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Homemade Chicken Feed Options

Are there homemade chicken feed options available for the homesteader? I scoured the internet looking for the best simple, possibly inexpensive, layer chicken feed. Many options for organic, corn-free and soy-free recipes and formulas were found in the process and I’m happy to share them with you!

homemade chicken feed options showing a photo of chickens eating

But first, let’s take a look at what is needed in a chicken diet. Chickens need carbohydrates, protein, fat, as well as vitamins and minerals as shown below.

Vitamins

  • A
  • D
  • E
  • K
  • B1 (Thiamin)
  • B2 (Riboflavin)
  • B12 (folate)
  • Folic acid
  • Biotin
  • Choline
  • Niacin

Minerals

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Cobalt

Above all, layer chickens require 16% protein for the best health. If they don’t get enough protein they’ll become weak and are prone to developing infections while egg production either decreases or stops. As a result, growth may be stunted.

Backyard hens eating from a black bowl

Is it possible for them to have too much protein? Absolutely! For instance, one sign of this is an increase in water consumption which could result in loose bowels, wetter litters, and blisters on the feet. In addition, respiratory issues may develop and eyes become damaged. Finally, death is the most extreme outcome.

Now that we understand the risks of having too much or too little protein, it’s time to get busy mixing.

a large white rooster and hen peer at the camera while spending time on the perch

Basic Recipes

Smaller quantity basic recipe that has options for supercharging the feed: Small Basic Recipe

However, if you have a large flock, this recipe will make 100 pounds of feed: Large Basic Recipe

On the other hand, those looking for some flexibility in homemade chicken feed options, will find the percentages provided in this recipe allows you to make as little or as much as you’d like: Flexible Basic Recipe

No Soy or Corn

If you’re interested in a formula that is without Soy or Corn, I have you covered.

First, for those that truly want to be GMO free, then this recipe – which makes about 18 pounds – was created just for you: Small non-GMO Feed Recipe

To make a larger quantity this recipe gives you a lot of flexibility to scale up: Large non-GMO Feed Recipe

Organic

Lastly, depending on where you live and what’s available in your area, you may be able to make this one from Azure Standard organically. It makes approximately 50 pounds: Organic Feed Recipe

Can I use Homemade Chicken Feed Options for Meat Birds?

There aren’t many homemade broiler feed recipes out there. In fact, after several Google searches none with the correct protein levels were found. Perhaps this is because meat birds require more protein due to their fast growth. Starter feed protein levels for a broiler is about 22-23% while grower feed should contain 18-20% per Oregon State University Extension.

Ingredients Commonly Included in Homemade Chicken Feed Options

You’ll notice that many of the recipe include a base of corn, field peas, wheat, oats or barley. Other beneficial item may have been added such as sunflower seeds, kelp, fish meal, and amaranth. Let’s take a look at the base ingredients first.

Barley – Barley and oats are often used interchangeably for their protein content. However, barley contains phytic acid which bonds with phosphorus during digestion, reducing the absorption of phosphorus. Feeding whole grain barley has been shown to reduce egg production, feed efficiency, and shell quality. Conversely, it increases feed intake, egg and body weight. Sprouted barley is a great option though as fodder for extra greens.

Corn – Contains carbs, fat and some protein, although it’s not the best source from a nutritional perspective. Corn is one of the easiest grains to be digested and is low in fiber. On the other hand, just like barley, it too binds with phosphorus.

Oats – These are high in fiber and protein content. Poultry aren’t able to digest fiber well so including it in the feed mix may reduce the availability of nutrients.

Peas – The protein content of peas averages about 23%. This protein is highly digestible and has an excellent amino acid profile with high levels of lysine. Interestingly, peas have a higher level of lysine than soy beans. Peas are a better option as well because they don’t require roasting, unlike soy beans. Soy beans need to be roasted before being included in chicken feed.

Wheat – A good source of carbs and protein. Higher in protein and the amino acids lysine and tyrptophan than corn. Wheat helps with digestion and helps the birds resist coccidiosis.

As you can see, a mix of the base ingredients can provide a good amount of protein and carbohydrates. Many commercial feeds contain an enzyme additive that counteracts the anti-nutrition factors found in these grains. However, adding something like kelp or millet, which have good amounts of phosphorus, will help offset this.

Optional Ingredients in Homemade Chicken Feed Options

Let’s take a look at some other additions that could be added to up the nutritional value. Your chickens will thank you.

