Monday, January 24, 2011

6 good reasons to have yard birds

Long before the so-called free-range or organic egg fad popped up in our local super markets, thousands of ordinary people around the USA have been raising chickens for their source of fresh and healthy eggs.  These ordinary folks have also known the benefits of raising their own backyard chickens for many years. Besides the obvious benefit of a regular supply of eggs, here are six benefits of starting your own backyard flock. Now is a good time to purchase some chicks and have your own fresh eggs.

1) Healthier Eggs - In contrast to factory farm eggs, eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E, a third more vitamin A and 75 percent more beta carotene. They also have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs. The bottom line is that I have control of what I feed to my birds.

2) Tastier Eggs - Fresh eggs from backyard chickens have firmer whites and bright orange yolks due to beta carotene. The real difference is in the taste. Yard eggs have a more robust taste that is difficult to describe and hard to put your finger on but its there and its great.

3) Poop for compost -  Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen. Added to the compost bin they add more nitrogen and improve your compost. I clean out my coops regularly. Since I deep mulch my hen houses with hay my compost pile is a rich assortment of hay, poop, egg shells, coffee grounds and shredded paper from shredder. I use this to mulch my fruit trees and to make layered gardens.

4) Bug control - I do not use pesticides due to their harmful effects to the environment. My chickens hunt and peck around the yard gobbling up grubs, earwigs and other bugs, treating our garden pests as tasty, nutritious treats. I rarely see as many bugs as I did before. Bugs are a great protein source. There is nothing greater to watch then your chickens chasing down grasshoppers.

5) Good for the soul -  After a long day at work I will pull up a lawn chair and watch my chickens as they scratch around in the leaves and soil searching for the tastiest morsels. As they do, they aerate the soil and break down larger pieces of vegetation with their sharp talons, accelerating the decomposition process. There's something soothing about watching the nature channel in your own backyard.

6) Great for making friends and starting conversations - Neighbors and people in general are naturally curious about peeps who raise chickens. An amazing number of people I have met claim that they have always wanted to have chickens!  I’m not sure just what urge is calling all of us to gather together a little feathered flock, but I suspect a yearning for a simpler time when we were more connected with nature and our food was part of it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Its time to plant those peaches

Now is the time to plant your peach trees
Now is the perfect time to plant fruit trees in Texas. There will be many varieties to choose from and they are cheaper now than they will be at any other time of the year. Peach trees that are planted now will have an opportunity to establish a root system before warm spring temperatures force them to bloom and form leaves. Make sure to water and feed regularly. I clean out the used hay and mulch from my chicken coops. It is full of rich fertilizer that has been setting for a few months and the hay mulch keeps the tree roots warm. I pile it up thickly around the base of my young trees that I am planting. I keep it built up around all of my trees. Remember that peaches need lots of water, especially during the fruit development period. The rain should be sufficient in the fall and winter but in drought prone Texas, growers must haul out the hose every day during spring and summer. Growers that live in the driest parts of the state will need to keep a very close eye on their trees. Make sure to prune every winter to keep the tree fruiting. Pruning is one the most essential chores in peach tree production. If you buy a young, bare root tree with no branches, cut it so that it stands no more than several feet tall. After the new branches form, cut all but three of the sturdiest ones. They should be evenly spaced apart and 18 to 32 inches from the ground. Until the tree reaches 3 years of age, cut the three main branches back by one-third each winter. During the fourth winter and each winter thereafter, remove any crowded branches, base suckers and shoots. Keep the center of the tree open to allow sunlight to penetrate each part of the tree. Trees should be kept to a height of 10 to 12 feet.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mulching the henhouse- How to do it for free...almost

I am known to be pretty resourceful and believe in finding ways to take care of my needs with what I already have and not having to run to the store to spend money.  I have decided that there is a lot of free bedding for the taking if you know where to look.  My best friends property has a lot of pecan trees so I rake up bags and bags of leaves loaded with pecans.  I empty the bags, pecans and all right into the hen houses. Over time the pecans get smashed and the hens love them. They are little hidden treats. Next I will add hay that my neighbor bales. This is not fancy hay but just bailed straw from the fields that surround all the houses on our street. He mows their fields and bales it in return for the free straw. He than will sell me huge bails for 2 dollars and he delivers it. When our lawns get mowed and the bags are full, we empty the mower bag right into the coop.  The mower bag is full of mulched leaves, grass, and what ever other organic matter happened to be on the ground.  I also shred my white paper and old bills stir them in too. Of course I make sure that there aren't any staples, plastic or any other harmful products. Once the mulch in the hen house is a foot deep it has all it needs in it for a while, so we keep the rest of the mulch we make in large trash bags or in piles to be used where ever it is needed – be it in the coop or the garden. Once the coop has all the mulched leaves, grass and straw in it, I add in some sand.  I don’t ever give my chickens grit.  In general the grit is sold in tiny bags with a big price and I just can’t stand that.  So I buy sand.  Contractor’s sand is really good because it’s granules are in all different sizes.  But sometimes all I can find locally is play sand and that works fine too. So anyway, I add in some sand.  This will be all the more important once the weather starts to get much colder and the girls spend more of their time indoors. To finish it off,  I mix in some scratch every few days.  Not a lot, but just enough to get the girls to scratch through all the mulch, sand, and scratch.  In general, it encourages their natural tendencies to…well, act like chickens! I have to say my chickens appreciate this concoction.  At any given time I can look in my coop and find spots where they have made their little round lay down spots.  And I know for certain that there isn’t anything in the bedding that is not natural.  I know I pay for the sand, but I would do that regardless of what type of bedding I use.  So basically, I have plenty of bedding for my coop almost free! Another benefit of the deep layer method is that as the mulch in the hen house composts it warms up. When I walk into the house it does not feel too cold in the winter time. Of course the house needs to be built with a sound structure, leak proof roof, and good ventilation.I say my girls are worth it. After all they feed me eggs.

TIP: When you do clean out the old mulch it will perk up your garden plants and they will actually grow better than they would with some fertilizer that you purchased in the store.