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Raising Small Livestock
Getting Started With Chickens - It's easier than you think!
Chicken Raising Tips from our Readers - Send us Yours!
The Trials & Triumphs of Farm Life - By contributing editor, Bea Frankland. She has raised goats for over 15 years.
Gentle, Loving Goat Care - It's all they really want!
Bea's Goat Cheesecake Recipe - Simple & Delicious!
Bea's Goat Cheese Recipe - It's easier than you think!
Beekeeping- You can help us with this section!
Raising Pigs- Here are some "pig pointers" sent in by our readers. If you have any that you would like to add, send them here!
Started With Chickens
are probably the most common homestead animal. They are
Now is a good time to look around your place and see where the ideal location for the coop and run should be built. One thing to keep in mind is that during rainy weather the wet chicken manure creates a strong odor so you don't want the pen too close to your bedroom window.
Whatever you decide to build be sure to make it varmit proof. You will need to make it safe from owls, skunks, weasles and dogs. Weasels can get in the smallest of holes. Dogs can jump over a low fence or dig under loose fencing and owls can swoop in from above. We once had a bear get into our chicken pen, but there isn't much one could do about that!
Another tip is designing your pen for easy access to the manure. Your garden will love it plus keeping the pen clean will help keep the smell down. The majority of your chickens manure will accumulate under the perch. We designed our pen with an open floor directly under the perch. The opening is covered with 2" chicken wire which allows the manure to fall through easily and also keeps the varmits from coming in. A hinged flap on the outside, lower part of the wall directly behind the perch allows us to easily scoop out the manure.
I highly suggest purchasing a book on raising chickens. We own The Complete Handbook of Poultry Keeping by Stuart Banks. It's filled with practical information on raising chickens. He has a number of design ideas for building small coops and runs. Another helpful book that is also fun to read is Chickens in Your Backyard : A Beginner's Guide by Rick Luttmann and Gail Luttmann.
Ordering chicks through the mail is a fun way of acquiring your flock. I have ordered chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa several times and have been very satisfied. From chickens to pheasants they have quality birds plus books and equipment. They've been in business since 1917 and guarantee their birds shipping survival. They ship birds from February through October. You can contact them at http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com or call 1-800-456-3280.
It can be
very rewarding raising up baby chicks into mature egg
Commercial chick starter feed is important for the first eight weeks. This feed is packed with neccesary vitamins and minerals to give your birds a healthy start. A two foot feeder will serve 25 chicks very well.
Water should be available at all times. A one gallon waterer will easily handle 25 chicks. We purchase an additive to mix in the water called Quik Chick. It has vitamins and electrolytes that will give your chicks strength and help them fight the stress they may have during their first few weeks. We add this to their water for at least 2 weeks.
Occasionally newly arrived chicks will need to have their beaks dipped into the water to get them drinking. An eye dropper is handy when special attention is needed for weak birds. Be careful to only put one drop in at a time to keep from drowning it.
Baby chicks need to be kept warm. We use a 250 watt infra-red heat bulb that is hung in their pen about 18" from the floor. This will provide all the light and heat that the chicks will need. Starting temperatures should be about 90 to 95 degrees. As they grow I find they move away from the light where its not quite so hot. Lift the bulb higher if the temperature in the pen is too warm.
The chicks brooding pen can be simple. I made a 4' x 4' plywood box that is 2' high. This is plenty of room for 25 chicks and allows them the space they need to adjust to the temperature.
The first couple of days I just spread newspaper on their floor. Then a layer of wood shaving (NOT sawdust) is added to make a nice bedding. Clean the pen regularly. Keeping several layers of newspaper under the layer of wood shavings makes for easy clean up. Just roll up the newspaper, shavings and all.
All the equipment discussed can be found at most feed stores. The poultry catalog that I mentioned earlier offers everything you need along with the chicks. You'll find their website at http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com
Bringing your chicks into maturity to be released into your coop is the next step. I find that this can be a difficult phase. Here's a few ideas that will help.
We use what we call the "chicken tractor". Basically it is a small, portable pen. Versatile and practical, it offers more room than the starter box and is very secure.
The chicken tractor is built out of 2x6 runners along the ground to form a rectangle that measures 38"wide by 76" long. 2x4's that are 36" tall stand in each corner. Then another 38" x 76" rectangle of 2x4's is secured to the top of these upright's thus creating a rectangular open box. 1" chicken mesh wire is fastened around 3 of the sides. Scraps of plywood are nailed onto one end and part of one of the sides. On the opposite side a solid plywood door is framed in creating a sheltered/wind block space. Scrap plywood is also nailed to the roof of the pen making it solid and secure. Short handles protruding from the four corners make it easy to move across the ground.
It's a good idea to attach a solid piece of 2" chicken mesh wire to the whole bottom of the tractor so that no critters can dig their way under and into the pen as you can not always find totally level ground to set the tractor on. The wire also helps to keep the chicks from scooting out under the frame.
A hole needs to be drilled into the plywood roof to allow for an extension cord to pass through as you will still need to have a heat light on them. I also have a large plastic tarp that fits over the top during rainy weather.
After spending a few weeks in the starter box your chicks will like getting into the larger chicken tractor plus they will have soil to scratch in. With their new growth of feathers they will also be warmer and better able to handle the cool nights. Clean up is easier too, because all the droppings and spillage goes straight into the garden. Toss in a little straw every now and then for the chicks to cuddle in. After awhile just move the tractor to another spot in the garden and everything left behind will become part of the soil!
You can also use this "tractor" for separating a brooding hen to nest in or quarantine a sick or injured bird.