Flax Seed – According to The Poultry Extension website, “Feeding flax seed results in a six to eight-fold increase in the omega-3 fatty acid content of eggs. Such eggs are equivalent to 113 g. of cold-water fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids.” While feeding a diet of 10% flax seed is beneficial in the egg composition, it has been shown to increase liver hemorrhages in the hens.

Kelp (Seaweed) – Considered to have 30% of the nutritive value of grains. Minerals include potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium (salt should never exceed 0.5% of a chicken’s diet) and sulfur. Vitamins include ascorbic acid and some B vitamins. Trace elements (meaning only a trace amount is required in a diet) include zinc, chromium, nickel, tin, and iodine. Can be added in a ratio of 5 to 15 percent of the diet.

Millet – A super food full of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids! High in phosphorus, magnesium, and B12. Millet aids digestion in chickens and provides many essential amino acids. Eggs from hens that consume millet will be higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6 than a corn based diet.

Sunflower Seeds – Consumption helps combat coccidiosis, E. coli, and bronchitis in chickens. It is recommended to use black oil sunflower seeds because they are meatier and have a higher oil content, as well as a high level of protein at 26%. This high level of protein helps during times of stress such as during molting or in the winter. Now, that doesn’t mean you should provide only sunflower seeds because too much can be a bad thing, resulting in fat chickens which can lead to unexpected death. You have to provide grit when feeding with sunflower seeds, otherwise issues will arise in the chickens.

chickens heading into a coop as darkness sets in

Other Considerations for Healthy Chickens

Now that you have the chicken feed, you need to understand how much food a chicken needs on a daily basis. Many factors go into the amount of feed needed per day for your backyard flock. Take into consideration any other supplemental food you may be providing to your chickens.

Make your homemade chicken feed even healthier for your chicken by fermenting it using these four easy steps! Adding herbs to their diet to help keep your chickens healthy.

And don’t forget the water! Chickens can go 48 hours without eating but they can’t go without water without becoming extremely stressed, or passing away. Be sure to keep your chicken waterers clean.

In conclusion, you want to be sure to have a good mix of ingredients that provides enough protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals for not only overall health of the hen, but also for the best quality egg production.

Have you made your own homemade chicken feed?

how to make homemade chicken feed options for Pinterest image



Fall Chicken Care Tips For a Healthy Flock

fall chicken care tips

Getting ready for fall starts in the late summer. Fall chicken care thoughts begin to run through my head. Chilly weather will require some changes to routine, and buildings need to be checked for repairs. Using the days with pleasant weather to get these things done keeps us from repairing and scrambling during a storm. Are you preparing now? Here are some of the things we begin to do.

Health Check – Beak to Tail Chicken Checkup

Making sure that your individual flock members are ready to weather the upcoming changes is important. Some minor ailments can be treated successfully when found early. Are any chickens showing loose runny droppings? How about bony breast bones or crop issues? Is the flock eating a healthy whole grain organic layer feed? Quality ingredients help your backyard flock maintain a healthy digestive tract and resist parasites and other diseases.

Molting season has begun here. The flock requires an increase in protein during the feather regrowth period. You want to support this nutritionally with a well balanced feed and tasty supplements such as grubs, cooked meat scraps, and even scrambled eggs if you have any to spare. Help your feathered friends get fluffy before the snow falls and the temperature drops.

fall chicken care tips

What about Pumpkins and Chickens?

The facts about the health benefits of feeding pumpkin seeds and flesh might surprise you. We have all probably heard that pumpkin seed can help your birds repel internal parasites. While there is a tiny grain of truth to this and I have even said it before myself, there is more to the story.

Pumpkin seeds, in fact the whole pumpkin supplies a powerhouse of nutrients for the flock. Chickens love fresh pumpkin and it’s a great nutritional boost.

Pumpkins have a richly colored flesh that contains high levels of beta carotene. The beta carotene is the precursors to vitamin A. In addition, fresh pumpkin is a source of Vitamin C and E and contains most of the B complex vitamins.

Do Pumpkin Seeds Repel Internal Parasites?

Feeding pumpkins is a good part of fall chicken care And, if you can get a hold of some free pumpkins from neighbors or friends after the holidays, take them! If they haven’t been carved into jack o’ lanterns, they will store a long time in a cool area of your home or basement.

