9.18.2012 Molting!!! And a few accidental discoveries.

So, the chickens have made it official.  They are molting and more than a couple of them look like they have mange.  The daily rate of lay has dropped from almost 50% to less than 30%, which means instead of 18 eggs a day, I’m getting 10.  Or less. The girls are making enough to pay for feed, but nothing else.

I discovered over the last several weeks my chickens lay much better when they get tomatoes on a regular basis.  Clearly, the DuMor layer pellets that says “feed as sole ration for birds 18 weeks or older” is misguided. If it was good enough to be the sole ration, the rate of lay shouldn’t go up when I feed my flock garden leftovers.  The DuMor feed appears to be lacking something.  So I switched this week to Purina Layena pellets.  It costs $1.50 more per bag, but if I can get an extra six eggs a week out of my chickens then it will pay to use it.  An extra six eggs a day would be even better.  I am going to have to replace the tarps on the chicken tractors soon and 16’x20’ heavy duty tarps do not come cheaply.

I have always avoided the Purina feeds because they add marigold extract as an egg yolk colorant.  My birds don’t need any help with that, so it’s an ingredient I am now paying for that I don’t need.  Since it was raining heavily today, I spent most of the afternoon comparing ingredients between the two brands.  Aside from being designed for birds raised in confinement (hence the “sole ration” business), commercial chicken feeds are designed for modern production lines of meat and egg layers.  It’s all about early and efficient productivity.  The feed really isn’t meant for slow growing heritage breeds that spend much of the year on pasture foraging for bugs and seeds.

There was one ingredient in both feeds that caught my attention.  Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex.  That’s a scientific mouthful for Vitamin K3.  Vitamin K comes primarily in 3 forms, aptly named 1, 2, and 3.  K1 occurs naturally in plants – alfalfa is a good source.  K2 is synthesized naturally in the digestive tract.  K3 is a synthetic form of the substance.  Vitamin K deficiencies interrupt natural blood clotting and are more common in birds than in mammals.  K3 was banned for human consumption in 1962 over concerns about liver and kidney damage.  It is still widely used in pet food and hog and poultry feed.  Many of the chickens we butchered this year had liver damage.  That liver damage could have been caused by a lot of things, not necessarily the K3.  But it definitely raised my eyebrows.  Another ingredient I pay for and could probably do without. (Shaking my head.  So many variables.)

So anyway, we’ll go with the Purina for a while and see what happens.  I hope over the next couple of days to compile my two year’s worth of egg data to see how much temperature, day length and feed changes have affected the flock.  Mostly though I want to see if I have enough information to tell me how long the molt is likely to last.

The marigold wine is still in its primary fermenting bucket and for the past 48 hours it has been in the “unpleasant smell” stage of the brewing process.  This evening though it has begun to mellow a bit.  Tomorrow, I strain the mixture to remove the flower petals, raisins and citrus peels. The remaining liquid then goes into a glass carboy with an airlock to do its secondary fermentation.  I won’t have to smell it again until I rack it.

I also accidentally discovered a way to dry fruit with nearly no effort.  Remember those Keiffer pears I picked several weeks ago?  Well, because they were stone hard, I wrapped them in newspaper, put them in a paper bag and set them on a floor register in a relatively dark corner of the house.  After two weeks, there was no change.  After 5 weeks, they’d dried themselves out.  They did not rot.  We tasted one and the flavor was intense and very good.  So there you go, if you need to dry some fruit but don’t own a dehydrator or don’t want to use the electricity to run your dehydrator, all you really need is some newspaper, a paper bag and a cool corner.

Then, while clearing the garden rows, I found a watermelon hanging on a shriveled vine.  It was still good though there hasn’t been a green melon vine in the garden for several weeks.  We ate most of the melon and fed the rest to the chickens who enjoy melons almost as much as tomatoes.  However, top billing goes to the corn.  Chickens love homegrown corn on the cob, cooked or not, more than anything I’ve ever chunked over the fence to them.  Incidentally, horses love homegrown corn too.  They don’t mind a few bugs, silks or husks.  Venus slurped her corn cobs up like spaghetti, husk, cob and all.  Well, who knew?

And, um, well, I planted a row of Maris Widgeon wheat.  I didn’t intend to plant a whole row of it.  The seed packet was awfully small, but it did a whole 30” by 50’ row at a 5” spacing.  Maris Widgeon wheat is a strain introduced in England in 1964 making it as old as me.  (I like that.)  It has a reputation for milling down to a beautiful bread flour, but it was grown primarily as thatching material.  It was a whim, okay.  I really just want to see if I can grow the old wheats that I am not supposed to be able to grow in the humid eastern part of the country.  Maris Widgeon, with its British heritage, ought to tolerate our humidity and it is the first of many such experimental plots.  But you know, if it survives the east coast fungi and the economy collapses and I need to fix a hole in my roof, I’m all set.  If our economy survives, I’ll have some really nice mulch that is Round-Up free and maybe even a tasty loaf of bread.

As I wrote this tonight, I ran across this old advice for planting wheat:  One for rook, one for crow, one to rot and one to grow. It’s a clever way of saying plant 4 seeds in each hole.  We just put in one.  Ah, well, it’s not the first mistake I’ve made.  It’s not likely to be the last.

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