"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Flock Of Red Heads

Mrs. H. and I adopted a flock of 13 Rhode Island Red hens and 2 roosters last year and it has turned out to be a most interesting experiment in animal husbandry. From the get go we made a conscious decision to give them as much freedom as possible and feed them as naturally as we could. We now share about 1 acre surrounding our garden with them, and it has proven to be quite advantageous to us. For example, every year the grasshoppers become a pest in the garden, this year they met their demise at the beaks of our 15 red headed step children. I have also gone to extreme measures to keep voles out of our garden as they cause much damage to our root vegetables. This year the voles were few and far between and I have no doubt that all the above ground pecking and scratching caused them to flee for their lives.

The hens did discover that they could fly and have gotten into the greener pastures that are my garden a few times but no serious damage was done. We feed them as much garden produce as they can stand all summer and as much as we can come up with in the winter. They go absolutely crazy over purple brussel sprouts, and since the plants suffered a setback due to weather I fed the plants to them daily throughout the fall and will probably grow them this year just for the chickens.

Egg production has been excellent, it took a little training to get them to come in and lay every day but persistence paid off and they now all seem to understand what the nest boxes are for. Just today, and with it being only 25°, they still laid 9 eggs. We have not had a single day so far this winter without at least a couple eggs.

We go out of our way to feed the chickens various greens, grated beets, carrots, squash, and cooked potatoes on a daily basis.

They also get daily apples, flakes of alfalfa hay, and any other left over scraps that we can come up with that may prove beneficial to the chickens health.

I believe that the food we give them is one of the reasons that they have not stopped laying and seem to be so healthy. The whole reason that we have chickens is to get nutritious eggs that are certainly not available at the stupermarket.

Interestingly enough, given a choice, the grains that they always have access to are the last thing they want to eat. We hope to sell enough of the extra eggs to pay for grains that we must still buy, thus making the flock self-sufficient. We do not yet grow the amount of grains it would take to feed the chickens all year, but hope to do so in the future.
Housing for the birds was built into our barn in order to take up less space outside and give them lots of room in the winter when free range is not an option for them.
It consists of three rooms, the first gives them access to fresh air, but allows them to be closed off into the second room when it is really cold and windy out.

Sleeping quarters come complete with an electric oil heater and lights. The heater is only used if it gets below 25° outside we also added a heating pad for their water dish.

They have become quite friendly and many enjoy being held and given special attention. I believe the flock is looking forward to the end of winter even more than we are, they are given the option, upon occasion, to go out into the snow but have so far chosen not to stray to far from the comfort of the chicken house.

1 comment:

Janeen said...

I live in Minnesota and have a flock of about the same size. I put a clear tarp around a pen covered with clear polycarbonate adjacent to my coop in the winter and my flock loves their 'sun porch'.

For heat I put a couple of ceramic emitters designed for reptile cages in brooder lamp fixtures hung above the roost. If the chickens are cold they can sit under the warmth of the heaters and if they aren't they can bask in the sun in their covered pen. They generally choose the pen.

The emitters keep the coop warm enough that if I pick up eggs a couple of times a day they don't freeze even in the worst of winter (25-30 below zero here).

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