Fermented Grain for Chickens 2.0

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I wrote some time ago about fermenting grain for my chickens. Back then I was doing it in a large glass jar in my kitchen. Yeah, that was never going to last.

Last fall I started getting serious about fermented grain. I tried so many times to grow fodder for my hens over the winter, but nothing I did could prevent mold from taking over every tray. I wanted the girls to have something ‘alive’ to eat during the cold months, so I set up a 5 gallon bucket beside the coop and dumped in a bunch of different grains and covered them with water. That’s about how hard it is to get started.

Currently I use whole corn (it’s crimped in the photos because the feed store gave me the wrong stuff last trip), whole wheat, whole black oil sunflower seeds, whole millet, whole oats, whole barley and some wild bird seed that the wild birds couldn’t care less about.

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It worked great. I read somewhere that you could add layer pellets to the bucket too, but when I tried that I soon had a case of moldy top scum on my hands. I dumped that batch out and started over, and now I don’t put regular pellets or crumbles into the mix. I haven’t had any more issues with mold.

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After a while I got adventurous and started adding things. I got some kelp powder, turmeric, garlic powder and cayenne. Now each time I add new grain to the bucket a tablespoon of each supplement goes in too. It smells great and the birds love it. Not simply the chickens but also the pigeons, ducks and pheasants.

The cayenne keeps rats away and was the trick to jumpstarting my Ameraucana hen into laying again this spring after she seemed a bit ‘stuck’. Did you know cayenne is one of the ingredients in the special red-factor ‘color enhancement’ food you can buy for canaries?  Birds don’t have the ability to taste capsaicin so to them it’s just extra delicious.

 

 

Chick Update and New Brooder Finished

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The little chickens are now nearly five weeks old and they are maturing fast. Today they went outside for the first time to enjoy a little bit of the warm weather and sunshine.

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While they explored, I finished their new brooder as they have definitely outgrown the livestock watering trough they started out in. I decided on a 4′ by 3′ by 2′ high brooder, which is ok for this amount of chicks for now, but is designed to comfortably hold only about six growing chickens. It’s in my basement presently, but once the roof and perhaps floor has been added it will be moved outside .

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As soon as the cockerels start making themselves known, I will be selling off all but the best two or three pullets of each type. I’m pretty sure I know which Welsummers are roos, but the Cochin/Light Brahma crosses are not as obvious. I did see my favorite, the largest one, sparring with other chicks today while outside in a distinctly male-type way, but nothing is definite yet. If you’re interested in some chicks, you can reserve them now by contacting me.

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Meanwhile, the three bantam chicks have been separated out into their own small brooder. They are just too small to be in with all those big boisterous large fowl chicks and they were getting trampled. They’re much happier now.

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Chicks at 10 Days Old

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Well, all the baby chickens are doing great. Nobody has died, although there were a couple of mild cases of pasty butt, which is unusual here. I think the heat lamp may not have been quite low enough in the first couple of days.

They are a very nice batch of chicks, they all come running when I make my “chick, chick, chick” call, and they gather around my hand as though it were a mother hen.

I think you can tell a lot about the adult birds from the way they act as chicks. I’ve had very docile, calm chicks like Buff Orpingtons, and I’ve had very skittish chicks like my Black Copper Marans. Although my adult Maran hen is perfectly friendly now, she’s more interested in chicken things like being at the top of the pecking order and getting the best roost at night and yelling for fermented grain in the mornings. Whereas my Buff Orpingtons were more likely to follow me around while I was gardening and carry on chicken conversations with me.

I have my favorite chick picked out, of course:

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You may recall that I hatched out eight Light Brahma/Cochin cross chicks. This one is my favorite. She came out with the same partridge markings as the Welsummers, although the spots on her head are more ornate. She almost looks like a turkey poult to me, she’s surely the biggest of the bunch. I’m calling her “she”, because I’m hoping for a hen. Here’s a top view:

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After much online research I was unable to conclude whether Cochins and Brahmas are fast or slow feathering breeds. It seems that even color variation may play a part in which sex feathers out first, so all I know is that I have two fast feathering Cochins, and six slow feathering ones. My favorite chick, as you can see in the photos, is fast feathering. There is also a black Cochin chick who is fast feathering. So it could mean two things, either I have two hens and my favorite is a hen, or I have six hens and my favorite is a rooster. He/she is also one of the most friendly and outgoing chicks out of all of them, so does this lean towards roo? Either way something good will come out of these eight.

Below you can see an example of one of the slow feathering black Cochin cross chicks. You can see that his flight feathers are much shorter, he has almost no tail feathers coming in yet, and even his toe feathering is very slow.

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Here is one of the reddish-colored Cochin cross chicks that is also slow feathering. The wings are still just little nubs but the red lacing coming in on the flight feathers and toes looks very nice.

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Next up are the Welsummer chicks. Although they came from what I would consider very small pullet eggs, they are big, robust chicks that are pretty cool, calm birds. Welsummers can be sexed by color because they are born with the distinctive partridge pattern, and from what I can tell I seem to have four roosters and eight hens. I like those odds!

Female Welsummer chicks will have a defined dark V shape on the top of the head, a dark brown eye stripe, and two defined dark lines on their back. Here’s a top view photo of a future hen on the left and a rooster on the right.

