Sunday, July 22, 2012

Predators, Schmedators.

When we first started this venture, Tina and I were concerned about the possibility of a marauding predator conducting a late night raid on our field pen. The pen we built isn't particularly sturdy - it's made up of 2x2s, chicken wire and corrugated plastic. Fort Knox, it ain't. Although the predators we have around here - coyotes, raccoons, mink, opossum - aren't generally a threat to people, they're more than capable of decimating our little flock. And chicken wire definitely isn't going to keep a hungry coyote out. I've even heard stories of raccoons reaching through the wire, grabbing a wing or a leg, pulling it through and gnawing away while the chicken is still alive on the other side of the fence.

Fortunately, we haven't lost a single bird to predators. We haven't even seen evidence that any critters have tried to get at them. I think there are probably three reasons for this.

First, we've kept the pens as far away from the forest as possible. The chickens are camped out in the the middle of the open field. There is no cover anywhere and I suspect that acts as a deterrent to anyone looking for an easy meal. They'd have to put themselves at risk by crossing a couple of open acres close to the house.

And that brings me to my second point - those open acres are inhabited by two horses, a llama and an alpaca. Now, my horse has a live and let live kind of attitude. She'd let a coyote cross the field no problem as long as it left her alone. Tina's horse is another story. He hates dogs with a fiery, burning passion and would be more than happy to chase a coyote down and stomp it into the ground. Dalai the llama is a big wimp and not a threat to anyone but Paco the alpaca LOVES dogs. He plays with my and Tina's dogs all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if he charged up to a coyote and tried to start a game. He'd come in peace but the coyote definitely wouldn't know that.

Finally, there are four dogs that spend a significant portion of every day out in that field. They pee, poop and roll all over the place. That whole field has to reek of dog. I'm not convinced that any of the dogs would actually defend the chickens but perhaps the coyotes, raccoons, etc just don't want to risk it? My dog, Cairo, actually did run down a coyote once. When he caught up to it he tried to play with it. Such a great guard dog. Maybe we'll just keep that a secret from the local coyote population so they stay away!

Cairo says, "Don't mess with my chickens!"

I know it looks like Cairo is tormenting Paco but Paco actually starts it most of the time. He follows the dogs around and jumps at them to get them to play.

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Digs

I've been so bad about posting lately that I don't even know where to start. I guess first things first: all 39 chicks survived the move from brooder to field pen and are doing very well. Initially we had all 39 in the 6X8 pen that we raised our original but it's gotten way too squishy so last night we finished building a new pen and transferred 24 of them over. The new pen is 8x8, so they'll have more room than the previous batch did.

Just moved outside. The chicks say "Holy cow, what's going on here???"

Building the new bigger and better pen.

We're using a different food for these chicks. Last time we bought our feed from our friend Dave but I can't remember where he got it from. This time we're buying the organic 17% broiler grower/finisher from the Otter Co-op. The chickens are growing well but they definitely don't like it as much as the feed we bought from Dave. They waste more and I've noticed there are more grain husks in this mix. I should probably give Dave a call and arrange to pick up a few bags from him but I just haven't gotten around to it. We've got a pretty significant range in size right now, so it will be interesting to see what the average weight is when they're dressed out.

On the plus side, these birds seem to be more active foragers than the last group. I'm not sure why - maybe because we've actually got some decent grass finally? We move the pen morning and evening and they go to town the second the pen slides onto a patch of fresh grass. It's pretty great to see!

The good weather means that the grass is finally growing. Unfortunately, so are the stinging nettles!