September 30, 2012

For The Love Of Bugs And Worms

Looking For Worm
We spent most of the day prepping the beds for fall planting and we kept the chickens in the hen house because we didn't need their 'help' un-planting plants and digging up seeds we'd just sewn. They were going to get to do some supervised free-ranging after we finished. While working we came across lots of worms, crickets and other luscious bugs. I felt guilty for not letting them help so I got a pail and filled it with a little dirt and all the bugs, worms, etc., we found.

Teddy Trying To Help
As we finished the work the rain moved in and the plans for free-ranging disappeared with the sun. So what to do in place of letting six chickens free-range? Hmm. They were all lined up at the door ready to come out regardless of the pouring rain. What they don't quite understand yet is the need for our supervision. So, I dug up a little more dirt from the beds and added it to the pail of goodies. Maybe about three gallons of dirt filled with goodies. I poured half at each end of the run. It took a minute or so but they finally caught on. They flattened the piles of dirt in no time…scratching and pecking to their little hearts' desire. This was a bit different for them because inside in the run is packed dirt and hay on top, when they go out to free-range it's all grass. So being able to get right to the dirt and bugs while inside was fun. I don't know if it made up for not getting to free-range outside but they were entertained and safe. 'Safe' being the operative word.

Heading Out To Explore
Ours live in a fully enclosed run and coop but they do get out for supervised free-ranging. I would give anything to be able to let them out of the coop at sunrise to run, willy-nilly, everywhere till sundown! Unless we get a completely enclosed backyard, including overhead to prevent air strikes from hawks, that will never happen. Their enclosed area is big enough for them to hang out in when they can't come out…but I keep thinking of chickens who get the run of a huge area, a pasture, or wooded area on a daily basis. Are ours suffering any negative affects from not running free everyday? Do they even know what they're missing??? Aaack!  The cliched-to-death apology 'it's for your own good' gets me nothing but grumbling and throaty honking.

The Grass Is Greener On BOTH Sides Of The Fence

 Every small flock owner has different styles of management. Some urban and suburban keepers have full-time confinement with the enclosed area for the chickens meeting the space recommendation for the number and breeds of chickens. The chickens are usually very pampered - getting lots of healthy treats and attention from their owners. They're also much safer from predators. More importantly, whether fully enclosed or fully free-ranged, these chickens know they are cared for and cared about!!

September 24, 2012

Amazing Things About Kitchen Composting

In the very back corner of our yard is 'Compost Central'.  Its not even noticeable unless you walk all the way back to it.  For years it was just your average outdoor collection of leaves, grass, sawdust and wood chips…yeah, kind of boring. Somewhere along the way the tomatoes and vegetables we were growing got tossed in when they got overripe on the vine or had been munched on by various critters. A light bulb went off and I was asking myself 'what about tossing in the overripe things in the fridge…?'. Yes - I researched it. Turns out half the contents of our fridge qualified as compost. Our first kitchen compost pail was a bright orange  plastic, five gallon, lidded bucket (advertising a very familiar big-box store).

 The first thing I went through was the fridge… I had never had so much fun cleaning out our refrigerator! Next I tackled the food pantry. Turns out half the cereal was expired and could go in the bin. The old pasta, stale cookies, flour.  It all went in the pail and I didn't have that guilty-of-wasting-food moment. Being able to throw coffee grounds and the filter in every morning instead of. We found out fast that this practice of kitchen composting was cutting out half the garbage we were bagging up and hauling outside. Not wasting anything and cutting garbage in half! The kitchen compost being dumped to the main compost pile kind of completed the cycle…for a while. We had fabulous, rich, wormy, compost to to add to he gardens.

Brown Gold

 With every harvest we can tell by taste of the food we grow and the look that this compost, as someone else described it, brown gold. No buying fertilizers or soil additives. Free brown gold and less garbage to haul out!

From A Simple DIY Style
Any Color
Stainless Steel

Our original kitchen compost pail has been replace by a nice one gallon, stainless steel, lidded pail -designed just right for the job. The five gallon plastic one sits outside and handles any overflow that can't be taken directly to the compost pile. 

