I've had a lot of problems with feed billing. I'm not talking about getting annoying notices in the mail from the feed store that my payment is overdue. "Billing" is a kind of confusing term poultry people have given to a behavior chickens engage in - they use their beaks to scoop a lot of chicken feed out of the feeder and onto the floor. I reached a point where I would have chicken feed an inch deep on the floor around the feeder whenever I would clean the coop. I kept telling the Hipster Hens that chicken feed is NOT chicken litter. It costs a lot more than pine shavings, and it's makes me really grouchy when I have to shovel all that feed mixed with litter and poop onto the compost pile. I turned to the internet for help and found lots of advice - some of it not so good. For instance, starving your hens to alter their behavior seems both cruel and sort of dumb. Chickens are chickens and will act like chickens. Scratching at and billing their food, is just what chickens do. I did find a number of recommendations for commercial and homemade feeders that would make billing food out of the feeder difficult - which seems like a good logical approach.
The one that made the most sense was a recommendation by Jason at "Locally Laid". He waxed ecstatic about a plastic gravity feeder made by Kuhl Corp and sold by Stromberg's Poultry Supply. (It's worth mentioning that neither Jason nor I have any sort of relationship with either company.) Without any further deliberation, I ordered one and installed it in my coop. It has been a miracle. The amount of feed the chickens manage to bill onto the floor is a fraction of what it used to be with my old feeder. The secret is the extra-deep feed pan and the inward curve at the edge of the pan. The chickens still noodle around in the feed with their beaks, but the feed stays in the feeder. I'm saving so much at the feed store that maybe I should go out and buy the large screen TV for the coop that all the Hipster Hens have been asking for!
Many flock owners tout nipple drinkers as being better than standard water founts because there’s no standing water for the chickens to foul or scratch litter into, so the water stays clean and there's never any mess to clean up. But the Hipster Hens have never gotten terribly enthused about them. Drinking from a nipple is a learned behavior and is definitely not as intuitive as sticking one's beak into a container of water. But chickens can learn how to drink from these things, and I decided that it was time to get serious about it, starting with this year's chicks.
I've tried my hand at making poultry nipple drinkers in the past by drilling holes in the bottom of buckets and inserting poultry nipples (which are available on Amazon and also at most farm stores), but last week I actually ordered one of those fancy Farm Innovators nipple drinkers that comes with its own lid and a built a in heater from Amazon. (Total transparency: I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, so if you would be inspired to buy this or any other product from Amazon through my blog, it wouldn’t cost you any additional buckos but Amazon would pay me and the Hipster Hens a small fee.) As soon as the package arrived, I tore it open and with great excitement and hope, hung it up for the chicks to use.
The manufacturer suggests taking away all other sources of water so that your birds will explore for water and eventually find the drinker. I don't know how depriving chickens of water will suddenly make them smart enough to realize that if they poke at these little metal buttons with their beaks water will come out, but I crossed my fingers and removed their old water fount when I installed the nipple drinker.
By mid-afternoon none of the six chicks had shown the least interest in the nipple drinker and were no doubt very thirsty. So, I sat by the drinker and for about a half hour pecked at the nipples with my finger to make water dribble out. The three shy chicks hid in a corner. The three friendly chicks watched with great interest. Finally, Squawky the Sussex had her eureka moment and exclaimed, "When you peck your finger at the nipple, water appears! Now I get it! There's water coming out of your finger!" And then proceeded to peck at my finger. I sighed and filled their old fount with water. They all gathered around and drank thirstily. The next day, I started the whole process all over again. Both Sussex chicks figured it out (that's Squawky in the picture, demonstrating to Valerie - who is not a convert to this crazy new way of doing things). The others STILL didn’t get it, even with me and the Sussexes showing them over and over.
