Our Chickens are Preparing the Garden

This past weekend we put our chickens into their new mobile coop, and found them a nice space in our garden area for them to prepare.  It’s a bit of an experiment, but I think it will work.

Here in Wisconsin the weather is still pretty cold in March and April, and our average last frost date in my area is the 1st week of May.

So what are the chickens doing?  Chicken things!  Scratching, digging, pooping, and spreading anything that’s put in their reach.  Here they are on day 1.

chicken garden week 1

By the time we are ready to plant, this area will have the vegetation removed, be organically fertilized, and will have a nice layer of mulch spread out, all via chicken power.  No tillers, no backbreaking work with a shovel.  Just chickens doing what they like best anyway.

I’ll update with a photo each week as this area is transformed into a nice area for a garden to be planted.

 

 

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New Mobile Chicken Coop is Ready

We tried our first chicken tractor last year and it worked out well enough but it really was only big enough for 10 birds or so.  It started out as a straight tractor, but as the season moved on and the birds got bigger we ended up just using it as a mobile coop.

You can see it below, surrounded by premier1 poultry netting.

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As a mobile coop it worked ok, but had some limitations:

  • Small wheels made it kind of tough to move over rough ground
  • It was easy enough to move 8′ at a time (every day), but when it was time to move it across the farm, it was tough going
  • Our bigger birds (such as pioneers/red ranger meat birds) weren’t able to get up into the roosting area very well
  • Insuffient space for nesting boxes if we wanted to have laying-aged birds in it

So this year I’m trying a new design, based on the one created by Justin Rhodes at Abundent Permaculture.  You can find his build instructions here.

This new design should fix the problems above:

  • Big wheels make it go over rough stuff no problem
  • Plenty of space for our layers and room for more
  • Open floor means manure goes where it belongs – on the pasture
  • Nesting boxes easily accessed from outside the coop
  • Plenty of easy to access roosting space

Here it is, all put together and ready for its maiden voyage!

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The birds will move in this weekend, and we’ll put them to work fertilizing and preparing the garden right away.

 

 

Building a… hmm, what’s it called?

I’ve been quiet lately.  We’ve been busy with work, kids, new puppy, and building a….  not sure what to call it.

People around us, at work for example, say it’s a farm.  But don’t you have to plan to sell food if you’re a farm?

For a while, I toyed with the word ‘homestead’, but that’s not it either.  Homesteads are pretty serious.

Ultimately, I think we’re just having fun growing our some of our own food and doing something that feels incredibly wholesome.

It started last summer when we got a few chicks.  Caring for them was so easy and so satisfying, especially when that first egg arrived in January.  By February/March we were getting more eggs than we could handle, so we started giving them to neighbors and coworkers.  It’s fun to share, and worth much more as goodwill gestures than $3-$4 a dozen =  $12-$16 a week.

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Then we got the itch to start a garden, and it’s amazing.

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We’ve made lots of mistakes, but you have to start and every mistake is an opportunity to learn.  Every meal now has something we’ve grown ourselves, especially kale and lettuce but also some peas and carrots.  And the tomatoes are coming, and the jalapenos, habaneros, onions, garlic, brussel sprouts.  And maybe even a few raspberries and blueberries.

In April we received our first batch of meat chickens – we ordered 15 birds from Murray McMurray hatchery.  We received 16 Red Rangers and one other rare chick that the hatchery throws in.  One needed to be culled after she got hurt and couldn’t walk, but the others are doing great.

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We’ll be processing them in late July at 12-13 weeks of age.  I’m not looking forward to it, but we feel that we should process them ourselves.

And finally, we are getting four Clun Forest sheep – 3 ewe lambs and an older ewe – at the end of the month.  Here they are with their brothers & sisters at the breeder’s place:

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Along the way, I’ve started to become super interested in all the plants growing out in our pasture.  At first I just saw grass and weeds, but I’m started to appreciate better what they are.  Weeds are nature’s way of repairing damaged soil, and we’ll see if we can help out with some carefully managed gazing and manure additions.

So…  what do you call that?  I think I’m just a guy that likes learning and doing things himself.

First Egg!

One of our ladies laid her chickens laid her first egg – very exciting!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t in great shape when I found it:

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I’m a little disappointed we can’t have this first one for breakfast, but over we are excited nonetheless!

How old are the chicks?  When this egg was laid: 21 weeks, 2 days.

Greenhouse Update

A few weeks ago I built a small DIY greenhouse.  The first use for it is as a winter extension for the coop.  Here it is after our first snow storm of the season:

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Inside it is nice and cozy – no wind and a good bit warmer than the outside. 

Here are our ladies hanging out and scratching around in the straw we put down:

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This has been a success so far, and in a couple months we can start using it to start some early plants for the garden.

What a difference 4 weeks makes!

Our 8 chickens are about 5 weeks old now and we’ve had them out in the grass the last couple of days during the day.  They love it!

What’s really amazing is how much they have grown – here are two videos, the first at about 1.5 weeks and the second from today at 5 weeks of age.

1.5 week chicks play ‘grasshopper keepaway’

5 week chicks enjoying the grass and wary of the suspicious human with treats: