3 Years, 1 Bucket – Fermented Grain for Chickens

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So, how does my fermented grain bucket look after 3 years of being refilled and never completely cleaned out or changed? Great!

Above you can see my 5 gallon bucket ready to be restocked. There’s about a gallon of liquid left and a few inches of grains. I always refill it before it gets too depleted because I want the goodness of all that mature bacteria to get spread around as much as possible.

Every morning my ducks get one scoop and my chickens and pigeons get two heaping scoops from this bucket and believe me, it’s the highlight of their day. They know they’ve been bad if I make them wait for it (like when they try to wake me up early for it by screaming bloody murder) and I like that I can continue to feed it all winter long and provide them with at least some type of “living” food when the plants are dead and gone.

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I add supplements every other time I refill the grains. I put in a good 2-3 TBSP each of kelp powder (the cheap stuff for gardens), garlic powder, cayenne powder and turmeric. I get these all for very cheap at a bulk store. Then they usually get two number 2 scoops of whole corn, two scoops of whole wheat, and a smaller scoop each of whole barley and black oil sunflower seeds. If I have other things lying around like wild bird seed that the wild birds don’t care for, I’ll dump that in too. The only thing I advise against using is pelleted or crumbled chicken feed. I tried that once and I got mold on top.

Everybody’s favorite is the (most expensive) corn and that gets gobbled up first. Least favorite and cheapest is the barley, but they eat it eventually. I always do my refill in the evening so the grains have a chance to absorb the liquid. I love the smell of the contents of the bucket, it reminds me of really good salad dressing!

 

 

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.

 

 

Three Little Pigs

DSC_0066It seems wrong to keep calling them squabs, I suppose technically they’re called squeakers now, which would make sense to anyone present during feeding time.

I have three little ones now, the most recent addition has a scar over his eye where I think he must have been injured as a young chick. It makes his eye look a little bit funny, like his eyelid is crooked. Hopefully it will grow out and be less noticeable with time.

Pigeons are very funny birds. I only had to bottle feed the first two for maybe a week, and they didn’t get the hang of it so I was basically force-feeding them every time just to make sure they had something in their crops. Even though I was providing food, they didn’t associate my hands with happy feelings and remained a bit skittish.

I decided to start exclusively hand-feeding them so they would think my hands were good things. To do that you need the emotional fortitude to leave baby birds in a cage with no food for at least 24 hours. Not easy! But once they were really hungry, after a lot of patient waiting, Fifty finally starting pecking from my hand. On seeing this, the other two immediately joined in. Pigeons really notice things like that.

DSC_0052Baby number three is a little happier with me since he never needed force-feeding. To him my hands are not quite as scary. However he would probably have not begun eating on his own so quickly without the other two to show him how.

I do allow them to come out of their cage sometimes now after feeding, which I think is a mistake. Since they are full, they don’t really care about going back in, they want to explore. Then I end up having to chase and catch them which just makes them scared of my hands again. I need to train them to come out of the cage when hungry, then go back in to be fed. I think this can be done by luring them out to a little bit of food in a consistent location, and then back to the cage for the rest of the meal. They need to be trained to go back in the cage by themselves on command.

There looks like there may be a fourth white squab in development in the loft. I expect it will be a piece of cake to continue to train new birds once I have them living with well-trained older ones. They will just copy exactly what the older birds do, like good little pigs.

Stay tuned for a post about an exotic new addition to the coop!

White Squabs’ First Flight

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Here is Fifty. I think she’s a female.

The two white squabs have been living in the barn for a few weeks now, getting used to their new accommodations. They are fully feathered out at this point and have been handled regularly. Today while I was working outside, I decided to take them out of their cage to see what they would do.

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This is Fifty One. I think he’s a male.

Fifty and Fifty One as they are affectionately known, are very nice little birds. They were taken out and placed on top of their cage where they observed me with great interest as I took care of all my rabbit chores. As their courage built up, they hopped and flew around a bit, checking out the tops of the rabbit cages and pecking at spots on the windowsills.

