The Eugene Backyard Farmer

Backyard Farming. Urban Homesteading Sustainablity
The Eugene Backyard Farmer

How to introduce new chicks to the flock.

It’s Spring and baby chicks are here. Many urban farmers have a peaceful flock in various degrees of laying.  Some add new chickens every year so that there is not a lag in egg production.  Others add more chicks each year because it is so fun.  And while having multiple generations in a backyard flock can be tricky, if you follow a few steps you can keep the pecking order at a manageable level.

Ideally you have a broody hen that will take to some new chicks.  Just slide them under her and let her do the work.  However you can’t force broodiness and even if she is broody, she may not make a good mommy.  In which case expect to raise your new chicks indoors for awhile.

By the time they are three or four weeks old they are nearly feathered out.  Slowly introduce them to the flock by having a separate run for them.  This run can be as simple as some wire or a large cage in the corner of the overall run.  They can stay outside during the day, then bring them in at night.  Be sure they have access to food and water in their separate run.  Also be sure their run can be accessed by the older hens.  They will scratch and cluck around the pullets but will not be able to peck them.

In a week or two, they should be used to each other.  By now they are five or six weeks old and you are ready to take the plunge.  Pick an evening when the nighttime temperatures will not be too cold and wait for the hens to go to bed.  Once it is completely dark, take the pullets to the coop and place them on the roost next to the older girls.  do it quickly and make sure they are all on the perch.  Then close the door and walk away.

Chickens don’t see well in the dark so the chickens will spend the night smelling each other, clucking to each other, and getting used to each other.  Come sunrise, the chickens will ideally act as if they have always been a big happy family.  But just like any family, fights are bound to break out.   Remember that establishing a pecking order needs to happen and it is generally a dynamic process.  A couple of pecks and squawks are perfectly fine but even this should subside after a few days.

Over the next few nights go out to the coop at night to be sure the pullets are sleeping on the roost.   You might have to help them up for a few nights until they learn the routine from the older gals.  Keep the young girls out of the nesting boxes to avoid soiled eggs.  Now give them plenty of fresh water and high quality feed.  Before long you will have plenty of eggs for friends and neighbors.

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Meat Birds.

Raising meat birds in your backyard is another great way of taking your urban farming experience to the next level.  Like anything else with backyard homesteading, the quality of food you grow yourself is vastly superior to most supermarket offerings.

We carry both Red Broilers and Cornish Cross meat birds.

The benefit of the Red Broiler is that they mature much more slowly then the Cornish Cross. At the store we raised six Red Broilers. The roosters were butchered at 14 weeks and the hens at 16 weeks. The roosters dressed out to five pounds and the hens were a bit smaller. Since they grow at a rate that can be sustained by their bodies, they are healthier and have a more normal life.  The quality of meat is generally outstanding.
The disadvantage to raising slow-growing broilers is the cost. We fed them an 18% protein GMO free grower as well as plenty of kitchen scraps. They eat a pound of feed per bird per week which works out to about $8 worth of feed. Our six Red Broilers ate a total of 100 pounds of feed. If you calculate feed plus the cost of the bird plus any scratch, it works out to be between $10 and $12 per bird as a total cost. They lived a very healthy life, were treated well and were butchered with dignity.

The Cornish Cross is bred specifically as a fast growing meat bird. The advantage is that they mature so quickly that they can be ready for butcher at six to eight weeks. This means that your feed costs could be half as much as the Red Broilers. The Cornish Cross’ biggest asset is also it’s biggest liability. They often grow so fast that their hearts and legs can’t keep up with the weight gain. They tend to be a bit more lethargic and sometimes do not forage well for food. They also do not do well in extreme heat (this is why we are bringing them in during August. By the time heat is an issue with them, it will be mid-September and probably much cooler.)
If you keep your feed to around 18% protein and give them plenty of ranging space, you should be able to grow a healthy Cornish Cross. The key to raising a healthy Cornish Cross is to avoid filling it up with high protein rations with lots of filler grains. Raise a Cornish Cross with the same respect as you would any other chicken, and you will be rewarded with a fine home-raised meal.

 

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The benifits of raising baby chicks in the summer.

So you are finally ready to raise some chickens.   Many of you have gone on a chicken coop tour and your have some great ideas for your coop.  The weather is finally warm and dry and you figure you can finish your  coop in the next couple weeks.  Or maybe you already have chickens but were paid a visit by a raccoon.  Or perhaps you have a broody hen and you want to give her a couple chicks to try to raise.  Traditional feed stores only carry chicks in early spring and stop around Easter.  The good news is we sell baby chicks throughout the summer.

There are a number of advantages to raising your chicks in the late spring or summer.  Since it is warmer outside, it will be warmer inside.  This means your chicks won’t need a heat lamp for as long.  Once they get to the three week old stage, they can go outside during the day and come back in at night.

