Showing posts with label Chickens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chickens. Show all posts

Mar 15, 2017

Why I Refrigerate Our Chickens' Eggs

Maybe you've seen them - the homesteading posts explaining why you don't need to refrigerate chicken eggs. They are everywhere, it seems. And yes, those posts are right. But I still refrigerate our hens' eggs. Here's why.

Why Eggs Don't Need Refrigerating

As I mentioned in my post on why I don't wash our chickens' eggs, the FDA requires commercial eggs be washed before they are sold; this destroys the natural bloom on eggs, which normally would protect the edible part from bacterial contamination. Theoretically, refrigeration helps keeps commercial eggs from making us sick - but refrigeration itself can be problematic. In fact, the European Union forbids egg refrigeration because if a consumer buys refrigerated eggs, then carries them home, more than likely those eggs will develop condensation - which attracts and breeds bacteria.

But...if you don't wash your eggs until just before you're ready to cook them, the protective bloom on those eggs stays in place, So, the argument goes, there's no need to refrigerate eggs. Especially eggs from backyard flocks, where the risk of salmonella is low. ("In fact, the likelihood of getting salmonellosis is greater with other pets than with poultry," claims the website of the University extension system.)

So yep, that's right; you can leave eggs on the counter, and they are perfectly safe to eat. The European Union recommends grocery stores keep eggs between the temperatures of 66.2 degrees F to 73.4 degrees F. - easily done at home, except on the hottest days.

But Why Did Our Ancestors Preserve Eggs?

So if eggs don't require refrigeration, why did our ancestors preserve eggs in lime or waterglass (liquid sodium silicate)? For that matter, in days gone by, why was it common practice to keep eggs in a cool cellar?

The answer, my friends, is the same reason I refrigerate my family's eggs today: Because we can't eat as many eggs as your hens produced each day, and we know even the best hens don't lay well during the winter. In other words: We have more eggs than we know what to do with during the sunny seasons, but aren't getting many (or any) eggs during the winter.

As it turns out, the whole reason the United States began the tradition of refrigerating eggs is that they are not naturally a year round commodity. Today, commercial farms force hens to lay in the winter by putting them in well lit (and crowded) barns. But before that was standard practice, farmers didn't have eggs to sell in winter. So the extra eggs laid during sunny months were stored in the refrigerator to be sold during the winter months.

Yes, fresh eggs last a long time when refrigerated. I personally have stored them for six months in our fridge, and never found a bad egg.

So rather than buy store bought eggs during the winter, or rather than just doing without during the dark months, I dig into the fridge and have plenty of eggs to last us until our hens start laying again.


No matter how you store your eggs - the fridge or on the counter top - it's always smart to check them for freshness before you use them. It's easy to do this with a float test; click here to learn how.

Mar 9, 2017

Why I Don't Wash Our Chickens' Eggs

One thing you'll quickly learn when you add chickens to your homestead is that backyard eggs don't look like store bought ones. Oh sure, they're that classic egg shape and come in all the same colors (and then some). But, unlike store bought eggs, backyard eggs aren't always clean.

This is especially evident during wet seasons, when the homestead tend to be muddy. But the mess on chicken eggs isn't always just mud. Often, there's poop involved, too.

This happens for several reasons. One is that chickens, like all birds, poop on the go - so sometimes they step in their poop, or the poop of one of their sisters. In addition, some hens will poop in the nesting box, or may have manure on her rear end that didn't fall off. (Hey, we're homesteaders, here; there's no use being squeamish on the topic!) Some of these things can be controlled at least somewhat by homesteaders; click here for my tips on getting cleaner eggs from your hens.

But then there's the inescapable fact that the physical passage used for egg laying is the very same one used for pooping. (My husband once had a friend who'd recently bought backyard hens. He loved them...that is, until my husband happened to mention the above fact. The friend was so grossed out by this, he gave away his hens...But he still eats store bought eggs!)

Now, obviously we don't want to get any of that poop in our food. And the natural inclination is to clean those dirty eggs as soon as we collect them...but that inclination is, in my opinion, WRONG.

Why Egg Washing is Bad

You see, eggs naturally have a protective coating, called "bloom," that prevents bacteria from entering the egg shell. This is God's creative way of keeping chicks healthy enough to hatch - and humans healthy enough they can continue to eat eggs. As soon as you wash eggs, that bloom is typically removed - and the part of the egg you eat is now totally exposed to lurking bacteria.

What About Store Bought Eggs?

Why do store bought eggs look so clean? It's certainly not because of the crowded, dirty environment commercial hens are raised in. Instead, it's because those eggs are washed before going to market.

Yep, you read that right.

