It’s been hot around here (David Bowie is panting). So this is how we keep our girls cool. A kiddie pool filled with muddy water. The trick is the mud. They refused to stand in it when it was just water. All of them loiter around the pool during the hottest part of the day taking turns dipping their toes in the cooling mud.
It takes just about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to 6x* by weight. It’s highly nutritious and provides 20% protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses, just about any grass-loving livestock animal around.
When my friend, Brande, first told me about it I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought that it was possible to do fodder without one of these setups.
What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY so why couldn’t making fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.
There are really only about 3 things you absolutely have to have: seed, water and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the other grain seeds. I can get an 80lb bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley but I find that unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the water that drains to reuse.
You only want to put about a 1/2″ of barley in your tray. It really does swell up and I found that with 3lbs of barley the tray was busting out at the walls. Before you start with making fodder you need to soak the barley for 6-8 hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (this is why you should also soak peas and legumes before planting). You want to cover the barley with enough water so that when it expands it remains covered.
Once your soaking is over pour the seed and water into your tray and then rinse the seed. Cover your tray so that it remains dark to help encourage germination. Above is the day after soaking. Small root tips begin to show up at the ends of the seed.
Water your seed 2-3 times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking you’ll start to see more of the roots.
The following day small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. It will soon be growing so fast you can almost watch it. By now you can take the cover off because you want the grass blades to develop chlorophyll and energy.
On the fourth day after soaking you’ll be seeing the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet but the following day you’ll be amazed.
Day 5 and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.
By day 6 you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the nutrition of the grass begins to peak.
On day 7 it’s time to feed the fodder. You can see here the awesome layer of roots, seeds and grass. Poultry and ruminants will consume all these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens. I started with 3lbs of seed and produced nearly 15lbs of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth of fodder. If you start a new tray ever day or every couple of days you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed.
*I’ve only seen about a 5x increase but I’ve heard that 6x is also possible.
Meet Big Red. She’s a two year old Buckeye. She’s also one of my favorite hens. The Buckeye is a threatened breed of chicken according the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They were originally developed during the turn of the century by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio – the only chicken breed developed completely by a woman. Buff Cochins, Barred Rocks and Black-Breasted Red Game were used in their development. Their pea combs and wattles are incredibly small – nearly non-existent – which makes them very cold tolerant birds. I always recommend them for people that live in cold areas because of their tolerance to frigid conditions. Even though we live in a milder climate than most of the country, our Buckeyes consistently lay medium, brown eggs through the winter unlike our younger hens.
From the ALBC’s Buckeye page:
The Buckeye should not be confused with the Rhode Island Red, even though they share some history. Buckeyes are unique in their body shape: slanted, short but broad back, very meaty thighs, powerful wings and breast. They appear very close to the Cornish, as bred in 1905, in body shape. (It should be noted that the originator indicated that she did not use Cornish in their breeding; the Cornish body shape was simply her goal.) In color the Buckeye is also unique. The color of the Buckeye is darker than that of the original Rhode Island Red (later, the Rhode Island Red was bred for a shade of color even darker than the Buckeye). The Buckeye also has a slate colored bar in the undercolor (fluff) of its back; the Rhode Island Red’s feathers should be red to the skin. Both breeds share the trait of tight feathering – unique in the American Class of poultry.
They also have a unique personality. If you can get past the fact that they always look angry they are actually very friendly, though quite active. We have a batch of 4 week old chicks right now, including 3 Buckeyes. They are the only ones out of the group that actually allow us to pick them up and carry them around perched on our fingers. Big Red is our “event chicken” because she’s so friendly and doesn’t shy away from large groups of people. They are great foragers, however, and don’t do well in confinement. They have a reputation for hunting rodents rivaling the hunting ability of cats. The roosters can make a huge range of sounds including a dinosaur-type roar.
The Buckeye is a dual purpose bird with hens weighing 6-7 lbs and roosters weighing 9lbs. Readers of Mother Earth News rated Buckeyes as the best for meat and flavor. Back in early 2011 we raised some Buckeyes for meat and they were definitely tasty and grew out relatively fast for a heritage, dual purpose breed at 16 weeks.
