Friday, August 23, 2013

Growing Greens for the Chickens

Still only one chicken laying here. Soon, there will or should be 9 more. In attempts to have year round eggs there are 15 chicks due on Monday. The reason for ordering more chicks is that when the chickens I have now go through their molt I will have other chickens just starting to lay. I have never tried 'timing' the egg laying before so this is yet another homesteading experiment.

Over the years I have asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" For many years I have let the chickens free range. I love watching them move around the property in an almost a routine way. In the grass in the morning, then to the woods down the hill. After that over behind the house where the bird seed drops, and then up through the front woods to the driveway and back to the coop.

Along with predator problems there are other challenges with free ranging. All of a sudden the egg production would seem to let up. We would scratch our heads and wonder what was wrong. Then on a random walk in the woods we would find a clutch of eggs with 12 or more eggs in it. I have been raising chickens for over 15 years and have never been able to talk a chicken into laying in the coop once they have decided not to. One other problem we have encountered is having our lovely perfect chickens head over to the neighbor come spring when her strawberries are ready to pick. My neighbor is not that close by, but the chickens must smell those delicious little berries and run right over. The neighbor will stop by the house and let me know that she loves watching them and they are so beautiful, but they are destroying her crop.

As I have mentioned before we are planning a new coop for them. But for now I let them out in the old enclosure that has no top and unfortunately, no grass. They are pretty happy, since I see them pecking and pruning and taking dust baths. Over the last few weeks I have been collecting bunches of greens from the garden and yard and throwing it in to them. I have noticed in the one egg that I do get that there is a big difference in the color and shape when I offer greens.

A chicken that eats greens will lay a darker yolked egg. The egg stands up better in the pan as well. I think the inner membrane of the white is much stiffer. Now with making the decision to keep these birds cooped and caged I have also decided to plant them some greens and offer them a pile daily. I have several hoop houses in my garden and now a giant hoop house that I call a greenhouse. I have the room to grow them a garden of their own for the winter months. Some Kale, lettuce, rye grass, and maybe some beet greens. The garden and our yard is providing plenty for now, but come winter I will need fresh food for them. Soon my broccoli will be gone, and I will start the 'chicken's garden'.

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