What the Fodder?

Have you seen the new biggest craze in livestock feed?

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.

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All About Poop – Using Manure in the Garden

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)

  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=moderate; K=moderate

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Asparagus
  • Mustard
  • Summer Squash
  • Winter Squash

Nutrient Requirements” N=high; P=low; K=low

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Carrots
  • Parnips

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=moderate; K=moderate

Combination of poultry and goat manure (or poultry and steer)

  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=high; K=high

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant

Nutrient Requirements” N=moderate; P=low; K=low

Rabbit manure (or horse)

  • Fennel

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=high; K=high

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Melons
  • Watermelons

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=moderate; K=moderate

Goat manure (or steer)

  • Bush Beans
  • Pole Beans
  • Beets
  • Swiss Chard

Nutrient Requirements” N=low; P=low; K=low

Light on the goat manure (or steer)

  • Arugula
  •  Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Horseradish
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Sage
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tarragon
  • Tomatillos
  • Turnips

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.

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A Garden for the Birds (and the Bees) Part 1

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.

 

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Book Review & Giveaway – A Chicken in Every Yard

*Update: Susan is our giveaway winner! Look for an email from us to get your address.

The Review

I rarely ever read a “reference book” all the way through. Actually I have never read a reference book all the way through (not even my college textbooks). That was until I got my paws on A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt, owners of the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon. It was an easy and quick read while containing quite a bit of information. It is a great primer for those that are planning on getting some backyard chickens. It’s also got some good information if you have chickens including a health section that goes over the most common ailments that your chickens might suffer.

It goes over various topics including some of the more popular breeds of chickens, brooding chicks (more on that below), litter management, feeding, predators, clipping wings and introducing new birds. A Chicken in Every Yard even includes simple plans for building a basic chicken coop. It discusses various options for runs that will effectively keep your chickens safe and happy. It breaks down how much time per day you’ll need to work at keeping chickens depending on what management system you’re using.The most interesting chapter, to me at least, was about eggs. I never realized there were so many different parts to an egg. It’s also got some delicious looking recipes that utilize those tasty homegrown eggs.

Because there are as many management styles as there are chicken owners, there are some things that they recommend that I personally don’t follow. Their recommendations include the use of medicated feed which is definitely an option but I wish they would have discussed other management techniques such as brooding without the need for medication. The one great thing they offer in their chapter on chicks is a checklist of all the supplies you will need if bringing home chicks.

This book is targeted towards those that will be keeping chickens as “pets with benefits.” If you want a book that also covers chickens for meat this wouldn’t be the book for you as they are clear in the very beginning that they will not be discussing using chickens for meat – even retired chickens. And this is really the only source of contention that I do have with this book. They don’t push the issue in regards to what to do if you end up with a rooster (while not likely with sexed pullets it’s still a possibility that people need to think about) and they “highly recommend” sending retired hens to farm sanctuaries if people don’t want to keep them past their egg laying years which I find very irresponsible. I always tell people that there are only two choices when you have chickens. They are either a pet or they are dinner. But don’t let this turn you off from the book because otherwise it’s quite good and if you are new to chickens you’ll be successful if you follow their recommendations (even if there are other ways to do things).

The Giveaway

If you would like a chance to win this book please leave a comment with your beginning chicken keeping questions. For extra entries you can like us on Facebook for one entry and get another entry if you share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter (that’s 3 extra entries). Just leave a comment here that you’ve liked us (even if you already do) and/or shared this post.

The giveaway will go until midnight on Friday, June 22nd and I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, June 23rd. Unfortunately I have to limit it to residents of the U.S.

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5 Reasons Why You Want Chickens

One of my girls enjoying some grass and bugs

At one point I was definitely a chicken hoarder. I’ve now been able to rein myself in to keep it at a respectable 12 hens. Well, right now we have 11 hens, but we’re hoping to get some new chicks here next month.

I remember when we got our first three girls. I would sit out with them totally mesmerized by their chicken-ness. As the pecked and scratched and bathed in the dirt I would just watch in amazement. Bringing in our first chicks wasn’t any less magical. I was intrigued by how mama would let the chicks hang off her waddle without even a flinch. She protected them like they were part of her (even though we had brought them home from the feed store). We’ve had many chicks since then, the majority we raised rather than having a hen do it, but I still really enjoy having them around. When Spring comes they squat in front of you (to them you are the rooster) and let you pick them up.

I love chickens. Who knew? I want to share the chicken keeping experience with everyone and have ended up turning into The Chicken Pusher. Unlike being a meth or crack pusher, I’m here to better your life. So here are some reasons why you should get chickens.

1. They make you breakfast (and lunch and dinner if you so choose and let’s not forget dessert). Well cared for hens make you a better breakfast at that. Chickens that have access to grass and bugs have shown to give you healthier eggs than their factory counterparts. The yolks are so dark they are almost orange and they taste so much better. Now when I see a commercial egg I get kind of grossed out. Not to mention they are much happier than the poor hens that live their lives like this:

2. They take care of pests and weeds. The photo of the hen at the beginning of this post was taken when they were first moved into that area about a month ago. Now the weeds are all trimmed short and there isn’t any sign of the real problem weeds we have going on. They have a particular penchant for Bermuda grass, which is awesome for us. Of course they also love bugs. Chickens are omnivores. Don’t let the “All Vegetarian Diet” on a carton of eggs fool you. They need animal protein to be healthy, especially during their seasonal molt which can really tax them. And did I mention that they also kill rodents? Yeah, chickens are pretty awesome.