Now that we have chickens the dynamics have changed completely. The chickens eat a lot of the leftovers from the gardens. That gets distributed back into their bedding in the form of chicken poop and that gets cleaned out and hauled to the compost. Which gets turn and moved and turned till it's ready to go into the gardens again. The recycle cycle coming full circle

Things you CAN compost
  • Vegetable and fruit wastes, even moldy and ugly rinds, cores and pits.
  • Old bread, donuts, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, noodles: anything made out of flour!
  • Grains (cooked or uncooked): rice, barley, oats, etc.
  • Coffee grounds, tea bags, filters - yes even the filters!
  • Fruit or vegetable pulp from juicing.
  • Old herbs and spices.
  • Outdated boxed foods from the pantry, cereal - (this was my favorite to take care of)!
  • Egg shells  - just crush them first they break down faster - (soon we will have a lot more egg shells to add back)!
  • Corn cobs and husks - but cobs breakdown slowly.
  • Newspapers except for the slicks or tabloid style, the inks can cause problems to your compost pile.
  • Small amounts of paper added a little at a time is better than large amounts.  It doesn’t break down quickly enough if you add to much.

Things you CAN NOT compost:
  • Meat or meat waste, such as bones, fat, gristle, skin, etc.
  • Fish or fish waste
  • Dairy products, such as cheese, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.
  • Grease and oils of any kind

Most of these are not acceptable because they break down to slowly, attract rodents and cause your compost to smell.

No matter what your compost consists of you have to get out there and turn it so it will break down faster!


September 18, 2012

Fortifying the coop

This is like military planning. You have to set up your line of defense from the air, ground and down under. You have three areas you need to consider: the free-range area if you let you chickens out to roam the yard, the chicken run and their coop.

Predators - We live in a mid town urban area so we don’t have big bears or wolves but we have plenty of others -raccoons, opossum, feral dogs and feral cats. You have your domestic pets dogs and cats. Then you have the sneaky ones like rats and mice. From the air we have hawks and owls.

From the air - The first group of chickens we went to visit, before we got ours, pretty much had the run of half of the backyard. It was enclosed by an eight foot fence. I saw metal wires going randomly across the top and my first thought was to keep the chickens in. But it was to keep the air predators from sweeping down and stealing one of the flock. They also had CD’s hanging about on strings as distractions.  I thought no way we will have these air born predators in our backyard. One week after our chicks moved in, I looked out the window and saw a hawk on our storage shed looking at the flock in the run. Well I think I freaked out more than the chickens.

From the Ground – We have a fenced in backyard so threat from neighborhood dogs is minimum. We have dogs also but we do not let them mingle with chicks. We do not trust them yet. So the Chicks stay in the chicken run when the dogs are out. It is important that you use ½” hardware cloth to enclose your run. Regular chicken wire allows the chickens to stick their head out and that's all it would take to loose it. We also have neighborhood cats. One in particular I likes to visit most mornings when I open the coop door. My dogs seem to be friends with every cat in the neighborhood so forget them for extra protection. Make sure all you hardware cloth is securely fastened around the frames. Cats or others will push back the wire if it is loose.

Under Ground – We hear that there are predators that will tunnel into the run. Mainly rats will find a way in. So along the base of our run we have concrete blocks on solid ground. But we have been told it best to run a perimeter of hardware of cloth alone the outside edge under ground or just lay in the full floor of the run and cover with dirt. 

Raccoons and opossum will try under, over, around or through.  Sharp claws and paws to dig under or through.  Sheer determination to find a way over or around.

Night time security – At night the flock promptly moves to the coop as soon as it gets dark. At this time we close the coop door going into the run. All the windows of the coop have hardware cloth. We have a metal corrugated roof so where there are some small gaps there we covered with hardware cloth.

If the flock is in the yard and danger comes lurking about, they can fall back to the run. If the run protection fails you can have them go to the coop and shut the door as a final stand off. 

At this point, if our chicks are out free-ranging in the backyard, they get very close supervision.


Chick Starter Feed - Midcated Or Not?

Having everything I needed except chick food, a feeder and a waterer, I headed to the feed store one last time just before the chicks were to arrive. Found the food and water containers then headed for feed isle. Whoa!!  Medicated or non-medicated chick starter feed?  Not something I had even heard a discussion about. The feed store employees were helpful only in that they were honest and said they just didn't know which I needed to start out with.  I started texting and messaging my chicken keeping friends -almost in a panic. My thinking at that time was I could just buy a sack of both and return the one I didn't need. I hung around the store a little bit longer …killing time looking at all the interesting things feed stores carry. While I was still in the store one of my chick-keeping friends got back with me, I told him about my utter confusion about the chick feed. Thankfully he was very knowledgeable and helped me make the right choice. I bought a very good quality chick starter feed - not medicated.

This is a very informative article and actually names brands but it is the information, not the branding, that I am passing along.


