The biggest cost of producing eggs on the homestead is purchasing commercial feed rather than maximizing homegrown feeds that nature readily provides.
An easy trick to providing food and exercise for your flock in the fall and early winter is to build a compost pile in the yard outside your chicken coop.
It all starts with your soil. Healthy soil supports earthworms, insects and other soil organisms that are invisible to your eyes but provides a wealth of nutrition for your laying hens.
Maintaining healthy soil that supports these organisms will go a long way toward providing your chickens with extra food and cut down on the need for outside inputs.
For the fall and early winter, the key is to replicate this environment near your chicken coop,
Start by making a chicken yard that you can keep the birds out of during spring and summer. This should be connected to your current coop if you plan to use the same hen house all year.
A good rule of thumb for space requirements is four square feet per bird. So for 12 laying hens you would need at least 48 square feet. Keep in mind that’s the minimum space requirements. Something closer to 100 square feet would be ideal.
You will want to do this in the spring or early summer so it’s ready in the fall when the weather is getting cooler and the daylight hours are shorter. This is a good way to increase egg production when it’s typically going down.
Start by adding three or four inches of sawdust or fine wood chips to the entire floor of the winter chicken yard you’ve set aide for this purpose.
This will begin to break down through the summer and provide all sorts of insects, worms and other microbes for the hens as well as provide plenty of scratching material. Hens that have plenty of scratching material will not be nearly as prone to feather picking.
In the center of the yard, build a compost pile of various materials like you would any compost. This can be a mixture of manure, straw, weeds, grass, dirt, woodchips, etc. The only additions that you will add to this pile outside of the norm is to seed it with earth worms and lightly dust each layer with high calcium lime. The lime will help the growth of microbes and provide the birds with some added calcium for stronger eggshells.
In the fall when you turn the birds into this yard, they will begin to scratch around in the decaying sawdust and at the bottom of the compost pile that will be loaded with earthworms and other microbes.
Depending on the size of the pile and weather conditions, you will be amazed at how much time the birds spend scratching and pecking at all the goodies they find.
From time to time you can take a pitchfork and turn over some of the compost at the bottom of the pile to assist them in getting everything available.
This self-service chicken food will lower your feed bill and provide healthy, chicken-friendly foods for nothing more than a bit of time and effort.
Give it a try! Your chickens and your wallet will thank you for it.
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