3. They are super easy keepers. With an automatic waterer and large feeder you don’t have to tend to their basic needs that much. Even less if you allow them to free range. The only daily chore for our chickens is collecting eggs. When free ranging they also don’t require as much coop cleaning. We like to utilize deep litter here anyways, which really cuts down on cleaning while also keeping them healthy. You don’t need a rooster to have hens that lay (roosters can sometimes stress hens out too much so they lay less). Plus hens are pretty quiet only making noise for less than 10 min. a day right after laying an egg. This usually occurs late morning and early afternoon. They make no noise between sunset and sunrise. I wish I could say the same about some dogs in our neighborhood.

4. They make your compost. And they make enough of it that you will probably never have to bring offsite compost home again depending on how many chickens you have and how big your garden is. They really are great for low-input gardening.

5. They are entertaining and make great pets. Even though we don’t handle ours much they are still pretty friendly. They let us pick them up and handle them if we need to. If you do handle yours a lot from the very beginning they easily bond with you and can be great for kids.

There are of course many more reasons why you should consider having chickens. This is just a good list to get you started on thinking about why you should get some chickens of your own.

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Sour Crop in Chickens

I had noticed that one of my pullets had this amazingly huge crop  and that it didn’t seem to ever go down – even overnight. Picking her up and palpating the crop revealed that it was overly spongy and the size of a baseball. She also had horrendous breath. These were all signs that she had sour crop.

The crop is a pocket located on the chicken’s chest that holds food before entering the gizzard where it gets ground up. Chickens like to have a full crop when they go to bed in the evening and then by morning the crop is all emptied out to get refilled again. Sour crop is basically a yeast infection in the crop. A piece of food gets stuck in the crop and the natural yeasts for the surrounding environment starts fermenting that piece of food. As more food enters the crop, the yeast multiplies until the crop just becomes this fermenting vessel. The spongy feeling is from all the trapped carbon dioxide bubbles.

Fortunately, just like with sick chicken, there are natural ways to heal a chicken with sour crop.

Some websites say that you need to empty the crop. I’m hesitant to do this because it can cause the chicken to aspirate if not done correctly and it doesn’t actually help eliminate the yeast since it’s already established in the crop. So instead I just left the food in her crop and worked on attacking the yeast and resulting carbon dioxide instead.

The first thing I did was separate her from the rest of the flock. It’s not contagious so I actually did this mainly because I needed to keep her from eating the grain-based feed which provides more food for the yeast. So into the wire dog crate she went. We kept the crate in the chicken coop so she could at least be around the other chickens.

I put some raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in her water. The bacteria, acetobacter, that turns alcohol into vinegar, would help balance out her pH. Her food consisted of 2 scrambled eggs with olive oil and plain, whole milk yogurt twice a day. The eggs provided her with protein. The olive oil helps break down the bubbles from the carbon dioxide that the yeast creates. The yogurt helped provide additional protein and carbohydrates. The sugar in dairy, lactose, cannot be fermented by yeast so it doesn’t add onto the problem. In addition the live and active cultures in the yogurt kill and consume the yeast. This works for all yeast infections, just so you know….

We kept her on this diet for 3 days, which was long enough so that her crop was completely emptied in the morning and her breath no longer smelled bad. She’s now happily scratching and pecking with the rest of the flock.

*Disclaimer – I am not a veterinarian and this is just my experience with dealing with sour crop. It worked well for me and for others. Please consult a veterinarian if your bird is very sick.

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Guest Post – Defending Your Flock from the HOA

With chickens becoming more and more popular some people are running into problems with their HOA bylaws. Most of the time the problems stem from lack of knowledge about chickens that is spread through misinformation. Chickens are not any noisier, stinkier, or more likely to spread disease than the family dog. I personally don’t live in HOA so today’s post is from Shannon who recently had to defend her hens from her HOA. She has some great advice that might help you if you are having a problem with your HOA.

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Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case (that’s a different post), I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research
This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses.
Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes.
If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me – I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact.

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors
I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?
Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard chicken has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?
On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!

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A Second Look at the Line

I wrote back in early February about that line between livestock and pets. I was pretty sure that’s how I felt. Pets you name and interact with and livestock you don’t. That is until these kids came along. It’s easy with chickens. They thrive without our attention. The kids aren’t the same. Maybe it’s that mammalian connection?

The plan all along was to use the kids for meat. People asked “Why don’t you sell them?” Well, they aren’t papered so they aren’t worth much. The only people that would buy them are people that would eat them. And to be honest, if someone was going to eat them I want to make damn sure it’s done humanely and the only way to do that is if we have it done ourselves. Keeping them isn’t an option either. We can’t keep them here, there just isn’t room.

Mork wanting to come sit on my lap

This is, of course, the downside to having a dairy animal. With milk usually comes death, especially for any male animals that are born. Simply buying milk helps support the veal industry.

So it’s something I’ve come to terms with. But I’ve also realized something else. Why can’t livestock be treated as pets? Why can’t they be given love just like our regular pets? Why can’t they have names? They have personalities and I think it’s only fair to give them a moniker of their own. We won’t be as close to them as we are to our dogs and cats, but we’ll treat them with the same respect.

These kids are so friendly. They love to jump in your lap and be held. The second you sit down they run over to get some love. Mork will climb all over you and nibble your hair. Mindy likes to crawl in your lap and fall asleep. Mongo isn’t quite used to us yet, but we’re working on him.

Of course I’ll be sad when they have to leave us, but I know it is inevitable and I want them to have the best life possible even if it is short.

 

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