Sunday, December 12, 2010

Letting the chickens loose

The chickens stay in the chicken coop.  It's pretty big.  The enclosed part is 8 X 12 and the wired run area is 12 X 16.  Right now we have 16 chickens (or maybe 17, I can't ever remember).  The is lots of room for a lot more but we have a hard time keeping up with eating all the eggs they produce when it's just three or four or five of us.  I've always been worried about hawks, cats, dogs, and anything else that may want to chase or eat my chickens.  This winter I am doing something different.  I'm letting them out.  I'm going to let them roam the garden and scratch up bugs, weed seeds, weeds, and let them fertilize the ground.  
Because daughter and son-in-law have two dogs that are not trained to leave my animals alone, I am fencing the garden area.  It's almost done but today I got busy at the grand kids Sunday School and didn't accomplish any yard work at all.  We left at 7:30 this morning and came home at 5:00 this afternoon.  By next weekend I will have it all fenced and have the chickens roaming.  Daughter's dogs went after the ducks yesterday afternoon and bit one.  The duck is ok and I can't wait until the dogs are gone.  They are little yappy dogs, which are good for watch dogs but not guard dogs.  
If I let the chickens wander the garden I'm thinking it will be easier to introduce new chickens into the flock.  When they are all in the coop it's a free for all chase of any new chicken that come in.  I have to make hiding spots so they don't get picked on.  This way will be better.  I'd like to get new chickens this year.  Some of my chickens are five years old and don't lay much of anything.  My youngest chickens, besides the one in the cat cage in the house, are now almost three years old.  It's time for more and time to get rid of the older chickens. 
I think I will try my hand at dressing the chickens.  I used to butcher them when my kids were younger.  Now, it's easier to sell them for $5 or $6 and then buy an already prepared one at the store.  It is a skill that I will pick up again and get proficient at once again.  Then I'll continue to sell the older hens.  It's really important to have the skills to butcher and clean chickens.  For some reason, I have no problem butchering my sheep or goats but don't like butchering the chickens.  Don't know why that is.   
When I buy chickens I usually get them in January.  They stay in my baby chicken cage on the back patio with a heat lamp on them.  I put the cage on the covered patio and right outside the kitchen window.  Then when the kids are eating breakfast they can watch the chicks.  It's great fun.  Where we live it will freeze several times during the winter but I cover the cage with a blanket (on three sides and on top) in addition to the heat lamp.  I keep the view from the kitchen window so we can keep an eye on them.  I've never had a problem with them getting too cold.  I've never had the power go out and the lamp go out, but if that were the case, I'd bring them into the garage.  If I kept them covered with the blanket and warmed bricks in the fire place, and then surround the cage with the bricks, they'd make it through. 

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