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Homemade Chicken Treats

Sunday, March 8, 2015
posted by jenn

 

Chicken TreatWinter can be tough on chickens. Keeping them warm, having enough “unfrozen” water available and getting them enough energy to keep them healthy during the long winter months. This winter, especially, has been hard on livestock and humans alike. The endless freezing temps and unceasing snow fall has made everyone feel like Spring will never come.

Harsh winters also mean that chickens are not able to scratch about—their favorite past time—for bugs, weeds and spent produce. Boredom can set in and so can the fighting and cannibalism that goes along with spending long days cooped up in, well, coops.

One way to fend off the torment of winter is to give your chickens a supply of good treats. Not just scratch or the occasional green tops, if you can get them in some parts of the country, but a wholesome combination of nutrients and energy boosters.

Homemade chicken treats are a cheap and easy way to give your girls what they are craving. The combination of grains for nutrition, molasses for energy, lard or tallow and egg shells in a great mixture that will help them keep warm while their bodies digest, give them energy and keep them occupied and entertained as they scratch and eat the treat blocks.

To make your own chicken treats try this easy recipe below.

2 cups Scratch

1 cup Old fashioned oat meal

1 cup Cornmeal

¾ cup Wheat germ

½ cup Dried fruit, chopped

½ cup Crushed egg shells

4 Eggs, beaten, plus the shells, crushed

¾ cup Blackstrap molasses

½ cup Coconut oil, Tallow or Lard (liquefied)

Preheat oven to 325. Mix all dry ingredients together then add all the wet ingredients and mix well. Pat into pie dishes. The block should be about 2 inches thick. Recycled pie plates work great for this. If you want to hang your block use a chopstick or straw to make a hole about an inch from the edge. Bake for 30 minutes then cool completely. Run a knife around the edge, tip the pie plate over and let the block fall out. Thread twine through the hole, tie a knot and hang where the girls can reach it.

If you have a smaller flock 6-inch pie tins can be used and the extra treat blocks can be frozen until needed, just thaw completely before hanging out for the chickens.

For a fun alternative use cookie cutters to make decorative shapes. Poke two holes in each cookie, thread twine through the holes to make a garland and hang it in the coop or outside on sunny days.

 

Chicken garland

 

 

 

Banish Winter Boredom in your Chicken Flock

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
posted by Jenn

There is nothing worse than a bored, unhappy chicken. When chickens are bored they tend to peck at each other, pulling feathers and drawing blood, causing stress and damage. The sight of blood can even turn a normally calm flock into a crazy flock that can literally peck other chickens to death. Bored chickens can also become egg eaters, breaking into your daily egg harvest, all because they were bored and had nothing to do.

During the long winter months it’s important to give your girls something to do, inside the coop and out, to prevent bad habits from forming. Just like humans who can develop “cabin fever” and resort to bad habits, chickens can develop “coop fever” with equally bad habits. Fortunately, these habits are not normal and can be prevented with a few simple flock management tricks.

Chickens get bored mostly in winter when green things growing, bugs to chase and dust to bathe in are in short supply. Pecking from boredom is also more likely to happen when coops and outside runs are too small for the number of chickens in the flock or when they are kept cooped up, unable to free-range. Chickens are hardy and can be outside in most weather, but should be kept in the coop during blizzards and frigid weather.

Treats can also help entertain chickens and keep them occupied, but too much of a good thing is not good for them. Below are a few alternatives to keeping your chickens occupied during the winter months.

 

Perches & Pedestals

018Chickens love to perch, whether they are watching the world go by or sleeping. It’s the “official” poultry pastime. Perching not only gets them out of the mud or snow, but it gives them a better view of what’s going on in the barnyard.

They love to hop onto ladders leaning up against a wall, low hanging branches of a nearby tree, swings, boards or dowel sticks attached to the corners of an outside run. Any creative, multi-level poultry playground will keep your flock busy the whole winter.

Pedestals, like garden statues, urns, tree stumps, even fences give chickens a good view of the world below. While statues and fences are stationary, tree stumps can be moved around the farm to give chickens different vantage points. So, the next time you fell a tree or cut up a fallen branch think about your chickens before splitting all of it into firewood.

 

Mounds of Organic Matter

Chicken on Compost Fall foliage is not only beautiful it is also free entertainment for your flock. When doing fall clean-up rake piles of leaves, pine needles, straw, hay and so on, into the outside chicken run. This precursor to dirt won’t last long in its pile as the girls work feverishly to flatten it out! What a great afternoon of fun!

 

 

Let Them Play Peek-a-Boo

Vintage Mirror Chickens love reflective surfaces. Anything shiny, that glints in the sun, where they can see themselves preening and fluffing their feathers. A thrift store mirror or a piece of stainless steel screwed to the coop wall or fence boards where it won’t topple over as the girls push and shove to get a better view will provide endless hours distraction from gloomy winter weather.