The seeds from the pumpkin are also packed with good nutrition. High in protein, pumpkin seeds are a smart choice for a chicken flock treat right in the midst of the fall molting season. Increasing protein during molt helps your birds grow in their glossy new feathers with less metabolic stress. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of vitamins, minerals and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Fall Chicken Care Tips

Another theory on fresh pumpkin is the possibility that the seeds will help your chickens avoid an overload of intestinal worms. This is a partial truth, so be careful not to count on it. Especially if you have birds that are suffering with internal parasites.While the seeds of pumpkin and other squash contains cucurbitacin which acts as a paralytic agent on tapeworms and round worms, it is a very mild treatment. In a mild intestinal worm situation, the pumpkin seeds may be enough to paralyze the worms so they can be excreted. But don’t count on it. In order to use the pumpkin seeds most effectively, a tincture should be prepared, and then used to dose each animal by adding it to the water.

Feed Healthy High Protein Treats as Part of Fall Chicken Care

Meal Worms are always a welcome treat and these little goodies are bringing a protein punch. Great for helping your chickens recover quickly after a hard molt and a great training tool. Chickens will cooperate better when meal worms are involved!

Seed blocks, peanut butter treats and other commercially available boredom busters are good to keep on hand for times when the chickens have to be cooped up. If you don’t normally purchase scratch grain, fall and winter are a good time to have some on hand. I feed a small amount to my flock in the evening during cold weather.

The key is to keep the amount of scratch or seed treats at a treat level. This should not become a major part of your chickens’ diet. Seeds are high in fats and can lead to obesity and internal fat deposits. Use the treats as a tool, to get the flock to go where you need them to go. It’s a great incentive for getting the chickens to go to the coop in the evening.

Coop Upkeep for Fall and Winter

Now that you have taken care of buying lots of pumpkins and treats for the fall and winter, what other fall chicken care steps should you take?

chicken on a nest

Managing the Annual Molt Mess

Molting makes the dust in the coop even messier. I recommend doing a thorough coop cleaning while the weather is still nice. Scrape out old bedding. Inspect for rodent holes, insect evidence, and wet areas. Take care of any structural problems now so you don’t have to take care of building maintenance during a winter storm.

  • Clean the roost bars and treat with DE powder (Diatomaceous Earth) . The DE powder will kill off any mites trying to take up residence on the roost bars. Another great product for pest control is First Saturday Lime. It is safe for children, pets, and your feathered friends.
  • Check for leaks in the roof, or other parts of the building. While you are checking for leaks, also check that your ventilation is optimal. Ventilation refers to the air flow circulating air inside the coop and keeping it from becoming stagnant. Ventilation is very important in winter because stagnant air can also lead to moisture collection. Moisture in the presence of sub freezing temperatures can lead to frost bite on combs, wattles and feet. 
Fall chicken care tips

Decisions about Heat and  Additional Light

I can’t speak about every area of the country but I will say this. Chickens are extremely cold hardy. If the coop is draft free, has good roof ventilation, can be closed securely at night and during storms, there is little chance that you need additional heat. After the chickens go through the molting, they grow in healthy new feathers and downy under feathers for winter. Chickens will go to roost at night, fluff up their feathers and cover their feet on the roost bar.

Chickens are built for cold weather

It is amazing to me, how much heat is generated by my chickens during the night. The coop is usually very comfortable inside when I arrive in the morning. The chickens are happy and there is less chance of fire. Only once in our chicken raising have we used additional heat. Now, perhaps you live in a particularly frigid area during the winter. I can’t make this decision for you. Draft free goes a long way to keeping the chickens warm enough. Don’t rush to heat the coop just because you are feeling the chill of winter.

Sidenote: Have you tried brooding chicks in late summer and fall? Read more in this post : The Best Time to Start Chicks

Another thing to consider is what happens during a power outage. If your chickens have not been allowed to acclimate to the seasonal change in temperature, they are more likely to succumb to cold if it occurs suddenly.

fall chicken care tips

Should Lights be Added to the Coop?

Adding light may in fact keep the hens laying eggs longer into the winter. I prefer to let them have a natural rest. We use lights only for a short time in the evening while we are cleaning up and feeding/watering the birds for the night. This extends their light by possibly an hour and is not really a factor in their egg laying. Naturally, egg laying slows down during the cold, darker months. This gives the hens a rest and allows energy to be used for warmth. I still collect enough eggs for our use during the winter.