Of all the breeds we’ve raised so far, if I had to choose just one it would be the Buckeye. Now if only I can find a dinosaur-roaring rooster….
If you missed the chicken class last night you’ve got another chance! Well, it will be an abridged version but I’ll be discussing chickens with Sylvia at the 21st Century Homekeeper on Saturday at 5pm central (3pm for us Pacific time people). Best part is that it’s free!
In other news, the chicken class preparation has taken pretty much all my time for the last week (extensive Powerpoint presentation) so I haven’t written much. Hopefully this coming week I can post some more stuff.
Own chickens but want to know more? I’ll be teaching and advanced chicken keeping class on October 10th in Berkeley from 6pm to 8pm. I’ll go over introducing new birds to your flock, health care from prevention to diagnosing problems, holistic and traditional care and when a vet should be contacted, nutrition and mixing your own feed and feed supplements and the life cycle of chickens including hatching your own. We’ll also discuss dealing with predators, bio-security and behavioral issues and answer your most pressing chicken questions. The class is through Biofuel Oasis and will be held at Sticky Art Lab in Berkeley. Check out Biofuel Oasis’ page on classes to register.
I’m in charge of a bunch of events for the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance throughout the year. Most of these events involve having a sizable booth that we need to fill and a table and handouts just don’t bring the people in. That’s where chickens come in! Bring some livestock (or animals in general) and the people flock to you. The Maker Faire (photo above) was the event debut for three of our hens – Big Red, David Bowie Chicken and Lefty. Their housing was just a pet pen with a tarp and hay on the ground and netting over the top. The number one question we got from most people was whether that was what we always kept them in. So we came up with a brilliant idea for events.
The collapsible chicken tractor! It folds up nice and flat for easy transport and storage. It comes apart and goes up really quickly with just a few bolts.This is perfect for events but then I was thinking about what a great idea it is to have a temporary chicken tractor that is easy to put away when not in use in the garden. We have a primary coop that our chickens live in but I’ve been wanting a tractor to use on the fallow beds. At the same time I didn’t want to have to try and store a tractor when we didn’t need it. This is the perfect solution for that.
It’s not quite done yet and since ours is mostly for show it’s not predator proof (hoping to upgrade it eventually so it is) but soon I’ll be posting the instructions on how to make your own that is predator proof.
This afternoon while I was prepping a new bed for garlic it dawned on me that I should probably pay attention to which manure and bedding I add to it. Being a root vegetable I didn’t want to add high nitrogen to the bed because that would stimulate too much top growth and the energy of the plant wouldn’t be used for making those big, juicy cloves on the bulb.What I would need is a manure that helps promote root growth. Ideally this would be a manure that was high in phosphorus but lower in nitrogen. Potassium is the third micronutrient and is used by the plant for overall vigor and disease resistance so it would be OK if this was high as well.
One of the benefits to keeping all of our animals in separate housing is that I can pick and choose who has the most appropriate manure for each bed. I can also choose when in the growing season I can apply each manure. In general chicken, turkey and goat are considered “hot” and need to be composted first. We usually put these down right after harvest and let them sit until we plant again. Rabbit, on the other hand, does not need to be composted first so we like to use this during the growing season. Additionally, the bedding that is mixed in with the manures really helps improve our heavy clay soil.
Here are the average numbers for common livestock manures that are readily accessible to us. The numbers correspond with N-P-K (Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium) and are percent of dry weight.
Goat 1.5 – 1.5 – 3.0
*Horse 2.3 – 0.9 – 1.7
Poultry 3.2 – 5.2 – 1.8
Rabbit 2.4 – 1.4 – 0.6
Steer 1.7 – 1.2 – 3.0
If you want to get really technical determining how much of each type of manures you should add you can do some calculations. Since growing food isn’t a business for us it’s not really worth it to have all the manure sent out to have it tested and then weigh everything before applying the manure. For home garden it can be more of an approximation based on the needs of different crops and what the different manures contain.
