Thursday, December 9, 2010

YouTube University and Jedi Knight Tricks for Chickens

Update: Blatant typos have been corrected.  Thanks, Editor Byron.

We love YouTube.  It's the education we never had.  Despite two masters degrees. 

I mentioned earlier our five "spent" laying hens we got for a buck each, so we could cut our teeth on raising chickens and hope for an egg or two.  Byron made a portable chicken tractor and with the Siberian temperatures we've been having we felt that they were too exposed out in the middle of a field.  They tended to huddle in their little portable coop, only coming out to eat, jerk their heads around warily, eat, poop, hide under a tree, get spooked, and waddle back into their humble abode. So we were thinking that this whole "pastured chickens" idea isn't exactly something that happens in the winter, especially because it sometimes snows, which renders grass - er - inaccessible.

YouTube to the rescue!  Byron spent some quality time on YouTube watching some videos people had taken of Joel Salatin speaking, and he definitely knows his chickens (I'm not sure if this is what Byron watched specifically, but click here to watch Joel Salatin talking about pastured chickens.  Parts 2, 3, and 4 should be on the right).  At his farm, Polyface, they put the laying hens in hoop houses for the winter (think greenhouse sort of structure) because pasturing them is impractical at this time of year. Any droppings on the grass will either evaporate or leech into the groundwater when it rains, and since the microbes in the soil are dormant right now, the soil isn't benefiting either. With that in mind, Byron and I moved a little structure that had been covering the kids' toys and set it up against the side of the woodshed. Byron then stapled heavy plastic on both sides to provide more of a wind break, and we moved the portable coop next to it. My parents had some chicken wire they weren't using, so we used that to make a little yard for them.
The taller building is our woodshed and provided a wall for the structure on the left.  The bikes and toys will be taking up residence in the barn.

Two chickens ventured out to explore.  We swore we wouldn't name them, but have given them very utilitarian names in order to identify who's who.  These are Big Dummy and Skinny Chicken.  I'll explain Big Dummy in another post.  I know you can't wait.

Facing the new structure.  We hung their food and water underneath it, so now they have to go under there.  Byron also stapled plastic on the right side.  The wind has been merciless here!
We hope they use the new structure as a place to congregate and gossip about us. Byron created carbonous bedding of wood shavings, leaves, and old hay that will make for some NICE compost in the spring when they're back on pasture. In the meantime, if the chickens insist on staying cramped in their little portable coop all day, we may evict them for the winter and work on enclosing the new structure a bit more so they can have more space.

And the Jedi Knight tricks?  Byron read somewhere that if you put golf balls in the nesting boxes, it will stimulate egg production.  Now, it may be that these old girls wouldn't produce an egg if we placed the struttin'-est of struttin' roosters amongst them, but I thought I'd give it a try.  And every time I go out to feed them, I wave my hand in front of the coop and say, "You will produce eggs.  You will produce eggs" in my most mesmerizing voice.  Because I have mad acting skills...or not.


  1. We keep golf balls in our nests. It helps them know where to lay (so they don't lay in goofy places).
    Nice names, lol! We name all of our chickens. My thought on it is that they are working for our family and providing, so they've earned the dignity of having names. If that means we get more attached and it's harder at the end so be it.

  2. Good point, especially if you've raised them since they were chicks. Even these older hens are generally nice, name-worthy birds (except Big Dummy) ;).