November 28, 2012

Sunflowers, First Frost And Flock Blocks...

We had our first heavy frost last night, even though we have sunflowers and a few roses still blooming. The daytime temps are chilly and after a few false starts I think winter is pretty much here for awhile.  No snow or sleet yet, that usually holds off till the first part of January. The chickens have finished molting, finally, and are now close to getting all their new feathers in. They look fatter and fluffier (especially their fluffy butts) and ready for winter.

Sunflowers in November
We spent part of the summer researching, reading and YouTube-ing for info  on how to keep the chickens warm once winter hits. We decided to use the deep litter bedding method to keep the chickens warm during cold weather. We started, a couple of months ago, with about about twelve inches of straw, shavings and leaves in the coop and run. It's great because we can throw raked leaves straight into the run and the girls love that. Dried-up, crunchy, leaves (along with hiding insects) seemed to be really special. Normally the leaves would go into the compost pile for the breaking-down process but the chickens do a much better job! This method of adding straw, wood chips and other safe organic materials and letting the chickens have fun with it is quite interesting and time saving.  It's amazing how fast they scratch, dig, peck and turn all of this into fluffy bedding. This is where the scientific part comes in about how everything actually breaks down and heat is produced but I won't bore you with a science lesson today. But we've seen it work - no stinky hen house and deep bedding for them to burrow down in.

"Someone PLEASE stop the wind!"

The addition of organic materials when needed, and a weekly light turning of the existing  bedding material with a garden fork turns the run into a new playground for the girls. They love to attack the piles of straw and leaves and fling it everywhere (like a cartoon whirlwind)!  In the afternoon, before they go up to roost, we toss in cracked corn or scratch. We read that this helps their digestion in some way that affects their ability to build up body heat. We have no proof that cracked corn actually helps but they love it and it's become a  bedtime/roost-time ritual. If they're happy we're happy!

"Keep looking. I know we dropped it around here!"

The ladies go out for supervised free-ranging several times a day -except when the weather is bad. And by bad I mean very cold and torrential raining. There is a place for me to sit and supervise them where I can tolerate the cold, but until I get some industrial strength rain gear, they have to stay in the run till the rain turns to a drizzle. They don't understand this run confinement and become grumpy and hold me responsible. If I'm in the kitchen they can see me through the windows. They think the sight of me moving around inside is a cue that I am coming out the back door. They have a lot to say if I don't come right out!  I can hear them easily from the kitchen if they get loud enough. They really do have a nice, cozy coop and run. And it's not the weather I worry about so much as it is their being cooped-up, literally, for long periods of time. Boredom among chickens can present safety issues. I've seen mine pick, peck and fight with each other…not causing any wounds so far but that's something that is possible and you need to watch for.

There are a lot of ways to keep chickens entertained - food is the best one. You don't want to give them junk food for any reason! But there are ways to make healthy food entertaining. We use a small wire basket filled with pumpkin or greens and hang it just high enough that they have to jump and peck at it to get the goodies, - a Chicken Piñata! There are also gadgets you can use to mount solid food, apples, flock blocks etc., on walls.

I recently tried making my own Flock Block (also very entertaining for them). I combined several recipes I'd seen and tweaked it with what I already had on the shelf.

-Another version of a Flock Block

1/2 to 1 Cup - Water (depending on what type feed you use)
1/2 Cup - Chicken Feed ,either mash or powdery left-over stuff  bottom of feed sack
1/2 Cup - Corn Meal Mix
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup  - Molasses1/2 Cup - Sunflower Seeds and/or Cracked corn

These are optional-
1 tsp  -  Cinnamon
1/4 Cup - Wheatgerm

Mix all together in no special order. Make sure eggs are mixed in well. The main thing to know is you  may need to adjust the amount of water - a lot or a little.  It should look like really thick, dryish cake batter. Spread it out in a glass or metal baking dish to about an inch and a half thick. I did add a very tiny amount of oil to grease the pan. Bake in oven at 300 degrees for about 30 min., enough to make sure the eggs are cooked and the 'block' is somewhat hard but not burned (because of molasses watch closely). When it has cooled enough you should be able to take a knife and cut it into smaller squares if you made a lot or leave it as is.

When I put it out for our chicks they acted like they were getting more Thanksgiving leftovers!

 (Another version) Home Made Flock Block


So sweet!
Edit to yesterday's post-  I was moving straw around in the egg box and found 2 eggs. The chickens weren't due to start laying till mid December so it was a BIG surprise. I didn't even  have my good camera ready so I posted a photo on Facebook. They're are tan with dark brown speckles and on the smallish side. Pretty sure they are from one or both of the barred rocks!



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