Roots 'n' Shoots: June 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The C Files: How to raise chickens – Feed & Water

The C files are a new article series I started on how-to-keep chickens. This will be another monthly feature about backyard chickens that I will rotate with the existing how-to-grow series. This month I will cover chicken feed and water provisions.

Feed rations:

Biology – Chickens are a prey species and have evolved a digestive system that allows them to eat a lot now and digest later when they are safe. Most foraging occurs at dusk and allows digestion of food while they roost. This also means that most of the littering occurs at night.


The digestive system of a chicken
DAFF Queensland

Food goes into the crop, an expandable organ, where food is stored. Afterwards food moves to the stomach (pro-ventriculus) where enzymatic digestion takes place. It passes into the gizzard (ventriculus) where food is digested mechanically by the strong muscles lining the pouch and the pouch is filled with small stones (grit).

Types of Feed – Chickens are omnivores. Thus they require proteins (insects, green forage); starch (grains, pellets) and greens (leaves, plants). Most of the chickens’ dietary needs are fulfilled with pellets (growing for young chickens, layer for hens and broiler for meat birds).

Mash: Ground chicken food. I prefer to give chickens pellets – it’s easier to peck, less messy and wasteful.

Pellets: Mash that has been compressed into pellets. Pellets that have fallen on the ground around the feeding area are more likely to be pecked up and not wasted.

Chicken pellets
Crumbles: Crushed pellets. Can be given to younger chickens, but are also more likely to become wasted if they fall on the ground.

Growing pellets: These are for young birds that have not started to lay eggs. There is more protein in this than normal layer pellets and the additional protein is required for growth.

Layer pellets: Hens can be fed layer pellets from about 16 weeks to build up calcium reserves for laying. Thus laying pellets have more calcium for egg production.

Broiler pellets: Cocks get fed broiler pellets to put on meat and thus these pellets have more protein and energy.

Feed
Protein level (%)
Age of Bird (weeks)
Laying Chickens


  Chick starter
20-22
0-6
  Pullet grower
14-16
6-20
  Layer
15-18
20 - ∞



Broiler Chickens


  Broiler starter
20-24
0-6
  Broiler finisher
16-20
6 - slaughter

Since the feed is nutritionally complete, chickens only need to eat a small amount of food for their nutritional requirements – this is problematic for chickens that are cooped up all day, since they are bored the rest of the time and peck at each other for entertainment. Therefore, providing some leafy greens hung in bundles or green forage (alfalfa hay or grass) around the coop, and by providing some scratch/scraps inside should keep them from misbehaving. Boredom is not a problem for chickens who are allowed to forage as they find more than enough things to keep them busy. Another factor to consider for cooped chickens is grit – this need to be made available for them since they can't get out and find it for themselves.

Scratch: A feed supplement that contains grains. A common formulation is equal portions of wheat, corn and oats. Barley is sometimes hard to digest. You just scatter some on the ground and the chickens will swoop in and start scratching up the place. Scratch is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Too much makes for fat hens and reduces egg production, so should be fed sparingly.  Scratch is reduced in summer and can be substituted with whole oats that improves water retention by chickens during hot weather.

Scratch

Table scraps: Usually any leftovers from the kitchen or plant matter from the vegetable patch. In general chickens know what they can and cannot eat. This means that you can give them just about anything.

The exceptions are raw potato peels and raw legumes. Legumes (peas and beans) need to be cooked before given to chickens as they contain trypsin inhibitors (trypsin is an essential amino acid). The inhibitors are deactivated during the cooking process. No onions or too much of the cabbage family as they impart disagreeable flavour in the eggs. No avocadoes, the brown seed cover contains persin, which is lethal to chickens. No fried or fatty foods – fat chickens are unhealthy and don’t lay well. No caffeine or alcohol (obviously) and no foods with high amount of sugar or salt.

Chickens in the compost heap after scraps

The compost heap makes for a great scratch patch – chickens get extra bits to eat and the compost gets aerated and de-bugged in the process. Chicken poop makes for excellent compost.

Green forage: This is plants specifically planted on for livestock (or chickens) as forage and the green parts are consumed (leaves, shoots). Some also double as green manure. Several green forages are available for planting, but I suggest Alfalfa.