 

 

Odd Playthings

Chickens&Tarp Anything out of the ordinary…for a chicken, at least, can make a wonderfully entertaining plaything to investigate. Garden tools, not sharp ones, though, buckets, boxes, old feed bags (anything, really) will attract a curious chicken.

 

 

Protected Dust Bath Area

chickens in city Chickens use dust baths to keep parasites like lice and mites from taking hold on their feathers and affecting their overall health. But, in winter, where mud and snow may prevent a suitable dust bath area one can be created in a sheltered area. Old plywood, windows or bales of straw can be set up to form a bathing area protected from the cold. Dry dirt from inside the barn can be used to fill the bathing area and provide endless hours for fluffing.

 

Free Ranging

023 Chickens are hardy creatures even when there’s snow on the ground. They won’t mind cold feet if it means time to run free and see what’s going on. A few bare patches where they can scratch and dig and get off the cold white stuff would be appreciated, too. A pile of hay or straw can also be used to give them a dry place and something to scratch in. But, keep a close eye on your chickens, predators searching for food in winter will find barnyard chickens easy pickings.

 

Enlarge the Outside Run

Chicken RunExperienced chicken owners allocate about 4-square feet of living space per bird. But, in areas where chickens can’t routinely free-range, especially in winter, more space should be considered. When laying out your coop and run, give as much space as you can spare, giving your chickens room to roam and space where they can hide out for some alone time.

 

You and Me Together

Week 3: We're half way there.

Long winter days can be hard on both chickens and their owners. Days of gloomy skies, wind, rain or snow can make time move so slowly. Getting outside during breaks in the weather, even if the weather is not optimal, will help not only you, but your flock as well. It’s a kind of chicken therapy. You will get to hang out with them and they will get more comfortable with you being close by, a definite plus if you ever have to catch one to treat an injury or illness.

 

Treats

Chicken TreatChickens love treats! In summer or winter treats can be a great way to add fresh produce and seeds to your flock’s diet. Seed blocks and suet cakes are easy to make and can provide extra nutrition and energy.

Vegetable trimmings, overripe fall fruits and winter veggies like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and collards can be laid in baskets and hung in low branches or by supports in the outside run where chickens will have easy access to them. The flock will have loads of fun while getting extra nutrition. Whether homemade or commercial or fresh, treats can help stave off winter boredom on a gloomy day as chickens peck and scratch and play with them.

 

Every homesteader is counting down the days till spring shines through, when gardens are turned, babies are born and chickens run free. But, with these tips we know our chickens will be too preoccupied to get bored while waiting for spring!

 

For homemade chicken treat ides, check out these posts.

Homemade Chicken Treats

Suet Cakes

What to do When a Hen is Egg Bound?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018
posted by jenn

 

I came home the other night to find one of my hens dead.  She had hidden herself in the corner of the coop, near the feed bin. 

 

It was sad, because I love watching my girls cluck and scratch around the yard, and I will miss the eggs, but losing livestock on a homestead is not uncommon, it’s part of the farm life.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy or something we get use to.  A farmer NEVER likes to lose livestock because it’s lost income or food.  But, aside from the financial considerations, farmers are the most animal loving people you will ever meet.  They will go out of their way to protect and care for their animals.  So, if we lose one, we take it personally.

Livestock loses are, however, something we must accept as part of living this life.  Illness, disease, predators, even accidents are a fact of life on a homestead.  We do our best to prevent such events, but sometimes life is beyond our control.

 

Ok…I’m gonna say something you may think is completely horrible, but completely true…livestock are not pets.

 

There…I said it.

 

Sure we can get attached to a friendly milk cow, a playful goat or a wonderfully productive breeding ewe, but at the end of the day a vet bill may add up to more than the animal is worth, in terms of monetary value.  The emotional value is a different matter altogether.

Trust me, after decades of raising livestock I have lost my fair share of animals—sometimes to illness, sometimes to lambing difficulties, sometimes to predators, and sometimes in horrific circumstances, like a dog attack.

 

Raising livestock is certainly NOT for the faint of heart!

 

After checking the hen over, I determined she died because she was egg bound, which is the inability of a hen to fully expel an egg.  Basically, the egg got stuck in the oviduct.

 

Causes of egg bound:

 

  • A lack of calcium or other nutrients needed for good health
  • An overweight hen
  • A young hen
  • An unusually large egg
  • A misshapen egg

 

What was really puzzling is that my hens are fed a balanced layer mash with added calcium, they have free range of the garden, so they get plenty of exercise and are not overweight, and they are not young.  So, most of the causes of egg bound were not present.

Hens also usually show signs of being egg bound, which she did not, at least not that I saw the day or so before she passed.

