The Chicken Coop Refuge: Or How I Became a Bug Farmer

I spent about a dozen years as an academic biologist including some period teaching ecology to university students. Often I find this background useful in unexpected ways.

Take my chicken coop as an example. This is an enclosed area where five hens live. They will use their claws and beaks to eat nearly anything that’s edible, and while I feed them mixed seeds and kitchen scraps, various live animals much smaller than themselves tend to be preferred, when available.

After satisfying their foraging needs, hens are shown taking a group "dirt bath" during a winter dry spell in the garden. Behind them is a small "chicken tractor" that I use to confine them in places outside of their coop.

I know this because I sometimes let them out to roam the yard, watching to make sure they don’t destroy a newly planted patch of vegetable seedlings or poop on the steps of the back porch. Their enthusiasm for worms, and little arthropods makes it clear that they would like more of them in their diet and that the coop has a shortage.

This brings me around to basic ecology, where population models and experiments have demonstrated the importance of a “prey refuge” in preventing local extirpation of prey in the presence of predators. Marine reserves are a good example of the application of prey refuges for increasing the populations of both predators and prey, and reducing population volatility.

What I have done is create little faunal refuges in the chicken coop by placing scraps of wood, such as plywood, on the ground. The hens are unable to access anything underneath the wood and after some time a dense population of little critters develops.

Only a few seconds after being turned over, the hens are picking bugs off the board and newly exposed soil. Since it is so dry in CA during the summer, earwigs and pill bugs (known as the wood louse in Britain, and a member of the class Isopoda) are most abundant this time of year, and likely move out to forage at night while the hens sleep.

I haven’t done experiments, or even thought about it deeply, to say how these boards should be spatially arranged, how many to place, how large they should be, etc. to optimize my harvest of eggs. But I do enjoy turning a board over and watching the hens go after the hidden riches. And I also enjoy eating eggs for breakfast most days of the week.

This is a Campfire post and I would like our readers to learn from each other. Does my story remind you of some “discovery” of your own that has practical significance? Have you found yourself engaged in "lateral" thinking and problem solving where you've applied knowledge and experience gained in one capacity to a new situation?

For live action:

Or not if they are roosting.

I might have to do the same things for my my chickens. We have 12 (White Leghorn, Barred Rock, Wyandote, New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington) most of whom are dual purpose layers/broilers. The shelter is a 12'x6' prismatic chicken tractor with an elevated loft with roost and nesting boxes (accessible by outside doors) with wheels on the back that I move every few days. One daughter goes around turning over rocks, finding beetles/worms/etc and brings them back as treats for the birds (who crowd around her whenever she approaches). I will be building a 12'x3' small moveable pen to house some birds when I finish with a garden raised bed in order to dig the soil mining for bugs and weed seeds. Also on the agenda is putting the chicken tractor in the sheep's paddocks before rotating the sheep through, so that intestinal parasite larva crawling up on the tips of grass stems end up as food for the chickens instead.

On the lateral side, we have Japanese Beetles, and I'm rigging up a pheromone trap with a hole cut in the bottom of the bag to dump the beetles into a shallow pan of water so that the chickens have their exotic food delivered to their plate.

I lost a hen today to the extreme heat and our exceptional drought in South Texas. Our pasture chickens are fine and my "outhouse" chickens, for my yard eggs are OK. We've had many 100+ degree days now and it is taking its toll on me, my two dairy goats, the cattle and the ultimate toll on the hen. Am carrying cool water to the hens as the water from the pipe is too hot to drink.

Glad to see your chickens are doing well and hope California gets some rain as I know the folks there need it as badly as we do.

Since the winter picture was taken two of my hens have been killed, likely by raccoons. We had 3 years without such death so it was a bit shocking. Led to the discovery of weak spots/holes in our coop that I chalk up to entropy, but now believe are fixed. Teaches kids about death and the attention to detail needed to prevent it sometimes.

I don't know where Jason is, but it doesn't rain at all in most of California during May-September, during which our water generally comes from melting snowpack in the Sierras, Colorado River, etc. But thanks for the good thought.

I hope the following is useful to someone in South Texas, although it may not be the most encouraging reading.

You might want to look at the recent conference in Austin, Climate Change Impacts on Texas Water. The Proceedings includes Texas Water and Warming, esp. p.23-, and The Changing Climate of South Texas 1900-2100.

Most Californians are dead men walking. The water from the Colorado river is slowly going away, as you can see by watching how Lake Mead is drying up. Death also is coming to Nevada and Az.

Thanks for the heads up.


Depends on where in Californina the men are walking. Your statement is certainly true for Southern California, but not so much for the Bay Area and Northern California, as these areas get none of their water from the Colorado system. We have some problems of our own here in the Bay Area with water, but being dependent on a watershed a couple of states away for our water is not one of them.

The answer to animal housing in very hot climates is earth sheltered housing. The easiest is to build arches out of some type of masonry and then cover them with a couple feet of earth (dirt).
The deeper the earth cover the better. The temperature at 6-8 feet below ground is usually a constant high 60's in hot climates. So the closer you get to that much earth cover the closer to that constant temperature in your housing.
The housing has to big enough to be able to absorb the heat given off by the animals and still maintain a stable temperature.

I would also recommend getting some books on rain water collection and storage. A lot of very dry places in Mexico are able to collect and store enough rain water from the few storms they do get to last the entire community for the rest of the year. Most of the large storage systems are ferro-cement - which can be easily done in homeowner scale by the average person.

Our chickens are allowed to run loose and the only care they recieve is a few handfuls of mixed grain scattered daily on the driveway.

