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Raising Ducklings vs Chicks

If you have recently visited your local feed store and seen baby chicks and baby ducklings available, the impulse to get a few of these and a few of those is irresistible!

Before you bring home your fluffy babies, here are some important differences to know about raising ducklings vs raising chicks!

 

Ducklings and chicks need separate space.

Generally, ducklings and chicks will need a separate brooder. Sometimes, they can all get along, but sometimes unfortunately they can fight. Ducklings grow much faster than chicks, and have been known to pick on baby chicks. Even if they do get along as babies, ducks will require different things than grown chickens.

Ducks sleep on the ground, while chickens roost off the ground. Ducks will need a sanitary, dry place to sleep on the ground, that is NOT under the chickens.

Ducks will also need a large pool of water to swim and bathe in when mature. A pond or lake is best, but we don’t all have those. A kiddie pool is easy to clean and makes a great splash pad for backyard ducks.

Ducklings need constant access to water.

Ducks have ravenous appetites, and will scarf down their dry feed very quickly. After filling their mouth with feed, they will need immediate access to water; water deep enough to fit in their entire bill into. They then drink and mix the water and food together, allowing it to be swallowed. To avoid choking, ducklings and ducks must have constant access to water.

In addition to drinking water, they will of course try to swim in their water. Most likely, their water will need to be changed once or twice a day.

 

Chicks are slow maturing; ducklings are fast maturing.

On average, a laying breed of chick can stay in the brooder for up to 2 months. They really should only be allowed outside when all their feathers have grown in.

Ducklings, on the other hand, can be let outside much sooner, permitting the weather is decent. Ducklings will grow so fast! You will notice a change daily! They will no longer need the lamp of the brooder during the day at around 3 -4 weeks old, and will be fine outdoors in the daytime. (You should still bring them in under their heat lamp at night if temperatures drop below 50° F. )At around 2 months of age, your ducklings will be mostly feathered and ready for a permanent residence outside.

Differences in Nutrition: Waterfowl need Niacin

For the first few weeks, both ducklings and chicks should be fed chick starter (crumble type) with about a 21% protein content.

Change to a smaller protein content, 16%-18% starter crumble after a few weeks until they are about 6 months old, for both.

One MAJOR difference is that ducklings require niacin! Niacin is Vitamin B3. Chickens, humans, and ducks all require niacin in our diets, but waterfowl require double the amount than chickens do! A lack of niacin can lead to leg deformities. Some feeds already contain niacin, so be sure to read the label. If your feed doesn’t, you can easily buy some brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is basically leftover, non-active yeast, made from the process of beer making. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of this yeast into the ducklings feed. It is sometimes called “nutritive yeast.”

Ducks also can enjoy sweet potatoes, peas, small amounts of canned tuna, and fish feed as treats loaded with niacin!

 

Ducklings are more likely to imprint.

Although both are extremely adorable, from my experience, ducklings are much more inquisitive than chicks. Baby chicks have a natural instinct to fear humans. Those big hands coming down to pick them up, will send them running! Ducklings can be afraid of us at first too, but will become tame much quicker. If you are able to get your ducklings right when they hatch, or a day or two after, they will likely imprint on you!-making adorable sidekicks.

 

DIY Nesting Boxes

Do you have hens?  Are they currently laying eggs all over the place?  If you’re tired of collecting eggs from under the shed, in the rim of that old tire or in the seat of your truck when the windows are down… then it’s time that you give your hens some proper nesting boxes.  Buying nesting boxes can be expensive and you may not like the way they look.  Making nesting boxes yourself is very simple and only requires a few basic tools like a saw, a hammer and nails or a drill and screws.

 

A nesting box is a space that is used solely for the purpose of hens laying eggs.  It provides a safe, sheltered space where she can lay her eggs and feel secure.  Most hens like to feel hidden while laying, which is why they seem to find the strangest place to lay eggs.

