This time of year it is dark long before we get home from work on the weekdays, so outdoor chores are limited to the bare necessities. The cold wet weather means lots of mud and decreased egg production for the flock. Plenty of inspiration to research improvements to try when the season turns.
This summer the Sustainable Poultry Network posted a list of 10 recommended old-timey publications from the beginning of the last century, and we’ve been reading through them ever since. One feeding method mentioned in most texts is chopped greens, usually kale. After reading this, we trialled Beedy’s Camden kale from Fedco Seeds, hoping to add some nutrient-packed supplement to the flock’s winter diet. It grows well here and should stand up to all but a hard freeze.
The chickens seem to like it, and it’s easy to pull off a handful of leaves when we pass through the garden. We have a few plants started for winter too.
Some of the poultry books recommend a variety called thousand-headed kale (for dairy cows too!) but modern flocksters aren’t quite sure if this heirloom kale is still available. Apparently the ‘thousand heads’ refers to the ability to continue growing new leaves, while having leaves continually harvested.
We’ve found that our flock does best with winter supplements to their usual layer rations – cooked beans for protein, corn and wheat (thrown into their bedding so they can enjoy scratching around for it) for cold-weather carbohydrates, and fresh greens for vitamins and minerals.
Now that we’re breeding for better conformation, as well as plentiful, colorful eggs, knowing how to choose the best roosters and hens is crucial. Those top 10 poultry publications are a gold mine of information for that aspect of flock keeping too. We ended up with only 2 out of 11 eggs hatched from the Black Copper Marans we had sent from a breeder in Georgia. Shipped eggs are hard to get good results from, but being able to add good breeding stock to our flock is worth the hassle. Here is a sample of our new egg colors so far. We’ll be hatching some of these as soon as the new and improved cabinet incubator is ready.