As your hens age, they may lay very infrequently during the winter months. This is normal. If you can add more chickens in the spring, your young layers will carry you through the winter with enough fresh eggs.

Fall Chicken Care – Keeping Fresh Water Available

If your coop is a distance away from your home as ours is, you will need to plan ahead. Empty the hose after each use. Filling containers of water to keep at home will help you avoid frozen water when you are feeding in the morning. I refill gallon jugs and sit them by my back door. In the morning, I grab the water jugs and refill the water bowls with room temperature water from home. The chickens all run to get a warm drink!

With just some foresight and minor upkeep, repair and fall chicken care, you, your chickens and the coop will be ready for winter weather.




When is the Best Time to Start Chicks?

best time to start chicks
chicks in a basket
Summer chicks can be the perfect time to grow your flock

Waiting until spring for the best time to start chicks, can be too much to handle. Nothing starts a severe  case of chicken fever like a brooder full of baby fluff butts. Chicks are extremely susceptible to the cold weather and unless you live in an area that has warm weather year round, It can be much easier to wait until close to Spring. Here are my reasons for waiting for the best time to start chicks.

Baby chicks are mailed from hatcheries soon after hatching. They are mailed out via priority overnight mail and usually picked up at the post office by the customer. The minimum chick order in the winter months can be as many as 15 chicks. The hatcheries do this to help maintain warmth for the chicks during shipping. If your chicks are delayed or the weather turns extremely cold during shipping, the chicks may become chilled and be less likely to survive.

chicks in a brooder set up
Adding chicks during the summer requires less time with added heat, in most cases.

The first few days at home 

After you retrieve your chicks from the post office, or hatchery, you must keep the chicks warm in a brooder for the next several weeks. The temperature in the brooder at first should be 100 degrees F. As the chicks grow, the temperature can be lowered 5 degrees a week until they can tolerate room temperature.

As we know, chicks outgrow the brooder long before they are ready for the great outdoors and the fluctuating temperatures. If you start the chicks during January or February, your chicks will be very large before spring arrives. What will you do in this interim period? Most people don’t have heated  chicken coops. Transferring the young birds to an unheated coop in early March can lead to chilling and death.

best time to start chicks

Starting chicks in the winter requires more equipment and longer time in a heated area

So, as the saying goes, timing is everything. Jumping into a chick purchase in the winter can lead to heartbreak IF you are not prepared to give special consideration to the chicks needs as they grow and transition to an outside coop during the chilly early spring. Often, winter chicks require more time inside the house or heated garage and a large grow out pen in the heated area. How much space do you have to care for the chicks as they grow?

Starting Chicks in Summer and Early Fall

The last few years I have delayed my chick order. I found that starting chicks in the late summer and early fall is much easier with our weather and seasonal considerations.

Here are a few points I have discovered while brooding chicks later in the season.

  1. Much less electric heat is required. The weather is usually so warm by late July that the chicks spend most of their time moving around the brooder, eating, socializing and getting exercise. Compare this to February or March chicks that huddle together under the warmers, dash out for a bite of food and run back to the warmth.
  2. Less “poopy butt”. Now that is a good reason right there! I have not cleaned a summer chick’s poopy butt in two years. Other factors may come into play here, such as breeds, hatchery choice, and feed used. But I am going with the fact that it is warmer, the chicks eat more and drink more from the day they arrive.
  3. Faster growth. I am amazed at how fast chicks grow anyway you look at it. But the chicks from my late summer starts have surpassed other chicks in growth rate. Results may vary. But this is the result I am seeing.
  4. Perhaps the best result from starting chicks in the late summer or early fall is egg laying. My summer chicks begin laying before the holidays arrive. Most of us chicken keepers know this as the time of year when we get few to no eggs due to seasonal lighting and recovery from yearly molting. Last year my summer chicks began laying eggs in early November and didn’t take a break all winter. They continued into the spring and summer without a break! Happy egg customers!
best time to start chicks

My method of timing the chicks arrival 

 We purchase chicks from a local farm supply store or order by mail for specialty breeds. Here’s some ideas of breeds to order.  Obtain your chicks during early spring. I usually choose late March.