What I chose to use for the garlic was the old bedding from the goat yard that also included chicken manure from when the chickens were housed with them. This will be what I use for root vegetables. Once it runs out then I’ll mix the poultry and goat manure together to reach the same numbers. For other crops here is what I’ll be using where. (Nutrient requirements based on info in The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible)
Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=high; K=high
Combination of poultry and rabbit manure (or poultry and horse)
Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=moderate; K=moderate
Rabbit manure (or horse)
- Summer Squash
- Winter Squash
Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=low; K=low
Rabbit manure (or horse)
Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=moderate; K=moderate
Combination of poultry and goat manure (or poultry and steer)
- Jerusalem Artichokes
Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=high; K=high
Goat manure (or steer)
- Brussels Sprouts
Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=low; K=low
Rabbit manure (or horse)
Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=high; K=high
Goat manure (or steer)
Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=moderate; K=moderate
Goat manure (or steer)
- Bush Beans
- Pole Beans
- Swiss Chard
Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=low; K=low
Light on the goat manure (or steer)
- Sweet Potatoes
Of course nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are not the only nutrients plants need, nor are they only nutrients found in manure. Manure also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, sulfur and various levels of other nutrients. Composted manure also contains a lot of beneficial microorganisms which help break down nutrients and make them available to plants. The addition of carbon (bedding) makes the perfect mix of nitrogen and carbon for composting. It wasn’t until we got chickens and started adding their bedding to our compost pile were we finally able to get it hot. Our livestock manure is actually mixed in with composted kitchen scraps and yard waste to add another level of nutrients.
It’s not just about nutrients when it comes to manure and compost. The addition of it greatly improves the soil structure such as loosening heavy clay soil or increasing water retention in sandy soils. In my opinion adding compost and/or manure is really the only way to go when trying to improve your soil. You just can’t have healthy, nutritious food without healthy soil.
*Horse manure is commonly available for free or very low cost at boarding stables. Be aware, however, that if the animals are pastured it could be high in weed seeds unless it is properly composted at a high enough temperature.
We’re moving forward in our planning for part of our backyard. Last week I wrote about how we’re going to update our patio area since it’s pretty much nothing but dirt and birds. I am using the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens to help plan our new garden. Here’s the plan view exhibit of what it currently looks like.
We’ve got big plans for this area. Of course we can’t do all of it at once but it’s something that eventually will look great. Free-Range Chicken Gardens has a great section specifically on planning your garden design even if you don’t have any experience doing any type of design. She starts with drawing out your property lines, house footprint, out buildings and other existing elements that will remain. She then directs you to make a wish list of what you want to include in your new plan. She even gets into details such as sun exposure, microclimates and areas of concern. Then you want to show other elements including the chicken coop, run and paddocks, trees, planting beds, lawn area, pathways and patios. This is our plan:
The patio is keeping it’s current configuration but we’re going to be building and adding elements on the patio to break up the large expanse of paving. Against the tower we’ll be adding an outdoor kitchen which will include a sink, barbecue, refrigerator, kegerator, and bar seating. We’ll also be building an arbor over a large portion of the patio to keep this area dry along with the dining table. In addition we’ll be building a cob oven. Flanking each side of the path out to the vegetable garden will be two 4′ diameter galvanized tanks with fruit trees planted in them. These will help add more shade and block the evening sun on those hot days. Offset 2′ from the patio and path will be a 4′ fence to keep the chickens corralled off the patio. The fence will be planted with edible vines such as Maypop passion fruit. There will also be vines such as grape and kiwi planted on the coop run fencing to produce a shady oasis inside the coop. The light green area will be seeded with chicken pasture seed in the early spring and then we’ll also include some chicken/turkey hardy shrubs between our vegetable garden fence and Turkey Town. The gate to the right of the chicken coop is access to the orchard pasture for the chickens and turkeys which will also be seeded with the chicken pasture seed but I’m not showing it here to save space. It’s an additional 20′x50′ area. The end of the path to the vegetable garden will have an arbor for more edible vines such as Scarlet Runners which are perennial here. In the darker green area on the left will be our chicken and medicinal garden. The chickens will have occasional access to this area for foraging. Additionally, the plants chosen for the chicken/medicinal garden are also bee friendly.
This plan will not be implemented all at once, of course. Just like every other project around here, it will be a work in progress so I’ll definitely continue to post on it. The next phase will be the planting plan. Next week I will post about the plants I’ve chosen and why and what the planting layout will look like. If I’m feeling extra saucy I may even include a perspective drawing.
