Winter Adventures with Guineas!

Click here to read the post. Short version — my guinea triplets are now guinea twins.

I also wanted to announce I am doing some writing for Community Chickens and am unable to manage two blogs. So, backyard flock stuff will be there and I’ll post links here. And I hope to have time to get back to some of the other types of posts I was putting up. Forgive me for the long hiatus — it has been hectic. And I’ve been doing lots of snow shoveling. LOTS of shoveling.

UPDATE 2/27/15: I corrected the link to the blog post. Again, my apologies!

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Clucking in the Coop

The flock has been so enjoying their fall free-ranging (after being cooped up all summer) and they’ve fallen a bit behind in their musings. They’ve asked me to extend their apologies. And I have to apologize for waiting until the Thanksgiving break to put their thoughts to digital paper. It’s been a bit hectic.

The lady’s thoughts on the state of the world:

Babs Hen House

Poultry as part of your IPM Strategy

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Chickens can play an important part in your IPM strategy.

First, what is IPM? And why do you need to strategize? And why now? Well, summer is over and winter is generally when you plan next year’s garden. Part of the planning should include IPM.

IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, is an effective method of pest management. Formal IPM programs use the most current information on pests. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

Home gardeners can benefit from IPM as much as commercial settings. Both have essentially the same goals: manage pests and increase yields. By incorporating an IPM strategy when planning your garden, you’re getting a jump on the problems before they start.

Just realize, you’ll never get rid of all the pests in your garden. And that’s okay. While pests are not our friends, they do have a place in the ecosystem. And chances are anything you do to reduce the pests will impact the beneficial insects and plants as well. That’s why it’s Integrated Pest Management, rather than Integrated Pest Eradication.

There are several strategies you can use in your IPM plan, however, I’m focusing on backyard poultry.

In my opinion, one of the benefits of a backyard flock is the positive impact they have on pest management, especially when you go the “no chemical” route. (Frankly, that’s pretty much a necessity when you have backyard poultry. Otherwise, they’ll ingest the chemicals which is bad for the birds and for you as it ends up in the meat and the eggs.)

And a quick note on the chemicals… one, it’s important to remember to exactly follow the directions on the label. If you don’t, you won’t get the desired result and may end up with a worse problem than what you started with.

Another thing to remember is organic chemical controls can be dangerous, too. Organic does not mean “safe,” even when approved for use in organic settings. As with non-organic chemicals, follow the labels exactly to avoid harming yourself, your family, your critters, or any native wildlife.

My last reason for not recommending chemicals are pollinators. If you are IMG_0373trying to attract pollinators (and I hope you are, for your garden’s sake!), you may you inadvertently harm the pollinators. We need them to help our gardens grow and more of them, not less, is definitely better.

Now back to the fun stuff!

If you let your birds free range, chances are you’ve already seen the advantages of their use in controlling pests. While they eat all bugs, not just the ones you don’t like, you should notice a drop in the pesty bugs. You’ll see a similar effect if you have a chicken tractor and move it around your yard/garden.

To manage pests with penned birds, you can manually pick off the pests, put them in a glass half full of water, and then toss the bug-filled water into the pen. Your birds will quickly learn what you’re doing and that it results in tasty treats! And of course, short free range forays also help.

But what if you want something lower maintenance and not have to worry about plant life? You could try guinea fowl. In my limited experience, I find them a little more difficult to raise than chickens, however, once grown they are more independent and eat the crap out of bugs. They will eat some plants, especially in the early Spring. However, their focus is bugs and they are fun to watch as they chase one through the air.

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Christmas is coming! Take care of your girls:

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As with chickens, they do need a home to be safe from predators and the weather. And even during the summer their diet of bugs should be supplemented with layer pellets and garden scraps. However, they will clean your property of ticks and fleas as well as other types of pests. They also lay eggs. The eggs are smaller and the guineas may hide them, but they do lay. As I understand it, you can have more than one guinea rooster — they get along together much better than chicken roosters. Currently, I have 3 females, so I can’t personally verify this.

Keets! (Baby guinea fowl)

Guinea fowl tend to be noisier than chickens, especially in their first year of life when everything is new. Their call is loud and raucous and they are a wonderful watch-dog type of animal to have on your property, especially if you don’t have neighbors. They quiet down considerably their second year but if something unnerves them, you’ll definitely know! They also talk a lot so you’ll almost always hear something from them. A plus with guinea hens is this little trilling sound they make when laying an egg. I really need to record it. It’s absolutely lovely.

