Chickens in the rain

Being new to chickens, I have read alot about how to care for them.  Everyone has their own experiences and what works best for them.  Bottom line is that animals are versatile for the most part and will function just fine usually with what type shelter they are provided.  However, there are some ways to improve what you provide and make it a little more livable for them, especially in wet, cold,  or even hot weather. 

My chickens like to hang out in the alpacas barn (30×50 feet) if the weather is not nice for pasture foraging.  In the heat, they also like to hang out under the elevated coops (base size is 4×8 set up on  a cement block at each corner) where the cool earth and breezes  cool them.  In the winter the barn, bright sun, and hay on the floor helps warm them.  Their coops keep them warm enough at night when I shut them in and they can burrow into the deep litter and they mound together.  The decomposing litter also generates some heat, so I read, from the decomposition, which would create some heat for them.  So, keeping a deep litter in the coop is an easy way to improve their warmth.  I use a kitty litter scoop to remove any clumpy wet litter and to swish around the top layer into the bottom layer and get it started drying out.  I put a hook on one of the coop studs out of the way so I can reach the scoop and it’s so easy to keep the nest boxes, roosts and litter floor cleaned up.

Dealing with frozen water in winter is difficult.  Fortunately, they don’t need as much water as they do in summer, so they drink out of the alpacas buckets which take longer to freeze,   and I make sure  they start off the morning with fresh unfrozen water in their little waterers.  There are some heated waterers and heated bases to sit them on, but I have not tried those.  Last winter was the first winter and they all did just fine.  Since there isn’t really much of anything to forage from the pastures, I make sure their feed containers are kept full as the digesting of food will generate some body heat.  They also like to burrow into the alpacas hay troughs.  The alpacas eat “around” them. 

We don’t have too many “freeze” days in this part of the US, but still need to be ready for them because they almost always take us by surprise.

I have recommended them before, but I will again, and that is two books I have referred to constantly: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, and the other is The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery.  Find them at Amazon.com and you can create a book list and they will e-mail you whenever the prices change, higher or lower.  A great place to shop online.

The wetter the better–not!

One summer we took our daughter and son to Colorado on vacation when they were in middle school and high school.  We went river rafting and bought shirts to mark the event that said “the wetter the better”, which for river rafting is true.  However, in October in Texas  it is not. The rain has just been never ending it seems and we are all tired of the muck, especially we who must slog through it in the barnyard.  But, things are looking up and we hear that tomorrow will be the last of the rain. Hooray!

The dampness has settled into the barn and the  packed earth floor has become rather damp.  I have turned on the two large ceiling fans to move the still air around and try to dry it out some.  And of course the alpacas do not want to use their outdoor poop piles, so where are they going? Of course, they are.  Inside the barn, causing a little odor.  However, as far as clean up goes, I would rather clean up in there than have a mucky mess outside to clean up, so I cannot complain too much. 

I use Stall Dry on the inside poo areas after cleaning up and have I mentioned how much I loooooove Stall Dry. It deodorizes and sops up moisture (10x it’s weight, I read)  I will be sprinkling around the inside of the chicken coops this weekend,after cleaning out about 1/3 of the litter and replacing with new.  It is important to keep some old litter in the coop because, as I understand,  it has the established microbes already in place that are cleaning up and breaking down  the litter and will migrate into the new litter to keep it all breaking down correctly.  The old litter I clean out will go into the compost pile.  I have not had any moisture or odor problems in the coop with the deep litter.

The chickens do not seem to mind the wet and they do live in the barn during the day and hang out, dust and fluff, and clean up errant crickets.

I will keep my eyes open, but have not seen my hummingbirds.  I hung out freshly filled feeders just in case.  I did see one lone Monarch butterfly today on its journey south.

I plan to enjoy the new dry weather and get things decorated  for Halloween.

Livestock barns and bad weather

Well, finally, in our neck of the woods (we don’t really have “woods” here) it is raining.  It has rained all day.  We have small trees and a few big trees, big shrubs and right now tall sunflowers that need to be mowed down, but no woods, really.  I don’t really wish for woods; they bring their own predator issues.

Dash and her cria, Summer Surprise

Dash and her cria, Summer Surprise

I really enjoy going into the big barn, 30×50, in bad weather.  The alpacas are cushing and munching their hay, and are contented to be protected from the weather.  I don’t know how many places we visited, or articles we read, that suggested that a 3 sided shelter is all that alpacas need in the field.  I would like to wholeheartedly DISagree with that statement.  Especially when you have little ones that need some warmth and dryness.  I cannot imagine animals, especially several, trying to tuck in under a 3 sided shelter.  I would not want to be them.  Our chicken’s have warm and dry coops too, or they hang out in the warm and dry barn until nightfall. then go in the coops to roost for the night. 

 I really encourage thinking about and planning for a 4 sided structure to allow the animals in.  We also have roll up doors on the four 10×12 barn entry doors.  Depending on the direction of the blowing weather I can roll down any to offer additional protection and keep the barn somewhat  drier than letting in the blowing rain or sleet.

Stand in the barn, then go out and stand in the bad weather.  Where would you rather be, and where would you want your animals to be?

Training alpacas

I have a couple of great books for alpaca owners:  (a) The Camelid Companion, Handling and Training your Alpacas & Llamas, by Marty McGee Bennett, and (b) Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, A Health and Management Guide, by Clare Hoffman, DVM, and Ingrid Asmus.

There are other books recommended as well, but these are what I chose to start with.

Our new little cria will need some training in order to learn to accept a halter and lead and how to walk on a lead, as well as learning how to behave in a show ring. The Camelid Companion book is perfect for this.  Once you see an untrained animal being cornered and unwillingly haltered, or being herded in a most haphazard and illogical manner, you will see why this book is a must read for any alpaca owner. 