Designing A Nesting Box

A nesting box should be large enough to comfortably fit a hen, but not too large that they don’t feel secure.  For average sized hens like a Rhode Island Red, a nesting box should be 12” wide, 12” deep and 12” tall.  This provides the perfect space for her to get in and out comfortably.  Larger hens, like Brahmas, will need a slightly larger space.  Use these dimensions for a really large breed: 18” wide, 18” deep and 18” tall. 

 

The easiest material to build your nesting boxes out of is with wood.  You can use plywood to build your boxes.  When you’re designing your nesting boxes, keep in mind that your hens want to feel hidden.  Your nesting boxes should have three full sides (the back, left and right sides), a solid bottom and a top.  We design our nesting boxes to have a partial front.  The front piece comes up about 4”.  This helps to hold in any bedding that you put into the nesting box.

 

Although a flat top will work, you may want to try a sloped top.  A sloped top will help to keep chickens from trying to roost on the top of the nesting box.  When chickens roost on top of the nesting box, they will poop on it. This can get poop inside of the nesting boxes, which leads to dirty eggs.

 

Cut your wood pieces out and fasten them together with a hammer and nails or a screwdriver and screws.  As long as the dimensions are right, you can design the boxes in whatever shape you’d like.

 

You’ll want to have more than one nesting box for your hens, but you won’t need one for each hen.  The hens in your flock will generally choose one or two nesting boxes that are their favorite and use those.  If you have a flock of six hens, three nesting boxes is plenty. 

 

Setting Up Your Nesting Boxes

Once your nesting boxes are made, you’ll want to hang them in the coop.  Most people prefer to put them up against one another in rows.  Don’t put them at the ground level.  Set them up off of the ground a few feet.  This will help to keep the inside of the boxes clean.  

 

The nesting boxes should be lower than your lowest roosting pole.  Chickens like to roost as high as possible, so if your nesting boxes are higher than any of your roosting poles, they’ll roost in your nesting boxes instead, which will quickly lead to dirty nesting boxes and dirty eggs.

If you need to adjust your roosting poles, do that first.

 

Once your nesting boxes are hung, fill them with bedding.  Avoid using straw or hay, as it can hold mites.  Sand, pine flake bedding, or small animal bedding are the best options.  Keep the bedding clean and remove any soiled bedding.  THis will ensure your eggs stay clean.

 

You’ll know that you’ve built a good nesting box when your hens start using it.  If they’ve been laying somewhere else, you may need to train them to the nesting boxes.  You can do this by placing eggs they laid or fake eggs in the nesting boxes.  When they see the eggs in the nesting boxes, they’ll start to associate that space with laying eggs.

All You Need to Know About Dogs and Chickens

We have an interesting situation at our house. Our family raises backyard chickens and Labrador Retrievers. If you know anything about either of these wonderful animals, you know that they really don’t go together! Our dogs are from excellent bloodlines and are bred for hunting as well as family pets. With that said, they have a high drive when it comes to bird hunting.

Insert my chickens into the story. Yikes! They are unable to defend themselves against our dogs, so we’ve had to take some necessary steps in order to make our property safe for both the chickens and the dogs.

There are some breeds that are actually great guardians and protectors for your flock! Great Pyrenees or the Anatolian Shepherd, were made specifically to be flock guardians. Their prey drive is little to nonexistent while they are very protective of whatever herd or flock they were meant to look after. Many people add these gentle giants to their family and everyone does fine altogether.

As I stated above, we needed to design our coop and kennels so that everyone can be happy and safe. Our dogs are in large kennels in our shop and have plenty of penned in outdoor space. We run our dogs daily and they get lots of cuddles and play time as well! This keeps them happy, for the most part, and out of trouble!

Labs have a lot of energy and need to be able to burn it off. We don’t allow them to run all over the place unless we’re outside with them. This way, we can keep an eye on them for their safety as well as the safety of our chickens. Our chickens have a large coop with a very spacious fenced in run. We live along a riverbed with multiple natural predators. Throw in 5 Labradors, and it would be a disaster to free range our flock. They are happy and less stressed with their boundaries and so am I! Haha!