About non-medicated and medicated chick feed -
excerpts taken from urban farm online :

To make an informed choice, it’s important to understand what the medication in chick feed is, what it prevents (and doesn’t) and when to use it. Much of what you feed will depend on your preference. If you feel strongly about raising your birds without medications, you may opt for the non-medicated version. On the other hand, many people wouldn’t dream of not feeding a medicated starter; they like the added security of knowing they have a preventive measure in place.

Why Use Chick Starter?
  First, let’s review the purpose of chick starter feed.  Chick starter is a specialized type of feed designed for a very specific purpose: to nourish baby chicks so they can grow and thrive. This feed is formulated to what a chick’s digestive system is set up for — early protein. A mother hen takes her babies outdoors to find tasty bugs, nutritious weeds and greens, which provide the protein and energy necessary for proper development. But not many chicks have the luxury of a mother or access to insects. Chick starter contains highly digestible proteins, usually around 18 percent; amino acids and carbohydrates in a small crumble form. These small particles are important to encourage consumption for a small chick. 

How Long to Use Chick Starter?
 Some feed manufacturers, such as the makers of the Nutrena brand, recommend a diet of chick starter for up to four months. Other manufacturers suggest anywhere from two months to until the chicks start laying, and then switching to layer feeds. Be sure to read labels carefully and do research on your specific breed or breeds. 

How Much To Feed?
 Although they look small and weigh next to nothing, baby chicks aren’t shy when it comes to eating. An average chick will consume around 10 pounds of feed during the first 10 weeks of life. It’s important to make chick starter feed available around the clock, since the chicks will self-regulate how much they eat. Raising the feeders off the ground a bit will help reduce waste. And, just like with your adult birds, access to clean water is an absolute must. 

 What Medicated Chick Starter Does
Medicated chick starter is like an insurance policy, aimed at preventing a single disease called coccidiosis, caused by an intestinal parasite. This parasite is widespread and found in just about every chicken yard. It thrives in damp conditions and with brooder-raised chicks. It is the number one cause of death in chicks throughout the world.

 The medication in medicated starter feeds, such as Nutrena Medicated Crumbles, is called Amprolium and is a coccidiostat. Meaning, it’s an agent added to chick feed to help prevent coccidiosis in young birds. No matter how hard you work to keep the coop and pen clean, as chicks scratch, peck and explore their world, they ingest the coccidiosis from the feces around them. It’s normal for birds to ingest a few of these organisms and to build up immunity over time. But cocci multiply rapidly in the gut and too many mean trouble.

 Symptoms of infected chicks include a red or orange tint to the feces, a drop in feed consumption, huddling and acting lethargic. For beginning poultry enthusiasts, the symptoms may be hard to spot, and chicks can become permanently stunted, or even die, before you get medication. The low dose of coccidiostats used in medicated chick starter feed allows a small amount of coccidiosis to survive so that the birds can naturally build up immunity to it. 

What Medicated Feed Does NOT Do
•    It does not guarantee your birds will not get sick from coccidiosis, nor is it potent enough to cure an outbreak. There is only enough medication in the feed to act as a preventative measure. Once your chicks become sick with coccidiosis, their feed intake usually drops dramatically. Depending solely on a medication in the feed is not a good idea. The addition of a water-soluble coccidiostat is a good route to go if you experience an outbreak.
•    It is not targeted to prevent anything other than coccidiosis. It is not an antibiotic, de-wormer, respiratory medication, etc. It will not make up for dirty coops and poor air quality.
 •    It is not necessary for ducklings and other waterfowl. They are usually very hardy birds and not as susceptible to coccidiosis as chicks. Plus, few feed additives are approved for waterfowl and may be harmful, so read your labels carefully.
  •    It does not harm laying hens. If your hens accidentally ingest some medicated chick starter, their eggs are still safe to eat.
•    Medicated Feed and Vaccinations 
Medicated chick starter is not recommended if your chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis at the hatchery. The vaccination provides a small dose of cocci to the chicks to help them build immunity. Feeding medicated starter will kill off this small dose and nullify the vaccination. However, the coccidiosis vaccination is relatively new and fairly rare, so chances are your chicks have not been vaccinated. If they have received the coccidiosis vaccination, it is the only vaccination that would react to a medicated feed; other vaccinations will not be impacted.