The FDA requires all commercially sold eggs to be washed in detergent. A fact, by the way, that would make them illegal for sale throughout the European Union. Because Europeans understand that washing away the egg's bloom makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg and make humans sick.
THIS is what real backyard eggs look like.

Once upon a time, American farmers applied mineral oil to egg shells after washing, in order to create a sort of artificial bloom. This is rarely done today.

To add insult to injury, commercial American eggs are always refrigerated. But refrigeration can lead to condensation, which can lead to bacterial growth.

What About Farmer's Market Eggs?

Rules about the sale of eggs at farmer's markets and similar venues varies from state to state. But generally speaking, small market farmers are not expected to wash eggs the way large commercial farms are. Instead, they are usually allowed to simply sort through their eggs and not sell dirty ones, or use a brush or sandpaper to gently remove dirt from eggs, or lightly and quickly dampen the eggs to make dirt removal easier. Sometimes, however, small farm eggs are washed by hand, using FDA approved detergents.

How I Handle Our Eggs
I don't really take our egg cartons out to the hen house :)

Though we've had backyard hens for many years, and though I grew up with chickens, I am not an expert and the law says you should not take my advice as you would that of a scientist.

But I can tell you that on our homestead, dirty eggs go into egg cartons, and then straight into the fridge. When I'm ready to cook the eggs, I wash them immediately beforehand. (How to wash eggs: Under cool, running water. Pat dry immediately. Do not soak eggs.)

Some people are totally grossed out by the thought of putting poopy eggs in the fridge - or anywhere else that's near food. But in my experience, egg cartons protect any other food nearby, and the bloom protects the eggs so we don't get sick.

Now...shall we talk about why I refrigerate our eggs, even though it's not required? I think I'll leave that for another post. Until then...happy homesteading!

Aug 15, 2016

Meet the Chicks!

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

It's true; we still haven't really started unpacking. Our storage container is full to the top. I still
don't have most of my kitchen equipment. The kids don't have their toys. My gardening stuff is still in the container...somewhere. But we just couldn't delay getting chicks anymore.

It was a sad day for my hubby when he took down our suburban hen house and gave our chickens away to a co-worker. He loved those birds. The kids loved watching them. I loved those much-more-delicious-and-healthy backyard eggs. But buying a bunch of stuff we already had - in storage somewhere - so we could get chicks this fall wasn't something I wanted to do.

Still, last weekend, hubby and I went to the feed store. They didn't have our favorite breed (Australorps), but they had Barred Plymouth Rocks, which are a great laying bird, pretty, and they have a cool name. But when we started filling a shopping cart with the stuff we'd need to keep the chicks healthy - a plastic storage container to use as a cheap brooder, a heat lamp and bulbs for it, a waterer, a feeder... - I added up the cost, told myself it was wrong to buy new equipment when we had perfectly good stuff in storage, and we walked away from the store empty handed.

Then I paid the monthly bills and missed backyard fresh eggs some more, and this morning said, "Let's just do it."

Hubby, the kids, and I were all ridiculously excited as we packed into the car. We love this property, but it just wasn't a homestead without the chickens. In some ways, it just wasn't home without them, either.

And in the delightful way God works, on Saturday we walked into the feed store to discover the Barred Rocks were gone...and had been replaced by Australorps. That really got me grinning.

The fluff balls peeped all the way home, then piled on top of each other in their cardboard box because they were getting cold. (TIP: Always go straight home with the chicks. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Those babies need a nice, warm brooder ASAP.)  Once home, I lined the plastic tub with sheets of packing paper, filled the waterer and feeder, and hubby hooked up the heat lamp. The chicks huddled under the lamp for a bit, then wandered away and literally fell flat on their faces, sound asleep.

As I type this, they have slept off the excitement of their big move and are now eating and exploring their new digs.

We've never purchased chicks in the fall before. It seems like a less economical way to do things, since hens don't start laying until they are 5 or 6 months old, and since darker, wintery weather reduces egg laying, too. But it will be interesting to observe any differences.

Anyway, it's good to have them home.

Related Posts:

* Getting Ready for Chicks
* Buying and Caring for Chicks
* Setting Up the Henhouse and Run
* Predator Proof Your Henhouse and Run
* Chicken Care
* Why You May NOT Want Chickens

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids

Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling

Dec 22, 2015

Best Homesteading Posts of 2015

People talk a lot about the negative side of the Internet - and certainly it has one. But there's one huge positive side to the web: The enormous amount of information available at the click of a mouse. I remember having to call a reference librarian to look up specialized information for me...and sometimes they turned up with little or nothing. I remember asking my parents questions and having to be satisfied with, "I don't know. Try looking it up in the encyclopedia." And then not being able to find the answer. But today, if my children or I have any question, we can easily and quickly look up the answer in about one minute!