If you’re going to introduce your family dog to chickens, you need to do it slowly. Make sure your chickens are fenced in and have your dog on a leash to begin with. Allow the dogs to observe from a distance. See how they react to the flock and how the flock reacts to them. If your dog gets super jumpy and excited, you know they’re not ready. Try doing some tricks for treats with the dog’s back facing the chickens. If the dog can’t focus and is easily distracted by the chickens, they’re not ready. Slowly work with your dog near the chicken run. Eventually, you can introduce them a bit more by allowing the dogs to sniff and smell the chickens. Make sure you are holding onto your dog and encouraging them to be gentle. Some dogs may not want to kill the chickens, but they will want to play. Chickens won’t like that and can get very stressed or even injured with a well-meaning dog.

When you feel both of your flock and your dog are relaxed around each other, allow your chickens to free range a bit with your dog on a leash. If this goes okay, you will eventually get to the point (hopefully!) where your dogs and chickens can live happily together. It will take a lot of patience and time, but people do it all the time.

While you’re introducing your pets, I’d put a little Flock Fixer™ in your chickens’ water. Flock Fixer is a great additive in times of stress! It will equip your chickens with the nutrients they need to maintain their health in this stressful time.

Raising family pets has just always been part of our life here at the Wing home. We want our kids to experience a lot of different things and having pets is a great opportunity! We love our chickens and our dogs. For us, it’s impossible to integrate them because of our dogs’ drive for bird hunting. But, if you’re looking to get a breed that is gentle and a flock guardian, you will have one big happy family!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Chicken Boo-Boos Be Gone!

As you know, keeping a first aid kit on hand for your coop is essential to raising backyard chickens. While boo-boos don’t happen all that often in our coop, they do happen. It’s important to me to be prepared when one of these situations occurs. It could be anything from a cut or scrape from scratching around the ground, Bumblefoot or even a fight between two chickens. A new addition to my first-aid kit is a wound spray by Strong Animals called Bye-Bye Boo Boos™.
Bye-Bye Boo-Boo's Chicken Wound Spray

Read all about what else I keep in my backyard chicken kit here.

 
Bye-Bye Boo-Boo's Chicken Wound Spray
 

Strong Animals Chicken Essentials has recently come out with an incredible wound spray to help your chickens heal quickly and naturally. Bye-Bye, Boo-Boos is a safe and natural way to sooth and mend wounds, cuts, scrapes and abrasions for your flock. It contains organic lavender, tea tree essential oils (EO) and vitamin E to aid healing and protection from infection.

Lavender EO is known to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits. When our kids get a cut, scrape, or bug bite, I usually put lavender EO on first to treat it naturally. Tea Tree EO is known to have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant benefits. Working together, these benefits will help reduce inflammation, infection and aid in healing. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells from damage. All three main ingredients in Bye-Bye Boo Boos are stellar in natural healing.

Bye-Bye Boo Boos gently soothes the chicken’s wound with no irritation, and one of the best parts? There is no egg withdrawal period! With many wound treatments out there, there is a period of a couple days where you shouldn’t eat the eggs. Bye-Bye Boo Boos is completely safe for you and your chickens! There is no need to interrupt the beautiful relationship of farm to table with this product.

Bye-Bye Boo Boos is available in 8 oz. spray bottle. It smells delicious and is available at your local farm supply store and on Amazon!

If you have a chicken with a boo boo, gently clean the affected area. Spray a liberal coating to the affected area. For best results use 2-3 times per day until the wound is healed. Give your chicken a nice little hug and cuddle and they will heal before you know it! This spray can be used with all types of poultry.

Try it out and let me know what you think!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

How to Use Eggshells For Your Garden

I had the pleasure of growing up in a family that understood the rich benefits of growing our own food. We didn’t have any farm animals, but we did have an awesome garden every summer.

There is absolutely nothing like those first green beans or that first BLT of the season! YUM! So, as I grew up and got married, I knew it was something I’d want to teach our kids as well. Not only would my kids know the work it takes to grow your own food, but they would also reap the benefits of a healthy diet and knowing how to fuel their bodies.