Some of our adult alpacas behave well on lead and others not so much.  We are trying to work with the adults as we can.  The baby will be important to start her early on so she is comfortable being handled, lead, and hopefully shown in the ring. 

The other important aspect of alpaca ownership is organizing the pastures so that herding them into a catch pen or barn can be done easily using a lane or alley way that is created either permanently or with temporary fencing like snow fence that is portable and can be moved as needed.  I did lots and lots of research on fencing for all types of animals, finding other peoples designs on the internet, how they move their animals around (pigs, goats, etc) to understand the needs.  I also read what they would have done differently to improve their design.  I spent a LOT of time researching before we sat down and sketched.  I kept all of our sketches.  We went through lots of transformations.  Think of  all   the pros and cons of your design, such as access to water, shade, barn or loading/unloading trailers, or access for emergency vehicles, such as the vet, or a tractor to carry hay or feed, and mowing.  We made sure there was no access into pastures from the public road that runs by our house. All the 3 exterior pasture gates are double wide and on our property easily visible to us, with locks.  The interior pasture gates are either double wide or singles depending on our pre-determined needs. And of course we installed electric top and bottom wires around the perimeter.

Also take time to plan for herd growth and pasture expansion or divisions.  This is just as important as the initial fencing because you cannot  expand from point A to point B without knowing how you plan to get there.  We put gates in some places that don’t do much for us now and just act as fencing, but when we sub-divide some of our pastures later, they will be entries into alley ways we have already designed and planned for future use.  Our fence guy said it is easier to install them now than have to reconfigure the fence later and add gates because it involves putting in posts and bracing that is easier to do when the fence goes in rather than cut into it later.

 The next important feature of herding is to  make sure one person can do it easily.  In case of any emergency, getting all the animals where you want them to go should be easily accomplished by one person.  Practicing regularly gives you confidence and they will be less skittery and nervous. 

I have seen alpacas herded without alleys and you cannot believe how long it takes, how many people it involves and how frantic the alpacas become.  That farm’s pastures were not well planned and no alleys were installed, although they could have added some with temporary snow fence but chose not to.  I even suggested it when I was one of several herders trying to round up skittery alpacas.  Oh well.  I’m glad it’s not my problem.   Having gone through that experience made us extra vigilant in getting our pastures configured in a more organized way.  I have been able to get the animals herded into the space I want them by myself, using wands to extend my arm length. My next purchase soon will be herding tape. usually 40′ or so of 1″ twill type tape.  The alpacas usually will not challenge what they perceive as a visual boundary line  and the tape can extend the area I can move around them and still move them where I want them to go. 

 The importance of gates cannot be stressed enough either.  The additional  gates at strategic holding areas enables us to get them from point A to B to C to D,or keep them in a small area if we need to sort them out and only move one or two animals into the next area and separated from the others.  Design alleys so that the width will fit the width of gates you want.  We have some alleys that are the width of one gate and some alleys the width of two gates to allow vehicle access.  It just depends on what you need to use the space for.

Take as much time as you need in order to get your pastures designed correctly. If fencing is already in place, you can work out some design improvements and make your life easier.  The key is making it easy so one person can get the herding done themselves and practicing  regularly with the animals.  Give them treats or a food reward when they get to where you want them.

Those crazy chickens

 

IMG_0018 I loooooove my chickens. I’m not personally attached to any, but I just love hearing them clucking, the silkie bantam rooster crowing, the guineas squawking when they see something unfamiliar, and drinking out of the alpaca’s water buckets. (The chickens have their own water fonts, but for some reason they like to hop up on the old tire that sits around the 5 gal. Tractor Supply buckets and swig away).

I was absolutely petrified about keeping them but then decided what have I got to lose (except maybe a few if I was a real klutz about it). I did my research to see what kinds I should have, and that went out the window when Ideal Poultry had a special on rare breed chickens package (all pullets). I love my rare breed chickens. I also love, love, love the Partridge Silkie bantams. They were a risk as they were straight runs (not sexed, you could end up with all males), but I was extremely lucky and had only one male. Of course you don’t know until they are full grown what you have.

I got a total of 30 (10 Silkies, 10 rare breed, 10 guineas). From zero to 30 is quite a leap but I wanted to have enough that if some did die I would have some left. I lost 3 after several weeks had gone by just because I think they were not thrifty. The others graduated into the coops just fine. Then, recently, with warm evenings, I was keeping the chicken hatch doors open on the coops and that’s when disaster struck. I found one guinea and one chicken dead on separate days (headless, the birds were apparently too big for the hunter to carry off). Then I started counting and found 4 of my Silkies missing (no scattered feathers, so I assume they were small enough the hunter could quickly snatch at night and carry off). Now I do close them up and everything has been fine.

We designed our own coops (very simple A-frames to economically utilize materials and enable good air flow from low venting up and out the top screened vent gables). If you would like more info on the design, let me know. If you need any support in getting started, I have some books and hints that can help you. You can contact me. The only thing is to first check your zoning laws if you are in the city limits, and also your homeowner assocation laws or property deed restrictions.

I advertised on LocalHarvest and got 2 regular egg customers that ends up paying for the feed which is just fine. I’m not looking to get rich, but if it helps pay for something it helps. I sell them for less than the store and one buyer has a co-worker who puts in an order and she takes to her. Local Harvest is the best place to advertise. Selling at farmer’s markets requires some paperwork and I am not quite ready to get out that early and sell yet. You can also find chickens to buy if you don’t want to go through the dependent chick stage. Get a chicken breed that fits you best; do some internet research. Ideal Poultry has a section on breeds descriptions. Give it a try and you will love it

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