Well, one area where the Internet is currently excelling is in proving information for homesteaders (and wanna be homesteaders). Never before have people been able to exchange ideas, failures, and successes in homesteading as they can today. And with that in mind, I want to share with you some of my favorite homesteading articles of 2015. Show these homesteaders some love! Click on the links and check out their excellent posts and blogs!

1.  How to Train a Rooster to Be Nice (Farm Girl Inspirations)

2. The 5 Stages to the 100% Self-Sustaining Flock (Abundant Permaculture)

3. How to Milk Once a Day (The Elliott Homestead)

4. Laundry on Our Off-Grid Homestead (Homestead Honey)

5. Tips for Starting a Food Forest (The Walden Effect)

6. 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Goats (Common Sense Homesteading)

7. How to Keep Goats Fenced In (Farm Fit Living)

8. Make an Outdoor Produce Washing Station (Homespun Seasonal Living)

9. 11 Tips for Using a Clothesline (104 Homestead)

10.  How to Create a Homestead on Wooded Land (Return to Simplicity)

Got a favorite homesteading article published in 2015? Please leave a link in the comments!

Oct 28, 2015

What I've Learned about Backyard Egg Production

We started raising hens to save money on eggs and know that our eggs were healthy. We didn't get hens so we could have pretty blue or green eggs. Or so we could have pets (although, as it turns out, we are fond of our hens). So getting great egg production out of our chickens is a high priority for me. Over the years, I've learned a thing or two about said egg production. Including:

1. It's important to choose breeds based on productivity. The hens you select to raise should lay, on average, an egg a day. I know it's tempting to choose some hens based on their looks, or the color of eggs they lay, but if productivity and saving money are important to you, these should be secondary concerns. (Check out this chicken breed chart to determine which breeds are the best layers.)

2. Hens aren't egg laying machines. They won't lay at all until they are mature enough. Then they will stop laying while molting, and their egg production naturally slows or stops during winter.
Courtesy Raketenpilot and Wikimedia Commons.
3. Adding winter light to the coop increases productivity. But it has it's down sides...namely, the risk of fire and the reduction of the hen's egg laying life. That's right; hens will only lay so many eggs during their lifetime. And while the average hen lays well through her second year of life, if you force her body to produce eggs in the winter, her productive years will be reduced.

4. Choosing breeds that lay better in the winter is a good idea. This is why I originally chose Australorps. But again, hens that naturally lay more in winter will slow down their laying before the two year mark. (For more on good winter layers, click here.)

So as a homesteader, you need to choose what's most important to you. Do you want more eggs in a shorter amount of time? Or do you want the hens to lay well for a little longer period of time, allowing them to follow their bodies' natural no-laying periods?

Jun 24, 2015

Tumbleweed Junction's Harvest Apron - a Review

If you're anything like me, you often find yourself outside meaning to pull just a few weeds or check the chickens' water level, only to end up harvesting veggies or fruits or eggs. And, again, if you're anything like me, you struggle with how to carry the food you've harvested so you can get it into the house. I usually ending up putting it in the bottom of my shirt - which I have to hold up to make a sort of hammock. But this just isn't practical - it's too easy to drop the food or have it stain your shirt. I've always thought that to solve this problem, I needed a harvesting apron.

So when Lorretta of Etsy's Tumbleweed Junction sent me one of  her harvest aprons to try, I was excited. No more stained, stretched out shirts! No more dropping tender fruit as I walked to the kitchen! And in fact, I've found the apron quite convenient. I just whip it on as I head out to the yard - just in case I find something I might want to harvest. It's light weight and comfortable, but sturdy enough for anything I might want to harvest in my yard.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Tumbleweed Junction's aprons. They are made from high end quilting fabric (designed to last!), not the cheap sewing fabric sold in too many chain fabric stores. The sewing is also extremely well done. Honestly, better than I could do - and I've been sewing since Jr. High.

I find the apron works extremely well for light-weight food, including eggs, herbs, lighter weight veggies (like beans and peas), and smaller quantities of heavier veggies and fruits. Recently, a friend brought me some lemons from her out-of-state yard, so I checked to see how well the apron would handle something heftier. It did just fine with probably 1 - 1 1/2 lbs. of lemons, but when I tried to fill the apron up all the way, I found I needed to hold the top of it with one hand, or the lemons would spill out.

