, be aware of possible predators such as dogs, coyotes, raccoons. Never let your chickens out to roam at night, only day time. Make sure your yard and garden is free of any glass, nails, and sharp objects which could possibly cut or puncture a chicken's foot. Punctures in a chicken's foot, has enormous consequences, and can lead to infection and bumblefoot. Use common sense to eliminate anything in your yard and garden which could potentially harm your chickens.

If you have a prize-winning garden, or an incredible green thumb growing organic vegetables, you should take precautions to keep them protected from your chickens. Chickens love home-grown vegetables, and will be in your vegetable garden, if not protected with a surrounding fence or netting. Our beloved hens will jump a foot or so to eat a lush cluster of grapes in our vineyard. We net our vineyard to dissuade wild birds, as well as own chickens. Chickens know where the good eats are, rest assured.

In your flower gardens, chickens are more likely to wallow in dirt baths at the base of shrubs, rather than eat actual plants. They are foraging for bugs, worm, small lizards more so than your flowers. Dirt baths for chickens are a form of cleansing their feathers, cooling themselves in the moist soil, and general relaxation.

Chickens if roaming outside, naturally head for their coop at dusk to perch on their roost at night. If it is not dusk, and you need to coax your chickens back into their coop and outside pen, try training them to herd.

Herding works with a small flock of chickens, not usually a large one. Herding chickens is a bit like "herding cats." When you first get your chickens, start training them at a young age to herd as soon as possible, especially if you are going to let them out to roam. I have never had a rooster, so I don't know if this method works for them, too.

My technique for herding chickens, is to gently walk behind them, patting or clapping my hands together, using my left or right arm out to steer them. It works. If you have a small flock, once you get the leaders heading towards your coop, the others fall into place. Gently clap walking slowly behind them, and they will march back to the coop.

Chickens love to be in your yard and garden. They love to have the freedom to roam and explore, but don't have to be out in your yard and garden all the time. Let them out, when you have time to keep an eye on them, and when you have time to be in your yard and garden.

Please share if you let your chickens out in your yard and garden at times. Please comment on any method you use to herd your chickens.

The Joy of Chickens

My Hollywood Girls, Louise, Julia, and J.Lo in the Garden In the photo above are my beloved hens, Louise, Julia, and J.Lo, named after the posh Hollywood crowd. Believe me, besides being pretty, they have attitude, too.

If you have the space, and are properly zoned to have chickens in your backyard or property, I would highly recommend jumping into the world of chickens. Chickens are so much fun, and relatively easy to take care of, and require just a few basics.

Chickens need protection.  They need a protection in the form of a building, pen, or coop, from extreme temperatures, winds, and drafts. They also need protection from elements that might harm them such as neighbor's dogs, hawks, coyotes, etc. Place straw or pine shavings on the floor, and keep clean. Ideally, it is nice to have a place of protection at night time and for extreme weather conditions, as well as an outdoor protected pen where they can be active.

Chickens need a source of water and feed at all times. Chickens need to eat constantly, and require "laying mash" in their egg-laying years. In fact, when I open up my chickens in the morning, and stir up their feed bucket, every morning is like Thanksgiving to them...they can't wait to get to the feed bucket after a night's sleep.  Every day I give my chickens a fresh treat consisting of greens, fresh fruit, or some type of vegetable. A fresh, clean water source is important for chickens to have at all times. I have two for mine, one that is inside their house, and one for their outside pen.

Chickens like a nesting box for laying eggs.  Chickens start laying their first egg at about six months old. Their egg production can be described like a "bell-shaped curve". Initially, once they start laying, they will lay an egg every 24 hours, or an egg a day. They will lay at that rate for their first 1-2 years, and they will gradually taper off, to the point where they do not lay any eggs. You can build a row of nesting boxes inside their chicken coop. It is an open square shape box, where straw or pine shavings is placed for bedding, and where the hen can go and quietly lay her egg. It is really quite an incredible process. Chickens naturally molt about once a year. Call it a vacation, or time of rest in sync usually with the decreasing day length. Do not be alarmed, they will lose their feathers, stop laying for a few weeks time, and then begin to grow back beautiful new feathers, and commence with the business of laying eggs once again. Fresh eggs are so beautiful and taste incredible. They are literally golden eggs.

Chickens like a roosting bar, 24-30 inches off of the ground to sleep at night. This bar assimilates a tree branch. They feel protected, and want to be off of the ground to sleep. I have a manure box with quarter inch wiring directly under the roosting bar, which catches most of their manure from the night before. Some people clean it once a week or less, but I collect their manure every morning, and put it in my compost pile. I like to avoid any problems like excess flies and odor that a build up of manure might cause.

A hen does not need a rooster to lay eggs. A hen does need a rooster if you are planning on having fertilized eggs, and eventually chicks for your flock. Baby chicks especially need to be kept warm and protected. Roosters introduce a whole different element to your flock, noise, and often they exhibit aggressive behavior protecting their hens. You might do yourself, and your neighbors a favor, and start with a flock of hens only.

Chickens are fun, social, and with individual personalities. Don't get just one chicken. They are social, so start off with at least 2-3 chickens. You can bet there will be a pecking order established within your flock, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Chickens love to explore, and are curious about everything. They love gardens, and will be a faithful garden companion. They respond to kindness, a routine, and familiarity of people feeding and caring for them. If you plan on going on vacation, etc., make sure you have someone reliable to watch and care for your chickens, just like you would do for your other pets.

If you have been thinking of getting chickens, spring into summer is your best time. Your local feed stores might carry a nice variety of "pullets", young laying hens, for you to choose from. There are certainly a wide variety of breeds available for the chicken enthusiast. I like brown eggs, and have found the heavy breed chickens, such as the Buff Orpingtons, and the Australian Black Australorps to be great egg producers, and "people" chickens. A fabulous website and place for information on different breeds and mail order of "specialized fowl" is www.mcmurrayhatchery.com.

I can not say enough about the "joy of chickens", you must experience them for yourself.