How to Maximize Egg Production…

Share
What are you doing around my wives?

What are you doing around my wives?

… keep your chickens healthy and not break the bank. It’s easy to manage the first, and commercial egg farmers do it all the time. Crowd the birds into a small space so you don’t have to spend a lot of money on buildings, heat or ventilation. You do, however, have to spend money on antibiotics to keep the birds from getting infections, and cut the ends of their beaks off to prevent cannibalism. Use lights to increase laying. Feed commercial feeds. Get rid of your older chickens the minute egg production drops. It’s not so easy to manage numbers two and three — hence the point of this post.

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Future chickens, eggs, chickens, eggs, etc.

Not being a commercial egg producer, I do it a bit very differently. Let’s start with housing. In a small flock, you can give the birds extra space. Somewhere around 10 square feet is a good number (battery chickens get 2 square feet or less). That means you could put two dozen adult chickens in a 10- by 24-foot pen. Although many tout the wonders of free-range chicken and eggs, I find chickens do just fine in confinement. The key is to provide deep litter (I like straw). The chickens will scratch in it, turning over the litter and adding their droppings. Every so often, you clean out the coop/pen and put the used litter on the compost pile. The chicken coop need not be fancy. Mine is a recycled wooden pump house with a dirt floor. I use old plastic five-gallon buckets for nest boxes. Extra space lets your cluckers get exercise and sunlight. The large pen allows them to maintain a pecking order without killing each other (which they will if you crowd them). A good secure pen also protects them from marauding neighbors’ dogs, foxes and raccoons. My pen is under a live oak tree, which also keeps them safe from hawks and eagles, of which we have a fair number. When I’ve tried to free-range chickens, I’ve had much more trouble with aerial predators than the four-footed variety.

Just hatched!

Just hatched!

Next, the matter of food. Chickens will eat just about anything (mine turn up their noses – err, beaks – at citrus peels, but that’s it). Although we feed grain screenings, they also eat food scraps from our tables and that of the local school, milk byproducts (mixed in with the grain screenings), scraps from butchering, chicken balls, garden weeds, hay, ground squirrel carcasses, bugs and worms they find in their pen. We feed them crushed eggshells for calcium, and very occasionally I toss in a handful of oyster shell. Take extra care to feed them well during the winter. Chickens are pretty hardy, but in cold weather, they’ll use up more calories staying warm — which cuts into egg production. The key for top-notch egg production is to make sure they get enough protein. Since I have a milk cow, my chickens get a lot of their protein in the form of cheese, yogurt and clabbered milk. I also mix in bacon grease for extra fat. When I’m raising baby chicks, I give them chopped hard-boiled eggs, which supply both protein and fat. Chickens should also have plenty of clean water available 24/7; if they’re dehydrated, egg production drops. Green stuff is particularly important for chickens in confinement. We feed alfalfa hay to our old stallion and the milk cow; the leftovers go into the chicken pen. Chard, collards and beet and radish leaves are also excellent for this purpose (you can eat most of those yourself as well). The nice thing about chard, especially, is that it will grow pretty much year round (at least in my zone 7 climate), so it’s a readily-available source of fresh green veggies.

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Breed choice affects egg production. Leghorns, for example, are great producers. However, they’re flighty and totally disinterested in setting on their eggs to make more chickens. From a commercial viewpoint, that’s good, as a setting hen quits laying for a while. Since I want a sustainable flock, I prefer old fashioned breeds. They might not produce to quite the same level, but they’ll raise next year’s flock. In my experience, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons and Barred Rocks are good choices for both egg and chick production. The hens won’t all set, which is fine – that way some will produce eggs and some will produce babies. I can also use the incubator as a backup.

"The makings" for chick food -- chopped veggies, dry bread crumbs, hard-boiled egg.

“The makings” for chick food — chopped veggies, dry bread crumbs, hard-boiled egg.