How to Use Eggshells For Your Garden

Fortunately, my husband had parents that taught him these same values, so we set out to grow our first garden. There were a lot of ups and downs and learning curves. And while I don’t consider myself a “professional” gardener, I have learned some tips along the way. For a couple summers, we even ran an organic CSA share program. Our kids learned the value of hard work and a dollar those summers. These are memories we will cherish forever!

growing a garden with chickens

My father-in-law taught us so much about gardening and raising chickens! See those two high tunnel greenhouses in the back? Those were full of organic goodness. We also had a 1 acre garden plot in our backyard that we gardened by HAND!

If you’re anything like us, you already have your garden mapped out for the year. Or, if you live anywhere warmer than we do (which is almost anywhere! Haha!), you may already have your garden planted! We’re a couple weeks out from being able to plant our gardens here in Minnesota, but we are definitely getting things cleaned up and ready.

Part of our normal routine in gardening is utilizing the eggshells from our flocks’ eggs. It’s a great source of calcium along with phosphorus, magnesium and other minerals for the plants. And the best part? It’s free! Well, is anything really free? Of course you have to feed your chickens and take good care of them for them to be happy laying hens, but you get my point.

How Do I Use Eggshells in My Garden?

For the most part, I leave our eggs unwashed on the counter. However, I give them a quick rinse before I use them. After I crack the egg into a bowl, I rinse the shells and put them in a bowl or jar on the counter to air dry. Once I’ve gathered enough shells, I will happily use them while we plant our garden. We will sprinkle some in the holes and then place our plants on top. Egg shells are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium and provide those much needed nutrients to our plants. Eggshells are also a great pest deterrent. The sharp edges of the shells slice through the pests and keep them away from the roots and plants.

Which Plants Like Eggshells?

I remember going out the garden one day many years ago and being so discouraged to find these black spots on the bottom of our tomatoes. They were big, juicy tomatoes that looked like they’d been in a fight. Upon some research, I found out that “end rot” is caused by a lack of calcium. Eggshells give the plants that extra boost to ensure there’s enough calcium available to the plants which in turn, provides enough nutrients for healthy fruit. There are multiple plants that benefit from eggshells in your garden. Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, flowers, strawberries and squash to name a few!

How to Use Eggshells For Your Garden

To Crush or Not to Crush Eggshells?

There are different schools of thought on this. If you’re noticing a problem in your plants, it would make most sense to pulverize the shells into an easy to absorb powder. If you’re simply using the shells to get things started or pest control, I just crush them into little pieces. This allows them to slowly decompose into the soil around the plant while they keep pests away.

Crushed eggshells for gardening

Eggshells are also excellent to feed back to your chickens! This provides them with a calcium rich source that they need to continue with healthy egg production. A healthy adult laying hen needs somewhere between 4-5g of calcium per day! While I always have oyster shells on hand for them, they gobble up their own eggshells as well. It’s a simple way for me to ensure the girls are getting everything they need.

If you’ve been gardening for years or just getting started, I’d encourage you to implement eggshells into your plan. Something I love so much about eggs is that you literally can use every part of the egg! Nothing is wasted. And crushed up eggshells in a jar on your counter is actually kind of pretty!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Keeping Chickens Productive in Summer’s Heat

In the summer of 1896, a heat wave gripped New York City at a time when people lived crammed together in tenements. Lacking air conditioning and running water, the heat killed about 1500 people in ten sweltering days.

 

In an era when governments did little to help people, then relatively unknown Theodore Roosevelt took action that saved lives and launched his political career.

As police commissioner he ordered the fire department to spray down the exterior of buildings, sidewalks and streets with water and worked to have ice delivered to suffering people. The water dropped building temperatures a few degrees and likely saved lives.

People and chickens are alike in many ways. Beginning chicken owners worry that winter’s chill will kill their birds without realizing that heat is deadlier to both chickens and people. Severe cold is dangerous, but summer’s swelter likely kills more birds.

Preparation and management keep hens safe and productive during heat waves.  Although heat is common down south, northerners also must be heat conscious. Every summer 100-degree days descend on North Dakota and Minnesota, and during the 2021 summer even the normally cool Pacific Northwest roasted.

