Now Geoff is a lucky guy to live where he does, he can easily use the electric poultry netting to contain his birds and to protect them from predators, because his ground is soft enough. My ground, on the other hand is like concrete when dry and not much softer when it's wet. So I haven't figured out a way to use the electronet here yet.
Then I realized I had enough chain link panels, including one with a gate, to make a pen about 10x12 feet. I also had a good size mobile coop sitting around empty. So I went to work and covered the chain link with chicken wire (to keep bobcats and raccoons from just reaching through the fence and getting birds). A tarp and some bird netting over the top helps protect from hawks. This entire setup is inside some low electric wire fence.
Now I"m not full time at the location these chickens are in, so this is the best I can do to protect them. That said, these are the oldest layers I have, from 2-4 years old. Prior to starting them on the composting operation they were getting certified organic feed with fish meal, but no corn, soy or canola. In the afternoon a little wheat scratch with sunflower seeds and meal worms. Daily they received a few kitchen scraps, herbs like dill, mint, parsley, calendula, and some other greens. Their laying record has been pretty sad for a few months, Only 2 hens were laying 3-4 eggs a week. One hen laid one egg a week, somebody (probably the oldest girl) was laying shell less or very thin shelled eggs and that was it. Normally in this situation every non laying hen would go to be soup. But I decided to give this composting idea a try.
The hens were moved over on July 29, 2016. And as of today, Aug 2, it appears that at least 3 of them are laying. They are adjusting well to their new job and unlike when they were penned and fed, they don't mob me when I come in the gate.
The compost is mostly chicken manure from the other chicken pens, mixed with sawdust and a little fine clay. To that I have been adding rotted bark and sawdust from where we used to cut and split firewood. Each day I bring them some kitchen scraps, along with herbs, weeds and greens.
The compost piles are being made in a slight depression. This area will be a garden next year, so I used the pick ax to dig out a couple of inches where the new garden beds will be and the piles are being made directly on that area. One side of the compost enclosure is open right now, so the birds can get up on the pile easier. (Because I haven't built them a ladder yet) So each morning I shovel up what they scratched down, then add the days additions, either manure or the old bark/sawdust mix. After I get that layer fairly wet I dump their greens and scraps on top.
The biggest disadvantage to the system I have rigged up here, is movement. It will be a production to dismantle and move the chain link pen down the row. Also, with the compost pile and the mobile coop in there, there is not much space for people to move around inside the pen. I"ll be weighing over the cost of adding another 10x10 chain link kennel to this set up versus the cost of a solar fence charger and some electronet, if I can figure out a way to use it on this ground.
When the space of one pallet square gets a little higher, I will probably put a pallet up on that open side and close it off and start another pile in front of it. When I'm ready to start a third pile I will have to move the enclosure to do so. It will probably take two or three more weeks to get that far.
Aug 5, 2016
Well the chickens have been on the compost with NO commercial feed for a week now and check this out, a full dozen eggs! Looks like at least 4 hens are laying! I haven't had this many eggs in a week out of this pen in months and months!
So how did this happen? I don't know yet! It could be they were just molting. Or the weather has been a little cooler this week than before. It could be that they are more out in the open, with more direct sunshine and fresh air than in the barn. Or it could be that they are getting some vitamin, mineral or hormone from the compost that they needed.
Aug 9, 2016
This is the second week of the experiment. I took a couple of days and raked down the the pile of compost. Then I turned it all back into the pile, wetting it down as I went.
Then I started a new pile with some shredded paper, chopped weed trees and manure. I've ordered a compost thermometer so I can keep track of the temperature of the piles. To kill pathogens the center of the pile has to be at 131 degrees or higher for at least three days. Then you turn the pile and put the top and side material into the center where it can get hot too.
|starting the second pile|