Make sure you have the appropriate brooder set up at home with a heat lamp or electric brooder. You will need:

  • an enclosed plastic storage tote
  • pine shavings
  • water fount with warm water
  • feeder 
  • chick starter feed and chick sized grit

Keep the chicks warm  and dry while slowly decreasing the temperature in the brooder during the next 8 weeks. Enlarge the brooder area as necessary while the chicks grow, keeping the recommended temperature range. Once the chicks are large enough to be taken to an outside coop set up, they will be transferring during middle to late May. Usually our nighttime temps are warm enough during this time, that the chicks will transition easily and without too much stress.

best time to start chicks

Use a Super Simple Formula to Determine the Best Time to Start Chicks 

 It’s disappointing when new chicken keepers don’t realize how fast the chicks will grow. They will order a dozen new chicks and enjoy them for a couple of weeks. Then the chicks begin to grow, fly out of the brooder on test wings and become crowded in the small box that was roomy just a couple of weeks ago. The uninformed chicken keeper might assume that because they are getting big, the chicks should go outside. This often leads to chilling and death for the young chicks who are still regulating body temperature. Until the chicks are fully feathered and have lost the downy covering, they are susceptible to chills if left in an unheated area. Spring weather is unpredictable and often the night time temperatures dip quite low.

 Please note that this method does not apply to people who live in year round warm climates. We are located in the mid-Atlantic region and I feel that this method is the best plan for our area and other seasonal states. In colder areas, you may want to wait even longer into the spring. Timing is everything and once the cute little peeps begin to grow into teenage chickens, you will want to put them outside.

Use a super simple formula for finding the best time to start chicks.Give your chicks a good start with proper care and timing.

Are you ready for the Super Simple Formula for Timing the best time to start chicks?

The Formula for Choosing The Best Time to Start Chicks

Think ahead to when your outside temps at night,  will be consistently warm enough and count back from there 8 to 10 weeks. This will be the ideal time for you to start your baby chicks.

Did you get that? It’s so simple! Here’s an example. If you want the chicks outside after they are fully feathered by June 1 then count back on the calendar. Ten weeks would be mid March. When you call the hatchery, ask for your order to be shipped on a day in mid March.

The important part isn’t the 8 to 10 weeks. The important factor is knowing your climate, normal weather and factors affecting your chicks warmth. If you have no way to keep the chicks warm in an outside coop, then you will need to keep them in the house until they can regulate their body heat. (Here’s more info on chicken keeping and winter.) The best time to start chicks will vary for everyone. I personally believe that when the temperature cannot be kept above 65 degrees, in the coop or in the brooder, even with new feathers, the chicks will get chilled. 

Best time to start chicks

As far as your Chicken Fever? Pick up a copy of your favorite chicken magazine and dream on!

DSC_3214

   10 weeks. Moved to the grow out pen in the coop.

12 week chicks

12 weeks. Quickly outgrowing the grow out pen. Almost time to brave the great outdoors.

14 week pullets

14 weeks. Venturing outside on a warm sunny day.

psst! I wrote a book all about chickens and DIY projects you can do with little cost. Check it out here or here on Amazon.




Sheep Care on Small Farms and Homesteads

sheep care on small farms and homesteads

Is sheep care part of your future? Can you raise sheep in a large backyard? In some cases the answer is yes. Sheep are adaptable and can be cared for in a paddock or small field if their needs are met. It may be a little more labor intensive and take a bit more effort and management to raise our sheep this way. Here on the farm we raise a little bit of everything. Well not really everything. But we do have quite a variety of animals. We have successfully raised goats for many years, a small herd of beef cattle and my sweet little herd of sheep.

Did you think that you have to have a large pasture of grassy grazing land in order to raise sheep? For many years, we did not have any grazing other than the grass surrounding the different areas of the farm. We successfully raised a small flock of sheep this way for six years. Here’s what we have learned about sheep care and how we do it.

Eventually we did add more fenced pasture area, and began working on our silvopastures in the woods. You can see more in the video towards the end of this post.

Have a Shelter

Sheep care

The shelter for sheep can be simple. They will do quite well with a three sides open shed, sometimes called a run in shed. Our small flock of four sheep actually have access to a stall in the barn but prefer to spend most of their time outside in the pen area.

