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More Chicken Work – Areas of Sacrifice

January 29, 2014

Eggs, everyone wants fresh eggs, and chickens are surely the gateway livestock for many.  But chickens are an expensive proposition for just eggs alone.  You can offset some of the costs of egg production by utilizing the spent hen,  but in this day and age with resources at a premium it pays to make them work for you too.  Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

fresh eggs, '96

fresh eggs, ’96

Depending on how you look at it, a sacrifice can be subtle, or in-your-face.  Along the lines of in-your-face farmsteading, I have to say how we keep our hens is not what you’d expect.  Like all practices anyone uses, ours is a blend of what we used to do, and what we are doing now.  When we had 1000 hens or more and were selling eggs it made sense to intensively manage them outside (moving them every third day to fresh range) for the grazing season, and to move them inside to a deep bedded hoophouse for winter during the wet season.

breakfast

breakfast

Now we keep them in a hoophouse year round.  We still are able to produce good eggs.  It’s warm in the winter and with shade cloth and ventilation its comfortable in the summer.  That’s a sacrifice, because really I wish it were doable to have outside hens and eggs too.  Our predator pressure is too great to keep chickens outside much more than about a month.  The egg production for a family hardly justifies the cost of a guard dog just for 30 dozen eggs a month, and around here you just don’t pick off the predators without your neighbors turning you in for shooting disrupting the wildlife.  But, you ask, “you had a flock outside before, why not now?”

Well, predators don’t like movement and they don’t like circles, it can be confounding to them, since they are as a rule, wary.  So we arranged the electric fencing in a circular fashion, and we moved it every third day to spread the wealth and provide fresh range.  Plus with that many eggs, you are a presence.  Gathering eggs, closing perches, opening perches, checking fence, feed and water.  You make a job out of it.  Scaling down to 15 hens and managing them that way is just too much labor involved for the eggs.  That’s why most people buy eggs at the store – on a home scale to be perfect, means you have to devote a lot of mental energy and time to get your eggs.  You have to settle for good sometimes.

hmmm

hmmm

I think the single biggest thing about home food production, or actually homesteading is that you are confronted daily with choices and the consequences of what you’re practicing.  Our farmstead is a system, and it all has to mesh fairly seamlessly to make it work.  You have to take many things into consideration before you take a step.  If I want to lessen my reliance on the store than I need to produce as much as I can here.  Eggs are a good place to start in my situation.  I am still buying feed for the hens, but they can in turn produce eggs for the household, dogs, and cats.  So instead of buying feed for all the animals, we can utilize one species to help another, meshing needs to create interdependence and a carrot on the stick for us to do our work about the farmstead in a meaningful way.  Much the same as the milk cow.  She provides for us, her calf, pigs, dogs, chickens, dogs and cats.   Again, by not using western reductionist thinking, and specialization we can attempt to meet our 90/10 ideal of home production.  If you’re buying supplements instead of all the feed, you are making an impact everywhere, not just at home.  If you buy your eggs at the store, you have no idea of what your impact is.  At home you see it.  Even a plant-based diet has an effect, namely more tillage somewhere and then transportation costs that we all bear.  If I produce my good eggs at home, and buy in some minerals and a little bit of feed I am bearing the bulk of my consumption.   If I put my hens in a hoophouse that relies on solar power and a little tweaking of ventilation and shade on my part to house these hens, it gets even better.  If I were to let my hens free-range I would be feeding the predators instead, and that to me seems wasteful.  And I would be back to traveling to buy my eggs that were produced somewhere else and being a bigger part of the “problem.”

hens on deep bedding - greenhouse

hens on deep bedding – greenhouse

What enhances this part of the farmstead is that with some carbon for bedding, and a few minutes of forethought and work each day, I can generate a goodly amount of hen-pecked compost.

100_6869
Each morning before daylight I open the nest box perches so the hens have access to begin the day’s egg laying.  This batch of hens has chosen to bed down each night in front of the nest box, so by morning the area is soiled.  Most days, I shake a flake of straw out on top this soiled area.  Sometimes I just flip the straw bed over depending on how thick the straw build up is. This keeps the hens feet clean when they enter the nest box, which in turn keeps the eggs clean.

