Rearing organic hens (part two)
Varieties of Layer HensRhode Island Red hens are the well-known layers of the “colored” eggs that can be found all over the world. This variety is originally from Ancient China and was established as a breed in Little Compton, in the state of Rhode Island, United States, at the beginning of the 19th century, from which place it gets its name of course. It is a very comprehensive breed, also good as pets, but they are happiest when they have wide open living spaces bordered by good quality poultry netting. They are good mothers to their chicks and don’t fly due to their heavy weight. Their striking shiny plumage is a deep chestnut red color. Their eyes are red and orange, their feet are yellow and their beaks are a reddy-brown color. Their chicks have red and brown feathers with two dark brown stripes along their backs. The roosters tend to weigh a little under 4 kilos and the hens, a little under 3 kilos. These beautiful and much-loved hens, along with the rooster, are resilient birds which adapt perfectly to living in a small rear patio area or small garden, if they are looked after well and with love. We recommend them above other breeds for urban chicken coups which use plastic chicken wire or hexagonal poultry wire. This is a very strong and robust breed, capable of laying around 260 eggs a year, which is more than any other thorough bred chicken breed. Because of this, the Rhode Island Red has been used from the beginning as a basis for the creation of many other thoroughbreds or hybrids that now exist for the purposes of egg production. During the autumn and winter months, when we have less daylight hours and shorter days, the birds begin to grow new feathers and the amount of eggs produced is reduced. Then, in spring, they go back to producing their normal quantity of eggs. For every hen year on year, egg production falls by around 20%. Organically produced eggs have more vitamin D, E folic acid and vitamin B12. They also have 1/3 less cholesterol than hens which are grain-fed. Above all, they are not fed antibiotics or hormones.
Mobile Chicken House made using poultry wireA mobile chicken house is made from hexagonal poultry wire to form a caged structure without a floor section, which can be put on wheels to move and rotate it in the patio or garden. The birds keep the grass trim while feeding on the grass and fertilize the ground and the poultry wire keeps them safe inside. The mobile chicken house could be used to let the chickens graze during the day and then return them to the yard in the evening so they can be protected whilst they sleep. If you don’t have a lot of room at your disposal, the mobile chicken house can also be used as their main home. Inside they will need to have feeders and troughs constantly available, boxes for their nests, sand, plus a floor covering like sawdust to cover the ground. A robust poultry net will be needed for extra protection. The method consists in using the chickens to work the ground like farm workers, leaving the house on the same plot for several days. If the ground is not able to provide enough nourishment for the birds, a food material can be added each day such as grass, dry leaves or hay. The plot will be left without any grass thanks to the birds and fertilized by their manure, leaving only the need to add mulch (a covering of vegetation) and then sow seed. Just like humans, the hens need a varied diet so it’s vital that they feed on grass, vegetables and pulses. They also need cereals including of course the best and their cereal of choice, maize. High protein foods can also be included by breeding worms. So from now on, don’t hesitate to ask at your local greengrocers for all that fruit and vegetables that they can’t sell and will be thrown out. Also, if you have a good amount of layer hens you could also change part of your egg production into garden products from other permaculturists or sell them at Organic Fairs. Finally, to keep a healthy chicken house you need to give them a good diet, adding 2 or 3 mashed up garlic cloves to their water and occasionally feeding them wormwood and rue to prevent parasite, have sawdust in the chicken houses, use a good quality chicken wire to construct the coop, prevent it from becoming overly damp and allow enough room for each chicken. Treat each animal with love and respect, whether they provide you with food or just company, but don’t let the same happen to you as it did to me – I ended up giving more attention to my chickens than my cat.
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