Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ramping Up

We've been busy bees lately.  On top of the explosion of spring planting, milking 2x a day, catching several swarms, classes and chores, we have expanded our hen operation.  Two rounds of chicks we recently raised are mature and beginning to lay.  We also adopted a large group of Brown Isos from an animal rescue.  These ladies are between 7-11 months old, prime production brown egg layers.  Their dwellings are three mobile chicken tractors built from scrap materials we had here on the farm.  As we are moving them across the hillside, they will eat all the bugs and grass while preparing and fertilizing new beds for us to plant.

Using the chicken tractor is nothing new to us.  About half of our beds were initially prepared by our original lightweight tractor made from PVC pipe. What's different about this set up is that these structures are sturdier and  predator proof.  The other big difference is that we are feeding the hens compost, or at least mostly.  Each day we dump into the tractors a load of manure, greens, straw and spent brewer's grain.  The hens eat, scratch, peck and break down the goods into a most lovely and fertile end product for us to plant right into. 

We were totally inspired by Geoff Lawton's Chicken Tractor on Steroids video and decided to try out the concept but wanted to tweak it to make it easier for us. (We are leaving the hens on the beds for 2-3 weeks. Instead of turning compost, we let them do the work for us).  

So far, a month into the experiment, we reached down under the straw bedding to test out the soil and it is loose, moist and full of worms!  Just what we are aiming for.  The true test will be seeing how our tomatoes do in the first bed.  

The hens have taken well to their new environment.  They have had a big adjustment to make as we have changed their diet drastically from layer pellet to compost.  We are trying to boost their immune systems with a splash of apple cider vinegar in their drinking H2O and giving them fermented milk with all the beneficial probiotic bacteria. Plus the spent grain they are getting contains hops which has bitter acids know to be potent anti-microbials. These anti-microbials control the pathogenic bacteria Clostridium in the hens' intestines.  

So all in all, these ladies are having to work a bit harder but they are looking healthy.  This coming week we will set up the electric fencing to give them a little wiggle room and allow them to forage through the tall grass a bit too.  They will be some pretty happy pastured chickens!

Check out this clip on the ramped up chicken tractor, well worth watching his whole video...Many spring blessings!