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Raising Chickens and Fertilizing Naturally

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Our hen family having an afternoon snack of bugs and worms.

My preference for fertilizing and caring for our herbs and vegetables has been natural and organic since we established our raised beds three years ago. Sometimes the results are great, and sometimes, not so much. I do use a few different organic fertilizers, but this year, we are moving onto “homemade” fertilizer made from chicken manure from our chicken coop (see mixture details below). Composting chicken manure provides nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to plants.

June 30 marked our one-year anniversary for our little chicken brood. Our hens (no roosters needed for yummy eggs) consist of two Araucanas (one is gold and one is white with gold feathering) and three Dominiques (black with white barring), which are also called Dominickers and are considered America’s oldest breed of chicken. After a doing a little research, we found that these two breeds work really well with children. (Please forgive me for sharing so many pictures, but  I truly adore our hens just as much as our three dogs).

Goldy in deep thought hanging out with Carmine.
The Three Amigos: Carmine (left), Peachy (center), and Goldy (right) hang out regularly.

For me and my family, the rewards of raising our own free-range brood are many. Here are a few:

* We can make our own “free and natural fertilizer” out of aged chicken manure, shavings, and water.

* We haven’t bought eggs in over a year as each hen lays an egg approximately every 24 hours. According to Mother Earth News and many sources, eggs from grain-fed free range hens are more nutritious than conventional eggs.

* The hens love to eat vegetable and fruit scraps from the kitchen and garden, which eliminates garbage and is good for the chicken and the eggs.

* Egg shells are fantastic for composting and enriching the soil.

* The Araucanas (Peachy and Goldy) lay pale green eggs that have a buttery flavor. Our Dominiques lay the light to dark brown eggs. The yolks from all our eggs are a rich orange color and the eggs are noticeably tastier.

hen eggs
Fresh eggs from the hens (the pale green one is from an Araucana hen).
Our eggs have rich color and flavor.

The hens have a very healthy diet which consists of a vegan organic grain feed produced locally and many fresh scraps leftover from cooking and from our garden. They love lettuces, melons, cabbage, and fruits, but they don’t care for citrus fruits and onions and garlic.

Scraps for the hens (lettuce, over-ripe tomatoes, and apple leftovers).

 

Like most of our adventures, we’ve learned a lot from our trials and errors. If you are considering raising your own chickens, here are some of our top lessons:

* Always check the toxic plants list before feeding your chickens. I killed one of my hens by feeding her dandelions before checking the list and cried for days.

* Chickens are prey to hawks, owls, and large birds, especially in the early morning hours. You must keep chickens in a secured coop at night. If you don’t have a covered area to let them range, it is best to let hens out in the late afternoon so they will stay close to the coop and return to their roost on their own at sundown. We had our beloved hen named Star scooped up and eaten by a hawk.

* Secure the area around the coop well. Our Labrador dug under the fence and killed our first brood of hens…so we bordered the hen fence with an electric dog fence.

* Raccoons are cute but can be vicious. They can get through the tiniest gap and will kill a hen if they don’t get an egg they are looking for. We had a gap that measured about an inch at the top of our coop and a raccoon was able to pull it back, scurry through the hole, and kill one of our hens.

* Have a separate pair of shoes you wear only to the coop and leave outside. And always wash your hands every time you return from the coop.

* Chickens can dehydrate quickly in summer and in winter. Make sure they always have adequate clean water.

For our family, the advantages of having hens are many and the list of pros outways the list of cons. Most of all, I simply enjoy raising chickens.

Chicken Manure Fertilizer

1 part aged (1-2 month old) chicken manure mixed with coop shavings

4 parts water

Mix all ingredients in a large bucket and store in a cool dry location for three days. If you leave it in the sun, it will make the fertilizer too acidic. Strain the manure and shavings and use the liquid on your plantings. Always test on a single plant before using on a large area. Check the Bonnie Plants website for different types of fertilizer and the basics of fertilizing.