hotography lingo for Straight Out Of Camera, farm lingo for Straight Out of Chicken :) I think the benchmark for good eggs for most people is a dark, hearty looking egg yolk and a firm white. I also think most people only believe that is made possible by having a free-range flock. I don’t really want to debate free-range vs. confinement here in this post. Long time readers know that I confine my flock, and I don’ t have any incentive really to free-range them, so maybe a post about our deliberate, husbanded food supply would be more useful. There are so many half-truths and fallacies out there on the interwebs these days I would like to interject my two cents now and then.
Obviously, my confinement eggs look a lot different than those available in the store. And yes, they are different. Confinement when it comes to chickens causes many folks to become apoplectic at the mere thought of Henny Penny not being able to run around and do her scratching and pecking when ever she so desires. If you only look at the word confinement and never at the word husbandry you may be missing out on what is really important. To get eggs like those in the frying pan, I have to husband my chicken flock. So rather than make them fend for themselves, I provide shelter, feed, water and an egg laying place. In turn, they provide eggs and copious amounts of composty material for the gardens. In other words, they are part of a farm system. If they were free-ranging they would be more part of the wild system that our farm exists in. Another way to look at the free-range chicken idea is to apply that template to other things in your life. Do you throw your garden seeds out in the grass and expect them to make a crop during the growing season? No, you carefully prepare your soil, and you nurture your seeds into plants and help them along by weeding, watering and fussing. Then you harvest your bounty. I view the hens the same almost as the garden, it would not exist without me, and without them I may not exist either, at least in farming form. That’s where holistic resource management comes in. Each part must be managed in such a way as not to take away from the other parts. If I spend time hunting for eggs, or chickens, that time is taken from something else. Family, other livestock, job, all important but in serious danger of getting the short straw if we get lost on tangents like only free-range eggs, or grassfed cows, or _______________ you fill in the blank.
To that end, our confinement hen set-up is scaled down version of our pastured egg business. We’ve kept some methods and discarded others to come up with what serves our objectives well. We never free-ranged our pastured flock, we intensively pastured them with four sections of electric netting, moveable housing and feed. The whole she-bang was moved part and parcel every three days like clockwork in a carefully crafted pasture rotation during the grazing season. A good system, but very labor intensive, and definitely not worth doing for a family sized flock. During the winter months when the land needed a rest from chicken feet and chicken manure, we housed the chickens in a greenhouse on deep bedding. All the nest boxes, waterers and feeders moved inside with them. Chores changed from fence moving to laying down bedding. Of course, feeding, watering and egg gathering stayed the same.
Many of the items that we used for our egg business work equally well for our own eggs. Hanging nest boxes that are easy to move and clean are a boon to the chicken wrangler.
With the nest boxes hanging (out of rodents reach), the hinged perches provide the hen a landing place when she flies up to the nests. The hinges also allow us to close the perches off at night so the hens do not soil the nests. I open them after dark, so any early risers can get in the nests to lay their eggs.
Another item we have continued using are hanging feeders and waterers. They are very user-friendly for the human and the birds, they stay clean and are easy to service. Hangdog fashioned tensioners with adjustable toggles from scrap wood and rope and they are great. The height of the feed and water can be changed with a simple hand movement to accommodate the growth of the chickens. They are also easily removed for cleaning if need be.
A simple S hook is attached to the feeder and hooked through the loop on the tensioner.
The waterer is attached in the same fashion.
Having lightweight, durable equipment that is easy to use and maintain really makes a difference with husbandry chores, and allows me the freedom think about ways to make the hens diet more varied. I do have the hens on full feed, but I give them greens daily from the garden, and they work through the household generated compost every day.
And, last but not least – the beautiful material for the gardens. Which really in turns takes us full circle husbandry-wise. Farmer, chickens, fertilizer, garden, eggs, all are inter-connected and so important to each other, and that’s the way it should be.