 

Signs a hen is egg bound:

 

  • She lays around looking sick, lethargic, fluffing herself
  • She has a decreased appetite and isn’t drinking much
  • If she is walking, she walks like a penguin, stopping and trying to squat
  • She may appear to be straining, like she’s trying to expel something, which she is
  • She may pump her tail up and down, trying to expel the egg
  • She may also be panting

 

What can you do if your hen is egg bound?

 

There are a few things you can do to help the hen release the egg, once you’ve determined she really is egg bound.  The above signs can be an indicator of several other conditions, so you’ll have to be sure.

First, wash your hands in warm soapy water and apply a lubricant, like vegetable oil.  Very gently insert a finger into the vent, pushing straight back an inch or two.  You should be able to feel the egg.  If you don’t, she’s not egg bound.

If you do feel an egg, prepare a shallow tub or wash pan with warm water and Epsom salts at a ratio of 1-gallon water to 1-cup salts.  The water should be deep enough so that the hen’s belly is submerged about 3 to 4 inches.

Gently put her into the water bath and let her relax there for 15 to 20-minutes.  The moist heat will help her relax so she can pass the egg.  After 20-minutes remove her from the water and gently towel her off.  Apply some of the vegetable oil around and just inside her vent, then set her in a warm, dim, quiet place where she can rest.  A dog crate works great for this because you can keep an eye on her.

Once you get her settled in, give her 1cc of calcium and some Nutri-Drench (according to package directions), then leave her alone to pass the egg.  This may take a bit of time, so be patient.  Be especially gentle during the entire process because the hen will be uncomfortable.

 

Despite your best efforts, though, she may not expel the egg, at which point you can seek a vet’s advice.

 

So—here’s my second horrible statement.

 

Does a hen warrant the expense of a vet?

 

For me personally, the answer is no.

 

There, I said it, again.

 

This particular hen was 3 years old. She was at the end of her productive life, and for the cost of a visit to the vet’s office, I could buy a whole new flock.  So, no, if I had discovered her in time, and was not able to help her expel the egg I would not have sought vet services.  It’s part of the life I’ve signed up for–the good and the bad.

 

What can you do to prevent a hen from becoming egg bound?

 

  • Feed a high quality layer mix
  • Provide oyster shells or crushed egg shells free choice
  • Limit treats
  • Make sure hens have room to roam for exercise

 

 

 

15 Ways to Save Money on Livestock Feed

Friday, July 1, 2016
posted by jenn

Pig & Feed Bag

I was heartbroken…

 

The first time I sat down to calculate the cost of raising my own meat and eggs and realized I could buy them cheaper at the market.

Mass food production has lulled us into a false sense that foods like meat and eggs should be ridiculously cheap; cheaper than they actually are.

I have been raising freezer lambs for most of my life, and you would think that homegrown—anything— would be less expensive than store bought, but it’s NOT true. Not by a long shot.

 

 So, why do I raise my own meat and eggs if it’s more expensive? Good question.

 

I raise my own meat and eggs more for the quality of the product and knowing how my animals are raised and processed, rather than saving money. It’s also a quality of life decision, too. I just love watching my hens cluck and scratch around the yard, lambs stand on the fence waiting to be fed or rabbits greeting me when I walk in the barn. It makes me happy having critters around!

The overall cost of the end product depends greatly on the feed costs, but even with varying prices, store bought meat and eggs will still be the cheaper option. But, that’s not why we grow our own, is it? I love a thick cut lamb chop with plenty of marbling and a layer of fat to seal in those juices. And, let’s not forget about those bright orange egg yolks that turn into fluffy omelets when the weekend rolls around. There is satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment when you raise your own animals.

But, with all the positives the one negative is the shock of increased prices every time I enter the feed store. Don’t lose heart though, there are plenty of ways to save on livestock feed, AND boost your animals’ nutrition in the process. The following list will give you some good “cost saving” ideas to lower your feed bill without lowering animal nutrition—

 

 15 Ways to Save Money on Livestock Feed

 

1.       Compare prices. Call different feed stores, and feed mills, to get pricing. You’ll be surprised how much they vary. I keep a spreadsheet of sources and prices to track who is consistently lower. But remember—cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Don’t sacrifice your animals’ health by feeding lower quality grains. It’s not worth it!

2.       Buy in bulk. I buy all of my livestock feed, and a lot of other homestead supplies, in bulk. Why? Because, I can get price breaks when I buy in bulk. I love discounts, don’t you? Many feed stores will give discounts when you buy multiple bags of feed. 10 bags seems to be the magic number in my area. When buying chicken, duck, rabbit or turkey feed I try to place an order with friends who also need feed.  I also combine orders of pig food with a friend who raises feeder pigs for the freezer. The more we buy, the more we save. I’m a little more particular about my sheep feed. That was especially true when DD was showing lambs. But, even then I would buy 500 to 1,000 pounds at a time. My one caution: feeds that are ground or cracked can lose nutritional value in a short time, and feeds with molasses can go rancid if they sit too long. It’s best to buy a few months’ supply rather than a year’s supply.