Also most regional hatcheries are focused on the more standard breeds during the early spring.  Now that they don’t have to supply large feed stores, they can hatch more unusual or heritage breeds.  We have some fun breeds scheduled to arrive in the next few months.

The disadvantage is that you may or may not get eggs this year.  Most hens start laying between three and seven months but many don’t lay often in the late fall and winter.  So a chick that was hatched in August will be out in their coop in September.  They will have plenty time to feather out and go through their gangly stage before winter arrives.  These hens might lay occasionally in the winter but as soon as the sunlight returns you will get a jump start on next year’s eggs.

The trend toward urban farming is allowing us to approach things in more creative ways.  Raising baby chicks in the summer is a great example of adapting  a rural farming practice to meet the needs of a backyard homestead.

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How do I keep my hens warm?

One of the most common questions we receive is, “What do I do to keep my hens warm during the winter?”  The short answer is “not much.”

It is a perfectly reasonable question and it is easy to understand our concerns.  Our hens give us great eggs and great compost and in many cases they give us great entertainment.  And despite the emotional hazards, we sometimes even name them and pamper them and treat them like family.Pretty Girls

It is important to remember that chickens are essentially live-stock.  Sure they are cute and funny but they are also tough birds and can handle some harsh conditions. Many of the breeds that we sold originated in the Northeast, upper mid-west, and in England.  Oregon winters are temperate compared to some of those places.  Set your alarm for 4:00 some morning and go out to the coop and pick up a hen.  You will see them huddled together and you can feel the heat radiating off them.

But there are a few things you can do to make things more comfortable during the winter.  Change their water more often so it doesn’t freeze.  You can even paint your water container black or cover it with some sort of sweater.  We will even sell water heaters for the dead of winter.

You can also give them some cracked corn about an hour before they go to bed.  The extra corn increases their metabolism and will give them something to burn during the night.  You can even put the scratch in that chick feeder that you haven’t used since they were 2 months old.

Some backyard farmers do add a light in the coop during extremely cold nights.  If doing so, use extreme caution as you run the risk of a fire hazard.  One trick is to shine a light bulb into a ceramic pot.  This will create a long-term radiant heat and will also keep it dark enough for the hens to sleep.

Another popular heat source is the deep bedding method.  With this method, you do not clean out the droppings but rather add a thin layer of pine shavings.  As the droppings compost, they create a natural heat that can add ten degrees to the inside of the coop.  If you do this method, be certain that your coop has plenty of ventilation (there is a difference between ventilation and draft.  You want the air to circulate but you do not want gusts of cold air).

A lack of proper ventilation can cause respiratory health problems in your flock.  The composting process can also wear on your coop floor and you will have a bit of an odor issue and odds are you’ll have ‘work clothes’ which need a better cleaning then most. According to a quick search this it the best to remove urine odors from clothes. While the deep bedding method is popular and effective but it does come with a few drawbacks.Some breeds have combs and waddles that are susceptible to frostbite.  In extreme cold conditions you can treat a comb with bag balm or petroleum jelly.

If you are still concerned you can always knit them a sweater.  But putting them in front of the fire with a cup of cocoa or a snifter of brandy is unnecessary.

Do you have any tricks to keep your hens warm all winter?  Feel free to add a comment.

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Employee of the month.

Having a cat or two is critical for a feed store.  Fresh chicken feed attracts mice and the store is in the middle of an active rat population.  Sophie and Sonia are working cats who are here to protect the stock.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that the cats are such sweethearts as well.  They enjoy playing with each other as well as the chickens and our visitors.   But their primary job description is to catch mice.

Sonia’s first mouse came as part of a training exercise.  I knew we had some mice behind the straw bales so when I got down to the last few, I carried the kittens out side and propped them on a nearby straw bale.  As I pulled the last two bales away from the wall the mice went scrambling.  Sonia caught one right away while Sophie watched the excitement from a safe distance.

Since then Sonia has been a most dutiful mouser and has even caught two rats.  We appreciate Sonia’s diligence and so do the neighbors.

When Sonia is not busy catching mice, she likes to sneak into the coop’s nesting box so that she can pretend to be a chicken.  Feel free to drop by and congratulate our employee of the month.

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Hay vs Straw

A common question we get at The Eugene Backyard Farmer is, “Do you have hay?”.  We do not generally carry hay but we do carry straw.  What is the difference you may ask?

Hay is generally some sort of grass and is cut and dried to be used as animal fodder. It has nutritional value and is not suited for bedding. Straw is the cut and dried husks of cereal plants. There is almost no nutritional value to straw and is best used for animal bedding.

There are several types of straw. We sell only wheat straw. There are generally no seeds in it but sometimes grass seed can get into it from a neighbor crop. Many people use straw to mulch gardens or grow potatoes. Please be aware that some rye grass could sprout. Pull it right away to prevent the roots from taking.

We have tried to source organic straw but have yet to be successful. If you know of an organic wheat farm in the area, please let us know.
As with any agricultural product, the price with fluctuate with the season. We will continue to keep our prices fair and competitive.

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