By the end of 2016 it became clear that chickens have the best potential of all activities so far. So 2017 became a year of the chicken!
Hens live up to 8 – 9 years, but lay eggs only 3 – 4 years, why? My assumption is that like human grandmothers old hens can adopt ANY orphaned chicks! The only problem is how to convince the old lady… Here is a solution: chicks should be left in the chicken tractor under their heater plate. There should be no perches or other high places unaccessible for chicks inside the tractor. The hen lives in the same tractor and she sleeps in a place accessible for chicks. At night chicks “migrate” on their own under the hen’s wings. When all chicks sleep under wings and the hen starts to call them for food, heater plate can be removed! That’s it. Now this hen will accept any chicks straight from the incubator for the rest of her precious life. She saves electricity, space, and so needed farmer’s time. She worth gold by her weight (if the dead metal can be compared to a living creature). Chicks survival rate is almost 100%. The chicken tractor can be moved to an orchard or a lawn – no electricity needed! Picky, the hen on the picture, raised 45 chicks in one summer and died from a sickness in November…
Philip built a temporary bioshelter that, in spite of some technical problems, performed very well during the very cold winter of 2017-2018.
The chicken coops didn’t perform well in the harsh winter. They need better insulation and a better chicken run shelter. We lost many chickens. Also we moved ducks into the same shelters, that might carried some deceases. Ducks themselves survived winter very well.
This hugelcultur is the first one I made in my life. So for sure I did many mistakes. I didn’t straighten the hills, I didn’t put enough compost, didn’t plant enough clover, used wrong mulch – fall leaves. Nature took its turn and planted all with available plants – strong and sturdy pioneers. They formed soil and fixed some nutrients. Now I am taking my turn to use it. Plus we are in the big city of Montreal. Wood chips from tree trimmings, cardboard from stores, soil from excavations (sometimes of excellent quality) are ready available as “garbage”.
First I slightly chop the current vegetation and level the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips.
Than I cover it with moistened cardboard.
Than a layer of top soil. We have it from excavations. Than a layer of compost. I stop on this though they usually use more layers in no-till gardening.
Than I cover it with the classic mulch – straw bedding from the chicken coop. So my plants have fertilizer with each rain.
Straw is my best mulch so far. It does not fly with a wind, it’s light, it lets sprouts grow through, it holds moisture well.
Then chickens come and de-mulch everything. Chickens are apparently notorious de-mulchers.
I restarted the incubator on February 14 with updated settings – temperature 38C, humidity 60%. Everything was going well, but on February 24 – 25 we had 12 hours power outage. The incubator cooled down to 15C. I was thinking that all is lost, but on March 6 the first chick hatched! Than on March 7 hatched 2 other chicks out of 15 eggs. Next day I opened all other eggs. There was 7 more dead chicks inside.So the fertile rate is 10/15 = 66%. Not so bad for winter.
I called up a broody hen Farby. Her current chicks are already 6 weeks old. I put her in a broody cage in the basement and slipped the chicks at night. In the darkness she was OK.
But when I moved the cage to light she started to attack chicks…
So there was no choice. Farby returned back to her old chicks and all were very happy. Chicks went under the light bulb until their new “electric hen” will arrive.
There was a funny consequence of this. Chicks learned an aggressive behavior from the hen and continue to attack each other sometimes.
Here is how I treat eye infections in chickens.
I prepare a strong tea: for 1 tea spoon of black tea leaves – 1/2 cup of boiling water. Let the tea to stay for 1/2 an hour and cool down. Then gently wash the sick eye with tea using a cotton swab, wiping out any discharge with a paper napkin. I do this twice a day, in the morning and at the evening.
One hour after the tea I put some petroleum gelly on the closed eye to prevent clogging with dry mucus.
I continue with the tea for 1 week, then stop the tea and use the gelly only. At night it’s OK to put the gelly after the chicken is asleep. Just wake her up gently, carefully open eyelids wipe out any discharge and gently put the gelly on the closed eye.
I noticed that younger chicks with eye infections retard in growth. They catch up later. A slight sign below the eye will remain.
It’s mid February and the day is more then 10 hours now. In spite of bitter cold winter greens started to grow again.
The temperature in the greenhouse is much higher then outside. By midday all frozen water thaws and greens are ready for harvest.
Though it’s -25C outside!
Chickens tolerate the cold good. They move much less, some even eat less, some have “bubbly eyes” that is chicken’s running nose. But generally they look happy and healthy.
They started to lay more eggs.
The only thing that didn’t tolerate the cold was my cookie tin water heater. So chickens stay without water for several hours.
With a fresh egg supply I restarted my incubator. The new date is March 4.
At last I got the my incubator!
The idea behind it is simple. A hen can hatch maximum 5 – 9 chicks, but she can raise 12 – 20. So instead of running and searching for chicks for adoption I can start an incubator in parallel with the broody hen. The chicks for adoption will be ready right in time!
I couldn’t hold myself and started the incubator with what eggs I have now. Some of those eggs are 2 weeks old. They also were exposed to cold for some time ( but never freeze). So the chances are miserable. But I know for sure both mother and father of those eggs and there is always a hope!
On New Year eve winter at last came to Montreal. I am not sure about people, but chickens are happy for sure!
The old tempo tent holds well and gives enough protection for chickens to spend all day outdoors.
Farby managed to hatch a chick! And I added her 3 more so the first one would’t be bored. Farby sat on eggs in total for at least 31 days!
There is less danger of predators in the greenhouse so I simply turned the broody cage on the side to let Farby and here chicks wander around. Other chickens greeted them.
To protect winter greens from frost (and from chickens) we covered them with a layer of plastic. This seems to work well so far.
Late start of the previous 2015 year winter gave us a chance to finish all planned preparations.
We moved the mobile coop to the main farm, attached its water heater to electricity, added a tempo tent for chicken run, prepared the greenhouse and planted winter greens.
I even had time to set an experiment to store potatoes, recycled from the grocery store. I dug them into a pile of wood chips.
Though, wet and warm winter start was not good for chickens. I lost many of them to deceases. Most likely because of stale water under the coop and around it.
In spite of all problems chickens continued to lay eggs. The egg productions drastically dropped, but never stopped entirely. Even in the shortest day we had some eggs.
The funniest of all was a hen called Farby. She decided to get broody, probably to cover the losses. I was routinely taking her eggs, but she sat on new eggs each day. Finally, on December 23rd I got 6 straw bales as a present. I took this as a sign to let the nature prevail. So Farby got her private quarters with straw the same day. By this time she was sitting on different eggs for at least 10 days.
As usually I collect bagged leaves. For different reasons I need more of them each year. They are good bedding for chickens and worms, good “brown” material for compost and good mulch for garlic. I collect only plastic bags. They keep leaves dry and slow down decomposition. If left on the street they will be collected by garbage removal service. Municipality compost accepts paper bags only.
At last I installed an automatic door opener on the chicken coop. Now, at least theoretically, I can visit my coop only once a day at a convenient time.
I finished planting my garlic and started sunchocks. Also some worms will move into the greenhouse soon.