3.       Mix your own feed. Buying all the ingredients for a mixed feed may not be the most cost effective approach depending on your situation; it may actually cost you more. But, if you live in close proximity to grain mills that carry the right ingredients it would at least be worth looking into. When I had my large flock of sheep I fed cull lima beans that I purchased from a processor up the coast. The price was pennies per pound, which made the 2 hour drive worthwhile when I was buying 4,000 pounds at a time. Shop around, see what’s out there. You may even find a local farmer or grain processor that has old grains or grains not suitable for human consumption, but perfectly fine for your livestock willing to sell to you some. When I was in college I worked for a grain mill that bought grains for companies like Pillsbury. If the grains didn’t meet the moisture thresholds it was sold primarily to feed lots, but we did have a few smaller cattle ranchers buy from us. It’s worth looking into.

4.        Don’t feed free choice. This is especially true for poultry and rabbits. Large livestock are usually fed their rations morning and night. I know filling that 5-pound automatic feeder with lay mash is easy, and there is quite a bit of debate around the topic. But, I like letting my girls chose when to eat and when not to eat. I think it keeps them evenly nourished and not gobbling down feed morning and night because they don’t know when they’ll eat again. When is regulating feed a good idea, especially for poultry and rabbits? When your animals free-range and have access to other foods. Have you noticed that your hens eat less when they roam? Another reason to control their feed is if you have a rodent problem. A trough full of feed is like an open invitation to a gourmet buffet to mice, rats and birds.

5.       Free range your poultry and fowl as much as possible. Not a good idea with large livestock, though. I’m having visions of sheep on the road or crashing through the laundry line…not a good picture. Not everyone is able to free range, but those that can should. The variety of “goodies” adds important nutrients to their diet, plus helps keep the bug population at bay. Ranging also keeps your girls from getting bored, and it’s just plain delightful watching them scratch and peck around the farm.

6.       Bring the yard to the coop or hutch. If your flock or herd can’t roam, or you have to confine them for some reason, bring overripe fruit, spent veggies, weeds and plant trimmings to the coop or hutch. A few years ago I had a problem with coyotes, even during the day, so my girls were confined to the coop and their fenced in run. Have you ever been scolded by an unhappy hen? Not pleasant I can tell you. Over time they came to enjoy having green stuff tossed in the coop. Rabbits, too, will enjoy fresh greens from the garden. They are natural browsers that like variety in their diet. Even sheep, goats and pigs can handle a bit of garden waste. Everyone will definitely appreciate all the fresh greens.

7.       Get chaff from the feed store. Every bale of hay will lose a bit of chaff from being moved, creating a carpet of green around those giant stacks at the feed store. Ask if you can pick up a bucket or two, your animals will love you for it. If they are agreeable, move try filling a larger container.

8.       Get scrap produce from local markets. It’s getting harder and harder to get stores to “give away” scrap produce, but it’s still worth asking. Trimmings, bruised fruit and overripe produce that can’t be sold are perfect treats for livestock. Bananas are a favorite of rabbits; chickens will love squishy tomatoes, and large livestock will go nuts for leafy greens. I’d stay away from any bakery items, though. They are heavily processed and contain preservatives and additives that we homesteaders are trying to keep out of our food sources, that goes for our eggs and meat, as well.

9.       Grow your own. Even the smallest suburban homestead can grow a small patch of greens, cover crops or sunflowers dedicated just for supplemental livestock feed.

10.   Create a fodder growing system. For a few dollars and a little bit of space you can start growing nutrient-dense feeds that your livestock will love. Sprouting grains like oats, barley and rye are perfect to start with because all livestock can eat them.

11.   Raise meal-worms. I know what you’re thinking…totally gross, right? I’ve seen and done a lot in my life, but even I’m not up to growing squiggly little worm like things. Just the thought of it makes me shudder! BUT—they are protein packed and a fabulous low-cost way to supplement your chicken, duck and geese feed. Don’t try feeding it to other livestock, though. I’m not sure it would be a big hit.

12.   Use leftover dairy products or whey from cheese making. Dairy is filled with protein. From leftover yoghurt and cheese to whey, your chickens and pigs will love it. Start them off with small amounts until they get used to it. For pigs, just pour it over the top of their grain. The moisture will help to hydrate them.

13.   Feed kitchen scraps. Everyone can do this. I keep a small stainless steel bucket next to the sink and plop in veggie trimmings and leftover bread and melon rinds. As soon as I walk out the back door the ruckus begins. If my girls are out roaming they will come-a-runnin’ wanting their evening treat. Now, they go crazy anytime I have a bucket in my hand.

