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Looking for all the help I can get...I'm green and I'm in over my head

 
Datura Elijah
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Hello permies,
I am new to the forums and I am also very new to chickens. I build permaculture systems for communities and charity organizations. I have been doing this in the US for a couple of years with my wife and now we find ourselves in Morelos Mexico at an orphanage where we are creating systems of food production for the children and staff here. The system entails a food forest and many various micro-climated growing spaces around the property. I have also inherited about 300 chickens that have been producing eggs here for years but have not been kept in great condition. I have no idea what I am doing in the world of chickens. I do not eat them or their eggs and many of the communities I've worked with have been vegan. Granted, there is a great deal of common sense involved but I need to throughly educate myself on chicken care and I want to get as close to free range as possible without losing too many of them to predators and such. The people here have been mainly taking the advice of the local farmers and vets who are primarily concerned with volume of egg production and ease of care not really with any type of holistic approach. They get a generic feed that I'm trying to change and I've already been planting lots of great grains and legumes as mulch and nitrgoen fixers that will be used as feed for them as well. We have a very big healthy supply of compost as well that I give them but as I am unsure of what they should eat I play it safe by only giving them fresh greens, squash and cucumber peelings, and other basic veg scraps that don't include avo, nightshades, sweet fruits, etc. They are kept in 4 separate pens that are split into an indoor and outdoor section. They have an automatic drip watering system and those hanging feeders with the round basin fed by the cylinder in the middle.
I feed them in the morning while I collect the eggs and clean out the indoor coops. I completely clean one coop each day so they all get fully done at least once per week. The floors of the coop are concrete and I just scrape them clean with a shovel. We put pine shavings in their boxes for them and the eggs.
We have loads of scorpions down here in Southern Mexico and occasionally one of the chickens will get stung. If we see that they are stung by how they are acting (or not acting) we give them a full clove of garlic and that usually does the trick. However, I found one dead hen this morning and one that was found a few days ago. Many of them have many missing feathers on their packs and it looks like they were plucked out (maybe by the rooster?). They are taken care of as best I know how and I spend a lot of time making sure I do whatever I can. I am learning slowly but I need to know so much more. I know that there is an entire overhaul required but I need your help. I want to do everything right. Of course being where we are we don't have access to the kind of expertise and resoruces that would be avialble in the US but we are slowly raising money for these projects so I can buy some of the stuff we need to really give these birds a great ife. I'm open to all suggestions on where to start. Books, websites, email addresses, and just plain old forum advice. I can pretty much tackle anything in regards to growing and maintaining a happy healthy soil system but the chicken world is a new fronteir. I do enjoy spending time with them though and I'm sure I'll enjoy it so much more when I am taking care of them right,
The goal of this orphanage project is primarily to provide good food and clean water for the children and staff here but it is also to create a permaculture learning center that our children here will lear to run themselves and teach the local mexican communities about ditching the standard slash and burn gmo practices and start fixing the land. It is important for them to learn proper chicken care as is is a big part of the culture here and needs to be addressed regionwide. Please point me into the direction I need to go so all of us here at tashirat can start making a better place for the birds. If you have interest in the whole of the project you can see it here http://www.wethetrees.com/campaigns/help-orphans-become-community-leaders-in-ecology-and-permaculture
 
John Elliott
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Welcome to Permies, Datura!

It doesn't sound like you are over your head with the chickens, and you are learning rapidly from the experience. A good website to frequent is Backyardchickens, and they have many good ideas on how to handle small flocks. And your flock of 300 isn't too big by their standards. If they are looking de-feathered, it could be the rooster/hen ratio, it could also be too many hens in too small a space. Chickens need at least 5 sq ft per bird, more like 10 sq ft to feel comfortable and not too crowded. If you have less than 3000 square feet for your 300 hens, then it is time to build some more pens.
 
Datura Elijah
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Thanks John,
I will check out backyard chickens right away. Sounds like every hen needs a sq. meter? I have about 6 pens and each is about 50 sq. meters so with 50 birds in each it seems ok. However the pens are split into indoor and outdoor zones. The chickens have access to the inside and outside all day but go in for the nighttime. Can I include the sq. meterage of the entire pen or just the outside section of it? Thanks again John and for all my new questions I'll start new posts for the forum's sake.
 
John Elliott
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Count all the space they have access to. My three are in a chicken tractor that is 4'x8', so that is 32 sq. ft., but they also have a roost and two laying boxes that they can flap up to, so that adds to the total area.
 
George Meljon
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Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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Datura Elijah wrote:Thanks John,
I will check out backyard chickens right away. Sounds like every hen needs a sq. meter? I have about 6 pens and each is about 50 sq. meters so with 50 birds in each it seems ok. However the pens are split into indoor and outdoor zones. The chickens have access to the inside and outside all day but go in for the nighttime. Can I include the sq. meterage of the entire pen or just the outside section of it? Thanks again John and for all my new questions I'll start new posts for the forum's sake.


I think a square meter is too much per hen. That is 9 or 10 square feet right? I read on that site it is closer to 4 square feet and that number can go down the more chickens you have. If you have 300 chickens, I'd guess (purely a guess) 2 square feet per chicken is enough - especially if they can get outside to graze. Thanks for your efforts at an orphanage, that is heart warming in itself.
 
leila hamaya
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They get a generic feed that I'm trying to change and I've already been planting lots of great grains and legumes as mulch and nitrgoen fixers that will be used as feed for them as well. We have a very big healthy supply of compost as well that I give them but as I am unsure of what they should eat I play it safe by only giving them fresh greens, squash and cucumber peelings, and other basic veg scraps that don't include avo, nightshades, sweet fruits, etc.


animals have a sense usually of what to eat and what not to eat, especially if they arent starving.
i dont think you need to be careful when you feed them, i would give them any kitchen scraps you have. most animals have more robust stomachs than us and can eat foods past their prime, and whatever else.
 