Sheep Care Includes Appropriate Fenceing

When keeping sheep on a small homestead, make sure you have adequate fencing to keep the sheep from getting into the roads or the neighbor’s gardens. We are using board fencing, and livestock panels with T posts. From a durability standpoint, this permanent fencing has solved problems for us. The sheep can’t get their head trapped in the netting and walk off with the entire fence. You will need to assess your flock for potential of getting their heads stuck in the panels. Because the grass is always greener just on the other side of the fence, sheep will test the fence. We had a ewe in the past who would stick her head through, and although she could have backed up, and freed herself, she always was sure she was trapped. The message here is, keep a close eye on the flock with any new fencing style you incorporate.

Some people have success raising sheep using the netting type fences. When we first tried netting fences with our flock, they kept getting tangled up in the netting. I still think it can be a viable option, as many shepherds use this type of fence. The electric netting has to be properly grounded and have enough sun exposure to power the fence line. The advantage of movable netting fencing is being able to move the flock without having more fence installed. This might be the best option if you can set it up properly, and your wooly friends don’t get tangled in the netting.

Feeding

Raising care

Sheep are grazing animals. If you had a large pasture, they would eat grass all day long, stopping only to rest and allow the rumen to process the grass. This is called chewing the cud. Since our sheep spend a large part of their time in a pen, they are fed a grass hay. They react pretty much the same to the hay as they would to grass. They eat, then rest and ruminate. We do feed a small amount of grain to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and vitamins. By small amount I mean a small handful.

If a sheep begins looking thin and parasites and illness are ruled out, we separate that sheep out and feed extra alfalfa-timothy pellets with a small amount of grain.

Click Below to Buy My Book on Sheep Care

It is important to feed hay with grain so that the rumen does not become inflamed. When choosing hay for non-lactating sheep, choose a grass hay and not an alfalfa. Alfalfa has a high percentage of protein, and since it is not needed, can lead to urinary tract problems. It can be easy to want to over feed grain. Sheep will insist that they are still very hungry! Look at the condition of your sheep. If they are nicely filled out they are getting enough to eat. The majority of their diet should be grasses and hay. 

Cleaning the Sheep Pen

When we did not have pastures for rotational grazing, we had to frequently clean up after them in the pen. This has lessened as we can leave them out during the day, but some cleaning in the barn is always necessary. Old hay is raked up and removed along with feces and any wet moist spots. Replace the bedding in the stall or shed as needed to keep it clean and free of insects. Smelly, wet, dirty bedding is a breeding ground for insects, parasites, worms and disease. Dirty stalls and barns can lead to flystrike which you do not want to deal with.

Free Grazing Time

When we are on the farm we give the sheep time to leave their pen and roam freely. They can browse and graze on grass and various forage. One of our large grassy fields is available now that we are no longer raising cattle. Over the years we have added additional grassy areas. Since there is a large open cattle shed in the field, the sheep can spend all day lounging around and grazing as they wish. We do still bring them back to the barn at night, although with some fencing improvements, they would be fine staying in the field at night, too.

Water

Make sure the sheep have access to fresh water in buckets or a low water trough at all times. Try to keep some water in a shady location so it can stay cooler during the hot weather.

sheep

 Sheep Care includes Worming

  Keeping the sheep in a smaller area can lead to an abundance of parasites. Instead of worming on a schedule, we have switched to worming when there is a problem. Good management of your flock includes observing and checking them individually on a regular basis. Look for paleness in gums and lower eyelids for indication of a parasite problem. Check into becoming educated on using the FAMACHA scale of parasite management.

Some shepherds will choose to worm on a routine basis as part of their sheep care plan. Since we have such a small flock, we prefer to worm when necessary and avoid increasing the resistance to some worming products. 

Grooming – an Important Part of Sheep Care

Sheep care

With sheep care for a small herd there are some jobs you will probably want to just do yourself, rather than hire someone. Trimming hooves, checking for teeth problems,  checking overall condition are some things to keep in mind. Starting at an early age, train your sheep to be comfortable being handled. Hold their feet even if no trimming is needed. Inspect for stones or any softness or problems in the hoof. Check eye lids or gums regularly for healthy pink color. 

