Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Poultry in Winter

"The Ladies," also know as our laying hen flock, are the only poultry that currently over-Winter on our farm.  We did over-Winter ducks a couple of times, but we have taken duck off of our poultry menu for a while. 

The ladies suggested that we have not written a blog post about them lately.
A couple of our recent posts have alluded to the weather and how that impacts our chickens, so I guess it makes sense that we should follow through with a 'flock report' of some sort. 

If you check out the photo below, you'll see what happens to the hen yard when we do NOT get early snow cover.  The area closest to the building gets pretty beat up.  We like to let the hens out every day we are able, but if there is no snow cover during the cold months, the birds go out and scratch everything up
This area is just LOVELY during mud season.
If you have not dealt with chickens before, it is important for you to understand that chickens like to forage.  Part of the foraging is to scratch up the ground.  They are so good at this that we've actually used them as a poultry clean-up crew.

I recall returning to a place Tammy and I used to live and cringing as I watched chickens pulling away all the mulch in perennial plantings the two of us had put down prior to moving away.  I realize that not everyone values perennial flower plantings the same way we do/did and I get the appeal of having hens wandering around a country farmyard.  But, it was still alarming how quickly they destroyed what was once a well-manicured planting.

So, now we raise chickens.  And they beat up pastures like this.  What do we do?  Well, we've worked to create a more mobile summer home (see Oh Give me a Home) that will allow us to move the birds around a bit this Spring and Summer.  Our hope is that this will allow us some time to rehab this pasture area a bit AND get some needed maintenance done in the hen room.  The presence of a bunch of birds around your feet does not lend itself to many productive moments in carpentry.  How do I know?  Well, let's just say we've given it a try or two.

Another example of poultry 'destruction' explains one reason why we don't keep our hens right next door to most of our vegetable production.  It also shows you how we supplement our poultry's diet with produce that isn't going to find a home via sales (or in our own kitchen). 

Some pumpkins just don't meet the cut.  Others don't find a home early, so we hold on to them until they start to get softer.  Then, we let the hens have them.  You might think that you have to split the pumpkin up for the birds so they can eat it.  Not so.  Just look at the pictures above and below.

For a point of reference, we were able to store these pumpkins into January.  The benefit is that we can have some quality supplementary food for our hens from the farm in the middle of Winter by simply storing some of the lower quality squash and feeding it to them over time.  This past season, we were able to give them some squash as late as the end of January.  In fact, we were able to give them some bolted greens from the high tunnel just this week.  Happy birds!

If you are interested in getting some of our farm fresh eggs, we suggest you contact us to get on our email list.  We send out a note prior to each egg sale (usually every other week in Winter and every week the rest of the year).  Our customers regularly make positive comments about the high quality of our ladies' work and you will too once you start using them.  Eggs cost $3.50 a dozen and the ladies - despite the cool weather - are doing just fine and giving us 5-7 dozen eggs a day.

And, of course, there is the next generation of hens on the farm now.  We got the chicks JUST prior to Easter and right on time for the cold snap.  It happens every year when we get chicks.  Get the little birds - weather gets cold.  This year has just been a bit more persistent about it than some.  Nonetheless, the little ladies seem to be healthy and are looking forward to being let out of their tub so they can explore more of the world.  We just need temps to stay a little bit warmer at night.

If you would like to read more about how we work with our poultry, you can check out this post: Poultry Slam

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