There are great ways to manage chickens and here are some pointers that our farm does in order to keep our birds occupied, to benefit our yard and to keep away predators. If you follow these pointers your chickens will really benefit long term. The first pointer is...
1. Clean out your hen house once a year.
Yep, you heard right! There is no reason to do any more work then you need to! Because from now on, you are going to be using the Deep Litter System. Once a year, clean out most of the chicken litter. (that's the dry absorbent bedding that you put on the floor of the hen house.) I do this in the late spring. It is okay to leave some of it still in the coop. That stuff has some amazing biological activity. It has good little biological critters in it that will benefit your chickens! I like to push the chicken litter right out into the chicken run; into a tall heap that the chickens can scratch and peck through.
Your chickens are going to love all the left over pieces of feed and bugs that are going to be in that pile. It is a compost pile that your chickens are going to turn over all summer, and will prepare it for your garden. This is a great activity when your chickens are stuck in the chicken run all day; when you are too busy to let them out to free-range! If the chickens lose interest in the pile of old litter, go in there and turn it over a bit with a shovel. They will get excited about it again. In the fall, move the pile to the garden. Spread it around, if it looks like it is broke down into dirt. If it doesn't smell like dirt, leave it in a pile until next spring and add it to your garden.
Back to cleaning out the coop. Put 3-6 inches of dry litter on the floor. I prefer to use wood chips, some people use straw or some other absorbent material. You need dry material that will soak up moisture and odor. From now on, if you smell any bad smells or if the litter is wet when you go into your hen house you need to add more dry material. The dry material will reduce odors. It is harmful for your chickens to have to smell the ammonia smell that comes when you have a wet floor.
Wet floor=bad smell= miserable chickens.
Dry litter= no smell= happy chickens!
Just keep adding dry material for a year and then clean your coop out. Repeat all these steps once a year and everybody will be a lot happier! You and the chickens!
2. Don't let your chickens free-range all Day
They need access to a chicken run but don't let them free range until mid afternoon. This way, your feathered friends will lay their eggs in their handy- dandy nest boxes instead of you having to go on an egg hunt each and every day. The eggs will be right where they are supposed to be and your yard and garden won't be destroyed from all day, free ranging chickens.
3.Plant a garden close to your hen house.
Are you having trouble with your hens coming into your garden and destroying it? Me too, until I planted a decoy garden. You know that chickens love to sun bathe in the loose soil of the garden. They gulp down the bugs and swallow the worms whole! They will scratch up the dirt looking for something good to eat, not realizing that they are digging up the roots of your beautiful tomato seedlings. They will also sample your tender lettuce leaves and eat anything that looks good to them. That is why you need a distraction from your "real" garden!
Your decoy garden will be planted to attract the chickens. Since this garden is smaller, I have put a fence around my chicken garden until the seedlings have a chance to get bigger. I am planning on harvesting some of this, don't cha know! Those fresh little plants just need a few weeks to get bigger. Open the gate or part of the fence when you want the chickens
to go in the chicken garden. I like to plant tough crops like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in my chicken garden. The plants get big and hardy and are not easily destroyed by scratching, pecking chickens.
If you spread a thick layer of animal bedding, straw or even hay in the aisles of your chicken garden, you won't need to weed your chicken garden much or maybe ever! I like to use the used straw bedding from my pigs. Your chickens will probably till in a lot of that mulch into the dirt by the end of the season. There will be plenty of veggies for you to harvest for your family and plenty to share with your birds! Your chickens will be so happy with the chicken garden there is less of a chance that they will go over to your main garden. This chicken garden will be more successful if you follow point number 2.
4. Shut your door of your hen house at night.
Your chickens need to feel safe at night and you don't need to provide any free dinners to the predators in your neighborhood. You are their protector! Because you don't let them free range until the afternoon after they are done laying their eggs, they will view their housing as a good place to spend the night. Chickens like to roost where they feel safe. Around dusk, shut the door because your chickens are probably back in their house because they want to be the first to claim their favorite spot to roost. Always shut the door at night! We have had chickens since 2009 and have never had any predators get our chickens at night. Now that I have told you that, our luck will run out!
You need to have good management with your backyard flock and I hope these pointers will help you manage your chickens better! Each one of these pointers are Tried and True on our farm. I can't imagine what life would be like if I didn't know these smart moves, on chicken raising and I wanted you, dear reader to know them also! If you want a good book to read on flock management, read my favorite chicken book written by the "chicken guru" Harvey Ussery. I learned so much when I read his book called "The Small-Scale Poultry Flock."
As always thanks for listening to what I have to say!