Chickens love grass clippings

Most of my chickens are free range but not my Silkies.  There are way too many chicken hawks in our area and we have seen them sitting in nearby trees just waiting to get our babies.  lol

We have a septic tank and drain fills.  The grass grows so beautifully over the drain fills and much thicker than the rest of the yard.  When my husband mows that area, I always take the clippings to the Silkies so they get fresh green grass (and bugs more than likely) to eat.

We have a compost bin so the rest of the grass clipping go in there along with the chicken manure that I rake out weekly.

Planning your chicken yard

I knew from the beginning that I was going to want to have chickens as soon as my husband and I moved onto our two acres.  After getting all the Pine trees cut down, we started planting trees we wanted on our property.  We left any Oak, Mimosa, and Maple trees where they were.   Our property was not fenced at the time either.

The property next to us was wooded so we gradually took small trees off that property and planted on ours.  If anyone was to move onto the property next door, the land would have to be cleared and all the trees would be lost.

I knew I wanted my chickens in the back left-hand corner of our property which had a lot of shady Oak trees along the property line which we shared with my sister-in-law.  We planted trees in that area right away to get some shade started for the chickens.   Our summer months in Florida are sooooo hot and shade and plenty of cool water is important for the chickens.

We planted Oak, Crepe Myrtle, Mimosa, Maple and Elm.  I must admit, the Elm are the best if you need shade right away.  I am amazed at how big those trees got so quickly.  We planted them probably six years ago and they have already passed the Oak and Maple trees.

I planted only two trees inside the chicken yard.  If you plant on the east and west sides of your property, the shadow of the trees will keep your yards shaded.  But a couple of trees on the inside will make shade when the sun is directly above.

I told my husband from the beginning, we need to plant trees.  The bushes and flowers and yard can improve and grow much faster than the trees do.  And you can find FREE small trees along roads, especially if you live near or out in the country.

We bought some Leland Cypress trees that we planted along the back of our property for privacy but a few of them have died.  I think the cedar are much hardier.  We originally paid 2.25 for them at the flea market many years ago but Walmart recently had some for 5 bucks so we replaced some of the trees that had died out for some reason.

So, I also had a friend who had cedar trees in his yard and I dug up six inch trees from his yard.  My sister in NC also had cedar trees in her yard.  I used the trees as privacy fences between my neighbors on all three sides of my property.  We also planted them along the front of our property on the easement.  We live on a dead end road and the electrical lines are on the other side of the road.

I am going to put an ad on Craigslist to see if anyone has small cedar trees on their property that I can dig up.

Twenty years later, our chickens have a little paradise.  We have a swing next to the chicken yards and the it is also shaded by trees we planted.  It is peaceful to sit there with a cup of coffee.  And no, there is no odor.  That will be another post.

Baby chicks during the winter

I love baby chicks and was very excited when a couple of my Silkie hens were broody in December.  Because I didn’t want more bantam chickens right now, I put six Barred Rock eggs under one hen.

I have learned from experience that it is best to separate the broody hen and her eggs from the rest of the flock but you really have to wait until the hen is dedicated to the eggs.

Because the dark brown eggs were much larger than the bantam eggs, I knew if another hen laid an egg in the broody nest, I could remove it and be sure I was not removing an egg that was starting to grow into a chick.  So I left the broody hen and her eggs in her normal setting for a week.

Then I moved her to a 4×8 chain link cage and put water and food in there.  I read it is best to move the hen during the evening.  It keeps her from wanting to get up since it is time for bedding down.

She hatched out six healthy, adorable chicks on December 28th, 2015.   I put a heat lamp inside the cage and closed the cage with a tarp on three sides.  With had a couple cold nights but I knew the mom would keep those chicks warm but still…..  Ha ha.

After the chicks were two weeks old, I let them out to wander around in the 25×25 ft yard.  I have netting over the top to keep those pesky chicken hawks out.  I had to put some small holed fencing around the edge of the fence (3 ft tall) on the inside to keep the babies from going through the 2×4 inch fencing.

Now, I have another hen sitting on seven Barred Rock eggs and they are due to hatch February 9th.

I had to put the second broody hen in the 4×8 cage after a week so then I had to figure out how to make a safe place for the babies and mom to sleep during the night.  I made a closed in shelter for them but at night, I lock them up in a small cage inside their shelter.  It took two nights of catching the mom and chicks before mom realized that is where she needed to sleep. I just don’t trust that some smart predator won’t find a way thru the netting and fencing and eat my babies for a late night snack.

So right now, the mom and her six chicks are in the same yard with the second mom but she is enclosed in the 4×8 cage.  Her chicks will be ready to come out into the yard by the 23rd so the first chicks hatched will be almost 8 weeks.  I will have the first mom taken away from her chicks by then and have another divider fence up so the two sets of chicks can share the same protected area.  I have learned from experience not to let two hens around baby chicks.  I had two moms fighting over the chicks and two of the chicks were killed.