100_6864
I keep adding bedding, and the hens keep turning it and breaking it down into useable compost for the gardens.  If I am lax in the carbon department, my nose will tell me in the morning when I open the door.  The smell that greets me should be an earthy, composty scent, if it is offensive then I know to add more carbon.  Besides fresh straw, I add a load of Jane’s night soil, or maybe a load of the horse manure/shavings that we stockpile about once a week. After all, this is my mini-composting facility.  Household food scraps that don’t find their way into the stockpot or dogs become fodder for the hens.

A weekly chore is piling and flipping in the edges.  This exposes the soil and worms that are drawn to the rich material being accumulated in the chicken hoophouse, and the chickens love that.

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The hens need no encouragement to explore and scratch but I do add whole oats just for added incentive.

100_6867
A closeup photo reveals a composted manure pack that is nearly finished.  It’s been enhanced by the minerals in the chicken feed and is wonderful stuff.  I am spending a little more time piling for them these days as it is getting close to gardening time.  We have two of these small 20′ x 20′ hoophouses that we built for brooding our chicks when we were selling eggs.  Now they are still housing chickens although in a different way.  I will rotate these hens into the adjacent hoophouse and start over with the bedding.  This bedding will be used for the gardens.  It’s light and easy to move and perfect for side dressing or initial planting.

As with any system there are pluses and minuses.  I feel being an agrarian means you’re a little aggressive with your actions.  Rather than hope for eggs every day I plan for eggs.  A passive free-range approach doesn’t really add that many benefits.  However I am speaking from my experience only, a different area may be too hot for hoophouse housing in the summer or you may have no predator pressure at all.  In my location a free-range hen might make it a month.  For us this works with a minimal amount of labor.

By building a hen-pecked composting program in conjunction with the  practice of egg production on a home scale we are able to produce more food in the gardens with our own home-grown compost and in turn become less reliant on the store.  It’s hard for me to tell which is the icing on the cake.  The eggs or the compost?

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2014 2:56 pm

    Well. Now I know what to do with my hoop house next winter, as it is sitting empty so many months of the year. Do I see chicken wire on the outside of the plastic? This sounds like a brilliant system!

  2. January 29, 2014 3:32 pm

    Gosh you really do have a predator problem, we are lucky that way.. touch wood.. we take the bedding from the chickens and put in on the hay field once the plants have gone dormant.. it is magic.. I also throw in all the raked leaves from the townies and the chooks scuffle this into the straw and manure. You are so right. they are good little workers. Though this summer the layers are going into an ark and will be dragged across the fields like the meat flock, then the manure goes straight down.. seems to me pulling two arks is only slightly more work than pulling one.. but I don’t have your predator problem and Ton is a good flock guard dog.. have a lovely evening.. c

    • January 29, 2014 3:44 pm

      It’s the proximity to the forest. Here the forests are dark and deep year round. Mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, hawks, eagles, coons like chicken a little too much.

      • January 29, 2014 5:33 pm

        YIKES, bobcats and mountain lions.. that is the real america we read about as kids on a NZ beach. I am glad not to have that problem.. c

  3. CarolG. permalink
    January 29, 2014 5:21 pm

    Given your reliance on your gardens to feed so much of your farm I would tend to think of the eggs as the icing.

  4. January 29, 2014 5:25 pm

    We keep our 20 chickens in movable “tractors’ out in the paddock. We also let the free-range as we only have night predators. The improvement in the pasture is visible. I would like their help with composting but I think that would be extra work that extra work that we don’t have time for. Its interesting to see a different system and your reasons behind it.

  5. janetpesaturo permalink
    January 29, 2014 5:46 pm

    Very interesting article, thanks for sharing. I have just a backyard flock of 15 chickens, so the “free ranging” (in a large fenced in yard) is easier for me to manage here. However, I do know of a family around here (MA) with a larger flock (perhaps around a hundred) that let them free range in a pasture with sheep. There is electric fencing around the pasture, and a llama to protect the sheep. And even though their pasture is near forest and we have all the predators you mention except form mtn lions, they don’t lose animals to predators. The electric fencing and the llama seem to keep everything at bay.

    • January 29, 2014 8:13 pm

      Interesting, do they find that the cost of upkeep for the llama pays for the extra eggs? I’m finding that the extra bonus of 10 yards of good compost in addition to the eggs makes this a better proposition for our farm.

      • janetpesaturo permalink
        January 30, 2014 3:53 am

        The key is that the chickens are in same pasture as sheep, so they need llama for sheep anyway. That was my point: This is the only way I have seen people successfully free range chickens inexpensively – layer them on another kind of livestock for which predator protection is already in place.