When Medicated Starter Is a Smart Choice
There are certain instances where it makes good sense to feed a medicated starter and give yourself some added peace of mind
        •    Brooding large batches of chicks, such as 50 or more at one time
        •    Brooding large batches consecutively

        •    If you live in a hot, humid environment
        •    If you have a history of coccidiosis in your facility
 •    Steps for Prevention 
Whether you choose a medicated or non-medicated chick starter, there are additional steps you can take to help decrease the chance of a coccidiosis flare-up in your flock. Chicks kept on wire have less access to peck at feces, which reduces their chances of becoming infected. Clean your coop regularly, change litter frequently, and keep the brooding area dry. And don’t crowd your birds. Overcrowding quickly leads to unsanitary conditions.

September 17, 2012

Backyard Art

Time to take a break. Forget scooping poop, feeding the chicks and look around. How often do you go into the back yard and really look around. For me, taking pictures is kind of an outlet from the everyday routine. Sometimes we are blind of the details that surround us. Stop, breathe and look at the ordinary and see  your own backyard as art

Weeds on the patio? or patterns under your feet?

A lonely back door at Noon

Lots of fig leaves...

So take a basic digital camera, set it on black and white for simplicity, set it on the highest resolution and shoot.

A garden tool waiting to work in the garden

I use a few different cameras but my favorite is a Cannon Power Shot Elph. Its small, has manual settings and has a rechargeable battery so you don't fill up landfills with batteries.

Rocks photographed in your back yard can be just as interesting as photos taken by Curiosity of rocks on Mars

 Weather worn wood detailing a little growth of moss.

Most cameras have a micro setting you can used for those close up pictures.

Fall time berries before the leaves drop.

Outside table edging the shot.

So its easy to just go out shooting a lot of pictures. But before you shoot look at all four corners to set your composition. You can always go back and crop later but I feel the best cropping is at the time the photo is taken.

Paint stir stick left out on the table

Tray looking for some ashes

Rock caught up in the grid

 Counting the power

Stone and vine collaboration
Look for those details you never saw. Take lot of different angles of the same item and pick the best view later. No film these days to pay for. All those digital 0's and 1's are cheap.

Heavy gravity demonstration keeping the edge of my compost pile in order.

That big metal cast bracket that held the sink up on the wall in the basement. I can't seem to bring myself to throw it away. I'm sure I will find a use for it.

Wire geometry

Bring your backyard inside. Pick your best shots, print, frame and hang. Give a little of your backyard to your friends. Post a little of your yard on that big WWW

Take trashy pictures too

The dog's ball resting

Spool of roping that fused together sitting outside

Fallen leaf, a sign of cooler weather on the way

Wood twist

So create some backyard art


To Vaccinate Or Not?

One of the biggest concerns we had when we were ready to order our chicks was whether or not to have them vaccinated. The hatchery gave us the option of whether or not to have them vaccinated for Mareks Disease. My first thought was 'why wouldn't you want them vaccinated'?…so back to more research.

Mareks Disease is a common virus that causes internal lesions (tumors), and kills more birds than any other disease. It is an airborne virus and enters through the bird's respiratory tract. Mareks usually hits chicks between 5 and 25 weeks of age.

After reading the info we opted to have our chicks vaccinated at one dollar a chick.  A good investment, yes, I think. From a 'moms' point of view though I couldn't help but worry about what they were actually getting in their little systems. And I winced as I thought of 'my' baby chicks getting shots. Eeek…

Our chickens are 14 weeks old now. Growing like crazy and as far as I can tell very healthy - including their developing attitudes.  I can't scientifically attribute any of this to them getting vaccinated but it obviously did no harm.

Coccidiosis is another infection for which there is also a vaccine. It is a parasitic infection that causes droppings to be loose, watery and sometimes bloody. The chicks may become weak and have a loss of appetite and ultimately die.
The Coccidiosis vaccine was not an option at the hatchery and I'm not sure why. It may be offered by other hatcheries and have something to do with the number of chicks you order. I think the vaccine can be bought online but it is expensive for a small flock.  The timing of the chick being hatched has a lot to do with their risk of contracting it. Chicks raised in the cool weather of early spring are unlikely to get this disease unless they live in filthy conditions or are forced to drink dirty water. Coccidiosis occurs more often during warm humid weather, when the parasites naturally flourish. Absolute cleanliness is one of the better measures of prevention. Keep the drinking water free of droppings and scrub the waterer every time you refill it!! Clean, clean, clean! Keep the brooder lined with clean bedding and immediately replace dirty or wet bedding.

As an alternative to the vaccine there is also a medicated chick starter feed available...but that will have to be a completely separate post.... (coming soon)!

