24 September 2007

And my heart skipped a beat

Late last night I went outside with a bucket of food scraps to dump in the chicken coop. I noticed that the water was empty but since it was night, I resolved to go out early in the morning and fill the water up.

This morning about 7:00, I heard a chicken making a racket outside. Often after they lay an egg, they cluck and cluck until I go out and give them some encouragement (Good chicken! Thanks for laying an egg!), but they will often make a racket if they are out of water. Some neighbors of ours once ignored an early-morning chicken racket and went outside to discover that the coop door had been left open and all the chickens had been eaten by raccoons. Since I knew they were out of water, I dragged my bum out of bed. In the back of my mind, I was worried that a raccoon was out there terrorizing them. Just yesterday two chickens had squeezed out of the tiny hole in the chicken wire where the water dish is. I turned on the hose and went around to the coop. I filled the water bucket, fed them, and then counted. And counted again. Checked the roost and the egg boxes and counted again. We were short a chicken. It was Midnight, a Black Star who lays brown eggs. I started looking around for her remains. I was sure that if she was out, that raccoons would have gotten her for sure. Frugalboy came out and I told him she was missing. We looked over near the addition, and there she was! Strutting around, oblivious to the fact that she had nearly met her demise. The dog was out with us. Tawny is an excellent chicken herder. Unlike Border Collies or Cattle dogs (heelers), she doesn't nip at what she's trying to herd. She can usually round up the chickens and send them back to their coop without even touching them. For a while the chickens were trained to head back to the coop if they even saw the dog outside. I haven't let the chickens out at all this summer though, to preserve the harvest in the garden, so Midnight was out of the habit of heading home when she saw the dog. Instead of going back to the coop, she hid in a juniper bush. I was able to pick her up and carry her back to the coop.

I made an attempt to secure the water dish in the opening of the chicken wire and I hope that no more chickens try to escape. These hens are kind of like pets. They all have names, and to think of losing one made me panic just a little!

Which brings me to my dilemma. We got 5 chicks last spring to replace a few of the older hens. Ideally, I'd have 6 or 7 chickens, maybe 8, but not 10. It is too many eggs for us to eat without getting tired of eggs. I haven't decided which older chickens will be the first to go, because they all seem to be laying. In the meantime, I'm feeding 10 chickens. we've been going through about 100 pounds of feed in a little over a month. I am sure that it is more expensive than buying eggs. I don't keep track of egg production, nor do I raise chickens to save money on eggs. I raise them more for the self-sufficiency aspect. But to spend $20 a month of chicken feed seems to be a little expensive! Right now I feed them Purina Layena because it has the calcium in it to help the shells be hard. A lot of commercial feeds don't provide the calcium so you have to supplement with oyster shells or something else. When I raised chickens for meat, the man who did our processing recommended that I drive to a farm town about an hour away to their local grain mill and buy what was called 4H pig feed. The mill blends it especially for the local 4H kids and it was just a mix of wheat and corn with a protein content of 17%. We mixed the pig feed with the meat grower ration and it lowered our feed cost for raising the birds. It slowed their growth down enough that we could put off processing for a week or so. I also think it made the chickens taste better than the year before. It is much cheaper (almost half the price) and comes in 100 lb sacks. I guess I need to do some research and find out if I can feed that pig ration to the laying hens as long as I throw in some calcium. Anyone have some experience and could you offer advice?

1 comment:

Jenni said...

I don't spend much on feed in the warmer months, or ever, really. I let them forage(my gardens are fenced and off limits:)and I feed them kitchen scraps, extra veggies, and scrambled eggs. yes, feed the extra eggs back to them, they love it. Crush up some eggshells for the calcium and grit. You can also feed them milk that starts to go off. Chickens are omnivores and will eat anything you do and plenty you won't, plus their eggs will be much more nutritious.