Sunday, November 16, 2014

Guarding the chickens

We recently lost a pullet to a red shouldered hawk from this flock of New Hampshire Reds so we moved Sofie, an Akbash Anatolian mix livestock guardian dog in with them for a few days.

Later in the afternoon we discovered the hawk had gone to a different flock on the opposite side of the farm and helped itself to one of the barred rock layers so we moved Josh, our other livestock guardian dog, into that pasture, leaving the goats to fend for themselves for a while.

Because our flocks roam within the limits of movable electric fencing they are protected from most predators. Aerial predators such as hawks have an advantage though they are usually not a problem. Colder weather is here and apparently some of the small rodents and snakes that comprise the hawks' diet are not as readily accessible

Monday, November 10, 2014

Helpful Chickens

While we raise layers for their eggs (and the delicious stewing hens we get when laying days are over), the natural life of a chicken serves many purposes on the farm.
Chickens love to scratch in the dirt and eat the bugs stirred up by their activity. We moved the New Hampshire Reds onto our future berry patch and while they are doing what comes naturally they are also fertilizing the soil and spreading the leaf mulch and old straw piles for us. Every critter on the farm is skilled with multi-tasking.  For chickens, having access to piles of mulch and straw, is similar to being at an amusement park with free food!

Domestic chickens are descended from jungle fowl so their natural diet is insects, plants, small rodents, lizards and seeds. A "vegetarian" diet is actually not a complete and healthy diet for a chicken. We are grateful for the labor-saving joy these chickens are experiencing. They'll be happy when we share the extra berries with them next year too!

The patch of soil the chickens are rehabilitating is on an area that is part of what was the most worn out of our pastures when we bought the farm 4 years ago. For 4 years we have bush-hogged whatever grew and allowed the plant life to lie on the soil to decompose. For 3 years chickens have been moved across the pasture from one spot to another and we can see the benefit of our efforts. No pesticides, insecticides or herbicides have been used on any part of the farm and the land is healing. As the land heals the plant life changes from weeds to grasses, eroded places vanish as the increasing organic matter in the land enables the soil to absorb the water.