This is the year I get back to some vegetable production and maybe some other annual plants. I have found a few places that have not done so well in the past, this year I’m trying a new plot. This is an area of some brush and a few garbage trees that I will be clearing. This area hasn’t been disturbed for years so there has been leaf drop and other organic material building up. Further the chickens spent several months here last year so that adds some fertility to the soil as well.
My plan is to build raised beds in this area. There are some small logs that have been sitting around for a couple of years that I’m going to try burying under the raised beds plus I can get 2 yards of compost from the township that I will also add to the beds. According to what I’ve read this will help with keeping the moist and provide a good environment for fungi which also is reported to help plants.
I also need to setup some more area for the chickens that has overhead cover. Last year I lost more than 40 birds to the hawks and owls. Previously I had only lost a few per year when I moving them around the open ground, but once the birds of prey discovered an easy meal they hit me hard. I’m thinking an area with some small trees and pollard them off as high as I can reach and run some bird netting over the top.
After a bitterly cold winter spring has sprung with a vengeance. In just a couple of days the more than a foot of snow is rapidly disappearing. The chickens are glad to have the ground clear to scratch and peck.
I’m also considering a batch of meat birds, but I’m not sure I’m ready to process 25-50 birds. I have a line on a guy who is supposed to be in that business, but I have yet to reach him to confirm and find out his rates. Tractor Supply Company has meat birds for $1.99 each.
Time to go out and get the fence back in shape
I saw a few of the comfrey plants putting up shoots
The chickens really do not like to walk around in the snow so they spend a lot more time in the coop in the winter here in Michigan. I gathered bags of leaves from the curb in the fall and that is what I used for bedding for the first part of the winter. I didn’t have enough to last so now I am adding straw.
The chickens love it when more bedding is added as it gives them something to scratch at. I don’t do much more than cut the twine and throw some scratch grain on top, in less than a day it will be spread all through the coop. I make it a practice to trow some scratch in the bedding every day so they keep turning it over.
It is bitterly cold this weekend in Michigan, temperature around 10 degrees with a wind chill about -15. However they are doing well, going out to the food and water. What has worked for me these last two winters is to cover the sides of the coop and leave the door open. This year they got an upgrade with some blue tarps from Harbor Freight. The other advantage they have is this location is on the lee side of a drop in elevation. That is this is where the property drops down into the river bottom land so with the trees also in this area tends to be sheltered.
The two roosters I’ve got from the batch of Black Java’s are starting to act like the protectors I need them to be. I find it amusing that when I catch one of the girls outside the fence and she starts squawking the boys run right over and are jumping around trying to figure out what to do. I’ve also noticed when the owl is in the tree they are between the girls and the danger. It’s starting to look like they will work out. I haven’t lost any more in a few weeks so I am hopeful.
I am still not successful in providing a safe place to live for my flock. They are in an area with a lot of cover but I am still seeing losses, mainly around the edges. There are at least 3 owls and a hawk in the area. I am loosing at a much lower rate, I don’t know if the birds are getting smarter, & faster or the cover I’m proving is the solution or just the dumb slow ones have been culled.
I have put up some overhead netting in the open area and am in the processing of moving the fence in as close as I can to the brushy cover. Creating a semi-permanent run area is not part of my plan for keeping chickens but it looks like I don’t have much of a choice. I’ve probably lost close to 50 birds in the last 6 months, selling eggs isn’t going to show a profit this year.
I suspect I’m going to have to create several permanent runs with something overhead to protect the flock. Then I could rotate them through these runs. Not as good as the movable electro-net fencing I had such success with last year. Oh well, live and learn.
After keeping the chicks in a dog kennel for a couple of days inside the electric fence (hoping that the adult birds will get used to them) I let them out today. They took right to the woods eating honeysuckle leaves and scratching in the dirt. They are still light enough that they can get up in the air a fair amount and I’m not sure how well the fence will be at holding them.
I’m hoping this area will offer shelter from the aerial predators as it is hard to even walk through. I’m planing of this being their winter home.
I’ve lost a couple more birds to the hawk so I have to do something. I’ve decided to move the birds to what will be their winter location. This is relatively close to the house so I can run power to keep their water from turning to ice and will be easier to check on them. Plus this area has a lot of honeysuckle bushes, which I hope will provide enough cover from the hawk. This is a bold bird, it appears he has went into the coop twice to get a bird.
I build the coop as a skidable structure and it sits on two 4×4’s with a 45deg angle cut at each end. There is a rope at each end that I can use to pull by hand (just barely by myself on level ground) or using a tractor. This year we got an electric garden tractor build by GE in the early 70’s and it is working out great for this kind of thing. With winter coming on I want to enclose about 80% of the walls of the coop to cut down on the wind. I have went through 2 winters so far with this 3 sided coop concept and it has worked well so far. Last year this coop was covered with plastic, but I want something more permanent as I think this is working out for me. I got a 10 bay nest box from Craig’s List that I want to mount in the coop as well.
Here is a quick video of my driving the electric tractor and pulling the coop behind.
I’ve still been loosing chickens to predators, but it was looking a little different. The carcass was still inside the electro-net fencing and one time even inside the coop. Today I was getting them water and heard loud squawking that keep going on. I go over there and they were all in one corner of the fenced yard and still making a lot of noise. One of them even managed to wiggle through the fence and run into the woods. I looked over and against the coop I saw what looked like a pile of grey feathers. I went in that direction and what I think was a hawk flew up to a tree.
This hawk was on top of one of the Black Java’s trying to kill and/or eat it, I was surprised that the Black Java was completely covered by this bird of prey. However the chicken was actually a bigger bird. I believe I stopped it in time to save the Black Java. The rest of the girls all took cover under some brush and fallen branches.
I now have to figure out what to do to protect the chickens from aerial predators. One of methods some have had success with is a rooster. The last one I had would run away rather than protect the girls, so he was turned into dinner. I’m hoping this next batch will have someone that can protect the flock against a predator smaller than itself.
I’m starting to re-think my choice to use portable electric fencing for the chickens. While it is easy to move it over 10′ or 20′ at a time on grass, the first tree you run into becomes a problem. The fence has to be pulled up almost completely to go around the tree and then done again when you go past the tree. The area I’m trying to run the chickens has a lot of trees and brush so when I moved them this last time I spend far too much time chasing chickens.
It is amazing that when you want them out of the way you have to be careful not to step on them, however start catching them and after the first few the rest are very hard to catch. I even got a big fishing net and it helps some but they are still real fast and if they have anything to hid under or go around (like a tree or a bush) that doesn’t really work. For a birdbrain they sure do figure out quick how long your reach is with whatever you are using to try and catch them.
Further I would recommend that if you go with the electro-net fencing that you go with the 80′ sections rather than the 160′ ones. This gives you greater flexibility as to where separate the fence to go around things like trees.