14.   Market your eggs. Selling extra eggs may be be a way to save on feed, but is a great way to cover some of your feed costs, and have your hens pay for themselves. Plus, you’ll never be short on people looking for farm fresh eggs!

15.   Cull non-productive hens and does. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many people keep small livestock just for the enjoyment of it, and that’s great. But, if your goal is to reduce feed costs, it may be time to cull those animals that are not productive. The next logical homestead step would be to butcher culled hens and make homemade broth and canned chicken for casseroles or pot pies. I know this may horrify some, but isn’t that what great-grandma would have done?

 

Using Crushed Egg Shells as a Calcium Supplement

Wednesday, June 22, 2016
posted by jenn

Egg Shells

Like any good homesteader I am frugal beyond belief, always looking for ways to cut costs, reuse and repurpose. As the cost of chicken feed and supplements continue to go up I began looking for ways to offset that expense.

Of course, kitchen scrapes, spent veggies from the garden and free ranging for bugs and treats are still the main stays in supplementing feed, but what about other supplements, particularly calcium?

Hens need an ample supply of calcium for good health, and because without it their shells are thin and fragile, sometimes breaking when you collect or store eggs.

What I didn’t realize, before my research, was the wide and varying opinions of where to get calcium for your hens. Some people think only commercially available calcium in the form of oyster shells or limestone from a feed store should be used, but those can be pricey. My frugal farm girl brain wanted something cheaper and more sustainable. I didn’t have far to look for a solution as it turned out. In fact, I didn’t have to look any farther than my chicken coop.

 

 What?? Where did you find calcium in your chicken coop, you ask?

 

Right inside of each nest box, that’s where!

Yep, you got it. Egg shells are high, really high, in calcium and make the perfect renewable source of a supplement your hens need for good health and firm egg shells.

In reality, farmers and homesteaders were feeding egg shells back to their flocks hundreds of years before commercial products ever hit the market.

Many commercial lay rations contain a suitable amount of calcium, but why not let your girls have a free choice of extra calcium whenever they want it? It just makes good sense to feed your hard working girls a little bit extra.

 

 BUT—how do you feed egg shells so they don’t make my hens sick?

 

Logical question.

Here are a few tips on how I clean and reuse my egg shells.

  • Each time I use eggs I rinse and store them in container. As it becomes full I just smash down the shells to make room for more.
  • When my container is full, I spread the crushed shells on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 350 for about 10-12 minutes. This will make the shells brittle, dry out the inner membrane and kill any bacteria. (I’m not so worried about bacteria when using my own eggs; the hens are use to their own germs. But, store bought eggs will have bacterial strains that your hens are not use to, and that could cause illness.)
  • Once the shells have cooled a bit, crush away. You can use a potato masher, put them in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin, or just smash them with a wooden spoon, which is how I do it. Some people use a blender or a food processor to get a finer texture, but I’m too lazy to drag those appliances out of the cabinet.
  • The goal is to smash the shells small enough that they are unrecognizable to the hens.
  • To feed them either mix with their normal rations or offer them “free-choice” in a separate feeder. I use a large rabbit feeder and feed them separately. The hens are perfectly capable of deciding when they need a calcium boost and how much.

 

I know what you’re thinking.

 

Won’t feeding eggshells entice my hens to eat eggs?

 

It might, but not very likely. I’ve never had a problem. In fact, I’ve had more egg eaters when I didn’t feed egg shells, probably because the girls were craving calcium and the eggs were the closest source. But, every flock is different. There’s always one rouge hen that goes crazy and pecks at anything and everything. Once she gets a taste of egg she may become an egg eater, but that’s a whole different problem that I wrote about in “Hens Eating Their Eggs? There is a Reason”.

There you have it…a free source of renewable, calcium rich supplement that will keep your girls happy and you in eggs that you won’t poke a finger through. What more could a farm girl ask for?

How to Make Homemade Suet Cakes

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
posted by Jenn

Suet Cake - Step 5

There’s nothing a chicken likes better than a little bit of fat during the long cold winter months to keep it healthy, happy and full of energy. Suet cakes provide all this and a few treats as well. But, commercially purchased suet cakes can be expensive and contain other chemical ingredients that you may not want your girls to have.

Making your own, homemade, suet cakes is easy. It’s even easier if you get in the habit of saving your fat or grease from cooking. I keep a container in the freezer to store grease from cooking bacon, sausage, meatloaf and hamburger (anything that produces fat, really).  I don’t worry too much about using bacon fat because I don’t use a lot of it and it is mixed with the other kinds of fat. I store my fat in the freezer because our hot summer and early fall weather makes me nervous about the fat spoiling, and I’d rather be safe than sorry.

When I’m ready to make suet I can make several at one time, saving me time. The spent grease, tallow or suet is a great binder to hold everything together, and it will only take a few minutes.

Ready to make your own suet cakes?

