Monday, April 14, 2014

Fodder for Chickens

Anyone who raises chickens for either meat or eggs will tell you that your biggest expense is feed. Good quality, organic, soy-free feed runs around here for about 60 cents per pound. It may not sound like much, but when our 4 chickens eat 10 pounds a week, that makes just feeding them each week cost $6.00. in one year, it costs us $313 to feed 4 chickens. In one year, we get about 200 eggs per chicken, so 800 eggs per year. Doing the math (($313/800) x 12) bring us to $4.70 per dozen eggs. Kinda expensive, though not unreasonable for "pastured, organic" eggs. Still, not cost effective when I can buy 2 dozen organic eggs at Costco for $8.58 ($4.29/doz). In an effort to bring our costs down, I've been researching alternative feeds and found that growing fodder, specifically wheat or barley, is a very cost-effective method.

After seeing a few setups, including some high-cost professional systems, I figured out that I could set it up for only a few dollars. I bought cheap, shoebox-sized tubs at Lowe's for about $1 each and used my soldering iron to burn small holes in the bottom of one end for drainage. I used the wire shelving I had gotten from a friend when he moved. I got a 2x2 piece of pine and cut it into 3 pieces to use as a shim to set the tubs on an angle. All told, I think I invested about $15 in this arrangement.

My first attempts were using barley, which is generally considered to be higher in nutrition than most other fodders. I got it from Reedy Fork Farm. It costs roughly the same as the layer feed, though the idea behind fodder is that you can turn one pound of seed into 6 pounds of food. So rather than feeding them 10 pounds of seeds a week, I can feed them 1.6 pounds of seeds grown into 10 pounds of fodder, thus reducing my costs from $6/week to about $1/week. The daily routine involves soaking 6 ounces of barley for 12 hours and then pouring it into an empty tub, which then gets watered 2 to 3 times a day. The theory is that it will sprout and should reach an optimum height of 6 inches and a weight nearing 36 ounces in about 7 days.

How can growing barley make it better than just giving them the seeds? Well, just search for "sprouting grains" and you'll find a plethora of pages about the benefits and the changes involved in the growing process. Do chickens really eat what is essentially grass? Yup! Chickens are omnivores, which  means they eat anything. Grasses are a big part of their diet. Ours love foraging for clover and fescue. Heaven forbid they are let loose in the garden! They'll eat every sprout and every leaf showing on the plants. But anyway, back to the plans...

Unfortunately, as I discovered, barley is very picky about temperature. It has to be above 70 degrees for it to even think about sprouting and the room where I'm doing this is... well... less than ideal in the winter. The room never got above 65, so my barley was a dud. It hardly sprouted, let alone grew into a cost-reducing feed system. I was going from 6 ounces to about 10 ounces over 12 days, with almost all the gain in the initial 12-hour soak. After trying different things like a space heater and a grow light (no, not particularly a decent one), I gave up and got a bag of wheat.

Wheat is considerably cheaper ($22.50 for 50lbs vs $29 for barley) and, thankfully, much easier to grow. It's less finicky about the temperature and sprouts very easily.

The bottom tub in the picture is 12-day barley. Almost no growth. The top tub is 7-day wheat. 12 ounces of wheat seed became 53 ounces of wheat grass. And yes, you can juice this and drink it if you really want to. Rebecca asked if we could grow sod for our lawn this way. I told her it wasn't exactly efficient to replant 6000 square feet of grass one square foot at a time....

You may notice that there's no dirt in the tubs. That's because it will grow all on its own. The roots all grow together and form a tightly woven mat that retains the water it needs to live. Obviously, I couldn't grow a wheat crop in the little tubs, but for this purpose, it works wonderfully.

After doing this for a couple of weeks, I'm now turning 6.6 ounces of seeds into about 26 ounces of food for the chickens per day, which is more than the average 23 ounces of feed they were eating. This is costing me 18.5 cents per day instead of the 86.25 cents we were paying for the prepared feed. If this works long-term, it will reduce our yearly cost to $67.75 or $1.02 per dozen eggs. Not too shabby...

The real question is: are they eating it? Uh.... yeah.

They freak out when I bring it to them each morning. They first fight over the loose seeds in the bottom, but then they start pulling apart the root mat and go to town. They'll usually eat about half of it right away and then go scratch in the yard for bugs for a while. They'll sort of graze on it for the rest of the day and then I'm left with a little bit of dried out wheat in the tub at the end of the day. Rough guess? 3 to 4 ounces left over, which is less than an ounce of seed. I could probably fine tune the amount I'm growing so that there's no waste at all, but I think I'd rather waste a little than there not be enough and we start to lose egg production.