So while you’re huddled next to the fireplace sipping on a cup of hot chocolate, take a look at your property layout and your bird management and figure out what works best for you. Use your poultry to create a better garden and don’t be afraid to try a couple of things. Then enjoy pest-reduced garden!

(If you want to learn more, sign up for the UNH Cooperative Extension newsletter by clicking here.)

Babs Hen House

Flock Safety

Predators are everywhere. Even if you live in the city, your flock could succumb to dogs, IMG_0788hawks or even neighbors. The predator issue triples when you’re in suburbia or the countryside. So what do you need to do to secure your flock? You evaluate your particular situation and address each weakness you find.

Start with the coop. Make sure it is secure. If your coop sits on the ground and does not have a floor (like mine!), you have some options:

  • Dig the dirt floor down several inches, lay chicken wire, fold up and secure to the bottom frame of the coop, and cover with dirt. This will help prevent predators digging up through the bottom.
  • Dig down along the sides of the coop several inches, and insert chicken wire, then cover up. This discourages predator digging as well.
  • Line the outside of the coop with large and small rocks. Again, it discourages predator digging.

If your coop does have a hard floor, that will go a long way to keeping your flock safe at night. If a predator can’t dig through, they can’t get in for a yummy chicken dinner.

Discussing the upcoming snowstorm.

With all coops, ensure there are no holes in the walls, roof, or floors. And I’m sure you know to shut everything up at night. If penned, make sure both the gate and coop are secure.

Make sure the coop door shuts completely and latch it. You don’t want it flapping open in the middle of the night.

If you have windows, make sure they are screened. For instance, during the summer, I like to keep the windows on the second floor of my A-Frame coop open. To keep the girls secure, I put some cut out fencing over the openings. They get air, they get to feel like they are outdoors, but the fencing keep out predators.

If your birds are penned, evaluate how the pen is secured. Many people like to put deer netting over the top of their pens. This serves two purposes: keeping the chickens in while keeping the predators out. I did not go this route as I have a tree in the pen to help discourage predators from the sky. I also don’t worry about the girls getting out as my fence height is a minimum of eight feet. Last, I do want the guineas to have the option of flying in and out at will. While they tend to be needy and want me to open the gates for them, they can come and go as they please. Deer netting would stop that.

  • I strongly recommend putting a light in or near your pen. Predators don’t like lights and will avoid them. It can be light or motion activated, whatever you prefer for your situation.
  • I also strongly recommend putting a small radio near the pen and play it all night. Predators will think there are humans nearby and will most likely avoid the area.

After the Fishercat Incident of 2013, I found the lights, radio, and rocks really did the trick. I didn’t even have electric lights to begin with, just solar powered garden lights. Now that I have a pen, electric lights and radio, I don’t even close the coop down completely. Rocks around the bottom of the coop are my friend and the girls get to boogie all night if they want. While it’s no guarantee, I can’t recommend a radio strongly enough.


 

The holidays are coming. Eggs make the best present and your eggs deserve the very best!


 

During the winter, since the flock was “cooped up” in the hoop house, with several feet of snow on the outside, I didn’t do anything except try to keep them warm. When the snow started to melt, I saw there were several holes where the wood for the raised bed had rotted. I was worried sick about predators. So I stuffed the holes full of rocks, got my garden lights out and turned on the radio. I’m happy to report I had no predator problem although I didn’t sleep well until the pen was completed.

Bear in mind, though, I’m in a suburban neighborhood, with a fenced yard. While we do have wildlife (I’ve even seen a coyote), the more rural the area, the more predators there are hanging around.

Completing your security evaluation is dependent on your set up. Do your birds free range during the day and are penned at night? If so, the pen suggestions may help with night security. During the day, I’m not sure there’s a lot you can do. From my observations, the birds are pretty good at staying under some type of cover to avoid air predation. If possible, a fenced yard or field may help guard against other predators, both during the day and at night.

Waiting to be moved to the hoop house. No one likes the snow!

Waiting to be moved to the hoop house. No one likes the snow!

Are bears or foxes an issue in your area? Maybe you need to invest in an electric fence and very bright, blinking, motion activated lights. Raccoons? Get raccoon-proof latches and if possible, double-fence (i.e.,  fenced coop and fenced pen, or a pen with a few inches between an inner and outer fence). Why a double fence? Raccoons can reach through a fence and injure your chickens. Putting space between the outer fence and where the birds are can reduce or eliminate that hazard.

Much like the “Free Range vs Pen” question, security is dependent on your unique situation. But with a little bit of thought and preparation, you can keep your girls safe from predators looking for a chicken dinner.

Babs Hen House