Shearing Time is Part of Sheep Care

Most sheep being raised for wool will require a once a year shearing. In some cases, with a heavy fiber producer you may be able to shear twice. Even with a small flock, doing  the shearing yourself can be backbreaking. We did all of our own shearing of our fiber goats and sheep for many years. Then we hired a professional one year and I will never go back to doing it myself! Our sheep shearer does the job in much less time and yields better fleeces. I am glad to know that I can shear if I have to. It’s an important part of sheep care. But knowing a professional and getting on their schedule will make your life with sheep much more enjoyable. If you choose to do it yourself, consider attending a sheep shearing school to learn the tricks of the trade. 

sheep care

 You can check out our available yarns here. 

sheep care for small farms and homesteads

or on our Etsy shop

Update on Our Silvopasture in this Video

Why We Keep Sheep

We raise our fiber goats and sheep for the beautiful fleece. After shearing, I will pick through the fleece to remove any badly matted parts or debris. This is called “skirting”, and is a very important first step. I ship or drop the fleece off with a fiber processor to have it made into yarn. Some shepherds will want to do the entire process themselves, including skirting, picking, washing, combing, drafting and spinning. Someday I hope to learn more of the steps but for right now I am doing what I can. 

With a little more thought and adjusting the management style, it can be possible to learn sheep care and keep a small number of sheep on a small homestead. If you want to learn more about how we raise fiber animals for our yarn business, read this post. Let me know how you have raised sheep and learned to do sheep care on small farms and homesteads.

Sheep care

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Sheep care on small farms and homesteads



Chicken Gardening for You and Your Flock

chicken gardening for you and your flock

Are you chicken gardening? Chicken gardening means growing foods that can be used to supplement your chicken’s diet. Chicken gardening is slightly different than gardening only for people. Our flock of chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea hens love all sorts of vegetable products and scraps. In the winter months, I ask the local grocer for the trimmings from the produce and then a feast occurs. During the rest of the year, we are able to grow fresh garden produce and herbs for our chickens, ducks and rabbits.

chicken gardening

Beginning in early spring, we plant the cool weather leafy greens such as romaine, kale, spinach, and cabbage. Also, broccoli and cauliflower like cool temps. Getting these plants started before hot weather hits is a must if you want them to survive a hot spell. Greens are one of the favorite treats for our flock and we save every bit that is not consumed by the humans, for the flock. If your property lacks abundant grass, feeding some other leafy greens can add essential vitamins and minerals into your chickens diet. Don’t overdo the greens however. Large amounts of fresh greens can lead to intestinal upset and runny feces. Cucumbers are a refreshing treat for the flock. Placing a large chunk of cabbage into a wire basket and suspending the basket at beak level adds a boredom buster to the flock’s day. 

Herb Gardening for Chickens 

I grow as big an herb garden as I can each year. Starting in the early spring with some seeds and some started plants, I tend the herbs and frequently harvest and disperse to the flocks here on the farm. Since some herbs are tender I grow them in raised beds or container gardens away from the chicken flock. I don’t want them trampled or the roots destroyed by a scratching chicken. 

There are very few herbs that your chickens can’t have as a treat or a health boost. In addition to garlic, pumpkins and dandelions, herbs will do the most good for your flock if fed fresh in small amounts frequently. In addition to herbs, many other plants are safe for chickens to consume. The herbs can be used to make infused oils, salves and teas to help correct health issues in the flock, too. 

Many herbs will lend specific benefits to your flock, marigolds, borage, carrots, and parsley, in particular, will boost egg laying and egg yolk color.

Don’t forget the benefit of growing herbs for the coop environment, too. Not only will the herbs freshen the air, calm the hens, and relax the egg laying mechanism, herbs are great at repelling rodents and insects naturally. I love snipping herbs on the way to the chicken yard. Sprinkle the herbs on the nests, in the feed bowls, and even in the water! An herbal “tea” will add many health benefits to your flock.

Edible Flowers for Chickens 

A great addition to your vegetable garden are edible flowers. Not only are some garden flowers good for insect repellent in the garden but chickens can eat some of the flowers too. Violets, roses, mallow, daisies and sunflowers are good choices for a garden that you share with chickens.

Pumpkins Take Room to Grow, But the Chickens will Love the Treat

Pumpkins are an essential treat on our farm. Last year was a great year for pumpkins and markets in our area were selling pumpkins at the most reasonable price I have seen in years. I supplemented what we grew ourselves, with a huge box of small pumpkins from the farmers market. We had fresh pumpkins to give the chickens up until March. 

