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I will eventually post the new version on the site. Chickens are the easiest of all livestock to raise. Their needs for feed and shelter are easily met. The eggs and meat you can get from a home flock will be superior to anything you can buy. And a flock of chickens is an endless source of fascination for the whole family. Give them a try! If your main interest in chickens is egg production, you might choose one of the Mediterranean class breeds - Leghorns, Golden or Silver Campines, Buttercups, Hamburgs, Blue Andalusians, Minorcas, etc.

These breeds tend to be somewhat smaller and lighter in weight, as they put more of their resources into egg production rather than larger frames and greater muscle mass. They usually lay white eggs. Some of these breeds can a bit high-strung. Meat breeds are typified by the Cornish Cross, a very fast-growing hybrid with a broad, plump breast, easy to dress out. These birds can be ready for slaughter at seven or eight weeks. If slaughtered at weeks they produce excellent roasters. Because they grow so fast, they are not as vigorous or resilient as others, and easily expire from episodes of sudden stress.

Typically, such birds require a little longer grow-out than the Cornish; but exhibit better vigor, none of the leg and heart problems of the Cornish, yet dress out with the sort of plump, broad breast the market has come to expect.

Many people prefer a compromise between the meat and the egg "specialists": The dual-purpose breeds, which lay well usually brown shelled eggs and grow fast enough to serve well as table fowl though they are not as broad breasted as the meat-production hybrids. Birds of this type are ready for slaughter at about 12 or 13 weeks of age. They are usually more gentle and easy-going than the Mediterranean group.


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Usually the discussion of breed choice ends here. However, I urge you to consider also the historic breeds, such as the five-toed Dorkings, which originated in Rome before the time of Julius Caesar.

Conclusion …

While not as productive as modern breeds, the historic breeds have other virtues to recommend them. For example, Old English Games may not be ready for slaughter until five months old and may lay only eggs a year - but they can virtually feed themselves if given enough space to forage; the hens are devoted and fiercely protective mothers; and their meat was once the standard against which all other table fowl were judged.

Just-hatched chicks can be sent through the mail. Many people turn first to one of the mega-hatcheries such as Murray McMurray. They feature large selections and illustrated catalogs. My own preference is to seek out smaller, family owned regional hatcheries, which I have found may provide more personalized service and superior stock.

You can get both chicks and started stock from the local farmers co-op, though the choice of breeds is very limited. You can also connect with local enthusiasts who have stock to sell through classified ads or a publication such as the Valley Trader.

Egg Size and Your Small Flock of Laying Hens

Finally, of course, you can breed your own. This may not be a realistic option if you're just starting out. But at some time in the future, you may find that it is quite a thrill to "hatch your own. Or, if you're lucky enough to have a broody hen, you can just "let mama do it. If you start with day-old stock, you will have to be a surrogate mama to your baby chicks. Set up an enclosed brooder which is free from drafts and protected from rodents, cats, etc.

The waterer should be designed so that the chicks cannot wade into it and get wet. Temperature should be maintained so that the chicks are neither huddling under the heat source, nor huddling in a corner as far as possible from the heat. If they are scooting around the brooder like a bunch of little water bugs, all is well. Frequent monitoring of the brooder is the key to success. Of course, if you have a mother hen who is raising your new chicks, you don't have to worry about any of this.

When it comes to raising baby chickens, a mother hen is a lot smarter than you. Housing for chickens can be extremely simple. If you already have an existing shed or outbuilding, it can probably be modified to serve quite nicely. The fundamental requirements are that the birds be protected from the wind or heavy drafts; and that they be completely dry.

Chickens have a strong instinct to roost; so will be more content if furnished with some structure on which to roost. It is important not to overcrowd your birds. Allow a minimum of three square feet per bird, up to an ideal five square feet or more. Of course, if the flock has constant access to the outside, they will do fine with less space in their "sleeping quarters" inside. If you plan to build a new structure in which to house your birds, I strongly recommend that you keep an earth floor in the building, and cover it with a thick layer of high-carbon litter such as oak leaves, wood shavings, etc.

I do not think straw is a good litter material over earth floor, as it can support the growth of molds which can be a respiratory problem for the birds. The constant scratching of the chickens incorporates the droppings into the litter, preventing the typical "caking" of manure which results in foul odors, flies, and possible buildup of pathogens. The constant mixing of the manure with the high-carbon litter results in a decomposition process similar to that in a compost pile. The billions of microorganisms driving this decomposition actually produce Vitamins K and B12, various natural antibiotics, and other immune-enhancing substances which the chickens ingest while scratching for and eating tiny critters in the litter.

You can periodically say once a year remove the litter and use it as compost without further processing. If you have to use an existing building with a wood floor, that's okay. Here, too, you should lay down a thick layer of dry, high-carbon litter.

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In this case, where the litter remains dry, a straw litter is okay. Your poultry house will be far more pleasant for you and more healthful for the chickens. When you remove a mix of litter and manure from a structure with a wooden floor, you should compost it before adding it to the garden. Whenever you notice a strong odor of ammonia, especially upon opening the poultry house in the morning, it is time either to clean out the litter, or add another layer of high-carbon material.

Joel Salatin has observed that, if allowed five square feet per bird, the chickens will continually turn in all manure laid down. At four square feet, there will be some "capping" of manure accumulation of an impervious layer the birds cannot incorporate , especially under the roosts. At three square feet, there can be capping over all or most of the litter. If you find that the manure is building up in this way, simply use a spading fork to turn over the capped areas in clumps. The chickens will then be able to break up the clumps and work them into the litter.

Whatever shelter you give your birds should protect them from wind and sharp drafts; but at the same time should allow for adequate ventilation. I installed solid outer doors and inner frame doors with wire mesh. For more info on this plant click here. Chances are you already have it.

In that case, find it and transplant it to where you want it. Whether it be killed predators or fresh road kill, this can be a creative means of providing high-quality protein to your birds in one of two ways:. Just be sure to use fresh carcasses to help prevent Clostridium botulinum that can cause a deadly disease in your chickens called limberneck. In his book Small-Scale Poultry Flock author Harvey Ussery emphasizes not to include chicken slaughter waste that might include grain from their crops as this can be a likely source of Clostridium botulinum growth.

Uproot with a potato fork or similar by driving the tool into the ground and loosening the soil around the roots just enough to pull out the weeds. Clean them off and pitch to the chickens, roots and all. You can also put them through a grinder or cut up if desired.

Egg Size and Your Small Flock of Laying Hens | Manitoba Agriculture | Province of Manitoba

Every summer we could easily harvest gallons upon gallons of wild autumn berries, blackberries, and wineberries. Follow the planting guides for any of these grain crops you choose.

Gathering wild nuts, planting your trees, or giving them access to the forest can provide a significant amount of protein and fat for your chickens. I suggest one of two things, depending on the size of your flock or harvest: For larger jobs, consider running them through a feed grinder.

Starting a Small Flock of Chickens

Gather wild fruit or plant your own. Harvest the produce for your chickens or give them access to the fallen fruit. Soldier flies look more like black wasps that fly, but they have an interesting life cycle that can create a protein rich source of food for our flock.