Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lots to learn with chickens.

Today's grand plans for the blog post have gone awry as I forgot to bring the SD card with photos on them making it remarkably difficult to use the photos I'd need to look at our newest breeder on the farm, and do some conformation comparisons. That said, we have a new Creme on the homestead, Sunshine is her name. She is Dawn's sister that we didn't end up selecting because Dawn has a bigger hindquarters. So next week we'll do a proper introduction to her.

For now though, what are we going to talk about? As you can probably tell, the chickens. We've been learning about the chickens in a lot of different ways. One of the big ones is getting used to is just how persistent the chickens are. If they want to come out of the run it's quite difficult to keep them in, if they want to stay out, getting them in is basically impossible. Just like with dogs, sheep, horses, and people we've been finding the best way to work with chickens is to make them want to do what you want them to do.
In much the same way as dog training rewarding chickens is a sure way to get them to do what you want. Reward a behavior regularly and eventually when you can't reward it they'll still do it. The biggest examples we have are going back in to the run and mixing up the litter in the coop itself. Getting them back in the run is easy enough to understand, they like being out and about under tall undergrowth and the like, if we want them in we've trained them that "Here chick chick" means they will get scratch, so they come with you sprinting after with their chicken awkwardness. It means that even if you just call they'll usually come which can be helpful. If you have a yellow cup they definitely will whether it's full or not.
The one the Lady of the House figured out is really useful. We're doing sort of a modified deep litter method in the coop but that requires a bit of maintenance to keep it from smelling bad. The first couple of weeks we weren't doing so great at the keeping the smell down, but she noticed the chickens go crazy scratching around when scratch is put down. Let's use them instead of mixing up the litter ourselves. So, she tried putting scratch in the corners of the coop. When we came back the litter was very thoroughly mixed, so thoroughly mixed we had to redistribute it because they'd managed to move every bit of litter out of the center of the coop to the corners. Since we've started doing that every few days to a week the coop doesn't smell at all. The chickens obviously love it because they love the scratch, and we don't have to do as much work stirring the shavings up. Efficient ways to use their natural tendencies. On the note of cleaning up after chickens and keeping the smell down, between diatomaceous earth and dolamite lime we've managed to keep the smell down in the coop and the run. The old farm wisdom of scattering lime to "sweeten" the run definitely works. I don't personally know the science behind it, but if you're getting chickens have dolomite lime on hand!
Everyone mentions that chickens destroy everything in their run, so I'd like you to look Above from Tuesday, and Left from 2 weeks ago. It didn't take them long to maul the ground in the run. It makes us really understand what mean when they say that you have to watch for chickens getting a favorite spot because they'll denude it of everything living before they finally move on. Right now they seem to have two or three favorite spots, but we are going to be keeping an eye out to make sure they don't find one place and just destroy it when they're out free ranging.

The last thing to mention with the chickens is, we've made progress with the dog on how he interacts with the chickens. We can have him off leash and usually he won't try to startle them when they're in the run. Given his drive though I'm not sure we'll ever be able to have him off leash with the chickens free ranging. At least he doesn't feel the need to scare them just for fun when he sees them out though which is really the biggest step. As we have more time we will continue training him and try to get him calm around them at all times so maybe he can be out and loose at the same time they are.

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