 

Flock owners can help hens remain comfortable and laying during heat waves by choosing heat resistant breeds and taking steps to keep the coop and run cool when the sun blisters.

 

Chickens evolved in the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia. The Hawaiian Island of Kauai has a similar tropical climate. Wild chickens thrive on the island. Their bodies and actions show how they cope with heat. Kauai’s chickens are small, lightly feathered, and usually have large combs that radiate heat from their bodies. These savvy chickens enjoy midday shade and are most active during evening and morning. They enjoy the cool air by streams and drink plenty of water.

 

Anyone placing a chick order should pay attention to the chart toward the back of the Hoover’s Hatchery catalog. It lists breeds by temperament, production, and whether they are cold or heat hardy. Fortunately, most breeds are suitable for both hot and cold climates, but the best birds for regularly hot climates have small bodies, large combs, and lay many white eggs. Leghorns and California Whites are examples. Their physique is like Kauai’s wild chickens.

There is a dilemma. In early 2021 extreme cold hovered over Texas, a state usually roasting hot. So, even in the deep south chickens need to be able to tolerate cold days.

 

Whether in the snow belt or down south people can take actions that keep hens alive and laying during heat waves. Here are a few:

 

  • Theodore Roosevelt saved human lives by soaking down buildings and pavement. Chicken owners can sprinkle the coop’s exterior when it’s hot. Evaporation slightly cools the coop. Chickens can’t sweat. They cool their bodies by panting to evaporate water from their throats. They must drink plenty of water.  Always keep cool, clean water available.
  • Situating a coop under a leafy tree keeps it cooler. Chicken run ramadas offer daytime shade.
  • A summer breeze provides delicious relief on sultry nights. Allowing breezes to dance through open windows helps keep birds cool. Be sure to cover windows with sturdy wire mesh that welcomes the breeze to enter while deterring raccoons. Add a fine mesh on the inside of the windows to deter mosquitoes.
  • On the hottest nights positioning a fan in the coop with its breeze pointed at roosting chickens helps keep them comfortable.
  • Moving or riling up chickens during heat waves is lethal.  Let them quietly rest in the shade.

 

Chickens endure summer’s inferno and winter’s blasts  best if their owners  protect them from weather extremes.

How to Tell if A Hen Can Brood Chicks Successfully

One of the best parts about raising chickens is the cute baby chick stage. Fluffy, sweet chicks are part of the reason many people decide to get chickens in the first place. If you’re raising chickens, you may have noticed a hen that spends more time than the other hens in the nesting box.  If so, you likely have a broody hen.  Let’s talk about what to look for in a hen to see if she can raise chicks successfully.

What does ‘broody’ mean?

The term broody is used to describe a hen that willingly sits on her eggs in attempt to hatch chicks.  Not all hens will be broody.  Some breeds tend to be more broody than others, but even in broody breeds, not all hens will attempt to sit on eggs.  A broody hen will sit on a clutch of eggs day and night in attempt to hatch them.

 

Here are some signs that your hen is broody:

  1. She refuses to leave the nest.  She will sit on a clutch of eggs day and night and only leaves for a few short minutes to get a small bite to eat and a quick drink.
  2. She may peck at you if you try to get eggs out of the nesting box.  Once she sets her mind on hatching those eggs, she will try to defend them, even from you.
  3. She may be missing chest feathers.  A broody hen’s job is to warm the eggs and keep them at the ideal moisture level.  She may pluck out her chest feathers to get direct skin to egg contact, providing more warmth and moisture to the eggs.
  4. A broody hen may only poop once or twice a day.  Poop around the eggs can be dangerous since poop contains bacteria.  She will hold it while she’s on the nest and will wait until she gets up to relieve herself.  Broody poop is very large and smelly as a result of her holding it in.
  5. She won’t eat or drink much.  Most chickens eat all day long.  A broody hen will only eat for a few minutes a day since she’s so focused on hatching eggs.
  6. Broody hens can get really flat in the nest.  They can spread their body out across a large clutch of eggs.  

