A Chicken in Every Pot: Part 3
Once you have constructed your poultry house you will have to furbish it. To the frugal minded is the over all cost justified? The answer might be is the new car justified? The criteria is that the poultry house will be giving back to the owner, over years and years, one of the best fertilizers, eggs, meat, feathers, garden clean up and of course, love.
Where the rafters come down to the walls you may have an open place. This permits creatures of the night- hungry creatures to have access. The best covering, yet allowing airflow, is ½” galvanized hardware cloth. The reason for this close knit fabric is mink and rats which can squeeze through a ¾” hole. You do not want mink in your poultry house as they just kill all the birds for the joy of it. Rodents and mink can scramble straight up a rough board surface. They can also hop straight up two feet from inside a 32-gallon garbage can you may be using for feed.
The wind turbines, installed according to directions, are easily plugged with a plastic bag full of clippings or you can maker a sliding panel for winter use. The turbines, fewer than twenty dollars each, really suck out hot air and fumes.
The large south-facing window in front of the nightly roosts can be made with a swing down translucent cover, or sliding old window coverage, in the winter cold. For the summer time it is best covered with a screening. Now that West Nile Virus and other global expansionists dramas are unfolding we start to think of mosquito netting screens and maybe an electric bug zapper. For the mosquitoes I encourage bat housing and also Purple Martin colonies which all love to eat mosquitoes.
You will note in last weeks article, Part II, the lower photograph was showing chickens scratching in the garden soil. You cannot let full-grown chickens in with your vegetables and flowers as they will continue scratching and dig out all your plants. Their favorite pastime is to make a dust bath hole and these can be right trippy when grassed over. Hence, we make an enclosed “run” of cage wire which in this case is 8’ wide X 16’ long. The top is covered too. The base has 2” X 6” baseboards that dissuade the fox from digging in. Raccoons do not dig but they are incredible strong-often worrying and twisting a wire until it comes loose and they can get in for a chicken dinner. Staple the wire tight and use treated wood.
Make your cage door up off the ground at least 6”. Dirt seems to pile up and grass also makes it hard to open and close the door. A raised door is a big assist. Make the door wide, at least 4’.
Inside the cage you will have a water bell. This is a 5 gallon bucket and a lip plastic saucer that when filled and inverted forms a vacuum allowing the birds to gather round and chat like we do at a water cooler. The problem is that they dribble and the ground gets muddy and breeds disease. So dig a 2’ X 2” X 1 foot deep hole. Make a 4” X 4” treated wood rectangular frame around the hole and fill the hole with softball size rocks, not gravel. The raised water bell dribbles will be down in the rocks, the surrounding area dry, and the birds looking for insects cannot rake out the rocks, as they would gravel.
Obviously you will need a water freeze hydrant at the poultry house. I do not find 5-gallon water bells hard to manage yet- but in time I will. So if you lack strength there are other options available in the catalogs. What I do is stand next to the water bell base, fill the bucket, place the saucer on it and just flip it over. I have been known to make a mess sometimes, but overall I am successful. You will have another water bell inside the coops on each side. Since I keep the floor covered with hay to keep the birds warm and dry and allow them to scratch about inside during bad weather, the water bells saucer rim will get full of hay and mess. I raise it up on concrete blocks some 10” and the birds have the block edges to stand on and the bell is supported. Figure on filling a five-gallon bell once a day for 25 birds.
You can range feed AND supplement feed, or just feed wet mash, or dry mash free choice, or rationed.
If your garden is fenced in to keep out deer and you range feed your birds they will get into the garden unless the deer fencing also has a poultry mesh covering. The BEST poultry mesh is the green plastic dipped 1” size, 6’ high. Regular poultry mesh without the plastic covering will degrade in 3 years.
Assuming you wish to let the birds out-separate from the garden, you must understand that old time egg ranches had to compute for 100 birds was 1 acre of grains grown for range feeding. Those 100 birds would pick it clean in a couple of days. So you have to consider that you wake up at 5AM, and go to the poultry house and give them either commercial “crumbles”, an easy digestible food or mix the crumbles with excess milk or event water as a mash. You place this mash inside a trough with wire bird spaces that keep them from climbing on top of one another. Plates are a no-no. They just scratch the food out. Use divided wire spaced troughs. I took a 6” rain gutter and nailed it to the wall some 12” high and placed a length of 2”X4” mesh over it, nailed above the trough some 12” and looped down to cover the food holding trough with a 1”x 1” wood pole that hooked under the lip of the rain gutter-now vis a vis: a food trough. I cut out some of the wire in the horizontal to make access for the chicken to insert their heads and this was most suitable. All I had to do was pour in the dry crumbles, or the wet mash, and they had all they wanted if they could clean it up in 30 minutes.
When the chicken is full you will notice that looking head on she has a big swinging bulge in her throat. This is the crop. This is where the food is originally stored and run through the gizzard- a hard muscle that grinds up the food with small pebbles. It is important to always have Rocky Mount Granite pebbles for your birds as a free choice; put in a wall hanging feeder. All the farm stores carry this.
After the AM feeding the chickens are let outside the fenced garden area. I usually do this about 10 AM as they are mostly done egg laying by then. When it starts to get dark they will return. If you call them and scatter some “scratch feed” they will come running. Once you have counted them and they are all inside the coop, you can give them another trough feeding before bedtime, or I should say: roost time. They need to have a full crop to digest all night and keep them warm-ready to lay eggs the next morning.
This is the best management cycle. Sometimes if you have more than one rooster he will surely engage two or three hens and may not want to go back to the coop. He and his girls will usually be found alongside a wall, maybe the barn, when it is dark. That is why it is important to count your birds returning. Now you have to go find the errant birds, pick them up and return them to the coop. I had a German Shepherd dog- Fuzzy- who would find those birds for me at night. I miss her. If you do not retrieve these errant birds, surely the raccoons and Opossums will find them.
Management of the chickens implies responsibility.
Most likely you will just keep the birds to the poultry house and the enclosed wire run. You will then hang a 50lb dry crumbles feeder in the coop. You can also put one outside in the run, but that encourages rats and mice. Then it rains and you lose foods. Now the good news, Twenty-five to thirty-five chickens will consume-dry crumbles- in the amount of 700 lbs a year. The walk in entrance room is where you store the food. You will have to buy from a mill, as the 50 lb sacks at the farm stores are too expensive. Maybe you will reconsider letting your birds free range a bit- if for no other reason than the good exercise.
I realize this sounds like a lot of expense and work, but trust me, it just becomes a routine and you will profit once you have gained experience.
Once the birds are on the roost they will:”call” in unison for lost birds. This is the big cackle and noise at dark. Once settled down you may be lucky enough to hear them all “sing”, a most enjoyable experience letting you know they are full of food, content and happy.
I use a light timer so that the birds can see the lit up coop at night, find their way inside, eat, and roost. When the light timer clicks off I have a night-light on in case someone wants to move about. When it is pitch dark, well they are helpless. A 20-watt bulb keeps them happy, and able to get up to the roosts; but not enough to trigger the pituitary gland in the head for winter egg laying as we discussed last week; this requires a 60-watt bulb.
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Copyright: 2009, Back2theLand.com, Mark Steel.