I don’t know yet what I will do with the roosters.  It seems pretty hard to sell the roosters.  We have thought about eating the roosters but we only like white meat and it is a lot of trouble for half a chicken.  There is an advertisement that says they will take any free farm animals and I am pretty sure they eat them.  I have to get rid of the roosters before I get attached to them and name them.

I really hate to have the roosters in with my hens unless I want them to fertilize the eggs.  Some hens make so much noise when the rooster is trying to mate with them and I just feel such sympathy for them.  It is like being raped.  So, now I have the roosters separated from then hens which makes for more fencing, more housing and feed for animals that are not giving anything back.  What to do?  Ha ha

I have to be careful with the chicks hatching because that’s how I ended up with 120 chickens a few years ago.  I was selling chickens and eggs back then.  I am more interested in keeping it small and just trying to have eggs for us to be more self-sufficient and eating healthier food.

Dogs and chickens running free

We had our first mishap with our chickens this year.  I had too many roosters so I let them run free during the day on our two acres.  Two dogs crawled under our gate and killed four of the five roosters.  We were inside eating breakfast and came out in time to see the dogs but atlas, no help for the roosters.  The one rooster hid under our storage shed and stayed there long after we had picked up all the feathers and buried the four roosters.   We named him Lucky.

We have fixed the gate so nothing can get under it by putting dirt in the area where the tires run and make the indention.  We also took our four foot fencing and wired it with two feet on one side and two on the other and it extends down to the ground.  We attached it with cable ties.

Now, I have four roosters and 17 hens which is much better but I would have liked to either sell or give away the extra roosters.  It was a brutal death for them and three of them were still alive when we found them.  Breaks  my heart.  I am thankful I didn’t let all the chickens run free that day.

Chickens preparing my garden area

We are very excited to be home and have our chickens again.  Now, we are planning to use those chickens to prepare our garden area.

When we moved back, we tore down a lot of the wooden chicken houses because they were rotting.  At one time, I had about 120 chickens so I had chicken houses galore.  I think we tore down five 4×8 houses and two 4×4 houses.

The great thing was in two areas, we had this nice area where the houses sat and there was no grass so I threw a tarp down on the bare ground for the winter so I have two garden areas all but prepared.  I will till it up later and add fertilizer and build some four 4×4 raised beds.  I love to build simple things so I am excited to build the beds.

We have the chicken’s yard in the back left-hand side of our property where there is plenty of shade.  But, not a lot of sun during the winter months which could hinder egg production.  So, to kill two birds with one stone, we are going to move the chickens to the area we want to have a garden which will provide plenty of sun.

We have a wire cage that is 4×8 by 6 ft tall that we put a 4×8 sheet of plywood on top for a roof.  It is fairly easy to move with a dolly.  It has a door on it that we can lock up the chickens at night,   A guy in our town makes these cages made of chain link fencing and they are very sturdy.  We put fencing on the ground and sit the cage on top of it so no animals can dig in and kill the chickens.

So we will move the cage to the area we want a garden and fence it in.   We will make sure we leave the gate at least 5 ft wide to get the cage back out once Spring comes.

The chickens will destroy the grass and fertilize the soil.  And living in Florida, it never gets really cold.  We do put tarps around the cage/house to block the wind and keep the chickens dry.

When we take the chickens and the house out of the yard, the garden area will be fertilized and no grass.  So smart, don’t you think?  Ha Ha  I am sure others have done this before me, but, I was thrilled figuring this out for myself.  And it will be fenced in to keep the rabbits out of the yard, too.  I let my chickens free range on my property during the day for at least four hours a day.  Once the garden is planted, I don’t want them in there either.  And the leaves and rotted veggies will go to the chickens as well.

I want to grow some field corn this year for my chickens, too.  I don’t want to overwhelm myself and my sweet husband so I am thinking I better not go too big and burn him out on the idea of a garden.

We have discussed just buying veggies from the flea market and we will do that for some.  I want to can as much as I can this year.  It is hard to believe how expensive food is at the grocery store.  Buy on sale and stock up, people.

Right now, I am thinking of making a couple raised beds for strawberries, onions and potatoes.  I am pretty much a meat and potato kind of girl and don’t like a whole lot of vegetables.  I wish I did. My daughter-in-law, Brooke loves all kinds of veggies and I just wish I were like her. I have wondered if I got hypnotized, could I learn to love veggies?

Anyway, the basic foods for gardening this year will do.  I am getting blackberry plants from my daughter, Bonnie.  I don’t really care for blueberries but I want to grow some of them, too.  Strawberries are always great, too.  I love no hassle plants/bushes.

I hope this gives you some ideas for your garden and makes you realize how valuable those chickens are to you.  I have been raking out the chicken houses and saving the dirt/poo/straw/leaves in the 50 lb bags that the feed come in.  Cheap fertilizer.  I remember how well my blackberry plants grew around my chicken house in Missouri.

Enjoy preparing your beds now and it will pay off next year.