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Backyard Chickens

Seren Manda


Joined: May 09, 2011
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
Finally got out of an apartment and into a house with a largish shaded backyard (at least for this area) at about 2500 sq ft in a residential area.

I've got a wee 100 sq st garden plot, and an astounding number of bugs. There's a healthy population of lizards around here (Northern Cali) to help keep them down, but unfortunately, lizards don't lay chicken eggs, and I could use chicken eggs as a bonus to bug control since there's a lot of slugs, pillbugs, beetles and the such around here too.

I have an old shed I could convert into a shelter at night; during the day, free reign of about half the back yard; would be switched frequently as I don't want bald spots on the lawn (and I'd like to move the furniture to the unoccupied space to keep down on improper application of chicken fertilizer.  And they wouldn't be let in the garden unsupervised (in theory, that is)... I'd like to start out with 3 or 4, no rooster (dumb question #1, do hens require the use of a rooster to start laying, or is a rooster only needed to provide chicks [which is what I think, but just want to make sure] to ensure future generations?) as I believe they are the noisy ones and I'd rather not irk the neighbors.

What I'd like are good layers/not very broody/, not lazy feeders (I'd like them to be bug-terminators), non-flighty and docile as I have a couple of kids (I'd like this to be a learning experience for them, already graphing the growth of sweet corn ) An added bonus would be a bird that makes good eats when production goes down. Thus far I'm eyeballing Wyandottes or Barred Rocks.

Any suggestions or words of advice?

Thanks!


Adventures in Gardening! http://backyardgirlie.weebly.com/index.html | Live Happy and Prosper |
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5821
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  86
Find out if it is permitted in your city.  Most do not allow hens. (Fewer allow roosters)
No, you do not need a rooster (unless you want to breed chickens).
Seren Manda


Joined: May 09, 2011
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
up to 6 are permitted, provided their coop is 30 ft away from living structures (which isn't a problem).
Jeff Mathias


Joined: Feb 19, 2009
Posts: 118
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
    
    1
Hi Seren,

For so few I would contact your local feed store and go down when they order chicks. They can tell you more about each breed then you might want to know. You won't always get the breed you want but being able to hand pick your chicks to me is more important for so few. For your criteria though I would say your standard Rhode Island Red would be a good choice and often available from the feed stores, generally so are the Barred Rocks so you should be good there also. What you want to do if possible is get your hand right down in amongst the chicks. Any that run away are immediately discarded, any that come to you are what you are looking for. Of those that come to you look for healthy vibrant birds, no runny eyes or beaks, no limping and no pasty butt.

Once you have them be with them every day even if it is only for a few minutes at a time, talk to them when you change water and bedding etc. Holding them is okay under their terms, do not restrict them if they don't want to stay and don't chase them around if they don't want to be picked up. This is a great place to involve the kids so the chickens get to know them as well. All chickens will eventually get into a routine and know who feeds them etc. but getting chicks real comfortable with people goes a long way towards really friendly chickens.

Some other stuff:
Some hens can be kind of noisy for a couple minutes at a time now and again usually before or after laying (not nearly as loud or as frequent as roosters), but you can train the hens to minimize or even mostly stop the noise related to laying, it also often reduces anyway the longer they have been laying. If you do train them to be quiet and hear them going off check them out usually that is a sign of something going on like a predator.

You will need to train them to some degree to find and eat bugs since they won't have a mother or rooster around to help. I believe there are other posts here about doing that. Basically you put a little bit of what you want them to eat mixed in with food they already know. Once they are out and free ranging you can call them over and make a fuss over bugs etc. scratching around in the dirt like a rooster to help them get to know habitat also.

Oh yes you want to train them to a treat like scratch or B.O.S.S. (black oil sunflower seeds) so you can herd them when and where you want. Put it in a can to rattle around before you give it to them or make a consistent noise before you give it to them. Basically you are training them to come when they hear the noise because they know you are feeding them a special treat. Over time you will not need the actual food just the noise to round them up, although you should keep giving them a treat now and again to keep them associated, however mine come running anytime they hear the door latch even click so not a huge deal.

Good Luck,

Jeff


"Study books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books" -William A Albrecht
"You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into." - Benjamin Franklin
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5821
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  86
To train them to bugs, you will need bugs.  A simple way to "farm" bugs is to lay down a 1 x 6" on the ground/grass.  In the morning, pick up the board, and there should be a nice population of bugs for them.  Don't buy a 1 x6 just for this; a piece of scrap plywood, or a sheet of cardboard work just as well.  Once your 'ladies' have discovered the joy of eating free protein, they will never miss the opportunity to do it again...they will become very adept at hunting!  Protein is the most expensive part of poultry feed, so you will be saving some cash, and your garden will be healthier as a side benefit.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 942
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
I would like to make a different suggestion -- get some ducks.  After reading The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, I'd follow her recommendation of Ancona ducks (there are Ancona chickens, too.)  If you look on-line, you can find a comparison chart for the nutritional value of chicken eggs vs. duck eggs -- duck eggs WAY outshine chicken eggs.  And several of the duck breeds are much better layers than any of the chicken breeds -- Khaki Campbells from a good laying strain will out-lay hybrid White Leghorns.  The Anconas will almost equal the White Leghorns.  Their eggs are bigger than chicken eggs, too. 

