How much food could you grow in your own yard? We're about to find out...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Enlarging the chicken run.

When we first got chicks at the end of April 2010, we had never had pets, let alone domesticated birds that were supposed to provide us with eggs.  Thanks Sally and Joel!

We started them in a cardboard box with an incandescent bulb and transitioned them outside during days once it warmed.  They survived a small basement fire.  We started putting them in a dog kennel where we lost one to a raccoon or a cat (RIP Long Neck).  Soon we had a coop in the garage.  We used found materials (a door frame, some 1x4's, some green plastic garden fence).  Cut a hole into the side of the garage, and we were golden!

The hens had a small porch area that was fenced in.  It was this area that was tripled in size.  It will be very interesting to see how long it takes the hens to eat all the green shoots in their new area.  One week would be a fair guess.  In total the chickens take up about 100 square feet, counting their inside and outside space.

If a hen can lay 5 eggs per week, and we have 4 hens, and each egg is worth 75 calories, it would make sense to make sure there is enough space to collect those nearly 80,000 calories.  That creates over 3% of our family's total yearly calorie needs and is an easy source of protein. 

The larger hen coop had other practical reasons as well.  First, chickens need sunlight to lay eggs.  Large commercial producers who cage their hens know that artificial light and hormones are needed to make up the difference.  Having space outside for the hens will improve egg production and lead to healthier hens and eggs.  Second, with a larger area for the hens, they'll have a better chance to break down weeds, leaves, etc., for the compost pile.  More area, means less concentrated droppings, which means more readily usable chicken droppings (fresh chicken shit is too hot to go straight on the garden).  Third, happy birds make a difference to me for lots of intangible reasons.

So, this coop and run is far more permanent now.  When we first got the hens, we weren't sure if the neighbors would object, but there is little, apparently, that won't be forgiven if you just share your bounty (we bribe them with honey and basil and eggs).  So, it made sense to make it a better, permanent coop.

Here are our two laying hens.  Breed: ISA Brown, 6 months old.  "White Wing" and "Jumper."  They've been laying for two weeks; one per day, each.

Here's the coop from the inside of the garage.  bedding is all pine shavings, but will be hay or straw in the future.  We got a bale of pine shavings for a buck at a yard sale!  grass clippings or other yard waste would be great bedding.  We'll bring in fall leaves in garbage bags as a pre-composting pile step.  All of our household food waste goes to the hens for food.

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