Keeping conditions as sanitary as possible is a given, but do we want to get them vaccinated for coccidiosis? This is another one of those 'six of one or half dozen of the other' situations.  And another reason to do your research!

Keeping chickens makes me feel like I've gone back to college. The research, the writing. And I am realizing that the more questions I get answered the more I have to learn.


September 16, 2012

Leaves...A Little D.I.Y. On Mulching Not Bagging

 Fall time will be approaching soon and the leaves will be falling.

So your yard is full of leaves now. The natural thing is to just let them lay their and decompose. However the social pecking order of the neighborhood would look down on you as being lazy and call the city on you for degrading the hood.


You give in and drag your rake and bags out and start bagging. It came to me about 30 years ago that I am throwing away valuable compost. I used to get a magazine back in the late 70's called "New Shelter" that showed every year what to do with those leaves. So I have been doing this when I can since then.

So I say "Make Mulch, Not Bags" Besides you save money by not buying 50 bags or more, you don't fill up the land fill, and you have free mulch in the Spring.

It takes a little work but its better than trying to keep that bag upright as you stuff it full of leaves.

First you need some leaves. Its best to do this when the leaves are nice and dry.

I rake my leaves to my driveway or sidewalk into a long pile. A flat surface helps. If you are not near a hard surface, just a flat area will work in the yard.

This is when I pull out my 30+ year old electric lawnmower and start running over the leaves. Always think safety when you are using power tools. A lot of mowers can be set to be used in the mulching mode by covering the exit where material is thrown out. My mower has a flap in the back where the bag attachment goes. Of course you can use gas mowers however I like my electric mower because of no CO2. cheap fuel cost, and a lot easier to start. Just don't run over the cord.

They do make upright Mulchers/Chippers and I had one, but I spent more time unclogging it than mulching leaves. Being somewhat lazy, I found running over the leaves with the mower was simply easier and had the same result.  Keep running over all the piles until the leaves are chopped up fine. You may ask, why do you want to bother chopping the leaves up?  First it reduces the volume by half. Second, it helps speed up the decomposing process.

I rake up the chopped leaves back into piles and transfer them to the wheel barrel for a trip to the compose pile.

There are all different ways to make compost piles however that is another blog discussion. A short description of ours is that I have a two piles, old and new. The chopped leaves go into the new. In addition, all kitchen compost scraps, chicken poop, etc. go into the new. The key is rotating the pile every few weeks with a fork to keep it fluffed up and allow air to flow through. As it gets dark and finer, I then transfer it to the older pile.

In the Spring, new mulch goes into the garden. I mix it in with the dirt. In regards to proportion, it is usually 25% mulch and 75% existing dirt mixed well. I do not know the science behind this claim but it seems to make the plants happy. We tried to use mulchonly one time but did not have as good of results.

The rewarding part is eating healthy food from the garden that you made the soil richer by chopping up a few leaves. I think that is what they mean by big words like sustainability.

Also sharing food with the neighbors will raise your level in the pecking order.


September 10, 2012

Feed Store Run and...Fortex Bowls

I had to make a run to the big-box feed store that always has everything.  It's about a 45 or 50 min drive in non-rush-hour traffic. So I don't go there often and I keep a running list of things I can't get at the neighborhood pet/feed store.  I needed to get a larger hanging feeder, and some other goodies as well.  They were out of the crushed oyster shells I needed, but they had just received a shipment of several different sized Fortex Livestock bowls (I got a small and a larger for different type things).

They Love Their New Bowls

Everyone Eat!

These are great for filling with water and floating cut grasses, grapes, etc., in. They are absolutely the best when it comes to giving treats, leftovers, special goodies, even regular feed. They are made of rubber, heavy and thick. Unlike plastic or ceramic  bowls, the chickens cannot flip them over when they stand on the bowl rim (which is funny when it happens but the contents end up all over me)! It also seems to be easier for them to get at small bits of food, they're easy to clean, they're no more expensive than a regular dog bowl.  I'm also planning to replace our dogs food and water bowls with Fortex next time I make a run to the feed store.

I also got a small bag of layer pellets - they think those are treats too. I want them to finish their starter/finisher crumbles because of the nutrition they provide. I am mixing the layer pellets in with their regular feed. I will be switching them to layer feed soon which leaves us with another decision...Chicken feed organic or not? That will be our next big decision.

The decision to feed organic or not, is a personal one for each chicken keeper. We need to weigh the cost and convenience factor against the 'pesticides and other unpronounceable  chemicals added' factor and decide what works for us and our flock.  I am big on reading and researching labels and ingredients for my family's food and I am just a diligent about what our pets eat.
More researching for me!