        • January 30, 2014 6:14 am

          I get that, but for just household chickens, in my case it’s not worth it to add more species. When it was a business we made it work. For a dozen hens, with my limitations, funds, labor and need this work for me, so I’m stacking with something different than species.

  6. Bee permalink
    January 29, 2014 6:05 pm

    Predators are the reason we confine our chickens, too. There was the bear who came to dinner, the red-tailed hawk who came to dinner, etc., etc. One year we lost some chickens in a confinement situation (no roof) and discovered coons were climbing the fence. Daughter-dear and I strung electric wire around the chicken coop and plugged it in (hubby was working in Nevada that year and I needed an immediate temporary fix.). Shortly after it got dark that night there was a tremendous squalling and cussing in Raccoon, but after that they left the chickens alone…

  7. January 29, 2014 6:15 pm

    You must have THE best soil on the planet!! Sounds like a really great system.
    -Jaime

  8. January 29, 2014 7:29 pm

    We do this for our laying flocks over winter …we got a long way to go to making it work well. I’ve thought about planting a batch of sweet corn in the hoophouse in spring to suck up nitrogen. Seeing your set up, I think we just need to work on doing a better job with carbon addition. Great post!

    • January 30, 2014 6:29 am

      AtCF. you know we put in a substantial amount of bedding before bringing the hens in every fall(usually about Thanksgiving here because the aerial pressure is great once the rodents start laying low), and added some around high traffic areas,nest boxes, perches, drink cups, and feeders. After moving out the layers in the spring, we would clean out the partially composted bedding and spread it on the fields or stack it. Then till and plant in the soil, there is still plenty of residual left to grow any crop. And surprisingly so, not too much nitrogen. Any crop does well. It’s surprising how much material for fertilizing pastures etc builds up in just a short time.

  9. Carole permalink
    January 30, 2014 6:43 am

    This reminds of how shocked I was to find out that my raw milk seller sold the calf immediately at birth to cash in on the total amount of milk. I always was (mistakenly) under the impression that small farms were natural in every way. I was grateful for the milk though, and decided that maybe that is what they have to do to be able to provide the raw milk. I thought it small farms were like the story book or the movie Babe – all the animals live in harmony and manage themselves basically and share all their output with the farmers.

    I’m not shocked that you keep your chickens in and protected, it seems like a good idea and more productive than just having the chickens.for eggs alone.

  10. January 30, 2014 7:07 am

    How many greenhouses do you use for chickens? I am stumped trying to figure it out. I count one for chicks and starting veggies, and one for layers and another to alternate the layers? I am hoping to get another, bigger, hoop house and would love to keep my few hens in there through the winter and starting chicks and seedlings in the greenhouse is a wonderful idea!

    • January 30, 2014 10:29 am

      Erika, I have two small greenhouses 20′ x 20′ with the front 5′ devoted for feed storage etc, if you look in the photo showing the dog you can see foyer. He’s in the foyer. This leaves the hens with a 15 x 20 area. We also have two larger greenhouses for food production. All have been used for chickens, turkeys or pigs at one time or another. I wouldn’t recommend mature hens and vegetable production together due to the hens scratching continuously and stirring up dust. Chicks of any breed, poults, and meat birds are okay, because they don’t scratch that much if at all in the early stages. So while we have 4 total I think you could get by with a small and a larger. We have these from our former egg business so I use the space.

  11. Victoria in CT permalink
    January 30, 2014 8:29 am

    OMG, is that a triple yoker I see in the fry pan?

    Love the practical way you manage your farm and animals. The tips about deep bedding for chickens will definitely help me in future.

  12. January 30, 2014 8:51 am

    You can’t grow corn where you live so you are necessarily importing something like 3 pounds of feed for every pound of eggs (8 eggs). If you were concerned only about efficiency, you would be better off finding an egg source you trust and hauling the eggs in rather than the feed (and the straw). Fewer gallons of fuel per egg that way. You are correct to point out that eggs alone are no reason to keep hens.

    Even though we live in corn country we deal with the trade-offs of maintaining a flock at all, let alone maintaining one on pasture in season.

    • January 30, 2014 10:18 am

      HFS, here is where the “system” comes in, I feed out a 50# bag of feed in about 30 – 33 days for 18 chickens, plus a handful a day of whole oats which are “local”. My feed usage is lower than most because I am using our extra skim milk for a protein source. Not wanting to keep pigs more than a few months of year because we honestly don’t eat that much pork, hens are a perfect way to use up the surplus milk that I generate because I want the cream for our fat needs. If I wanted to go slow, I can clabber the milk, or if I am in a hurry I can use vinegar, citric acid or rennet to set the milk faster. I usually choose the faster way because fridge space is at a premium since I am milking every day.

