Chicken Feed

chicken feed

I love this picture. The grasshopper catcher is a perfect example of Necessity being the Mother of Invention. Insects are a great source of protein. Free range poultry fill up on grasshoppers keeping the pests under control. It's a seasonal feast, though. The pioneers solved this by catching grasshoppers in the hayfield and drying them for winter feed. This is just one example of alternatives to corn and soybeans.

Summer through fall our chickens, ducks and turkeys move through the pasture catching insects and eating greens. Take advantage this summer and send the kids outside with a net and a bucket. Let them catch bugs. Have them turn over rocks and look under logs. They'll find plenty to feed the chickens.

A couple of years ago I heard about the benefits of goji  berries so I planted some. They're full of vitamins but they taste terrible. Now, instead of using them myself, I dry them for chicken feed. Apparently the chickens don't mind the bitter flavor. Goji berries are easily dried and stored for year round use.

In certain areas of the country its not easy to buy small grains. Here in Iowa corn is king, followed by soybeans. Finding wheat is tough – no one grows it commercially in this area. There's no market for it here. Growing food plots gives the flock both exercise and superior nutrition. Plus, you'll have healthy eggs and meat. A food plot of small grains; wheat, oats, and barley inter seeded with clover and alfalfa provides a balanced diet when grazed green or cut and dried for winter feed. These plots are terrific for growing chicken feed.

This is the time of year to think about feeding the flock in the winter. Learn to sprout grains or grow fodder. The nutritional value of the two is quite different. In sprouted grains the white tap-root is full of enzymes. Once a green shoot develops the enzymes are lost to the sprout, but the green sprout is full of health qualities, too. Your hens will be healthier with the forethought.

And, if you'd like healthy meat and you're not raising poultry yourself we'd be happy to have you as a customer.

Muscovy Duck Can FlyMuscovy Duck Can Fly

Keith hung up the phone, “Are we missing a duck?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

“Robin called, there’s a duck sitting under her pine tree. She said two eagles were attacking it as it flew into her tree this morning.”

Robin lives across the field and down the hill from us. It’s a good distance from our farm.

I checked the barnyard. Sure enough, one of our Muscovy hens was missing. I called Robin back. She explained that she saw two eagles chasing after a white bird. Looking closer she realized they were attacking a duck. The duck flew into the center of the pine’s branches. The eagles alighted at the top of the tree. Eventually the duck fell to the ground and rested under the tree where the branches camouflaged her from the eagle’s view. She sat quietly at the tree’s base.

Earlier in the morning Maisey was sitting under our pine tree barking at a bald eagle perched above her. Miley sat off to the side, eyes fixed on the bird. These two dogs keep the farm safe from predators, however, they're not equipped for airborne assaults. Neither was the duck.

Muscovy duck can fly. They don’t usually fly very far. They’ll fly from the barnyard to the pond or just circle the barn a time or two.

Once the hen was back home we gave her a thorough exam. She’s missing a few primarily flight feathers and was in shock, otherwise she seemed fine.

She’s started laying eggs again. More than likely she’s grounded until her ducklings hatch. So, until then, Maisey and Miley are on guard.  Eva and Spike don’t pay attention to eagles and Grant’s the most likely to get carried off. His saving grace is the fact that he’s exceptionally heavy, which is a nice way of saying he’s fat.

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Preventing Bird Flu in your Flock

How to kill tens of thousands of chickens with the flip of a switch

Preventing Bird Flu in your FlockClean living conditions prevent disease; Sunlight kills viruses, fresh greens boost immunity and exercise improves health. These are the benefits for poultry raised on pasture.

Inside poultry confinement buildings ventilation fans run 24 hours a day. Without these fans the birds die relatively quickly from ammonia fumes and the heat that’s generated from the high density of bodies within the building.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that the federal government is preparing for a bird flu outbreak this fall that could be twice as bad as the one this spring.

The USDA is calling for shutting down the ventilation system if there's another outbreak of Avian Flu.  The policy is designed to help farms more quickly keep the virus from spreading.

USDA officials said that teams hired to euthanize birds in Iowa and Minnesota fell behind on destroying infected birds this spring due to the size of the flocks. The new euthanasia policy initiates a 24 – hour “stamping-out.” If no other method of killing would meet the 24 hour deadline federal and state officials, along with the producer, agree to shut down the ventilation system.