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A container to store fat in (remember…store all year long)
  • A plastic lidded freezer container
  • ½ cup chicken scratch or bird seed
  • ¼ cup chopped nuts (I use the flat side of a meat mallet and just give the nuts a few whacks)
  • ¼ cup dried fruit like raisins, apples, apricots, anything)
  • ¼ cup cracked corn (for energy and heat while they digest it)

Here’s how I did it:

  • Gather all ingredients
  • Layer dried sliced apples in the bottom of the freezer container
  • Pour the scratch or bird seed over the apples
  • Layer raisins on top of scratch
  • Sprinkle with chopped nuts
  • Slowly heat fat until it is liquefied, let cool, but not solidify
  • Pour fat over to cover everything by about ¼-inch
  • Gently poke a fork around or stir to make sure fat reaches the bottom (remember, the fat holds the whole thing together)
  • Cover and place in the freezer to harden.

When you’re ready to use, run a knife around the edge of the container to loosen the cake, then turn it upside down and whack it on the counter until the cake falls out. At this point you can cut it to fit a purchased suet cage or you can do like I did and make a hole in the middle, thread some twine through and hang the cake where the chickens can play and peck at it.

This is a basic recipe for making suet. You can change it up with any combination of seeds, nuts and dried fruit you want. Try oatmeal, squash seeds, or dried meal worms (yum) and send your girls wild. You can also use any type of container you have—from decorative molds to cupcake liners. When the cakes have set just remove them from the freezer container and store in a zipper bag until ready to use.

One more note:  Suet blocks are best used when the weather is cold, otherwise the grease will liquefy and your cake will fall to pieces.

7 Ways to Keep Poultry Warm This Winter

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
posted by Jenn

Deep Litter

Wild winter weather may not have arrived yet in many parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can forego getting your coop ready for frigid temperatures.

If fall chores and holiday preps kept you from attending to this very important task, you still have time. Remember the weather thing? It’s unpredictable.

Here on the coast of California we rarely get bitter cold temps, but we can get nights below freezing, so as a course of action we get the coop ready for cold weather. It’s just a good habit to get into, like cleaning gutters or splitting firewood.

Chickens are fairly tough creatures and can handle the cold much better than they handle the heat, if they have proper shelter. Below are a few tips to help keep your flock warm and comfortable all winter long; how ever long that may be.

1. Check the coop–give the coop a good look over for cracked or broken windows, leaky roof, and vermin digging in. Make sure the wire is safe and secure, and the nesting boxes are in good shape. You don’t want anything sticking out or sharp that may cause injury. Make any repairs needed.

The coop doesn’t need to be air-tight. In fact, you want to have a bit of ventilation as chicken poop is damp, creating moisture build up inside the coop, which can cause mold and respiratory problems.

2. Embrace the “deep litter” method of bedding. Not only will the thick layer of bedding keep your chickens warm, it will give them something to scratch in. The microorganism action, spurred on by nitrogen rich chicken poop will give you a head start on spring composting, too.

To get started–gather up whatever you have that’s free–straw, hay, leaves, shavings, wood chips and pile it in the coop until it’s about a foot deep. Supplement this with purchased straw if you need to. It may seem like a huge amount, but don’t worry. The girls will scratch around and mash it down. At night you can scatter scratch grains in the coop to encourage the girls to hunt and peck in the morning, fluffing up the bedding.

Turn the bedding each week with a pitchfork, paying special attention to the areas below the roosts because they can become damp. If they do, simply scoop out the damp areas and add more bedding. Add more bedding material as needed.

If you have brutally cold winters and your coop is large enough, consider lining the sidewalls with straw bales. Not only will this give great insulation, but adding more bedding will be close at hand.

Extend the “deep bedding” into the outside run of your coop to draw your girls out into the sun. You can use spent vegetable plants from fall garden clean-up, grass clippings and other organic matter. Your girls will have a ball finding out what’s at the bottom.

3. Make sure nesting boxes have plenty of bedding, too. Especially if they are metal like mine. I like to use a mixture of shavings and straw. The shavings make a good protective layer on the bottom, while the straw gives each box a loftiness for the hens to nestle into.

4. Keep water flowing. Although the weather may be freezing your chickens still need plenty of fresh, clean water. This may be a challenge if water troughs are constantly freezing.

To help keep water flowing use a large diameter black rubber tub instead of a metal waterer. Set the water bowl in the sun so the black rubber can absorb the heat. Putting ping pong balls (or other floaties) in the bowl will also help keep water from freezing because the balls move with the wind preventing the water from icing over.

You can also create a mini greenhouse lean-to with old windows. It’s similar to sitting next to a window in your house. It’s always warmer. Another option is to purchase a heated waterer. These work in most winter climates, but require electricity near the coop, and will increase your electric bill. Simple and free are always worth trying first before going the expensive route.