      As for importing the straw I am already doing that for the cow bedding, garden mulch etc., any bales that get wet in transit or in the barn on the bottom, go to the chickens, they can scratch apart the stuck together flakes making my job in the cow barn easier. Other carbon sources are lightly soiled straw from the milk cow shed, shavings from the neighbor and quite a bit of carbon from the vegetable gardens.

      The yield on the nearly finished compost last year from one small greenhouse was 16 cubic yards – you can’t buy that around here. All the finished compost available in this area is municipal leaf, lawn debris, and who knows what… . 18″ (bedding depth) x 300sq ft (hen area) = 450/27 = 16.6 cubic yards.

      Of course this doesn’t just happen, I have to work at this, directing all the garden waste for greens, and some carbon, and any extra milk for a home produced protein source. It’s definitely not a passive free-range system but what gardener couldn’t use a source of home produced compost in that quantity in addition to fresh eggs every day? It’s taking all the absolutes and adding to them that make a system that enhances the whole. Givens here: I will milk that cow every day, the hens will lay eggs, hens and cows crap a lot, I want the milk, eggs and crap. Just add water, straw and mix and next thing you know, you’re in deep doo doo. 😉

      • January 30, 2014 10:53 am

        Some time ago there was some farm up by you that was on Facebook asking their customers to pity them because they got so few eggs and fed so much expensive, organic, non-soy feed and made so little money. The obvious response is…”If you can’t make money selling eggs, stop selling eggs.”

        Here are the problems I commonly see:
        -People buy pullets on auto-pilot without doing the math
        -They don’t consider alternatives to buying feed…let alone non-GMO alternatives (like feeding clabbered milk)
        -They don’t fully utilize the non-egg contributions made by chickens
        -They keep their chickens far too long. (Astute readers know you cycle pullets every fall.)

        You covered all of these well and thanks for the additional detail.

        • January 30, 2014 10:57 am

          The only way I can get the pullets to pay for themselves is to start them in late April so they start laying before the short days which then lets me skip the molt. They will lay consistently for 12 months, then they are soup or sold to someone who wants them for the second go round. With 12 months of eggs, they pay for themselves and their replacements. The molt and then the second season of jumbo eggs that are getting less in number and have weaker shells never pencils out for me. A lot is timing.

  13. Carrie permalink
    January 30, 2014 10:27 am

    MOH I think you’re reading those big cats all wrong. I know for certain they are only after your garlic, onions and leeks, but you know how scatterbrained hens are – always getting in the way of serious work! :-)) :-))

    • January 30, 2014 10:32 am

      Carrie, I think you may right! Or perhaps cucumbers and courgettes? That would explain why a neighbor saw a cougar sauntering out of our garden this summer 😉

      • Carrie permalink
        January 30, 2014 11:22 am

        Typical Cougars: leaving no patch unvisited in the endless search for organic nutraceuticals!

  14. Ben permalink
    January 30, 2014 10:45 am

    Great. Everyone’s land is different, I have friends in town that will loose hens to raccoons if they forget to lock the coop as soon as it gets dark. So around here the predation is not too bad during the daylight hours. Your reasons make sense and it’s obvious to me that you do a much better job managing the manure and the chicken’s health than most folks who ‘free range’. I remember a lady I worked for on occasion who had a big garden that she did a small CSA from and chickens she sold eggs from. She was convinced her system was fantastic and her eggs were the best. The ironic (or sad?) thing was her coop reeked of ammonia, you could hardly breathe in it, and the pasture was mostly mud all winter, etc.

    Financial sense… it’s easy to find a million reasons to not do something, always drives me crazy when people tell me it’s cheaper to just buy the damn thing (meat, eggs, whatever). The obvious, but perhaps unsaid, thing is that you’re producing your own food. To me that is more important than whether it makes ‘financial sense’ (unless it’s your ‘business’ of course). As we’ve discussed, if you want something done right then you better do it yourself, not to mention the happiness and value of husbandry, etc. You do a great job and are a great example to us youngins!