Many chicken keepers point to the unproven fact that eating fresh pumpkin seeds will prevent worms in your flock. While pumpkin is a healthy treat, the real story is more complicated. Eating pumpkin seeds may not cure a heavy presence of intestinal worms but feeding pumpkin can help the gut stay healthy and unwelcome to future worms looking to stay. Pumpkins are also high in Beta carotene which helps promote good overall health. Make sure you give your pumpkins plenty of room to roam while they grow and provide well draining soil and almost full sun.

chicken gardening

Cool Treats for Hot Summer Days 

By far the favorite treat we plant is watermelon. Cool and refreshing to humans and flock members alike, nothing beats it on a hot, sultry summer day. I chop the watermelon into large chunks and they dive right in. The ducks will gobble up the sweet melon center all the way down to the thinnest rind. The chickens will eat the entire watermelon, rind and all. So the pieces the ducks leave behind eventually end up in the chicken run for the chickens to finish off. No waste here! If you have leftover cut up melon from a cook out, you can freeze the leftovers to bring out on a super hot day. Water melon Popsicles! It’s a nice way to keep them hydrated during the heat. Watermelons also contain valuable vitamins.

growing watermelon for chickens
chickens eating watermelon

Legumes – Cooked First!

Beans, such as green pole beans or peas are another item to plant in your garden for both humans and chickens and ducks. My ducks particularly love cooked green beans (Feed only cooked or sprouted beans!). Oh the quacking it brings on when I show up with leftover green beans. Tomatoes and corn are also welcome treats. We have trouble keeping the raccoons out of the corn. They seem to know exactly when we are almost ready to pick the corn. The night before that, the raccoons start partying in our corn field.

corn in the garden

Other Chicken Gardening Cautions 

When you are chicken gardening, you may be tempted to throw the entire plant to your chickens. This is not a good idea. The fruit of the tomato plant is an acceptable treat, but the green plant is toxic and can lead to illness in your chickens. Err on the side of caution and only feed the fruit and then compost your plants after garden season is over.

Plants from the nightshade family are toxic. These include potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. The chemical solanine is contained in the plants and green fruit of the plants in the nightshade family. Potato skins are toxic. Some people will cook the skins and feed them to the chickens. I have always erred on the side of caution and not given the potato peels to them, cooked or raw. If I feed the chickens any potatoes at all, it is cooked first and probably left over from our dinner! We love potatoes too! 

Other Potential Problem Veggies 

Eggplants – Again, not a big favorite of my flock, maybe because I just don’t give it to them.

Tomatoes- This is a tough one for me because my chickens have always loved tomatoes. The green tomatoes and the plant itself are potentially hazardous because of the solanine contained in the plant. I try to limit the amount of tomatoes to a few a week mostly because the flock seems to get some digestive upset from over indulging in tomatoes.

Onions have a different chemical in them that can prove to be toxic to chickens. Raw onions and the thiosulphate chemical can lead to anemia if fed to the chickens regularly. I don’t give them onions unless there are some cooked onion in a bit of leftovers from our kitchen.

Peppers- Again, fruit is fine and enjoyed, the plant and any unripened fruit should not be given to the flock. Avocados should be avoided and the leaves from the rhubarb plant are toxic. 

Fruit Trees 

If your chicken gardening efforts include fruit trees, you should know that large amounts of the seeds of apples can cause toxicity and death. The chickens will enjoy some apples for sure but skip the seeds containing naturally occurring cyanide, to be safe.

Many in the chicken raising community feel that it is acceptable to feed all compost items to the chickens. The argument has been that chickens will eat what is ok and stop or avoid foods they shouldn’t eat. In my flock observations, I have not found this to be true. My raptors will eat everything in sight, and they have free choice layer feed, two times a day of free ranging time and occasional treats from the garden and produce aisle. 

Chicken Gardening and Destructive Chickens 

If you do not fence in the garden with some material that keeps the chickens out when you aren’t watching them, you will not have a garden for long. Yes, the chickens will do a fantastic job of eating garden pests, aphids, tomato worms and will help with some weed control. Unfortunately, their ability to know when to stop scratching, and when to stop taste testing every tomato on the vine is limited. When using your flock for true chicken gardening, I suggest supervision!

These are just a few ideas to get you started on your chicken garden. The list of potentially toxic plants is not complete but is based on the more common garden grown produce. There are plenty of sources available on chicken gardening. Here are a few more references to help you get started.

chicken gardening

Other Suggested Resources on this topic:

What Herbs Keep Chickens Healthy

keeping chickens book cover