For chickens in pasture it's a different story. There is no switch to flip. No ventilation fans to shut down. Just sunshine, fresh air and green grass. Pasture pens are open to allow chickens access to all three. The tops are partly covered to give shade along with protection from the rain. The bottoms are open to the grass.  The birds aren’t crowded and they live outdoors during the optimum growing season; May – October.

Before dropping that carton of eggs or package of conventionally raised chicken into your grocery cart the next time you're at the store remember these words from Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect;

“... a chicken that looks stressed and abused on the day of slaughter looks just fine when cut into uniform pieces and wrapped with plastic. The words on the label are targeted to calm any concerns one might have about the meat. This chicken is “Fresh, All-Natural, and Locally Grown!”

Instead of buying confinement chicken make a healthier decision. Find a farmer who raises pastured poultry. The health and taste benefits far surpasses the cost.

 

Sometimes, I forget....

...I forget what store-bought eggs taste like, how pale the yolk is.

...I forget that store-bought chicken doesn't have flavor, that the flesh is pale, the texture rubbery. Pastured poultry is superior to conventionally raised in every way.

pastured poultry
pastured poultry

...I forget that pasture raised pigs don't smell bad, the meat is tender, juicy, and the fat is beneficial.

...I forget that most families don't cook with lard. They've never tasted homemade pie crust or biscuits.

...I forget that walking out your front door to pick cherries, raspberries, gooseberries and apples, from the trees you've planted, is a luxury. It's a special benefit of arranging your life differently than most people choose to do.

raspberries
raspberries

...I forget that fresh garden produce is a choice. It's trading your time, planning, and labor in exchange for a plentiful harvest.

I forget that there's nothing sweeter than homegrown peaches or the sight of baby ducklings chasing after a bug.

I forget that most livestock producers don't believe in the restorative powers of MIG grazing. Instead of planning a grazing program they allow their animals to forage randomly. This creates a barren pasture, soil depleted of nutrients, and not enough organic matter or cover crop to control evaporation. These poor decisions, made by many farmers, are a choice. A choice that negatively impacts water quality, wildlife, and climate.

There have been several visitors to the farm recently who've enjoyed the beautiful views and learning about grass based farming. Many of them recall memories of their grandparents farms which were like ours in many ways.

Their grandparents had pigs in the pasture and chickens pecking in the yard. Small orchards provided fruit and cider. Large gardens fed the family and everyone worked together. Picnic tables were sheltered under shade trees where cool breezes relieved the heat of the day.

Sometimes I take for granted that each day is my own. I'm greeted by beautiful surroundings with the people I love and the life we've chosen. Our farming practices are intentionally organic.

The off-season.

As a gardener there comes a day when even the heaviest frost blanket can't offer protection. You resign, relinquishing the garden until spring. Maybe it's because of this resignation, probably not, but nothing could satisfy the melancholy feeling of the garden shutting down like a fresh picked tomato. Fresh tomatoes are gone until next year, this is the off-season.

DSCN2772

There's a group of small, like-minded farmers who network together. Barter and trade are frequent among us. Last year we traded a young Gloucestershire Old Spot boar for hen and tom heritage turkey's. This spring the hens were late to set their eggs, some never cycled into egg laying. Talking with a turkey raiser he determined last winter too severe. Turkey hens, regardless of their care, just weren't up to the task of laying, at least not fertile, viable eggs, anyway. That is until this week.

In front of the machine shed door a Narragansett hen sat sunning herself. She puffed her feathers, called in a high-pitched whistle and seven small turkey poults scooted underneath her. Doesn't she know this is the off-season?

Later in the day I collected pumpkins for the sows and boar. Among the vines and fruit another Narragansett hen is sitting on a clutch of eggs. One of the Muscovy hens hatched eggs last week. Five ducklings follow here through the pasture every afternoon. We haven't found where she's hiding her brood, hopefully a weasel or owl won't find them either.

The peach trees, all but one, have been dormant all summer. Scratching the surface bark there’s life under the cambium layer so they weren't cut down. Maybe next spring they'll surprise us with buds, it's doubtful, but I remain optimistic. In October of 2012, following one of the worst droughts in our area, the lilac bushes started to blossom for a second time in one season. The October flower clusters were sparse, but the following spring they were full of flowers again as if the off-season blossoming hadn't interrupted the cycle.

DSCN2720The oak tree along the lane is dropping bushels of acorn that go uncollected. The oak in the pasture is dropping a heavy crop for the pigs to feast on. They've gleaned the fallen nuts leaving the ground underneath bare. One pig in particular stands sentry, he won't let the sheep near the tree. He doesn't realize the sheep want sweet clover not bitter acorns. Between the pumpkins, clovers, apples, and nuts the pigs diet is diverse. Their commercial feed goes untouched when there's so much they can harvest themselves. This is one of the benefits of pastured hogs; a healthy diet.

