Rescue Hen How-To

I ended up in the egg business because I couldn’t resist a 25¢ hen.

We were raising our very first batch of chicks, 25 New Hampshire Reds we got from Oregon State University. At the same time, a barn owl was raising its own offspring in our barn. One day, we saw one of the fledgling owls flying around at dusk: a beautiful sight. A little later we discovered the body of our sole rooster, which was probably the owl’s first kill. Oh, no!

So I called up OSU to see if they had a replacement rooster. “Sure,” I was told, “and plenty of hens, too. We’re having a hen sale.” I bought three replacement roosters, then lost my marbles and bought $7.50 worth of White Leghorn hens at 25¢ each. This brought our total flock up above 40 layers. read more...

Cold and Snow vs. Open Chicken Housing: Who Will Win?

Chickens in the Snow. 7:30 AM, 18°F, Light Wind

Chickens using range feeders in the snow
It’s 18 °F outside and there’s about four inches of snow on the ground. My chickens are all in open coops that most people would consider suitable only for summer housing, never for winter housing. Not even in my mild Oregon climate.

But I not only have open houses, but all my feeding and watering is done outdoors, year-round. What’s up with that?

An open-front house in winter, from almost 100 years ago.  Fancier than mine, but still wide open. From Fresh-Air Poultry Houses.

Yesterday there was snow, and the day before there was a little bit of snow, but it was above freezing. My chickens didn’t like the looks of the snow and most of them stayed inside. To get them out to the feed, water, and nest boxes, I drove them out of their houses. The first time, there was hardly any snow, and you could see their reaction of “Hey, this isn’t bad!” Once out of the houses, they were in no rush to go back in. Later, with more snow, they were less certain, and some jumped back inside right away. We’ll see what happens today. They’ll get used to it eventually, but they need to keep eating if they’re going to keep laying, so I want them to get used to it now. read more...

The Golden Age

So when was the golden age of American farming?

I think the answer is different if you’re thinking from the point of view of the farmer or the consumer. If you’re the consumer, the answer is obviously, “The golden age is now.” You’ll see why in a minute.

For the farmer, we need to separate what’s picturesque from what’s good. Some aspects of the bad old days were:

  • Being connected to town by dirt roads that were often impassible.
  • Farming that was so labor-intensive that you couldn’t get along without hired help. (Even in Ten Acres Enough, Morris had to hire two people year-round on his little farm, and more at harvest season.) Let’s face it: the American farmer has never been a good manager, and never liked dealing with hired help.
  • No understanding of disease — the germ theory of disease wasn’t widely believed until the 1860s and wasn’t proven until the 1870s. This resulted in a generally low level of health in both man and beast.
  • Not being able to give your kids a high-school education unless they boarded with strangers in town.
  • Travel that’s so expensive that the local general store had a monopoly over your business — and mail-order hadn’t been invented yet.
  • No mass communication except newspapers and no free public libraries, leaving rural folks at a huge disadvantage in education.
  • Produce traveled to market via unrefrigerated slow freight, resulting in almost unbelievably low quality in the city.
  • An unbelievably high level of fraud and double-dealing at all levels of society, not just by politicians and CEO’s, resulting in low levels of both quality and trust.
  • Horses were essential, but many farmers weren’t good with horses. Few things are more dangerous than a team of horses hitched up to farm machinery and handled by a farmer who doensn’t have a close working relationship with them.
  • Farming is dirty work, but hot water for bathing and a room warm enough to bathe in were scarce.

So I figure that the Golden Age had tractors, paved roads, Rural Free Delivery of mail, high schools that could be reached on a school bus, radio, pickup trucks, tractors, refrigerated freight cars, the Sears Roebuck catalog, free public libraries, and labor-saving devices that allowed the hired help to be given the boot. So the Golden Age for farmers started around 1910 and ended roughly around 1960. read more...

What’s it Take to Eliminate Factory-Farmed Eggs?

Let’s do the math. There were 76 billion eggs laid by US chickens last year (not counting hatching eggs), laid by 280 million hens (23 dozen eggs per hen). The vast majority of these hens are in factory farms. Suppose we wanted to get rid of factory farms. What would it take?

Well, before factory farms there were ordinary farm flocks. Between about 1900 and 1950, a typical “egg farm” held steady at about 1,500 hens. Some had more, some had less, but a farm family making most of its income from eggs typically had a 1,500-hen operation. read more...

Geometry, Chickens, and You

If you understand chicken geometry, your life will be a lot easier.

Take perches, for instance. Chickens will roost on the highest available perch. This might be on the railing of your porch or a beam above your car, or (in a pinch) on top of the car itself. (Free range is not an unmitigated blessing.)

If you have managed to keep your chickens within the confines of their yard, they’ll still want to perch on the highest thing they can reach. The smart money, then, is to ensure that the highest thing is an actual roost. This will save you a lot of trouble. read more...