Another thing I love about this apron is that people of many sizes can use it. I am currently a size 16 (but heading toward smaller sizes!), and some aprons just don't fit me well. They don't have complete coverage, and/or their strings are too short to tie around me comfortably. But this apron has neither problem - and it also fits my 9 year old daughter! Usually adult-sized aprons are overwhelmingly huge on her. That's not true with this apron. (In fact, she loves the apron so much, she's been doing most of the egg collecting, just so she can wear it.)

Occasionally, Tumbleweed Junction offers this apron in a child's size. Lorretta tells me that if there's enough interest in the child-sized version, she'll offer it more often - and may even start selling mother-daughter matching aprons, too. I'm sure you could contact her via Etsy if you're interested.

Also, Lorretta just began offering a sewing pattern for this apron - both the adult and child's sizes all in one package - so you can make this harvest apron yourself, should you wish. It's a nicely printed pattern, too, with color illustrations and clear instructions.

Overall, I'm loving my Tumbleweed Junction harvest apron.It definitely makes life around this urban homestead a bit easier. To order your own harvest apron, click on over to Tumbleweed Junction's Etsy shop.

Jun 23, 2015

How to Prevent Animals from Eating Your Hens' Eggs

Have you ever discovered partially eaten eggs in your hens' nesting box? Or maybe you just aren't getting as many eggs as you think you should be getting, and believe some type of animal is eating your hens' eggs? Yep, I've been there and done that. Here's what I've learned.

Who is the Culprit?

The first thing to consider is whether or not your hens may be eating their eggs. If you find eggs that are completely empty on the inside, with scattered, broken shells in the nesting box or surrounding area, this might be the case. Read my post "When Hens Eat Their Eggs" for more information.

If you find eggs that have only one or two holes in them, and there is still some egg left in the shells, this is not likely caused by your hens. (Chickens eat eggs like I eat chocolate; I don't leave any chocolate behind, and chickens don't leave yolk or much whites behind, either.) However, this may very well be caused by wild birds, like jays.

If you think you have missing eggs, first consider whether your hens might just not be laying well. (See "8 Reasons Chickens Stop Laying Eggs" for details.) Or perhaps they are laying somewhere else in your yard. If this isn't the case, and assuming your hen house and run are well proofed against larger creatures like raccoons, the most likely culprits are snakes or rats. (Rats or mice will also sometimes chew on chicken tail feathers, so if you see indications of this, it's a strong sign rodents are the problem.)

There are several types of jays in the U.S. and all are voracious egg eaters. 

How to Keep Wild Birds Out of the Hen House

The first line of defense against wild birds is an outdoor, domestic house cat. It doesn't matter whether the cat is a "birder" and actually catches and kills birds. Wild birds will see the cat on your property and stay away. (If you have acreage, several cats may be in order.) Cats work so well that I never had any problem with birds eating our hens' eggs - or our berries - until after my little kitty died. Then suddenly, jays were everywhere, scolding me because I was removing eggs from the hen house.

Another easy way to deter wild birds is to tie ribbons around the hen house. They wave in the wind, scaring wild birds away.

However, the best protection against wild birds - and one every chicken owner should consider, since bird flu is being spread to chickens via wild birds - is a cover for the chicken run. This can be expensive, but assuming your run and hen house are attached, it will definitely keep wild birds from eating your hens' eggs. (It will also keep hawks from killing your chickens and will keep just about every type of wild life away from your hens.)

Cats scare birds away and may kill rodents, too.
How to Keep Rodents Out of the Hen House

Rats must adore hen eggs, because they risk their life whenever they enter the hen house; chickens love to eat rodents. But nevertheless, rats and mice sometimes do get into the hen house to eat chicken feed, drink the hens' water, and eat eggs.

If you're thinking rodents are the problem, first examine the hen house for holes that rodents could slip through. General wisdom is that a hole the size of a dime is big enough for a mouse to get through - but I've seen them slip through considerably smaller holes. Plug all holes or slits with steel wool. You may also need to look at your run fencing, and consider covering it with screening material. Collecting your eggs at least once a day also helps deter mice and rats.

If rodents are tunneling under the hen house, you should raise it off the ground. You could also bury hardware cloth around the edges of your coop and run - about 18 inches below the surface of the soil.

It's also important to keep the area around the hen house tidy. By keeping weeds and grass down, removing any scrap lumber or metal, getting rid of brush piles, and the like, you avoid providing homes for rodents. And by keeping feed in metal containers with snug lids (rats can eat through plastic), you won't be inviting rodents to your yard for other tasty snacks.

In addition, keep the hen house itself tidy, cleaning up any feed that ends up on the floor. Use pellets, instead of more messy crumbles, and use waterers with nipples, so rodents aren't likely to use them.