Ducks have several advantages over chickens.  They usually won't fly, so even a short (two foot) fence will (normally) keep them confined -- most adults can step over a two-foot fence, so you don't even have to put in a gate.  They don't scratch the ground up as much (they will bill the ground if it's wet, though, and can make holes this way).  Ducks will do less damage to your plants -- but don't put them in the garden if you have lettuce or young seedlings, at least not without close supervision.  And they love slugs, sowbugs, and so on.

They do some quacking, but aren't any noisier than chickens (IMO -- I've had both).  And you could keep a drake if you wanted to raise your own flock replacements, because he doesn't crow!

Kathleen
Thea Olsen


Joined: Jul 18, 2010
Posts: 86
Location: suburbs of Chicago USDA zone 5b
On the other hand, ducks don't put themselves to bed at dusk like chickens do, and they're messy.  Surely less messy if they can free range, but then they're vulnerable to predators if not rounded up each evening.
I love the idea of ducks, but I had them one year and gave them away because I did not love the reality of ducks.
I do hope to give them another go some day, and use a paddock shift system, but I find chickens easier to manage.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Seren wrote:
I've got a wee 100 sq st garden plot, and an astounding number of bugs. There's a healthy population of lizards around here (Northern Cali) to help keep them down, but unfortunately, lizards don't lay chicken eggs, and I could use chicken eggs as a bonus to bug control since there's a lot of slugs, pillbugs, beetles and the such around here too.



lizards and insects are a sign of health. i think you should get chickens, but insects are a good thing.
Seren Manda


Joined: May 09, 2011
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
Jeff; thanks for the tips, especially on selection! It's much appreciated.

John; I'm already farming the bugs. My garden bed is raised and I have boards lining the bed, resting at an angle. Bugs congregate in the crevasse, where it's easy to pick and drown them... also have several paving stones about the yard that collect sowbugs, slugs and beetles like crazy.

Kathleen; I've given thought to ducks. I'm not opposed to the idea-- never had a duck egg before, and I do find the concept intriguing. There is a very large asian community here, and from my understanding duck eggs are very popular... it'd be nice to make a little bit of cash with the extra eggs (being that they are larger than chicken, one would conceivably use less)... choices and decisions!

Thea; good points, thank you.

Boddah; I don't have a problem with bugs until they start eating my garden contents. Well, except for slugs. I really disdain them for some reason. If all the beetles were lady bugs, I'd be a happy camper.

Thank you all for the input!
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Seren wrote:
John; I'm already farming the bugs. My garden bed is raised and I have boards lining the bed, resting at an angle. Bugs congregate in the crevasse, where it's easy to pick and drown them... also have several paving stones about the yard that collect sowbugs, slugs and beetles like crazy.


Boddah; I don't have a problem with bugs until they start eating my garden contents. Well, except for slugs. I really disdain them for some reason. If all the beetles were lady bugs, I'd be a happy camper.



slugs are easy to hate on because they feel like jelly meat bugs. plus they seem to be a prime eater of crops

but i just think that the picking and choosing of bugs is a nonsensical operation leading to a lack of food for predatory and parasitic bugs, or the wholesale slaughter of beneficial bugs by accident. i'm pretty sure there are several beneficial beetles. and that something like 80 percent of bugs are beneficial. thats more than we can say for humans!

i think that if bugs are promoted a healthier environment is achieved. not to mention plants are properly pollinated and there are more birds in the area.
Seren Manda


Joined: May 09, 2011
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
I have a circle of crushed eggshells around my plants; as long as the slugs don't trespass past my little calcium moats, I don't care where they go particularly. However when I see little glistening slime trails criss-cross inside my barrier... well, that I find very irksome. I'm all for depleting a slug colony that destroys my seedlings... I'm not growing veggies for bugs to decimate.  I have the pavers about so they'll congregate under them and away from the garden (in theory).