September 5, 2012

A Mini-Molt

At about twelve weeks old, our chickens are going through what looks like a 'mini-molt'. They are molting but not near as much as they will next year. They're losing beautiful feathers and lots and lots of down!  I was finally able to hold one long enough to look  at the different ares of the body the feathers are coming from. It is very obvious where old feathers are being pushed out. Underneath the shed feather you can see a tiny bump (...yes like goose bumps) where the new one will come in. When molting season comes around  (esp ours next year) they may need extra protein in their diet such as meal worms, cottage cheese, plain yogurt, scrambled eggs, oats, sunflower seeds, and meat is sometimes recommended. I just have not given our meat scraps yet since it doesn't seem to be a full blown molt. But to help them through this 'mini-molt' I do give them lots of cottage cheese, plain yogurt, oats, scrambled eggs. They love, love, love scrambled eggs but won't touch the meal worms - maybe they will have acquired a taste for meal worms by next year though.

This is another time to watch each chicken very closely- time for another beak to butt checkup!  Molting can stress them and the loss of feathers could indicate that something else bedsides molting is going on.  Chickens can go through different degrees of molting - like our 'mini-molt'.  A reduction in egg-laying is normal during molting but it can seem like a hardship when you don't have delicious fresh eggs everyday!

Don't worry it won't be long before the egg baskets are filled up again!

Molting (which takes place once a year) in late summer/early fall gives them time to grow in a new healthy batch of feathers intended to help keep their bodies warm in winter.  I think a healthy, happy, warm chicken will be a good trade-off for a few less eggs!

 - I'll be reminding myself all of this this next year. Ours won't start laying till mid December. Right now they're just working on looking cute and fluffy...can't wait for eggs!


September 3, 2012

Happy (and hot) Labor Day Fun!

We were going to give the chickens the day off from laying eggs but since they haven't even started laying ...  We had to come up with something fun for them to do in honor of Labor Day and any future eggs they will be giving us.  Pullets (young female chickens)  start laying at sometime around 25 weeks old. Ours are ten weeks old today so they should start laying in Mid December. Daylight plays a big roll in egg production. In the winter with less sun the hens may not produce as often.  Ours may be a little slow to get started or they might be right on time. The first few rounds of laying tend to be off somewhat either in timing or size of first eggs. I will start checking egg boxes everyday the second week in December though (that seems like forever)!

We carried big slices of watermelon out to the run and watched them dive in beak first. It's amazing the mess they can make with those cute little beaks. When they peck into the watermelon it's like dozens of mini-water-cannons going off!  It sprays everywhere especially on their backs. Watermelon juice is sticky (in case you didn't know that...)

Watermelon, Yes!

Thank You!

After the little 'Paranas-with-feathers' strip the watermelon down to a thin green rind, or beyond, they're tired...of course. But first it was preening time. Then off to their little burrows in the run where they take dust baths or naps. Despite what a lot of people might think, chickens are very meticulous about their cleanliness. A dust bath might sound contradicting to that but: 

- Chickens love to take dust baths ! They dig a shallow hole, loosen up all the dirt, and proceed to get themselves absolutely as dirty as they possibly can. (Don't worry, the shake the dirt off later...) Dust baths are absolutely necessary: they prevent parasites such as mites and lice from finding a home in your chickens' feathers and legs.
If your chickens aren't free-range or their run area doesn't have a dry patch of ground where they can dig a hole, you'll need to provide them with an artificial dust bath. Place a box on the floor of their coop and fill it with 6" of a dusting powder. Ingredients: 1 part fireplace ashes, 1 part road dust, 1 part sand and 1 part  Diatomaceous Earth.

Later this afternoon (after preening, dust bathing and napping) they had their first supervised semi-free-range experience. We had a roll of fencing wire from which me made a four foot diameter (temporary) play pen. I'm sure any of our neighbors who did not know we had chickens know now. As we caught them one by one they let out the most horrendous squawk...each with a slightly different but equally ear-piercing squawk!

The Grass Near The Fence Is Best

Munching Down

Once they were all in the 'playpen' they caught on to the game and plowed down grass, scratched up bugs and actually let Harry get in the pen with them to shoot photos.  We all stayed out quite a while. They were starting to pant just a little bit (still hot here) so that was our cue to get them back to their run. Catching them to go back was a lot easier...since Harry was still in the playpen and the are was a lot smaller than the run area.

Is The Grass Greener...?