You may be tempted to use rat or mouse poison - but this could inadvertently kill your hens, too. And if a rat or mouse dies in the hen house or run, the chickens will eat it, and may experience second hand poisoning second hand.

A snake that's just eaten an egg.
How to Keep Snakes Out of the Hen House

Chickens like to eat snakes, too, but sometimes a brave snake will sneak into the hen house to swallow an egg whole. The biggest deterrent here is to raise the chicken coop off the ground. Snakes are unlikely to slither up a ramp to get into a chicken coop. You can also look for holes in the coop that may need filling in -  a 1/4 inch hole or slit is plenty big for most snakes. If that doesn't work, you'll need to look at putting screening up along the edges of the run (as opposed to chicken wire or something similar), so snakes can't get through.

Incidentally, if snakes are attracted to your hen house, it may be because there are rodents there, too.

In Conclusion

You can keep all egg-eating pests at bay by following these simple steps:

* Raise the hen house off the ground.
* Fill any and all holes in the hen house with either steel wool or a tough screening material.
* Keep the coop, run, and nearby areas tidy.
* Cover the run. (If you can't do this right away, tie streamers around the hen house to scare birds.)
* Use finer material (like screening) on the run.
* Use raised feeders filled with pellets.
* Use waterers with nipples on them.
* Store feed in a metal container with a secure lid.
* Collect eggs at least once a day.
* Lock the coop up at night.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and MorgueFile.

Jun 17, 2015

When Hens Eat Their Eggs: Advice that REALLY Works!

Imagine one day opening up a nesting box to gather your hens' eggs - and discovering a scattered bunch of egg shells instead. If you own hens for very long, it will happen at some point. Though chickens can be wonderful mothers, they don't usually have motherly feelings toward their eggs. (Unless they are broody.) Hens are happy to eat their own eggs - in fact, they think they are a fine treat!

But you aren't raising pets here. You want those eggs for your family. So what can you do? First, I encourage you to act right away. The longer you let chickens eat their eggs, the harder the habit is to break. And the egg eaters in your flock won't keep their crimes to themselves; other hens in the flock will see them feasting "forbidden fruit" and will start eating their eggs, too.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Internet myths about keeping chickens from eating their own eggs. So let me tell you what I know works, from experience.

Make Sure it's the Hens

First, make sure the eggs are being eaten by the hens, not some other critter. When chickens eat eggs, they eat the entire inside of the egg, leaving only broken shells behind. If you suspect whole eggs are missing, or the shells are only partially open and there's plenty of egg inside them, your chickens aren't the culprit. (Next week, I'll type about other critters that could be eating your hens' eggs, and how to deal with them.)

What remains after a chicken eats its own egg.

Decoy Eggs

Sometimes you can fool hens by giving them something that looks like an egg, but is unappetizing to them. (Filling real egg shells with hot sauce or mustard or anything else doesn't work. Don't waste your time, my friends!)

In my experience, the best tool for this is golf balls. Yeah, I know they don't look like eggs to you and me, but I have yet to meet a hen who - upon discovering them in a nesting box - doesn't treat them like eggs. You could potentially use some sort of false egg, too, but be sure that whatever you use is safe for the hens to peck at. For example, I wouldn't use a toy plastic egg, because I don't want my chickens breaking it and accidentally ingesting plastic.

Put about three fake eggs in all the nesting boxes. Egg eating hens will peck at them. When they discover they aren't good for eating, they will likely stop pecking at real eggs, too. Soon, they will forget all about eating eggs. (Chickens have terrible long term memories!)
Golf balls or ceramic decoy eggs fool egg eating chickens.
Gathering Often

But the single best thing you can do to keep your chickens from eating eggs is to collect eggs often. In fact, not doing this often leads to an egg eating problem. The hens step into a full nesting box and get clumsy, stepping on an egg. When it breaks, they get curious and peck at it. They discover eggs are yummy and now they want to peck at and eat all eggs. (This is also another good reason to make sure your hens are getting plenty of calcium, since a lack of it makes their egg shells very thin and fragile. Great sources of calcium for hens include oyster shells and the chickens' own egg shells. Just be sure to break egg shells up so they no longer resemble an egg, or you'll just encourage egg eating.)

If I discover I have one or more egg eaters, I try to collect the eggs (or at least check for some) every hour until all the hens have laid for that day. If you can't check every hour, check as often as you can.

Dispatching the Offender

I've never had the above methods not work. But if they didn't, I wouldn't bother with other advice you mind find on the Internet. I've been there, done that, and found it doesn't work. Instead, I wouldn't hesitate to disbatch the offending chicken. It can be tricky to know who the criminal is, and you certainly don't want to kill the wrong hen, so careful observation is necessary. Throughout the day, look closely at the hens, and try to find one with egg on her face - er, beak.