Clover is also popular chicken green forage, but make sure you get the correct species. Spoilt or damaged Melilotus clover species (Melilotus officinalis, yellow clover, or M. alba) contains dicourmarin (gives clover their distinct odour). Dicourmarin is a derivative of courmarin, which is an anticoagulant (antagonist of Vitamin K needed for blood clotting) and may cause haemorrhage in chickens. Low-courmacin containing feeds have been cultivated, such as M. dentate known as Polara or Artic clover.

Clover best for chicken forage is white clover (Trifolium reprens) and allows good weight gain in chickens. Red clover (T. pratense) contains more phytotestosterone that white, but seems to be only a problem for sheep. T. subterraneum (Subterranean clover) and T. hybidum (Alsike clover) are also used as green forages.

Courmacin poisoning is not associated with Alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Alfalfa is a legume species and the young leaves and shoots are used as chicken forage. It is a good winter supplement of protein when insects are scarce. It can withstand grazing after it has formed a ‘crown’ with 5 week rest intervals. It contains 18% protein and a range of amino acids, vitamin and minerals (Vit A, Vit E, Vit B1/B2/B6/B12, Vit K, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Niacin, Folic Acid, Chlorine, Magnesium, Copper, Sulphur, Cobalt, Boron, Pantothenic acid, S-methyl methionine, Inocitrate, Molybdenum and trace amounts of Nickel, Strontium and Palladium). It does however contain saponins (used in plant pest resistance) that may affect egg production and growth performance, but a balanced diet should prevent this.

Chicken Green Forage includes:
Alfalfa*          
Amaranth
Barley  Watercress      
Birdsfoot trefoil*       
Borage
Brassica species (kale, rape, swede, turnip, beet) *   
Buckwheat*   
Chamomile     
Chickpea        
Chickweed     
Chicory
Clover (White and red) *       
Comfrey         
Corn   
Dandelion      
Duckweed      
Field Beans*
Field Peas*
Horsetail         
Linseed          
Mangles          
Millet  
Nettles
Oats*
Parsley
Plantain          
Raspberry       
Rye grass
Sorghum         
Soybean*       
Sunflower*    
Winter Rye*
Yellow dock  

*Green forages double as green manure – read here for more details.

Grit: AKA chicken teeth! This is essential for chickens that are given grains or green forage, chickens that feed exclusively on pellets don’t need grit. You can buy chicken specific grit with small insoluble stones and pieces of oyster shell (extra calcium). Our chickens round up stones and even their own egg shells (extra calcium) in the compost heap (no wet eggshells should be fed to chickens as to prevent bacterial infection or induce egg eating).



Routine – Chickens are creatures of habit. Being a chicken is quite stressful and routine helps to manage this. Our chickens get fed snacks in the morning (05:30 weekdays, 07:00 weekends) and let out for the day. They have learned to recognise the container that is filled with foodstuffs for the compost heap and run after us all the way to the heap to get first share. Pellets and water are always available during the course of the day. Another round of snacks is in the afternoon (17:00 in summer, 16:00 in winter - daylight restrictions J), which usually consists of grains and seeds (scratch - usually a mixture of sorghum, crushed maize and sunflower seeds).

Snacks: Tomatoes (chickens looove tomatoes – keep them away from tomato plants, ‘less you not want tomatoes!), Squash (this being all the fibrous flesh with seeds), smashed bananas, pears, milk and rice mix, yogurt (chickens do well to have some dairy in their diet), tinned cat food (once a week during moulting) and warm oats (winter for warmth and prolonged digestion to keep them fuller for longer).

Mouldy or spoilt food should not be fed to chickens to prevent disease – food not yet spoilt, but not preferable for human consumption can go to the chickens.

Water provisions:

Water should be available throughout the day. Too little water means egg production decreases and even stops. A chicken requires just as much water as feed. Chickens are lazy and won’t want to walk too far for water. Therefore you should have a waterer about every 10-20 meters, preferably in the shade. Water should be clean, because if they don’t like the taste, they don’t drink – water medication or vitamins should therefore be placed in all waterers to ensure that the chickens get the treatment. A mixture of vitamins and electrolytes in the water during summer months reduces heat stress. Water heaters can be used to keep water from freezing in countries with very cold winters.

Chicken water fountain

                                                                        Water requirements of 12 birds per day
Age
Amount (litres)
1-7 days
1
1-4 weeks
2
4-12 weeks
4
12 weeks +
6


 I get all of my chicken supplies for food and water at Farm City:

                                                            Complete Layer Feed: Afgri Animal Feeds (g/kg)
Protein
150
Min
Lysine
6.6
Min
Methionine
2.9
Min
Moisture
120
Max
Fibre
70
Max
Fat
25
Min
Calcium
35 - 45
Min - Max
Phosphorus
5.5
Min

Amankhukhu: Mixed fowl food – maize, sorghum & sunflower seeds.
Drakansberg: Sunflower seeds, cuz the mix at the top doesn’t have enough according to me J



What do you feed your chickens? What type of routine do you have?