Datura Elijah
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leila hamaya wrote:
They get a generic feed that I'm trying to change and I've already been planting lots of great grains and legumes as mulch and nitrgoen fixers that will be used as feed for them as well. We have a very big healthy supply of compost as well that I give them but as I am unsure of what they should eat I play it safe by only giving them fresh greens, squash and cucumber peelings, and other basic veg scraps that don't include avo, nightshades, sweet fruits, etc.


animals have a sense usually of what to eat and what not to eat, especially if they arent starving.
i dont think you need to be careful when you feed them, i would give them any kitchen scraps you have. most animals have more robust stomachs than us and can eat foods past their prime, and whatever else.
r

Thanks Leila,
I get what you're saying but I think that statement becomes less true as the animal becomes more hybridized and/or domesticated. How many well fed dogs die from eating chocolate and I've worked at a vet where so many per birds come in from avocado poisoning and other animals with renal failure from grapes and such. I think that domestic animals have very muted instincts (albeit way better than the avaerage person) and they also have access to foods that would never be in their natural habitat. I know that this is a very highly debated issues and some are way more strict than others about what the chickens can and can't eat. Some say their chickens have been fine eating absolutely everything and some claim many of their chickens died from this or that. Of course without access to all the facts and contributing circumstances who can be certain. I just hope to find a middle ground thats comfortable for me and the chickens.
 
Datura Elijah
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George Meljon wrote:
Datura Elijah wrote:Thanks John,
I will check out backyard chickens right away. Sounds like every hen needs a sq. meter? I have about 6 pens and each is about 50 sq. meters so with 50 birds in each it seems ok. However the pens are split into indoor and outdoor zones. The chickens have access to the inside and outside all day but go in for the nighttime. Can I include the sq. meterage of the entire pen or just the outside section of it? Thanks again John and for all my new questions I'll start new posts for the forum's sake.


I think a square meter is too much per hen. That is 9 or 10 square feet right? I read on that site it is closer to 4 square feet and that number can go down the more chickens you have. If you have 300 chickens, I'd guess (purely a guess) 2 square feet per chicken is enough - especially if they can get outside to graze. Thanks for your efforts at an orphanage, that is heart warming in itself.


Thanks George,
When you say "too much" you are referring to efficency, correct? In other words, can a chicken have "too much" space to where it becomes counter productive for them? I have 300 chickens and 6 pens, each pen at 50 sq meters. This number provides all the eggs we need so we don't need to up our numbers. If we can accomodate the chickens with a meter a piece that would be better for them or no? Is there ever a benefit to the chickens to have less space? They don't currently have access to the outside to graze. The outside portion of their pens is gravel and dust. In the future as my knowledge devlops and we can delegate more funds we will figure out a way to get them some "free-range" access but for now my thinking was that they should have as mush room as we cn possibly give them. Let me know if you see any holes in my logic. Thanks again for your help.
 
George Meljon
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Location: Southern Indiana zone 5b
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Datura Elijah wrote:
George Meljon wrote:
Datura Elijah wrote:Thanks John,
I will check out backyard chickens right away. Sounds like every hen needs a sq. meter? I have about 6 pens and each is about 50 sq. meters so with 50 birds in each it seems ok. However the pens are split into indoor and outdoor zones. The chickens have access to the inside and outside all day but go in for the nighttime. Can I include the sq. meterage of the entire pen or just the outside section of it? Thanks again John and for all my new questions I'll start new posts for the forum's sake.


I think a square meter is too much per hen. That is 9 or 10 square feet right? I read on that site it is closer to 4 square feet and that number can go down the more chickens you have. If you have 300 chickens, I'd guess (purely a guess) 2 square feet per chicken is enough - especially if they can get outside to graze. Thanks for your efforts at an orphanage, that is heart warming in itself.


Thanks George,
When you say "too much" you are referring to efficency, correct? In other words, can a chicken have "too much" space to where it becomes counter productive for them? I have 300 chickens and 6 pens, each pen at 50 sq meters. This number provides all the eggs we need so we don't need to up our numbers. If we can accomodate the chickens with a meter a piece that would be better for them or no? Is there ever a benefit to the chickens to have less space? They don't currently have access to the outside to graze. The outside portion of their pens is gravel and dust. In the future as my knowledge devlops and we can delegate more funds we will figure out a way to get them some "free-range" access but for now my thinking was that they should have as mush room as we cn possibly give them. Let me know if you see any holes in my logic. Thanks again for your help.


That should be plenty of space, I'm sorry I misread. I thought you were setting up space from the start. More space inside is more space to clean, but I have no experience with this - just what I've read. If you do go to some sort of free range with, say, electric movable fence, you could perhaps save space by using less pens? Thus less clean up? Or perhaps add more chickens? Just brainstorming here. I imagine with 300 chickens, you'll be an expert soon enough!
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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Laying hens need 15%-18% protein in their diet, and so grain alone would not be enough. I have no idea what sort of legume you are raising or what percent of protein is in it, but backyardchicken should be able to tell you more.

If chickens free-range then they get their protein in the form of bugs, but free range chickens are often killed by dogs.

It sounds like you are on the right track: your set-up sounds FINE!
 
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