However, you can avoid sending a hen to the freezer simply by being an observant chicken owner, catching the problem early, and using decoy eggs and frequent gathering, as appropriate.

May 6, 2015

Eggshells for Slug and Snail Control: Do They Really Work?

I live where slugs and snails are everywhere. And I'm always looking for ways to keep them from destroying my vegetable garden. So naturally, all those Pinterest posts about using eggshells for slug and snail control caught my interest. It's one of the few tricks I haven't tried.

I've tried beer traps. They work great, but you must dump out the drowned slugs/snails every day and replenish the beer. I've tried copper borders. These work great, zapping the slugs/snails so they don't want to cross the copper - but they are only practical if you have raised beds or containers...and even then, only work so long as no leaves cross them and no dirt gets on them. I always hand pick and crush snails (sometimes putting boards down for them to hide under, so I know exactly where to find them), and I feed slugs to my chickens. (My current flock won't eat snails, whereas my last flock loved them.) But still, there are always more, more, more slimy creatures who think my garden is a smorgasbord. 

So usually, I sprinkle Sluggo everywhere. This definitely works, and (unlike most similar products) it's safe for non-slimey critters. The trouble is, I need it most during our rainy springs - and it has to be re-applied after every rain. Which becomes expensive. Plus, when do slugs and snails love to come out? When it's raining! Some years, the rain has been so persistent, I've had to totally replant my vegetable garden because slugs/snails have completely destroyed my original crop.

So eggshells seem like a perfect answer. They are readily available - totally self-sustainable, since we have backyard chickens. And they don't become less effective due to rain. Theoretically, I should only have to apply them once - maybe twice - in the growing season, because they break down quite slowly. (Which is an added bonus: They feed nutrients to the soil, helping to fertilize next year's crop.)

But the question is: Do they really work? That's what I set to find out.

How to Use Eggshells to Deter Slugs and Snails

1. As you use eggs, hang on to the shells. I put mine in a plastic shopping bag that hung from a hook in my kitchen. I didn't bother to rinse the egg shells; I just plopped them into the bag after cracking the eggs. Odor wasn't a problem.
2. Let the egg shells dry for a couple of days, at least. I waited until my bag was full, then let them sit an additional two days. Some of the eggshells weren't perfectly dry, but this was not a problem.

3. A little at a time, I put the eggs in my food processor and pulsed them. (I tried the coffee grinder first, since that's what I'd seen done on Pinterest. It didn't work at all. You might be able to use a blender, though I've not tried it. Either way, I think a food processor or blender is better, since they are easy to sanitize. If you could find a coffee grinder that works on eggshells, I'd recommend dedicating it just for that purpose, since coffee grinders are difficult to clean thoroughly.)

When I was done, the eggshells looked like this:

4. Finally, using a tablespoon, I liberally sprinkled the ground eggshells around my spring seedlings. The eggshells work because they hurt the slug/snail to cross, so don't be stingy with them, and make sure you get them all the way around your plants.

5. Then I waited.

The Good News:
It rained lightly. I watered several times. And slugs and snails did not eat my seedlings! And I sure love the cost of this organic pest control.

The Bad News:
When I watered, the eggshells did jump around a little, and some got covered by soil. I imagine a hard rain would knock them around more. So I will have to reapply more often than I initially thought.

Also, grinding the eggshells in my food processor scratched the plastic cup badly. I'm going to have to reserve that cup just for processing eggshells. In the future, I may experiment with crushing the shells with a rolling pin or something similar. (But if you try this, know that the eggshells must be ground pretty finely or they won't deter slugs and snails.)

If you have leftovers, you can either store them in an air tight container for a later applications, or you can offer them to your hens in place of oyster shell. Laying hens need plenty of calcium or they'll have health problems. Their own eggshells provide it nicely. (It's important,however, to crush the eggshells; not only does this make them easier for chickens to consume, but it prevents hens from identifying food with their eggs. Trust me, you don't want chickens that eat eggs from their nesting box!)

Jun 11, 2014

Predator Proof Your Chicken Coop and Run

This spring, I've heard too many sad stories about chickens being killed by predators. Whether in an urban setting or in the country, keeping chickens safe from predators is a top concern. In the suburbs, your chickens are in danger from cats, dogs, rats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, owls, and hawks. In more rural areas, add to that foxes, cougars, bobcats, weasels, wolves, and coyotes. The good news is, with a little know-how, you can do a lot to protect your flock of chickens.