The final key to maximizing egg production is cyclical management. A hen usually starts laying at about 18 to 22 weeks of age. Breeds vary – this year’s Barred Rocks started laying six weeks before the Australorps, even though they were hatched the same day. Egg production peaks about six to eight weeks later, with around 90 percent of your hens laying once a day. By the 12th month of lay, the hens will drop off to around 65 percent of their peak production. So if you have 12 mature hens, you can expect around 10 eggs a day six weeks after laying starts. By one year, you’ll have around 6 eggs a day. I will add a caveat, however. Those numbers are for commercial chickens, not home flocks. With good management, you may get more eggs, especially from older chickens. The key is to keep new hens coming, so as egg production drops for older hens, the young ones are starting to lay. Let’s say you’ve started your flock in June. By November or December, your hens should start to lay. With luck, you’ll have hens setting eggs by March or April. Select replacement hens from those hatches – they’ll start laying in the early fall, about the time the older hens have slacked off. You can butcher the senior hens for chicken soup once the young ones come into full production. Some people cull older hens at 18 months — even if they’re still laying — because they feel the amount of food going into the chicken is too high for the number of eggs that result. With 12 older hens and 12 younger hens in the pen at all times, you should be able to count on a minimum of a dozen eggs a day all year round. In most families, that’s more than enough eggs, especially considering that eggs store very well under refrigeration.

Share
Posted in Farms, Food, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storm Prep

Share

Redding California storm clouds Kinda scared! We don't have storm ...

As you can see from the photos, we are socked in up here in the State of Jefferson. I’m behind in getting this posted, but that’s because I was too doggone busy doing the actual preparation for the storm that hit us last night. We got four inches of rain in about 12 hours and the winds were predicted at 70 MPH. The barometer was down almost to 29 this morning, the lowest I’ve ever seen it here. Most people think of the basics when getting ready for a big winter storm: flashlight batteries, extra food and drinking water, etc. When you live out in the boonies and have animals, you have a few other considerations.

One of the most important considerations is food for your animals. If well-fed, big animals such as cows and horses can withstand considerable cold, wind and wet. Although some will shelter under trees or in draws to get away from the wind, many just turn tail and stay out in the open. Older animals (our old stallion qualifies) and very young animals may need a little extra pampering. We fed twice the usual amount yesterday, partly to give them the extra calories and partly so we wouldn’t need to go feed until later in the day when the weather was supposed to abate a bit. Sox the stallion has a new, waterproof, winter blanket to help protect him from the elements. My young chickens have extra bedding and coverings over their pens.storm approaching, Redding California.

 

Wind speed in the mountains is often considerably higher than down in the valleys, as is rainfall. A 70 MPH wind is strong enough to send my big stainless steel milker sailing off the table, blow the tarp off the hay and pick up any sort of small debris. Smallish flower pots, for example, can be knocked over, broken, and their contents scattered from hell to breakfast. Ladders and pieces of plywood can quickly sail into the wild blue yonder. So we made the rounds yesterday morning. The hay is not only tarped, but has ropes weighted with old tires across it to keep it from billowing. We also keep a rope tightly tied around the perimeter of the stacks. I brought the milker inside and spent a couple of hours yesterday morning picking up any smaller stuff that might take flight. We are also the work crew who must clean out leaves and pine needles from the roadside ditches, and make sure puddles drain from low spots.

If our power goes out, we lose not only lights, but the ability to pump water. We also have several freezers; if the food thaws, that’s our year’s supply of meat down the drain. So we took the little generator down to the milking shed and brought the big one up to the house, just in case. Hubby also made a new cord to plug the genny into the power system, since the old one got fried in a mishap last time the power went out. If we have to use it, we’ll shut down parts of the electrical system, as the generator can’t run all the big equipment at once. My daughter and I got all caught up on the laundry before the storm hit, as the electric dryer is one of those things we can’t run with the generator. Cooking is not a major issue, since have both gas and wood stoves. Hubby and I prefer to drink water from our big spring, so we made it a point to fill up the jars during our preparations.

