Chickens! I’ve had them since 2009, and somehow they always seem to find a way to make me scratch my head in disbelief.
My chickens are free range. Their primary mission at my house is insect control. Based on some of the comments that were left by readers of past blogs concerning ticks, some of you may believe I am in love with DDT. That is not the case.
My hens are CHAMPIONS in the fight against ticks on my busy little acre! Even in the overgrown areas of my yard, and there are many, you can freely roam about in shorts in confidence, knowing you will not pick up any ticks.
Of course, I’m not promising you that you won’t encounter poison ivy, as a matter of fact, I am pretty much promising you that you WILL…but you wont find any ticks!
Go across the street, or a hundred yards or so into the woods, and you are on your own! I can tell you that I have been in the woods across the street in late November, with snow on the ground, and have watched the ticks marching up and down my blaze orange hunting clothes. I don’t typically leave my yard anymore…
Part of the reason my hens are so good at eating up all the creepy crawlies in my yard, is that for most of the summer, chicken feed is typically a treat.
I wouldn’t be so stingy with the chicken feed if the hens contributed better…How many people do you know that own chickens that actually buy their eggs at a grocery store??? Only the chickens, the skunks, and The Lord above know where my hens lay their eggs. What’s more, they don’t even hatch them out! They just leave them all over the yard!
Now that the weather is turning colder, bugs are getting harder to find, so my chickens spend a lot of time under the bird feeders waiting for scraps. So now I HAVE to feed my chickens, or risk the wrath of the animal control officer!
Now this may come as a shock to some of you, but my goats LOVE chicken feed! I’m serious! They will knock you down and trample you to get at it. They will eat until they burst! (And from what I am told, that is pretty close to what happens with goats, and chicken feed!) So I had to come up with a way to feed my chickens, and protect my goats.
In past years, I wasted A LOT of chicken feed in the winter, because of snow. In the winter, I want my chickens to have access to as much food as they want, when they want it. But everything I came up with resulted in loss because of snow.
Late last winter I made a feeder out of a bucket, and some sort of chimney pipe or something that has 4 openings in it, that when flipped upside down made dishes. I stuck the pipe in a hole in the bucket, and dumped in half a bag of grain, and it worked PERFECTLY! The only problem was the goats!
The old chicken coop was supposed to be the goat barn, but for several reasons, I wasn’t able to get a major fencing project completed, so the coop remains abandoned…Save for my rooster, who is apparently more intelligent than the hens…He sleeps in the wind and rain proof coop, while the hens huddle together on the porch rail, all night long in the harshest of weather.
Now before you go calling the ASPCA on me, understand that I have done all I could to encourage my hens to seek shelter for roosting!
I even set up a shed directly across from my porch all summer long, and the only birds that roosted in it were the poor little Bantams that became skunk food!
A few weeks ago, I even went out after dark, and snatched the hens off their railing and set them on the perch with the rooster, every night for a week. But every morning, they were right back on the porch!
I decided putting their grain in their coop might encourage them to roost there, and it would keep the goats out of their grain too. So I set the feeder up away from the roosting pole, where it wouldn’t get chicken poo on it, and made a loud racket while filling the bucket. I called “Here chick-chick-chick-chick!” like they do in all the movies, and everything…But they didn’t come running.
The goats? They went absolutely BONKERS while I filled the bucket! They ran at their gate, and crashed into it in a desperate attempt to break it down, They paced back and forth along the fence of their enclosure like children trapped in a school yard when an ice cream truck rolls by. They bleated, they blatted, they begged, they pleaded, and they hollered and swore. Kramer even feigned a near fatal seizure in an attempt to convince me to let them have just one taste!
So I went up to see what the chickens were doing, and as usual, they were under the bird feeders pleading with the blue jays, and chickadees to throw them down a few seeds.
A group of titmice apparently here on vacation were throwing them down beakfulls of seed, and happily snapping pictures of the locals enjoying their generosity, and twittering happily as the chickens feasted.
So I grabbed a scoop of black oil sunflower seeds, and started scattering them on the ground. As I knew they would, the chickens came on a run. I led them from the front yard, all the way down to the back, where I made a trail into the coop. Then inside the coop, I made a huge pile of seeds, and a few scattered handfuls of chicken feed, and left the hens to their feast.
A few minutes later, I was coiling a hose in the front yard, and looked up to see one of the hens under a bird feeder, scratching around looking for scraps. before long, she was joined by the rest of the flock!
I went back down to the coop, and all the seeds, and grain were still on the floor! I grabbed the bag of sunflower seeds, and gave it a shake, and again, the hens followed me down to the coop. I scattered a few more seeds outside the door, and again I left them.
A few minutes later, sure enough they were back at their posts under the feeders. One of the hens was off to the side, talking to a blue jay. I think she was offering to leave eggs where the jays could find them, in exchange for seeds.
Knowing that my rooster takes good care of his girls, and knowing that he sleeps in the coop, I figured he would eventually lead the girls to the coop to eat when the natural sources of food dry up, so I decided to leave them to it.
I figured that since the chickens aren’t using it, the coop was also a good place to store hay for my goats in the short-term, and I set a coupe bales in there. The next day, I went in to get some hay, and right in the center of the bale was an egg!
A week later, the grain in the bucket has not been touched, and my hens are still sleeping on the porch. My rooster still sleeps in his roomy bachelor pad with a lifetime supply of grain. And every day when I go out to the coop to get the goats some hay, I pick up a fresh egg left by one of the hens! Maybe they will change their mind once the snow starts flying…But somehow I doubt it!