 Predator-Proofing the Chicken Coop

* Any doors - including those on nesting boxes - must have locks. But not just any locks. Raccoons, in particular, are amazingly adept at opening locks, so make sure it's a two step lock, like the one below.
This lock requires pushing to one side and lifting.
* Do not use any chicken wire on the coop. Despite it's name, it's entirely inappropriate for a chicken coop or run because raccoons, especially, can reach through it. Though they can't pull the chicken out through the holes in the wire, they will strangle chickens or pull out their heads and bite them off. Instead, use hardware cloth - which is a very fine wire mesh (with no larger than 1/4 inch openings).

* Put hardware cloth securely over any openings in the coop. Snakes, weasels, and some other predators can get through tiny holes. Use hardware cloth (not window screens) over ventilation windows or any other openings not secured by a door. Don't use staples to attach the hardware cloth; it's too easily pulled out by raccoons and other predators. Use screws and washers instead.

A raised chicken coop.
* Some animals will dig under the walls of the coop and try to get inside a coop without a secure floor; to prevent this lay hardware cloth down at least 12 inches below the soil, then put the coop on top.  If, for some reason, this isn't possible, dig a trench around the coop and bury the hardware cloth into the ground.

* Some chicken owners also like to use a strand of hot wire around the bottom of the coop. Predators who try to get under the coop will receive a shock that will deter, but not kill, them.

* Lift the coop off the ground by at least a foot. This discourages rats, snakes, and skunks. (And if you raise it a few feet, the chickens will enjoy this shady area on hot summer days.)

* Always make sure your chickens are locked up in their coop no later than dusk. A little before dusk is better, since many predators come out the second dusk occurs.

Predator-Proof the Chicken Run
This chicken run is covered not only by netting, but by the cover of a tree.

* Don't leave food in chicken run overnight. This just invites predators nearby.

* To protect chickens from hawks - and from the mingling of wild birds that might spread disease - cover the run. This can be done with bird or deer netting, or with hardware cloth.

* As additional protection from predators, and to give the chickens some shade, consider covering part of the run with vines (of a type that aren't poisonous to chickens), or place under the limbs of a tree.

* Consider a hot wire for the run, as well.

Protecting Free Range Chickens
A simple chicken tractor.

* Consider putting free range chickens in an ark or moveable run. To make it even more secure, you can put a hot wire around the bottom edge.

* Offer chickens cover, where they can flee hawks and other predators. Good cover includes bushes, piles of branches with small openings for chickens to run into, and dog houses.

May 21, 2014

How to Get the Most Eggs from Your Chickens

As far as I'm concerned, hens should lay one egg every day. But many other chicken owners seem shocked when I say this - as if it's an impossibility. But really, it's not. If you want to optimize your chickens' egg laying, here are my best tips.

1. Choose the right breed. Some breeds are much better layers than others. If eggs are a priority for you, you'll need to select a breed that lays very well( 6 - 7 eggs a week). The easiest way to research this is to check a breed chart, like this one. Likewise, don't choose bantam hens. While they are cute and small, so are their eggs. That means you'll use twice as many of their eggs when cooking. They make nice pets, but aren't good egg producers.

2. Get the right feed. Chicks need chick feed. Pullets need starter feed. But once hens are of laying age, they need a quality layer feed. Make sure your hens have access to both feed and water 24/7.

3. Avoid supplemental food. All chickens need regular access to grit and oyster shell or ground eggs. But feeding them lots of supplemental food - like table scraps - actually reduces their egg production. I do give our hens food scraps, but I can always tell when I've given them too much; suddenly I go from one egg a day from each hen, to hens who take days off from laying. Incidentally, this also applies to "chicken treats" such as mealy worms and corn/scratch.

4. Avoid stress. Hens who are stressed don't lay well. Stress can include a flock that's too large, being in a run that's too small, moving, etc.

5. Consider winter. In the winter, when there's less light during the day, all hens will slow down in their egg laying. If you want to encourage better laying, you can add a light to the hen house. You can also choose a breed that tends to lay better in the winter, such as Australorps.

6. Keep 'em young. Sad but true; young hens lay considerably better than older ones. After the 3 year mark, few hens will continue laying an egg a day.

Feb 24, 2014

Ultimate Chicken Boredom Busters

Those of you who have chickens know they are a lot like toddlers: When they get bored, they can get into a whole lot of trouble. Whether your chickens get bored during winter weather or because you keep them in a run some of the time (or all of the time!), you may end up with hens who peck each other, eat their eggs, and develop other undesirable habits. To prevent this, chicken boredom busters are essential.