    • Ben permalink
      January 30, 2014 10:52 am

      Oh, and healing and improving your land is worth more than gold. I’d rather spend more on producing my own eggs and be healing the land than ‘saving money’ and be depleting or polluting the land.

      • January 30, 2014 11:01 am

        Yes, and I need to really do a post on how much I am saving by producing the food. It’s not about how much is the food worth if I sell it. I lost my shirt last year buying meat chickens, I missed a lot of fertility, and chicken body parts that I could use. The dollars expended were the same as if I had raised my own meat chickens, but it’s hard to put a price on things you can’t measure well, like compost, and pasture improvement.

  15. Carrie permalink
    January 30, 2014 11:49 am

    A somewhat different situation – limited garden space and thus often keeping hens on an allotment plot (community garden in the States?) – but some similarities in trying to make a workable system that gives eggs and compost. Because my hens have to be constrained I have to take them fresh green matter each day (and as best doable in winter). So in my system the chickens also act as ‘composter chickens’. Everything able to be composted (and not a major rat attractant) including weeds and remnants from the vegetable / herb / fruit plots go into their electrified run and they eat what they like and work on the rest.

    My system includes brought-in straw bales; some I use, with a sheet or two of Onduline, to create a ‘day shelter’ for the hens, and slices of bale are added to the green matter for ‘scratching’ attraction – helps to keep the run dry in wet weather too. I also regularly fork over small sections of the run, slowly working my way around the whole thing – the chickens love this help with their ‘worm work’, and I find the activity helps to stop the run compacting and souring.

    This year I have to make some improvements though – sparrows and pigeons are a major problem – plus I need to increase the amount of food the hens can obtain from non-grain sources. I see the grains as a big issue – non-GMO naked oats almost doubled in p/Tonne price last year, and another wet spring will have the cost of barley and wheat rising sharply.

    So yes, I too have learned that keeping chickens well in return for just eggs is an expensive way of getting eggs. However there are many other pluses to being a chickeneer (adding to my humour, for one). Granted the eggs, I’m trying to find a ‘good-enough’ contribution from the hens to the other outputs of the gardens in return for being well looked after in ‘good-enough’ conditions. A workable system that contributes to the whole food-growing (and eating) enterprise.

    • January 30, 2014 12:39 pm

      Carrie, wow and wow again! I am lucky in that I can buy my oats from the same farmer that sells the straw. He’s got barley and flax too. We had a good taste test when we picked up our straw. I don’t have to deal with wild birds so much because of my enclosure, but we do have scrub jays in the summer that watch me like a hawk? That should jay I guess… if I set the eggs down outside or in the personnel area they are in there in a second pecking the eggs 😦

      Chickeneer s is priceless!

      • Carrie permalink
        January 31, 2014 1:34 am

        Yes, I quickly latched on to ‘chickeneer’ but I can’t claim it as my own, that honour belongs to a man who knows his poultry, Andy Cawthray, also known as @ChickenStreet

        Perhaps I should clarify that the price increases were at the processing > retail end – I doubt whether the farm gate price rose by more than 20%. Our feed stores are now more like supermarkets for pet owners and hobby keepers; they have certainly exploited the boom in ‘just keeping a few hens’!

        • January 31, 2014 6:31 am

          Well, it still fits 🙂

          Yes, the feed stores are the same here too, I miss the old Co-op that we had, but it went by the wayside 25 years ago as the farms gave way to development. The way it goes here is a mall is built usually with a grocery store as an anchor, then in about 10 – 15 years things look a little worn, and a new mall is built close by pulling all the customers to the new bright and shiny mall, then to combat that first grocery store applies for a permit to build another store a 1/4 mile away, then in about 7 years they all atrophy and go out of business leaving acres of empty buildings and pavement. Or some cheesy flea mart moves in. Meanwhile all the good farm land just keeps getting paved over. Sad really. So the feed stores now carry more pet supplies than actual feed. The choices of dog and cat kibble are astounding, chicken food, about 3 different different types if you’re lucky.

  16. Sheila permalink
    January 30, 2014 5:36 pm

    I have been thinking about hoop houses and chickens lately…We just moved our 12 chickens from the old 20×16 hoop house into a new 20×40 hoop house. The ground was previously pasture and had sheep on it recently, so the grass is still there, but short. The chickens were moved Monday and I am contemplating whether I should start with straw right away or let them scratch up the grass first. My plan is for this spot to become my tomato garden this year; I want the chickens to help make the tilling easier and to help fertilize the area. If I put straw down, will it prevent the grass from being killed, but if I don’t put down straw will I get a muddy dirty poopy mess. My gut tells me to put straw down now and they will eventually kill the grass…so I think that is what I will do and hopefully my theory of easier tilling come April or May will be proven.