 

You may notice a hen that tries to sit on eggs when there’s only a few.  Some hens will even sit in an empty nest.  If you notice this, you’ve got a broody hen.  

 

Caring for a Broody Hen

Some hens are natural mothers, while others aren’t as dedicated.  So how can you tell the difference?

 

A good broody hen will be very dedicated to her job.  She will rarely leave the nest and won’t allow other hens to sit on the eggs with her.  Once she claims a clutch of eggs, it’s her job alone to hatch them.  Some hens that aren’t as dedicated may try to co-brood.  This usually doesn’t work out well.  If you’re wanting to hatch chicks and you see two hens sitting on the same clutch of eggs, you might want to divide them up. 

 

Any time that a new hen is brooding, keep an eye on her and the eggs.  If you notice other hens trying to get into her nesting box or trying to take her eggs, you’ll want to separate them from the rest of the flock.  A dog kennel of small crate is a perfect size for a broody hen.  When the eggs hatch, make sure that the hen is caring for them.  If not, you can move them into a brooder.

 

One of the most rewarding parts of having chickens is watching a mother hen wander around with her chicks, showing them how to look for food and water.  If you haven’t let your broody hen hatch chicks yet, there’s no better time!

Planting Produce in Pots

Gardening is a great way to get outside and grow some of your own food.  Gardening can also feel difficult, especially if you have bad soil, frequent droughts or problems with pests and weeds every year.  Or, you might think that gardening isn’t something you have space for.  What if there was a way to make sure that you always had room to grow vegetables?  What if this method was also easier to manage, no matter what issues you have had with past gardens?

 

Benefits of Planting in Pots

Container gardening is an excellent way to grow vegetables anywhere.  It’s also a great way to make growing vegetables easier.  Don’t have a spacious backyard to start a garden? Use containers!  If you’re limited on garden space, you can create your own with containers.  

Growing in containers also allows you to be more efficient with your plants.  You’ll use less fertilizer in containers.  In a normal garden, fertilizer that isn’t immediately taken up by the plants can leach into the ground and is wasted.  In a container, there’s no where for the fertilizer to go.  In fact, you’ll want to cut your fertilizer down by ⅓-½ of what you would typically use.

 

You’ll have less problems with weeds and pests when you plant in pots.  Since you’ll be adding soil to fill the pots, you won’t be fighting with grass and other weeds.  Most pest insects overwinter in the soil around your garden.  The fresh soil that you put into containers won’t have those overwintered bugs, so you can grow mostly pest-free.

 

Want to grow vegetables all year long? Plants that are growing in pots will allow you to do that.  You’ll be able to move your pots indoors and continue growing even if the weather is less than ideal.  This past year, I grew 18 dwarf cherry tomatoes, right in my living room and got fresh tomatoes all winter long!

 

Ways to Plant Produce in Pots

There are many ways that you can grow produce in pots.  You can opt for traditional flower pots, but don’t let that limit you.  If you want to plant in containers and do it frugally, you can use anything that will hold soil and water.  Five gallon buckets, wheelbarrows, raised beds, mason jars or any sturdy container can be used to grow plants in.  Just be sure that if you’re repurposing a container to grow vegetables, you drill holes in the bottom for proper drainage. 

 

When you plant vegetables in pots, make sure that your plants have enough space to develop a strong root system.  A pot that is too small will restrict the roots and the growth of the plant.  Generally, larger plants require larger pots to accomodate a bigger root system.  Many herbs are small and can be planted in small 4” flower pots or mason jars.  Lettuce and leafy greens can also be grown in small containers.  Root vegetables like radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, onions and garlic can all be grown in containers as long as they are deep enough.  Windowboxes can be great for these root vegetables.  

 

Larger vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and potatoes will require more space.  Tomato plants can get extensive root systems and will need five gallons of soil.  Peppers require a similar space.  Larger pepper plants, like bell peppers, will need just as much space as tomatoes.  Smaller pepper plants can grow with less space.  Potatoes are a high-yielding, large crop that develops mostly within the soil.  The growth pattern of potatoes means that they need a large container.  There are many grow bags out there designed specifically for potatoes, but they can also be grown in pots if the pot is large enough.  Plan on giving potatoes at least 15 gallons of soil at minimum.

