Thursday, September 13, 2012

Building Unity Farm - the Chickens and Guinea Fowl

Last week I discussed the Alpaca and Llamas, which were examined by our traveling veterinarian, Cindy Fuhs, this week and given a clean bill of health.

On September 16, our chickens, now about 6 months old, began laying their first eggs.   Our Ameraucanas are the first layers, with green, blue, and sage colored eggs.   Our other breeds - Jersey Giants, Brahmas, and Buff Orpingtons should begin laying net month.

Our guinea fowl, also 6 months old, are likely to start laying next Spring, but since they free range our property, their egg laying habits will be harder to track.

How did we prepare for our birds?

The western boundary of our property is a 50 acre apple orchard filled with coyotes.  We have foxes and fisher cats roaming our meadow.    Weasels and birds of prey are frequent visitors.   To prepare for our birds, we had to build Fortress Gallus - a 10x14 coop on a stone foundation, sealed to ensure no predators can enter, attached to a 10x14 run that includes buried barriers and a thick wired roof.   It was build by Ponderosa Pines Wood Products.

Our coop is divided into two sections, a chicken section with access to the run and a guinea fowl section with access to alpaca paddocks and a path that circles our entire property.

The coop has hanging feeders and water supplies to ensure we do not attract rodents and keep everything clean.    Every morning at dawn we open a small door and let the chickens into the run.   Our rooster crows throughout the day - it's not just a dawn phenomenon.   He protects his hens with great vigilance.   Several of our chickens are very personable and will roost on our arms.   They enjoy having their necks rubbed.   Each has a name and is generally inquisitive.   We feed them a grain mix, supplemented by fresh vegetables (trimmings from our garden) and insects mixed into the forest duff we give them to explore.

Our guinea fowl are amazing.   They were raised in our basement, then moved into the coop at 6 weeks.   At 12 weeks we introduced them to the great outdoors, but they believe the coop is home.   They spent 12+ hours a day eating ticks and exploring our forest and wetlands but at dusk all return to the coop.  One of our guineas has a birth defect and cannot walk, but the other guineas care for him/her by ground flocking nearby.

Every Tuesday, we clean the coop and add new wood chips.  We scrub the food/water containers and the laying boxes.    We clean off the roosts.

On hot days we turn on ceiling mounted fans to keep the birds cool.

There is something very relaxing about watching our birds explore the world around them, scratching the soil, interacting with their fellow creatures, and enjoying the day until it is time to roost at sunset.

Thus far all our birds are happy and healthy as they move from "teenagers" to adults.   I highly recommend chickens and guinea fowl if you have a large property, appropriate zoning, and tolerant neighbors.

Next week, I'll discuss how we manage all the llama/alpaca and chicken manure.   That's its own engineering challenge.


Anonymous said...

I was under the impression you and your wife was vegan. If so, what'll happen to all those eggs?

John Halamka said...

When Kathy was diagnosed with estrogen positive breast cancer (now in remission), she replaced soy products in her diet with eggs, so she's now a vegetarian. We'll be bringing fresh eggs into the office and share them with friends.