Over the next several days I continued offer the nipple drinker as the only water source for most of the day and to give them their old water fount at the end of the day. This method was an absolute failure—except for the Sussexes, the chicks just didn’t’ get it. Then I moved them out of the chick nursery in the woodshed and into their new coop in the pole barn. The nipple drinker went with them, but I also gave them a standard water fount. I decided that the move was causing enough stress all by itself without adding the additional stress of figuring out a new drinker. In the two weeks that have passed since the chicks moved to their new coop, the chicks haven’t touched the nipple drinker. We’ll get back to the training process and I’ll keep you posted. I believe in this watering system even if most of the chicks are not yet converts!
|The chicks drink thirstily from a chick water fount while the nipple drinker sits neglected in the background|
My neighbor, Linda, brings over so many vegetable parings and peelings, bread scraps, and other treats, that the Hipster Hens have dubbed her "Saint Linda". She's also very creative. See what she's done with one of my empty chicken feed bags - a fabric handle and a few stitches and this feedbag, instead of going into the garbage, has become a shopping bag! Who wouldn't want to take this to the grocery store? It holds a lot of groceries, is very sturdy, and has a cool chicken picture to boot!
Would you like to try your hand at making a useful tote bag from a feed bag? I found some easy-to-follow instructions on the wonderful Instructables web site. (Follow the link!)
A Chicken Tunnel
The problem: I wanted the chicks to have some outdoor time in the chicken gazebo and I needed a way for them to get to the gazebo from the chick nursery in the woodshed. The solution: A chicken tunnel – a quick and easy project! I used five eight-foot-long 2x2’s and a roll of four-foot wide hardware cloth for this project and spent a couple of hours, max, putting it together. Here’s what I did:
1. I made triangle frames for both ends of the tunnel. The two top sides of the triangle were two feet long and joined together at a right angle. The bottom was 2 ft 10 inches long. I used my miter saw make the angle cuts where the bottom piece joined the two top pieces of the triangle but it would have been easier just to cut the bottom piece a little long and fasten it to the side of the two top pieces. I used one wood screw at each joint to hold the triangles together.
2. I fastened an eight-foot 2x2 to each corner of one triangle frame with wood screws, then I fastened the other end of each of the 2x2’s to the other triangle frame. There! The frame was done! Since I wanted an 8-foot-long tunnel, there was no cutting for this step.
3. All that was left for me to do was to add the hardware cloth. I cut an eight-foot length of the hardware cloth, folded it in the middle to make an eight-foot long “tent”, then put it over the frame and fastened it with a few staples. Since the hardware cloth was four feet wide, it fit the frame perfectly and I didn’t have to do any additional trimming.
4. The chicks got great use out of this tunnel! Every morning I would open the woodshed door and they would scoot down the tunnel to the gazebo. And on sunny afternoons, they would just hang out in the tunnel to bask in the sun! The tunnel was light enough that I could easily move it around and reposition it. When the chicks moved out of the woodshed, it was an easy thing to dismantle it. The two triangle frames are stored for the next time I need them and the hardware cloth and 2x2’s, were put to use in building the temporary coop in the pole barn where the chicks are living right now!
|The chicks roost in the gazebo - chick tunnel to woodshed is in background|
Coop Enrichment “Furniture”
I added some new "furniture" in the Coop 1 hen pen. Maybe I should call this furniture “art” and see if I can get a gallery interested. My art is simply a roll of wire fencing with a wooden frame held in place with a couple of steel posts—incredibly artistic, wouldn’t you say?. It's good to have some objects in the coop for lower ranked chickens to duck behind or run around so they can escape the wrath of chickens that are higher in the pecking order. This will be really important this fall when this year's babies get introduced to the coop and the old pecking order goes out the window. Beyond that, changing things up once in a while, even something so simple as moving the feeder location, provides an enriched environment for the chickens – it gives them something to think about and keeps them from getting bored. Chickens are just like kids – if they are cooped up and bored for too long, they just start picking at each other. As you can see, the hens were intrigued by this new object that showed up in their hen pen. Emile the Roo thought it was something to crow about!
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