Friday, February 3, 2012

Fresh Organic Free-Range Eggs (part 3)

With my first winter with chickens more than half over and end in sight I have surely learned a lot from both my mistakes and successes alike, for future winters springs and summers ahead.

Composting- After doing some research online in the pre-winter months, I came up with the idea of using the base of the chicken coop as my winter compost pile. Knowing I wasn't going to be moving the coop over the winter, using it as my compost had many benefits. By keeping a good 8+ inches of straw and compost (leaves, last year's grass clippings, and daily food scraps) at the bottom of the coop it has given the chickens a warm footing as well as a source of bugs during the harsher of the winter days. Also since they perch above every night, there is a layer of fresh chicken poop (fertilizer) added daily. All it requires of me is the occasional turning over on the days they choose to find their protein elsewhere, and in return I should have a good 8' x 4' x 8-10" of fresh soil for the spring!

Mobile Coop- Although my first attempt at building a mobile coop was hampered by the early October snow that took down many trees and limbs and (not) so gently placed them on the coop, with a little unbending, straightening, and rigging I have been able salvage it enough to put it to use over the winter. Probably my biggest learning experience yet, I have gained a lot of valuable knowledge from my mobile coop mistakes... The first thing I found was that the 4'x12' of ground space within the coop just wasn't enough for my 9 birds unless of course I moved it every hour to a fresh piece of grass... just not practical. Even my original thoughts of increasing the footprint to 8'x12' would still not be enough ground space for the birds to occupy for 8hrs while my wife and I are at work. The coop has however come in handy on the weekends when I'm available to push it around every so often throughout the day, as well as using it for 'chicken transport' moving them from one fenced in area to another. With the mobile coop not living up to my original expectations, I have fallen back on mobile electric fencing as the best although costly solution. Thankfully with the 200ft of electric poultry fence that I already owned along with another ~150ft that I was able to borrow from a local farmer who wasn't using it, I have been able to use fence rotation to supply them with plenty of fresh open space to roam. I think for the upcoming Spring I will focus on how to make their permanent coop mobile to eliminate the 'common space' (where the coop sits) that I'm left with despite pasture rotation.

Feed- As I posted about in an earlier post, finding local organic whole grains to supplement the chicken's diet with had proved more difficult than originally expected. Thankfully though, through my local organic farming connections I was able to locate a farmer 15min from my house who could supply me with local organic whole corn and wheat berries. A local source of organic feed and a new connection... it's a win win!

So unless the next month or so brings some substantial snow to the north east this year, I think I can say I have fared pretty well for my first winter with chickens. Bring on the Spring!

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