Tending the Flock
The Hen House
Root Cellar Farm not only runs Off the Grid,
Root Cellar Farm's management plan includes raising all living things as naturally as possible. This naturally includes the chickens.
Natural is very different than organic, though it can be a combination of both. Beyond what goes on or in something, natural embraces how a living thing would live, without the intervention of people. Farm life; plants, animals and people all require the same things. Clean water, clean food and shelter that’s all. There are many products on the market that are not necessary to raise healthy chickens. Finding what works best for you may take some time.
With chickens and all living things, it is prudent to; “start small” and enjoy what you care for. “Keep going” and when management becomes second nature like breathing, it is time to “THINK BIG” and start growing in size. Get these 3 steps out of order and either frustration or failure is sure to follow.
“Control the environment or it will control you”
Each person must create the environment that gives them the ability not to quit when things get redundant or hard. As the snow lays cold and wet on the ground today, from experience, I tell you “No One” wants to go out to tend the animals if they know it will be difficult to get through the barn door, the water is frozen and they must make several trips with warm water, or the animals climb all over them while trying to get feed to them, etc. Cutting corners for the sake of time will come back to haunt you. If funds are lacking consider waiting until you can do it right. The price for short cuts could be stress, wasted time, injuries or a financial loss.
Basic Flock Care
Flock care varies depending on short and long term goals, shelter set up and management plan.
Chickens that free range all day, may only need the chicken yard to be cleaned once a year and the hen house cleaned every 2-3 months depending on the weather. When chickens are contained all the time the yard and hen house should be cleaned weekly or more. It is not natural for chickens to scratch and peck the ground where their droppings lay. A cage free chicken will roam acres in a day. Keeping the eating area clean will prevent disease.
Placing a little fresh straw on the hen house floor every evening will help absorb the droppings and keep the shelter area smelling fresh. Taking a pitch fork every morning and sifting the straw gently shaking it will let any droppings fall below the straw to the ground. This style of hen house management may let you go longer between cleanings.
Selling fresh eggs requires nest to be cleaned once every day, more often if necessary. Water should be refreshed often and kept in close proximity to the chickens. Hens that lack plenty of fresh water will lay fewer eggs. Fresh water should be stationed close to the nest area but never inside the hen house.
Feeds should be monitored carefully. Chickens are sensitive to changes in their daily feed. If you are supplementing with a commercial grain they should receive the same quantity at the same time each day. Lack of protein will affect egg production and fat hens lay fewer or no eggs.
Eggs may need to be collected multiple times a day to avoid cracked eggs. Chickens see and smell cracked eggs. It is common for a chicken to peck a cracked egg. This can be the beginning of a chicken eating the yolk and liking it!
……. Raising Chickens Naturally…….
The age and purpose for the chickens on the farm will be the first factor in setting up a management system. The requirements of the chickens, the caretaker's abilities and preferences will be the second factor when developing a management system.
It does not matter if you have 4 backyard hens or a broiler flock of 100, without a management system and long term goal “the day of stress” will arrive. And once the flock is gone, it is very unlikely you will ever consider raising chickens again.
Liken bringing animals onto the farm as you would be bringing a newborn baby home. Babies require protection, feeding and changing schedules, go to school and someday leave home, on their own. Domesticated animals will require some care until the day they die. What will you do with those hens when they stop laying eggs? Or, when the hens turn out to be roosters and now your neighbors will not talk to you, then what will you do?
Figure it out before you bring animals home. Plans can change over the years but no plan is setting you up for failure.
So much of what people do concerning raising animals is due to what they have read, or been told and not thought through. For example, a mother hen raises the chicks according to her own nature. They feed when it is light and the sleep from dusk on, they even have resting hours in the middle of the day. Why than do people buy bright lamps to keep chicks warm?
When people talk about losing chicks my first question is, "are they under a heat lamp?" I recently read a study that stated that chickens and chicks move towards light, not the warmth of a light. Being under a bright light 24/7 is very stressful. There are other ways to keep chicks comfortable.
Though other management styles may be mentioned to help educate our readers, here at Root Cellar Farm our choice is to raise our animals naturally.
However, being flexible is a major factor in being successful and living contently.
Searching for the best choices in animal management does not mean that "our preferences" or the quality of feed come before the need of the animal. Letting animals go hungry because for some reason you are out of feed and the local feed store is out of organic feed is not acceptable! Provide what you can at the time. Then review and change your management style.