 

There are a few crops that produce vines that can be grown in pots and trained up a trellis.  If you have a balcony or patio, these vines can be trained to grow up and create a living privacy screen.  Vegetables like cucumbers, beans and peas come in vining varieties.  Simply plant them in a pot and provide them with a trellis or some sort of support for them to grow.

 

Planting in pots is an amazing way to maximize your gardening space or create gardening space if you don’t have any.  It’s also a low-maintenance gardening method that is easier on you, will take less resources and will produce more fresh, delicious vegetables for you.

My Favorite Herbs to Plant in the Garden

Planting herbs in the garden is one of my favorite things.  Herbs are incredibly useful, pretty and make a perfect addition to any garden.  They’re great for adding flavor to your food, creating comforting teas, or natural medicine.  Most herbs are also great companion plants for vegetables and can help improve the flavor of your vegetables or keep pests off of your plants.  Herbs that are good for you are also good for your chickens. Keep reading to see what my favorite herbs are to plant in the garden.

 

Rosemary

Rosemary is a hardy perennial herb that will come back year after year.  It’s hardy in Zones 7-10 and can thrive even in Zone 6. Rosemary can take on a shrubby appearance and get larger than many other herbs.  If you’re looking for an herb that you can plant in your flowerbed, rosemary is perfect.

There are a lot of benefits of eating rosemary.  This herb contains powerful antioxidants.  It’s also a known antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral.  On top of that, many of the compounds in rosemary help to strengthen your immune system.  It’s also a wonderful herb to give to your chickens if they need a boost.

Oregano

If rosemary is good for, oregano is a powerhouse for your health.  Oregano can be grown in zones 6-12 as a perennial.  In zones 5 and above, you may need to save seeds and reseed it.  Oregano is similar to a creeping plant.  It grows low along the ground and can get small purple or white flowers depending on the variety.

Oregano is a strong medicinal herb.  It’s a great antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral.  In fact, recent research has shown that it’s just as effective as antibiotics.  If you’re wanting to raise antibiotic free chickens, swap out their medicated feed and start adding oregano and thyme to their diet.

Lavender

Fresh lavender is a perennial herb in many areas.  It’s also very easy to grow in pots, making it a great herb to plant even if it’s not perennial in your growing zone.  Most lavender is hardy in zones 5-9.  Although it’s not as affected by the cold as some other herbs, lavender can be very picky when it comes to humidity.  In the southeastern U.S. where the air is humid, lavender can be tricky to grow.  It’s much easier to manage in arid climates.

If you can nail the art of growing lavender, you’ll be rewarded with a soothing, beautiful and aromatic herb.  Most people associate lavender with relaxation, but did you know that there is some strong science to back this up?  Lavender contains a compound called linalool which can reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.

Thyme

Thyme is another hardy perennial that grows well in many zones.  It’s a hardy perennial in zones 5-9.  Similar to oregano, it will creep along the ground.  Thyme is very fragrant and will get small white blooms.  Thyme also helps attract beneficial insects that will help to eliminate pests from your garden.

Thyme is similar to oregano in the fact that it is a great antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral.  If you want to kick the synthetic versions, start adding thyme to your garden.  It’s a wonderful herb that pairs well with chicken, goes well in soups or stews and can add a depth of flavor to your next turkey and dressing.

 

These herbs aren’t the only herbs that I enjoy planting, but they’re some of my favorites because of how functional they are and the fact that they are perennial in many climates.  Are you planting herbs in your garden this year?

Sizing an Outdoor Run

Chickens love being outside. Give them a run, and they’ll lounge in the shade, scratch for tasty bugs and seeds, gobble delicious sprouts, hunker in the dust and even snatch wayward flies from the air.

 

How big should a run be?  There’s no absolute answer.  A tiny run is appreciated but the bigger it is relative to flock size the more the birds will enjoy it and the more natural food it will produce.