Miley
Miley

Now that September is here the air conditioner is off and the windows are wide open. At night I've been running the fan, not because it's hot but to drown out the insect's singing. When I fall asleep the crickets, locusts, grasshoppers and others joining in the evening symphony seem far off and distant. However, if I wake up during the night their sound is overwhelming. It's loud, it's close, it's intense. So much for quiet country living. A couple hours before dawn the coyotes start their own mournful calls. Lying awake I try to judge their distance from the barn, sheep in the pasture, and turkey pen. One morning, a couple of years ago, while he was walking to the catch the school bus, Garrett saw a coyote take a turkey. The bird was too heavy for the coyote to carry while being chased by a young boy. The coyote dropped the turkey, there weren't any nasty gashes or wounds, at least not visible. The turkey walked around the yard, feathers plumped up for a day or two but he didn't recover. That same week Miley was dumped in town and found wandering. A friend called and asked if we could take her. We tried finding her owner, no luck. She's such a nice dog that we decided to keep her. Since she and Maisey have been at the farm we haven't lost anymore livestock to coyotes.

Turkey and ducks
Turkey and ducks

 

Cookie and I were in the barn having a great visit. He was explaining to me the value of petrocurrency. Anyway, in walked the flock of ducks, the pleasant conversation ended. We couldn't hear anything above the noise from those ducks. Cookie pointed out that of all the animals on the farm the ducks are the only ones who make a singular sound. The cattle have a range of vocals. So do the sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Ducks, however make only one sound. It's loud, it doesn't vary, and it's incessant. When ducks start talking you can hardly hear yourself think. A sign of the times perhaps...we finished our conversation by texting each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every now and again we have a chick or a full grown hen whose  neck and head are crooked. This particular chick was in the brooder when I noticed that she wasn't moving to the freshly filled feeder with the rest of the flock. Typically, as soon as the feeders are re-filled, the chicks crowd around them. I noticed her head was tilted on a sharp angle -  almost upside down. I gave her a quick exam; she hadn't been smothered, crushed, or stepped on. I placed her in a small bucket with shavings to cushion her and got out the bottle of B-12 vitamins.

If you ever find one of your poultry with this condition here are the steps to follow:

  • Get B-12. Sublingual drops.
  • Use an eye dropper to administer B-12 (Do not use the dropper that comes with the B-12, you don't want to contaminate the bottle with bacteria)
  • poured some of the B-12 out on a dish, used an eye dropper or syringe (without the needle) to draw up the vitamins. A few drops are more than enough for a chick.
  • Tilt back the chicks head, open up the beak and squeeze in the drops. Make sure the chick swallows them.
  • Don't use more than a few drops, we're trying to heal, not drown, the chick.
  • Keep her in a small box or container that's open on top and place it in a safe area where dogs, cats, or other chickens can't bother her.
  • Repeat the drops three times a day for a couple days.

Every few hours you should see improvement. After one dose her head and neck should start to return to normal. Give the chick water in the same method as the B-12 a couple times a day and offer a small amount of feed free choice. If you don't have B-12 available try using raw liver. Chop the liver very fine or use a food processor to make a paste. Open the chicks beak and feed a small amount of liver. Massage the chicks throat to make sure she doesn't choke. Follow this with a few drops of water. Feeding liver will take longer to correct the crooked neck than the B-12 drops. You should see improvement within a couple of days.

 

 

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Every now and again we're amazed by one of our animals. This time it was one of the Bourbon Red Turkey hens. She appeared with two chicks beneath her last week. These aren't turkey chicks, they're chicken's chicks. Apparently she found a nest of chicken eggs in the back of the hayloft and she's been sitting on them. A very distinct peeping sound was coming from underneath her. Among the broken eggs were two newly hatched chicks and a few who didn't survive. This is unusual for two reasons: 1. We don't keep roosters. 2. We were wrong about reason number 1.