5. Let it shine. If you have electricity in your coop you also have the option of installing a heat lamp for warmth and for extra light, which encourages the girls to lay during dark winter months. I know there are two sides to this topic, and I won’t go into them here because we’re talking about keeping chickens warm, not extending laying or preventing molting.

If you decide to use a heat lamp, make sure to buy the kind with a protective cage so the chickens can’t touch the bulb and use a red bulb rather than white. White is very bright and hard on the eyes. Also, make sure the heat lamp is secured to a solid surface so it can’t fall and cause a fire. I’ve used a heat lamp for decades with no problems at all. Mine is clipped to a chain hanging from the roof joists with snap hooks.

6. Create heat from the inside out. Supplementing lay mash and scratch with a bit of cracked corn every evening creates energy to breakdown and digest the corn, which helps to build internal heat, keeping your chickens warm from the inside out.

7. Banish winter boredom to prevent feather picking, egg eating or pecking each other. Let’s face it, if you don’t like being stuck inside all winter long then why think your chickens would? We have cabin fever. They have coop fever.

When your chickens don’t have weeds or grass to munch on, bugs to scratch for or dust to bathe in they can get bored. Boredom can also be caused by a coop and run that are too small to provide interesting things for your chickens to do. So, send them outdoors to entertain themselves. If weather, and predator control permit, let chickens free range outside their normal confines. Having seasonal perches or stumps to stand on will encourage chickens to spend much of their day outdoors. Hanging overgrown squash, sunflower heads or whole cabbages will give your chickens endless hours of entertainment, not to mention treats and added nutrients.

Anything new and different in, or out, of the coop will pique your chicken’s curiosity, keeping them busy all winter long. Before you, or they, know it spring will be here, the sun will be out and temperatures will be on the rise. Just wait.

 

More ways to protect chickens from winter’s wrath.

Keeping Poultry Warm During Colder Months 

 

How to Make Homemade Maple Sausage

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
posted by Jenn

Image result for homemade maple sausage images

When I was a little girl and our town had not yet experienced the rapid building and influx of people of its later years, we had small neighborhood markets. The kind you still see in some larger cities or European countries. Think the Butcher, or the Baker, but no Candlestick Maker. We had small grocery stores and five & dime shops that were breeming with all kinds of curiosities – from hardware to gardening to sewing supplies, all displayed in one shop.

My favorite was the butcher shop; a long narrow store with a meat counter on one side and all kinds of meat accompaniments on the other. Behind the counter were stainless steel tables for slicing and wrapping meat. There was a large band saw for cutting carcasses into quarters or large roasts. Saws and hooks and other tools hung from the “C” shaped track that brought whole carcasses from the cooler to the cutting tables. The walk-in freezer sat at the end of the room, adorned with posters from the Lamb Council, the Pork Producers Association and the American Beef Council. In the fall, the shop owner would put a large poster on the freezer door announcing the time to order special holiday meats like fresh turkeys, hams, ducks, geese and prime rib or tenderloins.

Each week my mom would take us with her as she did her weekly meat shopping. The butcher would talk to her about what was on special, what had come in that day and what would be good choices to feed a family of five on a budget. But, without fail we left with the same thing every week – chicken, ham, homemade sausage, ground beef, stew meat and something dad could grill on the BBQ during the weekend. The butcher would wrap each cut of meat in pink paper and secure it with white butcher tape. There were no plastic bags or carts, just an arm load of meat to feed a hungry family. Before leaving, the butcher would hand us two bones as treats for our dogs, a large one for Sam our Great Dane and a smaller one for Shelly, moms Cocker Spaniel.

Decades have passed and days of neighborhood markets are mostly memories now. The butcher shop of my childhood has been paved over along with many of the stores we shopped at during my childhood. But, I’ve never forgotten the fun I had going to that butcher shop and how polite and helpful and friendly the butcher was.

Hens eating their eggs? There is a reason.

Monday, July 29, 2013
posted by jenn

Egg Eaters

One of the worst habits a hen can develop is eating eggs, whether your flock is for egg sales or just supplying your family. And, when she gets the taste of eggs it’s hard to stop her without persistence. But, don’t panic because it’s not always necessary to cull the offending egg eater.

Egg eating usually starts by accident, when a hen steps on or accidently cracks an egg. She pokes around, tasting something yummy inside and then goes hog wild breaking and eating eggs as soon as they’re laid. Many times the whole flock joins in the feast, leaving few whole eggs for family or farm.

