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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chickens

This spring we bought 6 pullets (or so we thought). One turned out to be a rooster, and we gave him away along with one hen.  We now have 4 city hens, that have just begun to lay.

 The weather has turned cold, and I am about to seal the coop up so that it is waterproof.
We have been feeding the girls Layena, and I just gave them a Flock Block. 


Now comes the planning portion of my chicken project. I orginally hoped that we would be moved to the Farm by winter, but since we are not, I have plenty of wiggle room in planning the future of the Flock's coop plans.

We are currently using a Chicken Ark, which we found pictures of online, and just slapped together after a bit of haggling and banter. What we came  up with works well for a handful of laying hens, but could still use a little fine tuning to make "just right". 


I am working on a back trap door for egg collection. Our current larger door would be used for cleaning. It needs new and sturdier handles.  I need one more board across the top, before I seal it up.  I would like to adjust the roosting perches, to ensure there is plenty of room with 4-6 hens. I would like to add a few hens each year and perhaps cull the older ones. I am not sure yet.

Now the "planning" I spoke of.
I currently have 3 raised beds made with cinder block, a potato bin made of recycled pallets, and 2 compost bins, also made of pallets.  When we move, I plan to change the garden quite a bit and also expand it greatly.
I have always wanted to practice sustainable agriculture, using crop rotation, green manures, compost and animals combined to get greater fertility in a concentrated intensive growing situation. What I plan to do now, is keep this "chicken Ark" and use it for the winter at the farm on top of my raised beds.

Bed #1 would be ready to plant...after having composted there previously.
Bed #2 would be current compost. Two bins that cover an entire bed. One would be the active bin, the other would be used to turn the compost into for the finishing stage.
Bed #3 would be the current location of the Chicken Ark. It would be used for one month (during winter and possible late fall or early spring, depending on that particular season). Straw would be used in the upper chamber along with pine shavings for bedding or nesting material. Each week this area would be scooped out, but the litter thrown below to the ground level.  As water and food is changed out, a new layer of CLEAN straw several inches thick would be added to the soiled straw, and the clean food and water brought back in. After 4 weeks, a thick layer of bedding and manure would be left. And the Ark moved to the next bed. This bed would then become divided into the 2 compost bins from bed #2.
Bed #4 would be the last of a cold frame crop (which there should be several to stretch through winter). As the crops are finished being harvested, the left over vegetable debris would be left for the chickens, when the Ark is moved onto it from Bed #3. This is done as in Bed #3. The chickens eat the vegetable debris, and bedding is added for 1 month, and all is composted once the birds are moved to the next bed.
Bed #5 Would be another cold frame, exactly as in bed #4 but at an earlier stage of maturity. This would be harvested at the same point that the Ark is moved from Bed #3 to Bed #4. The Ark would be moved here after spending 1 month on Bed #4. Followed by composting the manure and bedding.
Bed #6 Would be a hoop house that would have been put up about the same time as the two cold frames. The crops in the hoop house would likely differ from the cold frame crops. These would be brassicas, specifically Brussels sprouts, and Broccoli, Cabbage, etc. Perhaps some clamped potatoes, Some onions, leeks, garlic, etc from a fall crop.  This should be harvested by the end of the cold season (usually by March) and the hoop moved to the beginning of the beds to harden off transplants started elsewhere. The Cold frames can also be moved to the beds that are ready and have been composted to start more carrot, spinach, lettuce and other early plants in Spring, as well as early potatoes.

By the time that the chicken ark has moved from Bed #1 to Bed #6, the season should be warmer. The hoop house could have the plastic sheeting removed, leaving only plastic netting. The Entire hoop would be moved to pasture, and a shelter/nest box could be put inside. This structure would be light enough to move daily during the months when the grass is very green and there are many bugs. You would have to come to the location of the hoop house to collect eggs, feed and water the chickens. But they would get the full benefit of pasture, without being harmed by predators or becoming messy around the farm buildings.

At the end of the warm season, the chickens would be transferred to the ark, and the process would begin again. The hoop could have the plastic put back on to protect late vegetables, and the chickens would be moved successively as the crops are harvested. Ant new beds would be planted down to the winter crops for the cold frames.

My plan has so many advantages, and I try to take sanitation into consideration. By building a hot compost pile, all at once and turning it into the second bin, the bedding and manure should reach temperatures hot enough to kill harmful microbes and bacteria.  The sanitation of the ark is considered, by cleaning the upperchamber weekly, and refreshing the litter beneath, giving them a clean and safe place to walk about (normally it would be much too snowy for them to be outside.)
And the benefit it provides to the owner, by keeping them close to the house (as is the garden) for taking care of them and collecting winter eggs. Also by being close to the home in winter, added light or heat can be used more easily.