new chicks
new chicks

During the summer months our chickens follow the cattle and sheep through the pasture. They eat plants, seeds and insects. Among this group of hens was a Barred Rock rooster who we separated and moved into the timber. Later in the summer we were given a Buff Orpington rooster who was also moved into the timber. Late in the fall we brought the Buff Orpington rooster to the barn but he's been kept separate from the hens. We couldn't find the Barred Rock rooster, figuring that he'd become prey to an owl, eagle, or coyote, we dismissed his absence. When we were cutting wood a couple weeks ago we spotted him scratching up grain along the side of the road. He'd survived predators, freezing temperatures and a blizzard. One of our neighbors spotted him and tried to catch him. It was impossible and she declared him, 'Too independent for capture". A few days later Keith discovered him in the barnyard, strutting and crowing. When our son was on his daily run the rooster followed him but then turned into the timber. A few days later he was back in the barnyard again. This back and forth must have been ongoing. He's been making regular visits, or at least regular enough to court our hens. The turkey, acting as a surrogate, seemed very surprised herself.

There's something about getting up at 5 a.m., feeding the stock and chickens, and milking a couple of cows before breakfast that gives you a lifelong respect for the price of butter and eggs. - Bill Vaughan

 There's one major problem with a turkey hatching chicken's eggs; she's too big for the chicks. They need to be able to free themselves from their shell and be kept warm without suffocating. A turkey hen is too heavy. She's designed to hatch her own eggs which are larger. Her poults are heavier. Also, the hayloft isn't the best environment for new chicks. They need food, water, and safety from falling out of the loft. The turkey is mad that we stole "her" chicks (but they're safe now). The turkey bonded with these chicks even before they hatched. While still in the egg the chick peeps through the shell and talks with the hen. When they hatch the chick recognizes the hen as it's mother. These conversations go on for about three days before hatching. If you ever have the opportunity to hatch chicks you'll be overjoyed to hear the soft chirps and peeps coming from the egg. It's a beautiful sound.

The pheasants, ducks, and geese all knew.  Even the domesticated farm birds knew a large storm was heading into Iowa. Many hunters and farmers, however, were caught off guard. It was an unseasonably warm day for November. A few ducks floated on the Mississippi River but as the morning progressed more and more waterfowl landed. At first by the hundreds, then thousands, and by late morning, tens of thousands of ducks had arrived. Inland the farm fields were full of wild geese. They gathered and called to other chevrons circling above.  Armistice Day, November 11, 1940, Don was thirteen. He and his younger brother were excited to have the day off from school. They spent the morning doing chores in their shirtsleeves, it was above fifty degrees outside. They could hear geese calling in the fields. The trees along the timber had pheasants roosting in them.

Around noon a friend stopped by, he'd heard the river was full of ducks and wanted the brothers to go hunting with him. The mass landing of waterfowl had hunters and farmers grabbing their guns and rushing out. Don's mother 'had a bad feeling'. Her boys had to stay home. She instructed them to get the chickens inside their coop. Instead they began playing ball. A short while later their mother came out and pointed to the trees in the chicken yard which were filled with their laying flock. The flock's behavior was alarming.

The boys started climbing after the chickens. As they climbed the birds moved higher into the top branches. The 300 laying hens were handed down, one at a time, to their two sisters and mother who waited below. By the time the hens were locked into the coop gale force winds were rushing out of the timber bringing cold rain. Soon it turned into ice. By mid afternoon heavy snow was falling, visibility was near zero.

Throughout Iowa snow drifts twenty feet high buried thousands of cattle and killed countless poultry including over a million Thanksgiving turkeys. Unprepared for the temperature plunge, hunters sought shelter on the islands along the river. The waves were too dangerous and too strong for them to get safely back to shore. By the next morning more than one hundred-fifty duck hunters had frozen to death or drowned. Hundreds more lost digits or limbs to frostbite.

The storm's aftermath forever changed farming in western Iowa. Before November 11, 1940, Iowa was a leading apple producing state, second only to Michigan.  Winterset, Iowa was the birthplace of the Delicious apple. The original apple tree that produced the 'delicious' apple, originally called the 'Hawkeye' apple, propagated more than ten thousand saplings which were sent around the world for orchard production. The Armistice day storm devastated orchards in western Iowa when tremendous ice and winds brought down limbs and knocked over trees. The declining economy and threat of war made it difficult for farmers to borrow money to replace the trees. Apple trees were expensive and production would take years to return an income. Instead their ground was turned into row crop production. Corn replaced apples and fruit. By the spring of 1941 only 15% of the orchard trees in western Iowa remained.

The original 'Hawkeye' apple tree was split in two during the storm. The following spring a new sprout grew in the middle of the split. The sprout was propagated and remains in Madison County, Iowa today surrounded by a fence and a commemorative plaque.