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Saturday, 8 June 2013

Winter Vegetable Garden

Winter Vegetable Garden
Free Leaves - Texturemate

This winter we decided to try something new. We have a constant problem with leafy vegetables in summer – they bolt as soon as they can – likely due to the hot dry climate. So after numerous failures of getting a decent salad’s worth of leafy greens, we decided to try planting them in winter. In SA winters are cold, but the sun warms up the earth and no snow falls – so you can get away with planting a few vegetables.


Bok Choy - Brassica rapa chinensis
Baby Dash Spinach - Spinacia oleracea





So we planted some spinach, bok choy, sweet rocket, loose leaf lettuce, and iceberg lettuce – along with some peas, as our peas get plagued by black aphids during the warmer seasons. In the pumpkin patch some of our ‘lost’ onions of the summer season took the opportunity to grow in the absence of the squash, which works out fairly well as the plot isn’t used for anything else. I suppose radish and turnips will come up too, but we don’t like these much...

Anyways. To our delight the winter planting of leafy greens, peas and onions works quite well… 


Loose-leaf Baby Lettuce - Lactuca sativa
Sugar Snap Pea - Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon




Some random potatoes also sprouted in the pumpkin patch, due to some last minute winter rains – probably missed them during harvest, but I doubt they will produce anything decent – but if something comes from it, I’ll report back.

After some snooping about on the internet I found that you can also plant beans (we are on the hunt for limas), broccoli and cauliflower (I have had success with these, although not in winter, but will feature them in a vegetable of the month article), carrots and beets (not in our garden, can’t get a good worth of root out of them before summer) and dill (I am surprised at that – so I’ll gives it a go anyways J).

Basically, southern hemisphere gardeners (warm winters with no snow or frost) need to get vegies into a plot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight, protection from winds, some additional help of regular fertilising (2-4 weeks) and frost fleece if necessary (our frost only comes around during August, about a month before spring). As a rule of thumb, winter vegies will take about twice as long as they would to harvest in summer.Those of you in the northern hemisphere should do winter gardening under glass tunnels or greenhouses J.
Leafy greens two weeks later

 
Winter Vegetable Garden



















P.S the huge plant in the background is the sweet potato still going strong after being planted in spring, it is supposed to be dead by now, but it doesn’t seems to be quitting any time soon J


Do you have a winter vegetable garden?

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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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Saturday, 1 June 2013

Green Manures: Cover Crops & Green Forage

I was actually researching green forages as alternative feed for chickens when I noticed there is a large overlap between green forages and green manures. Seeing that nothing is happening in the garden for most of winter I decided to look into green manures a little bit more in detail to grow during the winter months as a cover crop. Here is what I found and thought that I should share J

Green manures, also known as cover crops, are grown as part of a good soil management and crop rotation scheme.

Sunflower flied Green manure
Helianthus annuus
Flickr upload bot
Wikipedia

Green manures fall into two main categories: Legumes (Nitrogen Fixers) and Non-legumes. The legumes add nutrients to the soil by converting atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to bio-available ammonia (NH3) in the soil. This is performed by bacteria, Rhizobia spp., that lives symbiotically with the plant contained in root nodules. Non-legumes are not able to fix nitrogen, but accomplish all the other tasks of green manures.

Green manures provide the following services:
ü    Replace or hold soil nutrients
ü    Improve soil structure (loosen hard soil, soil conditioner)
ü    Add organic material to soil
ü    Suppress weed growth
ü    Support the soil community (decomposers)
ü    Insectaries (shelter and house beneficial insects)
ü    Mulch soil & prevent wind or soil erosion
ü    Increase soil water retention
ü    Keep soil temperatures warm
ü    Flower to attract pollinating insects
ü    Some have inhibitors that prevent soil disease & pest build-up

Most vegetable gardens are dug over and the bare soil left as is for the remainder of winter. This may lead to soil and nutrient loss due to leaching and erosion. Green manures prevent this and it not like the plot is used for anything else…

Although legumes add nutrients to the soil, they are generally slow growing in autumn and provide less organic material (or biomass) than non-leguminous plants. Therefore it is preferable to use a combination of both – to get the best of both worlds J.