Eventually your chicks will grow out of the tractor but you will have moved it all around the garden, fertilizing it along the way. There is minimum maintenance and you'll get some of your garden beds cleared in the process.
Maturity and Getting Ready for Eggs
Once your birds are full grown and producing eggs maintenance is the key. A solid, fenced in run and coop will give your hens plenty of security. Regular cleaning is important and plays a big factor in keeping disease out of your flock.
The size and design of your coop depends on your personal situation. There is much to say about building a coop but the confines of this article will not allow it. The main points of a good hen house is that it's big enough for them all to fit in it at once and that there is room for perches or a "roosting" area which is a must. Also keep in mind that you will want it to be varmint proof and have easy access for you to get in to clean and gather eggs.
Nesting boxes can be mounted on the walls. They need not be fancy. Scrap plywood will work. Make several boxes or stalls as you don't want the girls to be waiting in line to lay their egg. Put a 6 inch high strip of plywood along the base of the front opening of the nesting boxes to keep the hens from scratching out all the bedding straw. The average dimensions of your nesting boxes should be 15" high x 12" wide x 12" deep.
I have found
that it is well worth the money to invest in a good
Check out the different feeds available at your local feed store. Plain cracked corn works just fine, especially if you supplement with kitchen scraps or if you let your chickens out of the pen to scratch for bugs and eat fresh greens. Or you can use a high protein all-purpose feed for egg production. Check the protein levels of the different feeds and experiment to see what works for your flock.
I hope you
have found this series of articles helpful and that you have been
encouraged to start a flock of your own. Having fresh, homegrown eggs
to eat are a luxury that you won't want to be without once you get
a taste! And when your neighbors get a taste they will be buying all
On raising baby chicks:
I didn't use commercial chick starter for my 'hen raised' chicks.
Couldn't find one without antibiotics anywhere! This was in
Hawaii, maybe more choices here. When I raised hatchery chicks
in CA, I didn't know about antibiotics, so used the commercial stuff.
I don't know if hatchery chicks are more at risk from infection or
not, though. Maybe Tony could shed some light. I sure
miss having chickens and may indulge again next spring....
I know first of all that goats are quite intelligent and self-reliant. Very few domesticated animals can survive if thrown back into the wild. Cats thrive and goats also do quite well, thank you very much!
But I do know that goats are not
loners. They are a herd animal. I have become incorporated, accepted
into, if you will, their herd. Sometimes on long walks, they will
very vocally express their desire to
All this comes with a price, mind you. I am friend, matriarch, companion confidante and also the maid! Room service daily, and I am constantly reminded by their stern looks as I bustle around with my pitchfork and cart, that I am being carefully watched. A low grunt and a quick nod in a certain direction reminds me who's really in charge and that you've missed a spot in the south corner, missy.
Then there are the monthly pedicures. Up on the milkstand, dearie, and let's weigh you, dearie and trim those lovely....hooves. I even try to match the "nail polish" to the season - green for Christmas and St. Patrick's (the yucky hoof rot ooze), red for Valentines, 4th of July (iodine). These are for variety of color plus fungal and bacterial protection and for whatever else lurks in the goat barn.
I also include variety in their feed and greens and supplements. I enjoy delighting their taste buds but I also see that they choose their intakes selectively just like goats choose selectively when they browse, searching out what they need medicinally and nutritionally. One day, a goat might devour the cracked corn and hardly touch her cob while another doe might chow down on the alfalfa pellets that day but scorn the all purpose livestock feed. Goats are smart and will eat what they instinctively know they need. So, instead of a bucket on the milkstand I have installed a long, wooden tray. Each goat receives an assortment of entrees and nibbles upon what she desires. The choices usually include some of the following, cob, cracked corn, oats, alfalfa pellets, wheat, dried bread crumbs and other delectibles including fresh veggies, really...whatever I have on hand. It all makes for a colorful plateful.
I guess you can see by now that this is not a particularly scientific or methodical method. However, do carefully supervise and watch. But more precisely I am enamored with my caprine friends.
I do, mind you, give them their
shots punctually in the fall, before breeding: BO-C, tetanus and worming.
I regularly trim their hooves and provide clean, fresh straw.
Besides this, I am pretty non-chalante about the whole matter, except
that I am just THERE. Goats are like children who don't need
all those expensive toys but just crave your TIME, CARE and LOVE.
All kids (children, caprine) can tell true affection and all they
ask for is genuine, gentle loving care.
Click link read Bea's other article
- The Trials
& Triumphs of Farm Life
**For another homemade cheese recipe that does not use rennet tablets, go to the Natural Foods page.
From Lori Dolby, England:
I was talking to another old timer here about your website and he brought up a good suggestion regarding the use of electric fencing for pigs. Instead of going to the trouble of digging post holes use five foot lengths of re-enforcing rod (a.k.a. re-bar) and run a three foot length of old garden hose over the rod to act as an insulator and drive the rod into the ground two feet . This type of fence will keep pigs in their place and can be easily moved to a fresh area as desired. If one uses a light weight shelter pigs are far happier on reasonably clean and fresh ground and there is very little effort needed to provide this for them .
Pigs do far better if any grain,root
vegatables etc. are boiled before being fed to them, feed them the
water as well they love it.
Send us your pig pointers!
Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats: Breeds, Care, Dairying
by Jerome D. Belanger
fully illustrated guide
provides the very
information for dairy
goat owners. All of
the essentials are
Individual breeds -
Feeding and housing-
Health care and
kidding - Milking
(click on book to order)