    • January 30, 2014 6:08 pm

      I think the straw would be good, it’s shocking how fast chickens can turn the ground into cement, they’ll find the grass, even our little baby Cornish go for the grass in the brooder at two weeks of age. Tomatoes love that chicken manure soil 🙂

  17. Carrie permalink
    January 31, 2014 9:58 am

    “The choices of dog and cat kibble are astounding,” – here too plus food for rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, you name it there’s a special food for it! Our chicken food choices are not bad provided you want pelleted, or premium mixes of grain, pellets, seeds and grit. If, like me, you want ‘straights’ that are guaranteed non-GMO the options are more limited… And subject to the vagaries of market reports – actual and predicted yields – and of course the dratted weather, of which we Brits are so fond. :-))
    Enjoy the weekend.

  18. Sandra permalink
    February 1, 2014 5:39 am

    We have a slightly different predator. Our hens’ coop is inside an old “well ventilated” (lots of rotten boards) pole barn. Their coop is two side by side stalls enclosed with 2 inch wire and the bottom two feet lined with chicken wire. Safe, we thought, until the weasel found them. We ended up building the 4 (out of 15) remaining hens an elevated roost and completely surrounding it with 1/2 inch hardware cloth. We call it “The Biddy Barn Bunker” and lock them up in it at night. But the 1/2 inch wire doesn’t let the poop fall through, and our rejuvenated flock of 20 hens poop a LOT at night! So we put a flooring in the bunker (old computer chair mats) and spread pelleted Sweet PDZ on the bottom (horse stall deodorizer). It’s great and acts like clumping kitty litter, desiccating the poop and keeping odor almost non-existent. Every few days we take a kitty litter scooper and scoop out the hardened piles, getting an entire bucket at a crack. In the summer when the garden is full most goes into the compost pile, or in temporarily fallow areas. In the winter we spread the bucket on those areas which will grow the hungriest of crops next year and till in the spring.

    We also deep bed the coop and let our hens out during the day to fenced in pasture on a rotating basis (all pastures lead to the coop and have switchable gates). The “foyer” area in front of the coop door where the gates are gets a lot of traffic, almost all our carbon goes there year round, leaves, chain sawed pampas grass clumps, spent plant carcasses, hay that the horses tromp on and then refuse to eat… It keeps the area from being a muddy manured mess. Between letting the hens out during the day and removing their night manure we are on our second year without cleaning out the deep bedding and still no smell, although we plan to use it this spring on a new garden area.

    • February 1, 2014 6:32 am

      Sandra, wow that is great! We finally got our cat numbers up enough to hold the weasels at bay, they are such little connivers though, they can shimmy through the smallest of holes 😦 They seem cyclical here too like the coons and chipmunks, feast or famine and disease until they build their numbers back up.

      I like your setup!

      • Sandra permalink
        February 2, 2014 7:27 pm

        Thanks!

        I’ve been lurking around your blog for a few years now and have incorporated many of your ideas and practices. They just make sense. Although this year’s flock turned up their noses (beaks?) at the rutabagas meant for their fodder and would only eat the kohlrabi meant for people. Go figure. We learned to like roasted rutabagas. They would at least deign to eat the leaves.

        BTW, we have 4 cats. Two geriatric Maine Coons who in their time were good hunters but now mainly function as big lap warmers, especially in front of the fire, and two strictly barn cats who do a good number on mice, voles, and rabbits but, alas, apparently not weasels.

        • February 3, 2014 6:04 am

          Sandra, same chicken pickyness here 🙂 Winter squash, kale, cabbage, and beets seem to be the favored vegetables, rutabagas seem to get me a dirty look.

          Cat retirement well deserved it sounds like!

  19. February 1, 2014 10:25 pm

    We lost some of our hens to hawks, till they wised up. We have the coop in the alpaca paddock, but all the alpacas did when the hens started squawking when the hawk was chasing them was run away. Our boys don’t seem so brave. Two chickens live in the alpaca house with our girls now. They go through all the alpaca manure, hopefully removing the bugs and making sure all veg matter is taken care of, as well as any stray feed. Still have to sort out when we raise the hens though, our eggs are too cold to raise for end of year egg layers.

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