Yesterday there was an explosion followed by a fire at a local refinery. Fortunately for us the plume of smoke decided to travel in the exact opposite direction of where we live. We couldn’t even see it off in the distance. Which is a good thing for us. Not so good for those that were in its path. They had to shelter in place.
It did get me thinking though. If the winds were going in the other direction could we mitigate for such an event? Maybe but it would require some work. Last year Farmer Lynda wrote a great post right after the Fukushima meltdown about the tough decisions she would have to make if there was nuclear fallout.
The turkeys, though they would be unhappy about it, could be kept safe in Turkey Town. The chickens would be tricky because we’d have to quickly figure out a way to keep them confined to their indoor coop (which opens up to their yard directly). Not impossible, but it would take a little bit of time. The goats have plenty of indoor space that they could be confined to easily without much work on our part. Probably the best option would be to throw the chickens in with the goats temporarily – it’s not like they haven’t lived together before. The rabbits could pose a problem. The bottom of the rabbitry is open to allow their waste to fall away from them. Probably the best option would be to move them inside – if it’s not too hot outside. All of our animal feed is safely stored in metal trashcans – most of which is actually indoors. Hay is also stored inside, as is bedding materials.
The vegetables and fruits are another matter entirely. How do we keep them from being covered in dangerous particulates? We’d probably need to cover everything if we can. That which can’t be covered would require us to wash and peel them or remove the outer leaves, like on cabbage, before using them. Root vegetable would remain relatively safe though. Veggies that can’t be peeled like beans, lettuce and spinach would be the priorities for covering since they aren’t easily peeled.
I’m foreseeing some small changes around here to accommodate possible emergencies.
This picture makes me sad. It makes me sad because it no longer looks like this. We had a brilliant plan to redo the garden. We pulled everything out to make room for new plants. And then we moved the chickens.
And now it looks like this. And I hate it. I’m the mechanic with the crappy car that doesn’t run. For reals. This is the plan view:
Dirt and birds. That’s what I’ve got. And the trees are a bit bigger now. There are only a few token shrubs left, some of which look better than others. We don’t even have any weeds. Have I mentioned how good chickens are at weeding? This is just a portion of our yard, our “entertaining” area where we can seat a lot of people. The patio is actually more square footage than our house to give you an idea. The trees moving from upper left, across and then down to lower right are: Arkansas Black apple, Manzanillo olive, Arbequina olive, random orange tree, pomegranate, Karp’s Sweet quince, Johnny Appleseed Apple, Illinois Everbearing mulberry, Indian Free peach, Jubileum plum. The gate to the right of the chicken run has actually been removed so that the birds have access to the large orchard area near the garden. I’m not so concerned with that area right now as I just want to focus on this main part of the yard. The first area that people see when they enter our backyard.
A couple of months ago I was sent a book to review. I was so excited to get this book as it was EXACTLY what I needed to inspire me to get moving on the garden. Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by fellow designer Jessi Bloom was going to be my garden savior.
This is definitely a book you can judge by it’s cover. It’s got beautiful photos – full page photos – throughout with tons of information including basic chicken care, how to build a coop using different materials (plus the pros, cons, availability and relative expense of those materials), and of course what plants you can and cannot use around chickens. It also features different chicken gardens throughout the book which is great. I like seeing what other people are doing with their gardens.
As designers we take a lot of inspiration from what other designers do. We don’t copy but we are inspired by different ideas and then change them to make them our own. Our book shelves are lined with relevant topic books that we go through and tag the ideas that we like for each project. Then we work on bringing all the things we like together into a design that flows. This book is perfect to add to my shelf because it deals with a lot of plants I don’t normally use – perennials. I work mostly on large projects where we need bulletproof plants that don’t die back every year so my experience using perennials is a bit limited.
Next week I’ll unveil the plan I have for the backyard along with a plant list that will use chicken-friendly plants. I’ll also be incorporating bee-friendly, edible and medicinal plants as well. A following post after that will be the project of putting the plants in (though this might be over a few weeks because I’ll need to source them through wholesale nurseries. I’m really looking forward to this project.