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Here’s a side view of the female chick, you can see the dark eye stripe:

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And here’s a side view of the male chick, with a weakly defined eye stripe:

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And a pair of females seen from the side and from above:


Last but not least are the three tiny Old English Game chicks. They were all fast feathering and of course I’m hoping for all females. They are growing very slowly compared to the large fowl chicks and I may have to separate them out in the next few weeks, since I use a hanging nipple waterer and everyone has to be able to reach it. They’re so tiny I can’t see that being much of a bother though!

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Chickens Have Hatched

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Today is day 21, and my chicken eggs have mostly all hatched. I got a 100% hatch rate from my Welsummer eggs, which is great as they were the most expensive. I also got three little black OEG banties, and eight Cochin/Light Brahma crosses. The Cochin crosses are very hefty chicks and they’re so cute with their little fluffy feathered legs and feet.

I just returned home and set them all up with food and water in their brooder. So far they are pretty much just resting and continuing to fluff up. The Welsummers can be sexed by color, and I bought some leg bands today to mark the suspected roos and see how they turn out. The Cochin crosses I will attempt to feather sex after they’re a couple of days old.

So, out of 42 eggs we have 23 live chicks. Everyone looks healthy with straight feet and they all hatched right on time, so I think the incubator conditions were pretty much bang on. Always good to know.

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Day 13: Candling Eggs

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Today is day 13 of my chicken egg incubation, and I decided to take a few minutes to candle and check fertility. I do this by turning off the lights and using a high-powered LED flashlight held up against the eggs to check for a large dark mass and veins, which is the developing chick inside.

I’m happy to report that all 12 of my expensive Welsummer eggs seem to be fertile and developing well. They’re harder to see into because the shells are so dark, so hopefully I’m right about that.

I did find that six of the Old English Game eggs and seven of the Cochin/Light Brahma were duds. I had been wondering if the OEG eggs with the mottling that looked a little bit like wet paper or moisture seepage through the shell would develop, and it turns out they did not. I’ll be careful not to incubate eggs showing this mottling from now on.

Above you can see the rejects that came out of the incubator and are destined to be dog food. We’re now down to 29 eggs due to hatch in eight more days. Stay tuned!

Part 1: First Big Chicken Hatch – Day 1

 

 

First Raised Bed Filled

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I took a couple of hours today in the sunshine to fill up the first raised bed I built. I need this bed filled before I can start on the other beds, because there are a few things that need transplanting when I clear the area, like my leeks.

The entire top half of this bed was filled with earth taken from my chicken pen floor. A little over a year ago my lovely boyfriend dug out the pen about a foot deep and we filled it in with wood chips. These did a really good job of keeping the mud down and providing the chickens a loose surface to scratch. It also mixed with the droppings and broke down over time into beautiful, rich black earth.

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It’s time to dig it out again and put in another load of wood chips, and luckily I had the bed ready to be filled. I probably transferred about 20 wheelbarrow loads out of there, and there’s easily another 20 to go which is good because I’ll have another two huge beds to fill soon.  The chickens were beside themselves with joy at the layer of worms and fresh earth I uncovered for them.

I loaded it right to the brim as it will settle with time. I also plan to top dress it with some finished fish compost that I have left over from last spring. I can’t wait to get planting!

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First Big Chicken Hatch – Day 1

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Last year I incubated a dozen blue-green eggs I bought from the poultry swap. I had to turn them manually because my turner couldn’t accommodate both quail and chicken egg sized racks at the same time (boo!). Only three hatched, two were roos, and I was left with a single Ameraucana hen who is now the White Chicken.

This time we are doing things properly and using the egg turner. Somehow, I have coordinated three types of fertile eggs for this hatch, and we have a completely full tray of 42 eggs.

First I have black Old English Game bantams which are the small white eggs. There are ten of these and they were from the same person who I got Tiny Chicken from. They were free, but there will be trades happening in return for them later on. Considering the size of the birds these eggs came from, they’re pretty big! We all know how much I love Tiny Chicken and I wouldn’t mind a couple more like her. She is small enough to be allowed to free range without damaging plants,  and she has an awesome personality.

Then we have the light brown eggs, which are from a mixed flock of Cochin and Light Brahma that I met at the farm I was getting my new Standard Rex breeders from. They were $10 per dozen and I’m only setting 20 of them because of space constraints. They are a beautiful mix of colors and should be interesting birds. Cochins are the large breed from China that spurred “Hen Fever”, the chicken fad that swept across America and Britain in the 1850’s, inspired by Queen Victoria’s own aviaries.

The gorgeous dark brown eggs in the middle are Welsummer or Welsumer eggs. They were purchased from a nearby breeder and cost $30 per dozen. Yes I know. The eggs are rather small and from young birds, so that may be an issue. When I was picking them up the seller also mentioned that her birds are quite small, and I’m not sure if that’s standard for the breed. The Welsummers that I had last year seemed around the same size as my other large fowl, so we’ll see how it turns out. I do like those dark brown eggs!

Of course, there’s no way I can keep all these chickens. My plan is to sell or trade off almost all of them and only keep a few of the nicest hens to refresh my stock. The Welsummers can be sexed by color and I’m hoping to successfully feather sex the Cochins at hatch. The females should have longer wing and tail feathers than the males. This may work with the bantams too, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure what I’ll do with all the males. I’ll have to keep some for at least a little while to know if my feather-sexing technique has worked. Nobody will want to buy them, that’s for sure. And if they start to crow, they have to go.

I did try to find more Ameraucana hatching eggs, but the only person who responded to my ad was selling them for $40 per dozen. For that, I can buy a pair of ready to lay Ameraucana pullets at the poultry swap. No thanks.