DSC_0044I had purposely not fed them before letting them out and had only given them a small meal yesterday. I went over to see them every once in awhile to talk to them, pick them up or give them pets. Fifty is a little better with being picked up than Fifty One. Maybe it’s because she was the one who fell out of the nest a few weeks back.

DSC_0056After a little while they flew up to the door and hung out there, heads peeking out into the sunshine. It was very sweet to see two little white doves gracing the entryway.

DSC_0060 DSC_0070I was feeding the quail chicks when I heard and felt flapping wings near my head. The squabs had flown to the top of the chicken coop, attracted by the sounds of the other pigeons. I was a little worried. Would they come back down or keep exploring?

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You can barely see them against the sky

Thankfully after about five minutes they gracefully flew back into the barn and landed on top of their cage. They were very proud of themselves, shaking their tails and preening. I told them they were very good birds, very smart, and put them back into their cage with some food. Have I mentioned what awesome pets pigeons make?

White Squabs Move In

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You can see the bruising on her beak, she’s the one on the left

Sometimes I get a sixth sense when it comes to the farm. This morning I woke up at 8am after just a few hours of sleep. Very unlike me.

I went outside to put out the trash and noticed a little white body in a puddle at the bottom of the chicken coop. Assuming it was an escaped quail, which does happen sometimes, I brought the trash to the curb and entered the coop to put the quail back where he belonged. Once inside I realized it wasn’t a quail, it was one of the white squabs. She was cold, muddy and had been pecked by the chickens. She had bloody bruises on her beak and the tip of the beak appeared to be fractured. I put her back in the nest beside her sibling and was going to go back to bed, when I decided she was just a little too cold and could probably use a little more help. I didn’t want to risk losing her. I brought her inside, washed her under warm water and wrapped her in a little towel. Then I put her in a plastic dishpan lined with newspapers in the bathroom with a hot water bottle beside her. Then it was back to bed.

Later once I woke up again, she had come out of her towel and was clean, warm and dry. Her beak was damaged, but not too badly. I checked my calendar and found that they were now three weeks old, which is pretty close to weaning age. I decided that this must be the sign that I should take them in for a little hand-taming. I went and retrieved the other squab and set them up both together in an unused rabbit cage in my kitchen. I made sure that the healthy squab got one good last feeding from his mom, and fed the injured squab some whole corn and wheat as they are used to eating in the coop. I also gave her a few syringes of water, which she drank slowly. I’m hoping that these two will help each other to learn to eat and drink on their own quickly and I will still hand feed them a few times a day if I don’t see them eating and drinking much on their own. It’s not too difficult or time consuming to hand feed baby pigeons.

After just one day, they are both already much more comfortable inside and the interested kittens aren’t stressing them out too much. Since I kind of wanted to hand raise them at about this age anyway, I’m pleased to have an excuse to do so. My goal is to have hand-tamed birds that I can handle without stressing them for when I train them for release. Since my flock of pigeons are all loose inside my chicken coop right now, it’s tough to catch any of them without causing a freak-out.

If I had put the trash out the night before as I usually do, I don’t think this baby would have survived. She was probably about an hour away from death when I found her. It occurred to me that if she had been a wild pigeon, simply falling out of the nest at that age is pretty much a death sentence.

Squab Update

DSC_0033Well, here is the first squab born here looking all grown up at 38 days old. Isn’t he handsome? It’ll be awhile yet before I actually know if it’s a hen or a cock. I’ve been using colored zip ties for banding thus far, but I’ll be ordering proper bands soon. At the rate everyone is reproducing I’ll need them.

DSC_0029And here are the first two pure white squabs born here at about two weeks old. They like to stand up and look menacing and click their beaks when I get too close, to scare me away. Too bad it doesn’t work! I banded both of them today and luckily didn’t have anybody die on me like last time. Phew! These two birds will be the first ones trained for release since they were born here, unlike their parents. I’m very excited for that.