My feelings on it is that if myself or a flock of fowl take on bugs (specifically the ones that eat my plants), odds are enough of them had already laid  eggs to help propagate the species by the time I get to them. While my attempts to keep the population down might actually reduce the numbers, I don't think I'll make them extinct in the backyard anytime soon. Having fowl do the dirty work is in my opinion, having the circle of life be complete (and I get eggies as a bonus).
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5821
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  86
I'll trade a bucket of slugs for a bucket of eggs any day.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Seren wrote:
I have a circle of crushed eggshells around my plants; as long as the slugs don't trespass past my little calcium moats, I don't care where they go particularly. However when I see little glistening slime trails criss-cross inside my barrier... well, that I find very irksome. I'm all for depleting a slug colony that destroys my seedlings... I'm not growing veggies for bugs to decimate.  I have the pavers about so they'll congregate under them and away from the garden (in theory).

My feelings on it is that if myself or a flock of fowl take on bugs (specifically the ones that eat my plants), odds are enough of them had already laid  eggs to help propagate the species by the time I get to them. While my attempts to keep the population down might actually reduce the numbers, I don't think I'll make them extinct in the backyard anytime soon. Having fowl do the dirty work is in my opinion, having the circle of life be complete (and I get eggies as a bonus).



For sure. I understand all of what you say. The same goes for deer, voles, or any other 'pest'. I am experimenting now with letting natural controls take care of everything. there may be a time when that can't be done. you completing the circle of life by adding birds is both accurate and inaccurate in my opinion. On one hand your back yard might be devoid of birds, on the other hand nature is always complete.

I have no idea to what extent you can manage their numbers. But what I do think I know is that the more you 'manage their numbers' the less likely you are to get their natural predators around. Which means you will always have to do the work.

Now of course always maintaining chickens solves this problem, and of course they give you eggs, so this may be all you ever need. However there are probably some ways that you can attract their natural predators to help keep them in check. Insectary, wildlife plantings, even a bird feeder in the offseason would probably help. but i dont know!

if you want chickens, and want eggs, then get chickens. if you dont attack nature you can have a moderate amount of slugs and increase the diversity of nature. You say you are new to this place, so it is possible that the vegetation and insect populations have been so weakened, by the removal of leaf litter and possibly pesticide spraying, (maybe even fertilizer), that this is your culprit of 'so many bugs'. if this is the case, maybe spending only one season removing the bugs by hand as they come will suffice to save this years crop and never have a problem again.

i guess all im getting is that just keep in mind that the problem may correct itself.

lately when i find slugs i watch them. i saw one in my potatoes and he walked right by my potatoes. almost nothing i have is neatly weeded so I have the feeling there is plenty that isnt my main crops that the slugs like to eat and letting them munch on these should attract their predators.

if i wake up one day and there are millions of slugs everywhere and no potatoes etc, i will be sad. but then i will go your way and unleash some ducks on them, and egg shells. in my mind the wholesale killing and drowning of bugs is a terrible idea akin to the spraying of pesticides. call it nature, call it karma, or call it whatever but these things come back.
Seren Manda


Joined: May 09, 2011
Posts: 62
Location: Northern Cali, USA -zone 9-
I appreciate your opinion, Boddah.

I moved into my grandmothers house. Even when I was a kid (25+ years ago) there was an over abundance of slugs, snails and pillbugs here. That hasn't changed in the least. The back yard was untended (for at least a year) before I moved in and all that was done was it got mowed and a section tilled/forked. The only fertilizer used was fish emulsion (and just one application at that, thus far). It was when I forked after tilling that I discovered dozens of slugs hiding in the nooks and crannies created by the tiller every time I overturned the earth. Not a terribly auspicious beginning. The good part is that there's a healthy population of earthworms too.

I've planted beneficials around the yard, hoping to attract natural predatory insects. As for birds, they are usually found gorging themselves a block over in a 20 acre field with ditch running through. A few weeks back, there were a lot of honey bees buzzing through the mustard. The backyards of this neighborhood must be slim pickings compared to the banquet there, imho. There is an occasional robin or red-wing blackbird, some finches too... but they prefer the hanging feeder of seed to checking out the ground below unless it's for nest building supplies.

I'd rather introduce fowl than spray chemicals. The slugs already claimed one of my cuke plants for their own-- after the application of eggshells. I'm done being nice.

From my point of view, I see more positives with the introduction of fowl, but then again, that may change once I get going with them. It'll be a learning experience, regardless.
T. Pierce


Joined: Mar 13, 2011
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
golden comets.  large brown eggs that everyone wants and you will also enjoy.  quiet, calm,  tame,  easy to raise, and easy to get.  they are also excellent for feed conversion.    much better than most other breeds. 

ducks are a good idea. but with a small area. they will be down right filthy.  duck eggs are good money makers, for the asian market.  but make sure you actually like duck eggs for your personal consumption.  i enjoy them when someone bakes with them. but i dont care to much for them for eating. 
 
 
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