Thursday, August 14, 2014

Catching Up: Chickens

My blogging has really taken a downturn these last few weeks. There's been a lot going on that I should report out on, and I figured the best way to do that was through some individual catching-up posts.

And where better to start than with our chickens. Oh, the chickens. They have been driving Wife and I CRAZY this past month.

After the raccoon attack, I took the 8 new Araucanas and introduced them to the existing flock. Every went very much according to plan, very smoothly, etc. Some of the Leghorns even jumped into the chick introduction pen with them. It was pretty funny. I topped out at an 18-egg day about a month ago.

A cool day's dozen seems a distant memory, what with the molting, pecking ordering,
and feed-running-outing going on.....

Then, the egg production took a SHARP turn down. We went from 13-16 eggs a day to fewer than 8. I believe the reason was a perfect storm of them running out of pellets while I had no car to get more for 5 days, a poorly-timed molt from our Australorps, and a disruption of the pecking order on the lower end due to the new Araucanas. At least that's the prevailing theory.

I was able to dismiss theories of disease, parasites, egg-eating, etc. by very careful observation and investigation. Everything seemed totally normal with them - except the lowered egg counts.

In response, I tried feeding them extra salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, garlic powder, basil, fennel, oregano, flax seed, diatomaceous earth, chili powder, and every combination of the above I could think of, every day, for 2 weeks. There was no noticeable difference in production, but I did have very nice-smelling bowls of grains.  :)

Feeding time gets a bit frenzied.
This was over whole wheat and sunflower seeds.

However, they get distracted and I can get some good close-ups.

I love the variety in our flock.

It's been steadily climbing back up (13 earlier this week, 9 yesterday). But still, for a flock of 22 laying-age hens, 10 eggs a day in mid-summer is absurd. We used the lack of layer pellets as an opportunity to try switching to organic (we'd been using the "all-natural" stuff) to try to get off corn and soy. Whelp, wouldn't you know it, but con and soy were still some of the top ingredients. Plus, they ate the $37 bag in two weeks. This was in addition to the fermented grains we've been feeding them. That's economically unsustainable for us.

Given the expense, and in our desire to continually improve the health and well-being of our family and our animal friends, we abandoned pellets completely. Now, we're feeding our 31 chickens (9 hens, 1 rooster, 12 laying pullets, 8 non-laying pullets):

4+ pounds of fermented feed
1/5 pound beef BKH (ground beef, kidney, heart mixture)
free-choice wheat and sunflower
512 square feet of new pasture each week

"Oh look, it's Food-Man!" said the chickens to me.

With the main flock distracted by the feeder, these smartuns got some
of the high-protein black oil  sunflower seeds.

It's funny, in that after switching them OFF the organic pellets, the egg count finally crossed a dozen in one day. I think the extra protein found in the BKH mixture is really helping them out. I wish there was a cheaper high-protein source, but for beef products at $1.75/lb., it ain't bad. The 30% protein really lifts the overall oomph of the feeding regimen. I'm also experimenting with attracting insects via a cardboard panel in the run. I'd like to invest in some plywood to turn over to attract crickets, roaches, and pill bugs for extra protein, but the cardboard needs to show promise first.

So while I sort out and finalize the soy-free, corn-free feeding regimen, the pecking order becomes stable, and the molting chickens de-molt (is that even a thing?), our egg count remains stable, but lower than desired. The chickens look great. They're also doing a great job of clearing out the future garden area in preparation of the pigs. I believe I mentioned earlier that they've been reversed - chickens are now first, and pigs follow. This has resulted in fluffier, less heavily-packed soil.

Oh yeah, i almost forgot - the 48 baby chicks are also doing great. I'll post on them separately.  :)

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