Some green manures have very deep reaching roots that grow into the subsoil and harvest nutrients inaccessible to other plants – for this reason they double dig.

Generally you can grow green manures in the warm or cool seasons. This means that the tilling (cutting down and working into the soil) of the summer manures occurs during autumn or winter frosts kills off the manure and winter manures are tilled before spring planting. The plants are usually tilled before flowering to prevent seed formation and the manures becoming weeds. Green manures are tilled a month before sowing any new vegetable to ensure that they have broken down and will not burn the following crop.

Lacy Phacelia
Phacelia tanacetifolium
Curtis Clark
Wikidepia

Here is a table with most of the well-known and widely used green manures (those that aren’t in the table have been provided with links below). An all-in-one resource J:

Name
Scientific Name
N2 Fixing
Winter Hardy
Season
Dig In
Chicken: Green Forage
Alfalfa
Medicago sativa
Y
Y
Winter
BF
Y
Buckwheat
Fagopyrum esculentum
N
N
Summer
BF
Y
Clover (White & Red)
Trifolium repens (W)         Trifolium pratens (R)
Y
Y
Summer (Mild winters)
AtF
Y
Fava Beans (Field, Broad beans)
Vicia faba
Y
Y
Winter
AT©
Y
Fenugreek
Trigonella foenum graecum
N
N
Summer
BF

Field Pea
Pisum sativum subsp. arvense
Y
Y
Winter
AT©
Y
Lupin (Bitter Blue)
Lupinus angustifolius
Y
Y
Summer
BF

Mustard
Sinapis alba
N
N
Winter
BF
Y
Oats
Avena sativa
N
N
Winter
BF
Y
Phacelia
Phacelia tanacetifolium
Y
Y
Winter
BF

Rye
Secale cereale
N
Y
Winter
BF
Y
Soybeans
Glycine max
Y
Y
Summer
AT©
Y
Sunflowers
Helianthus annuus
N
N
Summer
AF

Sunn Hemp
Crotalaria juncea
Y
N
Summer
BF

Trefoil (Bird’s foot)
Medicago lupulina
Y
Y
Winter
AT

Tyfon
Brassica napa
N
Y
W or S
AT
Y
Velvet Bean
Musuna puriens
Y
N
Summer
AT©

Vetch  (Hairy, tares)
Vivia sativa
Y
Y
Winter
AtF
N
Abbreviations are as following:
BF = Before flowering

AT© = Any time, can let crop

AtF = At flowering

ArF = After flowering



On that note, some of the beans and peas can be left to crop as they are easy to collect and will prevent them from going weedy. Some of the legumes are susceptible to soil borne pathogens and should not be followed by another legume crop, such a susceptible crop would be Vetch.

Sunflowers produce an allelopathic compound that suppresses weed and other plants growing nearby (good to keep in mind not to plant among other vegies!) Vetch needs to be cut at flowering for it to reach its full biomass and N2-fixing capabilities.

Alfalfa and sunflowers are drought resistant and can grow in more arid regions. Alfalfa and clover flowers attract a lot of bees! Rye and oats are easily killed by cool conditions (can easily be frost-killed), therefore winter rye and oats cultivars need to be grown in winter (those are featured in the table).

I am specifically going to mention Alfalfa, because of its green forage (alternative feed) potential for chickens. I will cover green forages for chickens in another article (see The C Files: Feed & Water). Alfalfa has a very deep rooting system and can grow to 4-9 meters tall. After the formation of its crown, it can withstand continuous grazing. It is a perennial that can live for up to 8 years and the flowers are very attractive to bees (used in bee pasturages). Alfalfa is not readily pollinated by western honey bees as the anther (structure with pollen) strikes the bee on the head when it collects honey. Bees don’t like this and learn to steal nectar from the side of the flower – thus the alfalfa leaf cutter bees are provided to pollinate alfalfa. I do not know whether this applies to African honey bees, but hopefully this will limit the seed-2-weed part. Also alfalfa seeds fail to germinate in already existing stands due to auto-toxic compounds.

Since Alfalfa is drought tolerant, can grow in the winter and provides green forage to chickens. So I decided that it should go well with my vegetable garden.

Alfalfa leafcutter bee
Megachile rotundata
Esculapio
Wikipedia


Those not covered in the article you can get full details about here:








Check out Composting for more soil conditioning tips.


______________________________________________________________________________

Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆
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