Friday, 2 May 2014

Free range chickens

I now free range the chickens 100%.  I do not bother closing the coop door at night, or shutting the fence.  I've considered tearing down the fence, and removing the bird netting over top.. but there are reasons to keep them in place.  For one thing, hawks fly overhead occasionally, and it gives the chickens shelter.  And for another, it stops other birds getting in and eating their feed, or at least discourages them from trying to and learning the habit.

There's a possibility that stoats and ferrets, which I have seen around my property a few times, might visit and steal the eggs.  Or rats for that matter.  But I'll deal with that when I have to.  I like the idea they can get out and about when they are ready.  Even if they've finally worked out how to get out onto the road..

I have learnt something new about chickens.  If the door blows shut before it gets so dark that they decide it's time to roost, they'll just sit under the coop in the dark.  And no matter how much you prod them, they'll just huddle together.  I had to basically lift each one over to the door, and then shine the torch on it, and wait a bit before each jumped in.  And even then I'm pretty sure they all stood around on the floor of the coop, rather than jumping up onto the roost.

My first raised bed

It gets pretty wet here, and it saturates my current garden beds.  In order to avoid that problem in future, I've decided to go with raised beds.  I dug out this section to a depth of around 50cm.  It promptly rained and filled the bed.  Then I bailed it out, and took this photo.

At this point, I got in there and dug it all out some more.  Then the chickens jumped in with me and got in the way.  Next I threw in all the large logs I have, some horse chestnuts I'd picked before learning they were toxic, leaves, old sheep manure, cow manure, collected newpapers and junk mail, half composted.. compost, chicken manure and a variety of other things that would break down.

The dug out soil was claggy from having too much clay in it.  So I mixed in potting mix, sheep manure,  and cow manure.  This made it a little better.  And once placed back on all the filler I had in the hole, made a pretty decent raised bed.  For mulch I popped up onto the neighbours hill and grabbed some dried pine needles.

And here's the result.  It's planted out with broccoli, leeks, silverbeet and cabbage.  Something's already had a bite of the leaves, but I'm pretty sure it's not the chickens.  Since adding the pine needles, there are already earthworms crawling about under them.  As I was planting it out, the chickens were trying to stretch through the netting and pick them out.  Thankfully they've forgotten about it for now.

I should probably note that I dug extra top soil out of where the wood chips are, which contributed to the height of the raised bed, and declaggified the clay somewhat.  The chickens occasionally peck away at the Red Russian kale to the left of the picture, but aren't really that partial to it.   Why all the crap under the dirt, apart from raising the bed up?  Because it's hugelkutur, the idea being the logs break down over time and turn into good soil.  But in the duration, they hold water.

Chickens & Yogurt

There's a fair amount of discussion on the internet about chickens and feeding them fermented feed.  The theory is that it releases nutrients and is probiotic.  Some people even also put live apple cider vinegar into their water mix.

As there's always some dregs of my yogurt (which I make myself) that I can't pour out of the bottle, I decided to see if the chickens would eat the water I flushed the container out with.  It took a while for the first chicken to try it, but they cleaned it all up.  Now they go straight for it, whenever I put some out.

The calcium should be good for their eggs, and the probiotics from the live culture should be good for them as well.