The best way to keep hens busy is to keep them doing what they do best: Scratching or eating. Here are my favorite boredom busters, from least favorite to what I consider the ultimate chicken boredom buster:

4. Flock Block. At nearly any feed store (or via Amazon), you can buy Flock Blocks. These are brick-like pieces of grains suitable for chickens. The key here is these blocks are hard and take a while for chickens to eat through. The downside is there will inevitably be waste - and Flock Blocks aren't cheap! Alternatively, you can make your own Flock Block. These may be more affordable, depending on local prices, and have the added advantage of being easy to hang from a longish string. (Trust me, hanging, swinging things are highly amusing to chickens!)

3. Miscellaneous Vegetables and Fruit. It's always a great idea to chuck weeds, grass clippings, and vegetable waste to your chickens. However, this won't keep the hens occupied for long - unless you have mountains of scraps. Some people try to prolong the boredom busting quality of veggies by giving their hens apples - but I find my chickens aren't very interested in these. Better bets include watermelons and winter squash. Despite the photo to the left (taken after a watermelon eating contest!), these foods will be better boredom busters if you cut them in half and make the girls work a bit for their food.

2. Cardboard. A better way to keep the girls active is to cover a portion of land with cardboard. It won't work to put it in the chicken run, because they will instantly start scratching at it - and that defeats the purpose of the cardboard. (Plus it'll make a mess). Instead, choose an area outside their run where you don't mind them scratching around. Lay down the cardboard and wet it well. After at least a month, lift up the cardboard and let the hens at it. The area will be filled with bugs, and will keep the girls happy for days.

1. Hanging cabbage. In my opinion, this is the ultimate chicken boredom buster. That's because the cabbage isn't just food - it's a game. And it's cheap! One hen pecks the cabbage and all the hens notice it swinging. Another hen pecks it, and it swings some more. It doesn't take long for the entire flock to enter into a rousing game of tether ball. An added bonus: A large cabbage takes hens quite a while to eat through. My six hens usually take at least three days to get through a large cabbage.

What are your favorite ways to keep your hens occupied?

Jan 1, 2014

How to Live on Almost Nothing and Have Plenty - a Book Review

There are a lot of homesteading and self-sufficiency books available these days, but in my experience, only a few are really worth reading. How to Live on Almost Nothing and Have Plenty by Janet Chadwick is certainly one of them.

What makes Chadwick's book unique isn't so much it's scope (it covers the typical homesteading topics, from gardening to caring for animals), but the fact that she's been living a mostly self-sufficient homesteading lifestyle for some time now. The most valuable parts of her book, then, are the wisdom and (often amusing) anecdotes she passes down to the reader.

The book begins with a little information about how and why Chadwick and her family chose to homestead, then proceeds to give some great advice about what to do in your homestead's first year. The supposition is that you aren't in an urban area, but that you have at least some land. Chadwick even gives a basic idea of how much you can expect to spend doing basic homesteading activities, like gardening and caring for animals.

Other chapters teach you how to start seedlings (conventionally, indoors); plant, care for, and harvest vegetables; grow fruit; keep bees (offering one of the more realistic guides I've seen, by the way); raise goats, hogs, rabbits, poultry (chicken, ducks, geese, and a wee bit on turkeys, which the author has never raised), and a veal calf. (The author argues that a small, self-sufficient homestead can't support a milk or meat cow through grazing or the growing of grain.) Throughout, I discovered advice I'd never heard or read before, even though I read a lot of gardening and homesteading books.

Ever practical, Chadwick explains why dairy and beef cattle aren't practical for a small, self-sufficient homestead. (You can't grow enough food for them, so you'd have to bring in feed - which makes cattle raising not self sufficient.) She explains how to choose the best animals for your homestead, and all the information you need to house and care for their basic needs. The last two chapters are mostly recipes - recipes you probably won't find in a cookbook. For example, you'll learn how to cook an old hen, make headcheese, render lard, and cook a rabbit or a goat. You'll also find recipes for making basic soap, cheese, candles, and such. In addition, Chadwick gives readers the basics on how to make an indoor seed starting center (that looks something like a bookshelf, plus grow lights), a simple smokehouse, homemade dehydrator, cheese press, and many housing requirements for homestead animals.

My only real complaint about this book is the title, which I find a little misleading. Sure, the author shows readers how to raise or grow almost all of their food, but that is only part of living. The title implies Chadwick might also discuss things such as affording the land for a homestead, clothing the family inexpensively, and energy. But she does not.

Nonetheless, Chadwick packs an amazing amount of information into a 271 page book. More even than The Backyard Homestead (another guide I highly recommend, but which lacks personal anecdotes and advice). For anyone striving toward the homestead life, How to Live on Almost Nothing and Have Plenty is a must read.