 

Chickens are constant foragers and scratchers.  If many birds are crammed into a small run, they’ll soon devour every scrap of green vegetation.  Expect a dusty run during dry spells, while mud reigns after rain. Even if there’s nary a bit of vegetation, hens still enjoy soaking up the sun and breathing fresh air in even the smallest run.

 

No run is too small, but bigger is better. A huge outdoor area of 150 square feet per hen provides room to run and fly. It also gives plants enough relief from pecking and scratching that grass can grow to produce natural chicken feed.  Unfortunately, most people don’t have enough yard space to create a huge run, so the best one is as big as possible.

Fencing Chickens In

Chickens are escape artists clever enough to discover any fence gap they can squeeze through. Once free they’ll swarm across the yard, sometimes making a mess and gobbling garden crops. A good fence keeps chickens in and predators out.

 

Most heavy breed brown egg laying hens are weak flyers.  A tight three- or four-foot-high mesh fence keeps them inside, but Leghorns, Hamburgs, and other small bodied white egg layers can launch like rockets and easily clear a low fence. They may need an eight-foot-high barrier to confine them, and sometimes they’ll even wing over it.  Covering the run with wire mesh renders escape unlikely.

Hexagonal chicken wire makes an inexpensive fence but rusts quickly.  Determined raccoons and dogs will tear through it. Stronger 2X4 inch wire mesh lasts longer. So does common chain link fencing. Either will foil hungry predators.

 

Crafting a run from wire mesh is easy.  Drive metal fence posts into the ground around the perimeter about every eight feet and attach the mesh using wire twists or cable ties.  Occasionally entering the run is helpful, so creating a simple gate lets humans enter while keeping chickens in.

 

Specially designed chicken run kits can be purchased online and at some farm stores.  Fencing companies can install many types of yard fences designed for human privacy, but they also work perfectly to keep chickens in and out of sight.  They can be made of vinyl, metal, or wood.

 

Furniture

Chickens enjoy furnishings almost as much as people. They’ll appreciate a perch or two outdoors. If the ground is hard, a dusting box filled with loose soil and diatomaceous earth helps chickens banish pesky parasites by fluffing in the dirt.

 

Shade and protection from aerial predators are important. Chickens usually stay beneath something when they are outdoors. Overhead structures offer cool shade underneath while frustrating overhead predators. Here are possible overhead structures:

 

  • Shrubs pruned to spread widely.
  • An old picnic table.
  • A sheet of plywood suspended between two sawhorses with a weight on top to keep the wind from blowing it to the next county.
  • A chicken ramada. These are easy to make and are free. Salvage a few pallets from a scrap heap. Salvage boards from one and use the wood to craft legs to suspend a pallet horizontal a few feet above the ground. See the photo.

Vegetation

The best runs are large enough to allow plants to thrive. Grass and many weeds are enthusiastically devoured by chickens, while attracting insects that add protein to a foraged chicken meal. Seeding the run with these plants makes it attractive, reduces mud, creates chicken feed, and attracts desirable bugs:

  • Grass seed: Scattering annual ryegrass or any other turf grass seed works if there’s enough space. If too many chickens are crammed into a small run, they’ll gobble up the seed! Avoid chemically treated seeds.
  • Buckwheat: A great run plant. Chickens won’t eat the plant but it is an insect magnet that lures these protein rich snacks to the run for the birds to snack on.
  • Turnips, radishes, and kale. Deer hunters create food plots with plants designed to nourish deer.  Many work perfectly in a chicken run.  Food plot seed mixes can often be bought in places that sell hunting equipment or online.
  • Weeds: Plant nothing and weeds appear. Many, like dandelions, lambs’ quarters, purslane and wild beets make delicious chicken chow, but they don’t like some other weeds.  Prostrate vervain, motherwort, creeping Charlie and others are ignored by chickens but help keep mud at bay and attract insects.

Many commercially raised chickens spend their entire lives inside.  Perhaps they dream about strolling over a grassy insect filled lawn.  hey never get that chance but backyard flock owners can make chicken lives  pleasant by adding an outdoor run to the coop.

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