We'll be adding 2 more layers to our flock in about 6 weeks, so we'll see how that affects the balance. Once the weather warms up for good, I'll also be adding a black soldier fly larvae system that will hopefully provide a significant amount of feed through the summer months. If you're squeamish, don't look up the videos on youtube about them. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mmmm... Gonna taste like...

Well.... Chicken, I hope. 

10 Jersey Giants are starting the fattening process. Last year's Delawares we a bit of a bust with the heaviest topping out at 2.5lbs dressed weight. This year, we're hoping for 4 to 5 lbs per bird at 12 weeks. I put a couple on the scale and they're right around 1.4 ounces at this point, which is 4 days old. Ok chickens: you have 80 days to gain at least 63 ounces. Get eating.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Baby Otters!

The Greensboro Natural Science Center's SciQuarium recently introduced 5 baby otters that were born a couple of months ago. We managed (after a couple of missed attempts) to get there in time to see them. They are only in the habitat until 1:30pm daily, but we usually don't go until later in the day to avoid the school groups. It was worth braving the crowds to get to see them! They were so very cute and playful, running and wrestling with each other and exploring the "new" world around them. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Plum Tuckered

Now that Emma's running around with the bigger kids (playing their games, doing their fitness activities, doing outside in the yard with them and all manner of things,) She sometimes gets tired before it's actually naptime.  

Often around lunchtime, the call goes out: "Where's Emma?"

"Anyone seen Emma?"

"Found her!" 
Lunch isn't even enough to keep her from catching a few Zs. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Irene on the move!

 Irene is starting to get her knees under her and slowly move herself across rooms now.

She usually needs some motivation and, just like all the rest of our kiddos, a phone works very well.

Though sometimes, it's juts too far to try.

That's when Mama becomes a better motivator.


"That tired me out!"

Monday, March 31, 2014

Storms, a literature study

We have been reading some children's books on storms the last few weeks. This is part of our Five In a Row Curriculum. We use it as a guide. I am just not so good at following things as they are written. :) There are many resources out there to be found on people's blog and the Homeschool Share site. It has been a fun trail to go down. We started with a FIAR Vol. 1 book and then I just kept on going with the storm theme. Our selections were Storm In the Night by Mary Stolz (which was our only actual FIAR selection this time), The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow, Thundercake by Patricia Polacco, Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey, and Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey.  We are continuing to do one book a week, reading it each day, and then discussing, doing activities, and making pages for his "lapbook/notebook journal".
For Storm in the Night, we discussed fears, the science of thunder and lightning, the Bible story of Jesus calming the storm, compared Grandfather and Thomas, did copywork, listened close to sounds especially in the dark or with our eyes closed, and sources of light.

For The Storm Book, we discussed landforms and geography, wind and made an anemometer, rainbows, and some poetry. We listened to parts of this book a lot with our eyes closed as it is very descriptive in its writing. We made sounds like storms.

Thundercake was Gabe's favorite he tells me. We again talked about fears and doing hard things, family, did copywork, geography of Michigan and Russia, how to set a table, made more storm sounds, and made our own thundercake. We finally got a storm during the reading of this book.

Next came Time of Wonder and we read Psalm 46:10 and he copied it, we then talked about all the amazing wonderful things that God has given us and specifically the things that make them wonder what or why, we did some geography of Maine, studied time, reviewed our cloud types, talked about hurricanes, made a tornado in a bottle and ocean waves in a bottle, talked about tides and moon phases, and animals that live in the area. We were tempted to take a last minute overnight trip to the ocean but that didn't work out. Maybe soon. ;) We also had a tree nearby that uprooted during an ice storm, just like a tree in the book did, so we went to check it out. Sadly, we didn't find any hidden seashells under it, only water, but it was cool anyway.

Lastly we read Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man. This was Ezra's and Olivia's favorites they tell me. We discussed the lifecycle of a fish, sorted fish (fresh water v saltwater, kosher v non-kosher, ones we have eaten and ones we haven't), compared fish with sea mammals, fishing idioms, types of fishing, gear and safety needed for fishing and Olivia even made a fishing net! We then finished this out by going fishing. Gabe was the only one who got lucky enough to land a small catfish.

During the readings of each of these books, we did a picture study of some of the works of Vincent VanGogh. I came across his work called Wheatfields in Rain, Harvest, and another one called A Public Garden with People Walking in the Rain. That led to our picture study but we have done 6 or so of his more famous pictures including Starry Night.