The generator also allows us to stay up on weather predictions, storm and flood warnings (not that floods are likely to be a major issue for us up here on the hill). Although battery-operated weather stations can provide the basics, I find online resources tend to be updated more quickly.

So far, we’re weathering the storm. Once things clear up a bit, we’ll be out checking for downed trees and other problems. Hope your winter preparations are also going well.

Share
Posted in Farms | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Zoot Suits

Share
On him, even a zoot suit looks good!

On him, even a zoot suit looks good!

The rainy season is finally upon us — which is terrific, as anyone who doesn’t live in a closet knows California is in the grip of the worst drought ever. However, rain does mean that it’s time to get the zoot suits out of storage. Zoot suits probably have some sort of official name, but since they are bright yellow, rubber and decidedly not fashionable, I go with my own label.

A zoot suit is a two-piece garment consisting of a pair of overalls and a jacket. They are made large enough so you can wear your regular clothes under them. Supposedly, they are unisex. However, I am not anatomically designed to use that handy little slit in the front, and they are clearly cut for someone with considerably less bosom than I possess. And frankly, I doubt that any female would have chosen the color, which is the exact shade of Big Bird’s feathers.

From the standpoint of keeping the rain off you, zoot suits are great (although they do tend to let a few trickles in around the collar). They are easy to hose off should you fall in the mud — which you do, since they are not made to support graceful movement. In fact, once you don a zoot suit — especially in the winter when it’s cold as well as wet — you resemble a Pillsbury Doughboy, except you’re yellow instead of white. Add a pair of rubber boots, and you walk like Big Bird in concrete overshoes. I bent over the other day and discovered that I had enough intervening zoot suit that I couldn’t reach the shoelace I was trying to tie.

There are various ways to don a zoot suit. Not the coat, it’s easy. But the overalls come all in one piece. They have neither zippers nor buttons. You must insert one foot into the leg, pull the pants high enough to reach at least mid-thigh, and then insert the other foot into the other leg and work them up to breast level. In the process, however, you’re quite likely to overbalance and fall on your rear. Not to worry, as they’re actually easier to get on sitting on the ground. I have also found that if you sit in a chair and spread them in front of you, you can pull them up one leg at a time fairly easily. Of course, then you have to stand up, with the overalls at mid-thigh. You can’t take a step forward, because in that position the overalls don’t allow that much movement, and if you lean back, you’ll fall into the chair. You need excellent balance and quadriceps muscles like rocks to don a zoot suit without injury.

Having donned the zoot suit, there are some things you don’t do. You don’t run, partly because the suits are a bit constricting, and partly because they’re made of rubber. Even when it’s below zero, you’ll be sweating like a waterfall within 30 seconds. As noted earlier, you don’t bend over — although you can squat fairly easily, assuming you have those rock-hard quads mentioned earlier. You can’t scratch an itch unless it’s on exposed skin. If you’re female — also as noted earlier — you don’t take a bathroom break. Just imagine trying to do the zoot suit dance out in the woods. The wildlife would die laughing. But the biggest nuisance for a rancher is that you can’t get into your pants pockets, where you carry such useful items as the pocket knife you use to cut the strings on the hay bales. Pockets? Oh, zoot suits don’t have pockets — another design flaw.

Getting out of a zoot suit isn’t much easier than getting into them. Again, the coat is easy: unsnap and take it off. The easy way to get the overalls off is to sit down and pull them straight off your legs. I don’t know about you, but my arms would have to be at least six feet longer to pull the overalls straight off my legs. When you try to pull them off by bending your leg so you can reach the hem, they bunch up behind your knee and won’t slide down your leg. If your husband isn’t laughing too hard to help, he can do it for you. And if he is laughing too hard to help, give him a good kick with the bent leg. So you usually wind up sitting down and gradually peeling the things off, one leg and one inch at a time. Of course, they’re always wet and often muddy, so the protective effect — which was why you put them on in the first place — is a bit diminished.

Sometimes I think I’d rather just get wet.

Share
Posted in Farms | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments