Posts Tagged ‘experiment’

Chicken Update!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on my adorable little fluffballs. They are now somewhat less adorable, but still pretty entertaining, featherheads. This is a bit before I put them in their outside coop- two turkey poults and three chicks in that group.

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I did not lose any birds in the early, fluffy days when it’s pretty easy to get them too hot, too cold, too crowded- too anything, really. I had read about this heating plan where instead of lights, you make a “hen” from a seedling heating pad, some sort of arch to hold it up, and towels so they don’t interact with it directly. It gives them a warm cave to retreat into, just like Mama’s wings would be, but without light that can mess up their clock. It worked for me!

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Clearly, they also thought it was a good foot-warmer. I didn’t lose anybody until I put them in their coop outside. It was kind of early, but I was flat out of room in these containers and the little buggers were starting fly out when I opened it up to do anything. I shifted the seedling heaters into the nest boxes for a couple of weeks to give them a little extra heat, and it doesn’t appear to have caused any bad habits. No one died of chill or illness. However, the ducklings didn’t like the ramp so they chose to sleep outside. They were big enough to stay warm, but not too big to be pulled through a gap between the bottom of the fencing and the ground. It happened a couple of nights apart, and I only ended up finding one of the carcasses. The predator, still not sure what it was, had the same idea I did. I bet the ducks tasted good.

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According to my notes, I picked everyone up on May 5. This is one of the two that didn’t match each other. I ordered Araucanas, but apparently you only get real, honest to goodness Araucanas or Amaraucanas from breeders. What you get from a big hatchery is a mutt that should have a blue-egg gene, but isn’t pure anything. So she’s one of my two Easter Eggers. You never know quite what you’re going to get. On August 28 I found three eggs- white, from a Leghorn, and they were expected to be the first ones to start.

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The first eggs are always small- but check out that healthy orange yolk! The Leghorns have been fairly steady- and did somewhat redeem themselves when I found the 17 eggs one of them laid out in the yard. At least she was laying, even if she wasn’t sharing.

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My first thought on seeing this was, “This is why I need a pig. I don’t need to know the egg age to give to a pig!” The next layer started on September 1- one of the Golden Comets with brown eggs. At first I was wondering if the two of them were tag-teaming perfectly since I was getting a brown egg every single day. Nope. The second one started laying on the 18th and they have both been absolute machines. I can pretty much always count on my two brown eggs. The two white layers are fairly consistent, but not like the browns. I didn’t get anything from an Easter Egger until October 8, but they are bigger than the other two and probably took longer to mature. Tragically, it’s a nice, medium, pinkish-beige. I’m still holding out hope that my last hen might decide to lay a green egg, but I’m not holding my breath at this point.

From my first egg until October 20, I have gotten an average of 3.17 eggs per day. However, if I count from when hen #5 started until the 20th, my average is 4.5 eggs per day or 5.25 eggs per hen, per week. Not bad, since one of them is a free-loader!

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My third kind of poultry, of course, were the poults. Didn’t they grow up into a handsome couple! And a very large couple. After quickly outgrowing the chicken coop, as expected, I cobbled together their own cage with parts of the winter garden skeleton. They really outgrew that, too, but Mom was keeping them very well supplied with weeds and garden leftovers, so they were doing ok.

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So ok, in fact, that the little one, Hen, weighed in at 22#. That’s her being “vacuum packed” before freezing. We had to scramble for something to pack them in since I did find someone to butcher them, but he didn’t have any bags that were big enough!

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Tom, however, was so big that he broke the rope the butcher was using to hold him up for plucking. At a healthy 32#, we determined he’d never fit in the grill to live up to his other name- Thanksgiving. Dad dismembered him for me so he should thaw faster when it’s time to get him out of the freezer. Imagine how big they’d be if I figured out a month earlier that I was underfeeding them on protein . . .

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At this point in the poultry experiment, I’ve gotten 180 eggs, 54# of meat/bones, and have had to deal with unintentional loss. I’m about to build coop number two for the winter, since the original chicken coop really isn’t big enough for six hens in a Maine winter. It will be cobbled together temporarily in the garden shed, so coops number three and four will be built next spring/summer. I’m glad I sent the turkeys out this year, but learning how to butcher them myself is still the plan. I also plan to expand the egg operation next year to sell some and I’m considering meat turkeys and/or chickens for the house and possibly for sale. I need to run the numbers. I might also start breeding on farm. Everyone who can really should help to keep heritage breeds around until the rest of America figures out that having one breed of cow, one breed of chicken, and one breed of pig is a poor idea. So far, this experiment is enough of a success to continue it for another year- provided I do a little more planning on the housing first!

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Community Garden Beds

Bed A getting ready for manure.

I have two beds in the Ranch Community Garden. In a burst of inspiration, I dubbed them A and B. As a single person, I probably don’t need two beds, but it should give me enough vegetables to preserve some and eat a lot. Any extras I’ll just send along with the food that is grown for the food bank. I threw my name in the hat for a second bed if there were unclaimed plots. By cultivating it instead of leaving it fallow, I will be improving it for the next person that wants to use it.

Bed A with manure, pansies, and marigolds.

It’s funny what you hold onto from childhood. Being the child of two science-oriented people, I looked at my two beds and immediately determined that this required an experiment. Bed A will be the “improved” bed, while bed B will be “unimproved.” It isn’t a pure experiment, as the local soil has already been improved with mulch over the winter and the transplants are adding a bit of potting soil. However, bed A is also getting cow manure and some worm casings. The tomatoes are both going in bed A, because tomatoes like rich soil, and I really want them to be successful. There’s nothing quite like garden tomatoes. The greenbeans are also going in bed A, because I have one trellis and that’s where it’s located. Bed B got the chamomile plants and will be more onion/garlic heavy because tomatoes and onions don’t get along too well. Nor do beans and garlic. I planted some garlic chives and three garlic cloves in bed B. The cloves are definitely an experiment. The ones that Heirloom Gardens planted back in March or April seem to be doing fine, so we’ll see if you can plant them as late as mid-May and still get any growth out of them.

Bed B with pansies.

What is identical between the two beds is one square each of carrots, onions, lettuce, beets, and turnips. There are also two squares of kale and half a square of radishes. I used the same variety in each bed, and they are planted with the same orientation. I am very curious to see if there is any difference between them. I am using the Square-Foot method and staggering the plantings so that I can stagger the harvests. Other than the leeks, which need to go in bed B shortly, most of the additional squares will be identical between the beds to provide additional data.

Bed A, first planting.

I am also growing marigolds and pansies. Both are potentially edible, make sure your marigold is the real thing, Calendula officinalis, but I am growing them for other reasons. Fruit, in this case, my tomatoes, are the result of fertilized flowers. With the exception of wind-pollinated species, you will need pollinators to make sure the flowers are fertilized. Having additional flowers in the garden means that pollinators will already be seeing my plots as feeding grounds when the tomatoes blossom, increasing my odds of setting fruit. The marigolds are also to help protect my tomatoes from nematodes or roundworms. There are some beneficial varieties of nematodes, but most of them are not too friendly. The more years I can grow marigolds, the fewer nematodes I will be concerned about.

Bed B, first planting.

My last note is a cautionary one. If you are a slightly neglectful gardener, which is something I swear I know nothing about, don’t forget to water your plants the days after you transplant them as well as the day of. The marigolds took the day of neglect pretty well. The pansies, however, were far more dramatic in their opinion. They are, fortunately, thinking about forgiving me for it and growing anyway.