The reasons behind eating eggs:

  • Not Enough Calcium. When hens don’t get enough calcium their shells are not strong enough to withstand everyday life in the coop. Even minor bumps or knocks can cause an egg to crack. Commercial poultry feed don’t always give your girls enough of the mineral to produce a strong shell. Supplementing with crushed oyster shells or ground egg shells can help increase the calcium level. That’s right! Eggshells for the egg eater. But, make sure they are crushed or chopped fine so the hens won’t make the connection.
  • Shallow Bedding. To give hens and eggs a good soft place to land make sure there is about 2” to 3” of bedding material, like shavings or straw, in each nesting box. Less bedding means hens are laying eggs on a hard surface, which can cause cracking. I have used both for years and prefer straw in the warmer months because it doesn’t pack down as much. But, in the winter I use a layer of shavings with straw on top, giving the girls added warmth in each box. Be sure to save or compost when you clean your boxes. All that dry matter and manure makes great compost material or side dressing for nitrogen loving plants.
  • Not Enough Nesting Boxes. Your coop should have one nesting box for every four or five hens. They won’t hang a shingle out claiming a specific box as their own and you may find that they use a few of the same boxes, but more boxes gives them room spread out and can cut down on the skirmishes.
  • Broody Hens.  When a hen is broody or setting eggs she will stand her ground, trying to keep other hens off the nest. These tussles can cause broken eggs.
  • Egg Collecting Times. Leaving eggs in the nest long after they are laid is an invitation to an egg eater. Eggs should be collected shortly after they are laid, if possible. This has always been a challenge on our farm because by the time hens lay we are off at work or school, leaving collecting until evening.
  • Protein Deficient.  Chickens require a high percentage of protein in their diet either from feed or other sources, and the lack of it can cause hens to crave eggs. So…give them what they want! Strange I know, but one source of protein can be eggs. That’s right, eggs. Adding a bit of scrambled eggs to their feed can help fill the protein gap.
  • Lack of Privacy.  Or, in this case “out of sight, out of mind”. If hens can’t see the eggs they are less likely to explore the nest. Draping the front of the nesting boxes can help.

A few other reasons hens will eat eggs is boredom and a lack of things to do. Give your hens a place to roost outside where they can watch the world, piles of leaves to scratch in provide hours of amusement, and hanging treats in a tree to occupy them.

Playing tricks on your hens can also help stop existing egg eaters.

Replace eggs with “fake” eggs like plastic, wood or ceramic, golf balls, or ping pong balls; anything small and round. When your hens go to peck these “eggs” they won’t break, nor will they find anything tasty inside.

Blow out a real chicken egg and refill it with something that won’t taste good like mustard or hot sauce. They’ll get the message that eggs are not good.

Hang curtains in front of nesting boxes to block the egg eater’s view. If they can’t see the eggs they won’t eat the eggs.

 

With a little creativity and trickery you can work your hens out of eating eggs instead of culling them.

 

The Power of a Dollar

Saturday, July 20, 2013
posted by jenn

A Dollar

Every so often I go on a rampage of frugality. It’s more like a feeling of sickness, a sickness of spending money, sick of the cost of things, sick of pulling out my wallet everywhere I turn, sick of how a dollar doesn’t go as far as it use to. Just plain sick. This past week has been one of those times as the cost gas, water and food increasing almost on a daily basis fills my subconscious.

On the way home from work I swung by the library to peruse their daily used book sale to see if I could find any interesting title additions to my growing library. As I walked the stacks those money infused thoughts crept to the forefront. It drew me to think how and when and where money flitters away. It’s not a great amount, mind you. I’m already a fairly frugal, penny pinching saver, always trying to find new ways to spend less on what the farm and I need. As I drew my hand over the books looking for titles that would interest me it came to me…for a buck I could buy a book, a book that would educate me or entertain me. I stood there staring, thinking really, about how many things I have or could buy with a buck. It was amazing to me that in a short period of time I could list more that a dozen things I have bought that were only a buck.

There was the trip to my favorite ethnic market where the produce is plentiful and the prices reasonable and I could buy…

2 pounds of carrots

5 grapefruit

A string of garlic

3 heads of lettuce

4 pounds of onions

1 cantaloupe

¼ pound of Feta cheese

Or, 1-1/2 pounds of chicken quarters, for a buck.

Then there was the thrift store sale where I bought a new pair of shorts and a few more clay pots for vegetable or flower starts, for a buck.

During a trip to town running errands for work I bought an iced tea to stave off the heat…for a buck.

At a garage sale I bought a galvanized water trough, for a buck.

On Craigslist, I bought iris bulbs, for my ever expanding flower garden, two bags for a buck.

I can also buy two stamps, a fat-quarter of sale quilt fabric, salt licks for rabbits, a scoop of grit for chickens, and a few dog treats, for a buck.

At the library that day I bought a 4-part mini-series, for a buck.

And, of course…a book.

It was proof positive that the dollar has more buying power than I sometimes think. It was nice to sit and reflect on how many things can (or have) been purchased for a dollar. The more I reflected, the more my frugal rampage dissipated, until finally it disappeared all together. Funny how some worries retreat as fast as they come on.

 

What can you buy for a buck? It’s out there ya know. We only have to look.