If they clean it up quickly,we know that they are having trouble finding all they need(-or want perhaps) to eat,and we increase the ration.Sometimes they barely touch the grain for days on end.They spend quite a bit of time in or near the pig pen,and most of the remainder of thier time in a mixed hardwoods forest behind our house.

We do not have to make sure there is fresh LIQUID water on hand continiously in cold weather because our chickens can drink from the pigs trough which is fed by a frostproof hydrant.

We lose a lot of chicks to predators, mostly raccoons I think,and we don't get too many eggs because the nests are hidden in hard to find or inaccessable spots.But they eggs we do find definitely taste much better than supermarket eggs,and cost almost nothing,in terms of cash.

We definitely have far fewer ticks-hardly any actually- than most of our nieghbors who don't have chickens,and my impression is that there are less flies than years when we haven't had chickens.

Our chickens very seldom do any damage to our gardens,but chickens confined in a smallish backyard containing a garden may cause problems ranging from scratching up new plantings,and eating small seedling plants to pecking tomatos,unless fenced out of the garden.

We have used a movable enclosure to keep chickens confined on a small patch of ground that will be planted later but we did not find it to be worthwhile-given the fact that our soil is mostly heavy clay,the chickens just can't whip a grass sod in a reasonable length of time.We have friends in other areas where the soil is lighter that get good results with this technique,and I definitely believe that it is a very good strategy for gardeners who have time to feed and water the enclosed chickens-particularly so if they don't have plenty of land.

If you enclose your chickens in a coop,and feed and water them well for a few days-at least a week-and then open the coop late in the afternoon,your chickens will gradually venture out a very short distance to explore and return to the coop on thier own.

Open the coop a little earlier every day and after another week or so they know where home is-don't feed them anywhere else-and you can let them out as early as you like.There is no need to close the coop unless you have problems with predators-BUT problems have a way of arriving out of nowhere in a single night.

A good tight coop is almost a necessity in extremely cold weather to protect your chickens from the wind and weather,unless you have the kind we keep-survivors ,pure and simple.Ours roost mostly in a very dense magnolia which apparently offers them all the protection they need,but they ARE well fed.On really cold and windy days they hang around the sheds or in sheltered places out of the wind.

These chickens know that we feed them but even the momma hens with hungry chicks don't really trust us,or the hounds(who would not touch a chicken under any circumstance),or cars or anything that moves.They won't normally get closer than fifteen feet or so when you throw out treats such as leftover bread scraps.

I expect this skepticism as to our good intentions is the result of the fact that we shoot a chicken from time to time a twenty two rifle (2 cents a round) which is a lot easier than trapping them when we are in the mood for free range chicken.It's tougher than than tough Frank Perdue's but it tastes heavenly.

There is something warm and comfortable about having chickens running around-they seem to carry on a happy continious conversation among themselves,and watching fuzzy little chicks learn the chicken trade from thier moms is as pleasant a way of spending a few minutes as you could ask for.

One thing that never fails to cheer up my bedridden mother up is an invitation to tell anyone handy about her experiences as a farm girl looking after the chickens.Her favorive one involves replacing a "setting"hens eggs with duck eggs,and the indignant momma hens futile efforts to teach her unruly dumb ugly children proper chicken skills and manners-couldn't learn how to scratch properly-cuoldn't fly up into a tree - when taken for a drink they insisted on going in for a swim!And were no more cooperative about getting out of the water than spoiled kids!

Some days she can't remember the names of her own children but hopefully she will never forget her childhood adventures with her chickens.

I feed the chickens often just outside her picture window.

Great comments oldfarmermac....thanks!

Chickens are wonderful source of entertainment.

For some reason mine always lay in the same box, which is awkward when one is broody. A few times I have checked inside the coop to find two hens trying to fit inside the same box. It is quite a site and must be a challenge to lay an egg in peace with a big broody hen beneath you.

I had the same problem. I bought some plastic eggs which I placed in different boxes. It worked, I even got them laying in boxes on the other side of the coop that they had never used before. They also keep the broody hens happy too.

I once found 3 hens trying to lay in the same box (12"x12").

This year I lost 2 hens to some member of the weasel family and 2 chicks to birds of prey. Last year it was foxes. It sometimes seems an impossible task to both keep the hens safe and allow them sufficient freedom to live naturally.

Our chickens run free in the day time, and mostly return to the coop in the evening on their own - except for a few that like to go into the goat house for some reason and the broody ones. My daughter is great at catching chickens, as well as helping those that have had problems hatching. We lost six of our best hens and roosters last spring to the momma red fox in the surrounding woods. She was very bold, and I figure she had a litter to care for. I carried a shotgun around for a few weeks, but I never had a chance at a viable shot, and I didn't really want to kill her anyway.

So we got a livestock guardian dog. She's just over a year old now, and lives outside and is always on duty. We've never lost one since, and the woods are now full of fox, as I saw tracks everywhere in there when it snowed this winter. She also keeps the deer out of the yard, and nothing's gone after the garden either (other than bugs and slugs). At 100lbs she eats her share, but she's one of the most wonderful animals I've known.

I suppose that having a dog and a flock of chickens that run free all the time would not work too well in a neighborhood setting, but if you have a little room it's not a lot of effort. With all the rain we've had in Pennsylvania this year, the chicken yard had to be dug out as it was getting unhealthy - a stinky job but it will make great compost.

It is amazing the difference in the eggs compared to what is in the store - the yokes are bright yellow/orange and taste so good.

They may eat ticks, but it does not help much - we're overrun with them. I'm sure I've got Lyme again. The kids get it often, and so do the dogs and horses. Without antibiotics, we won't be able to survive here.

Supposedly, guineas will rid a property of ticks. I can't personally vouch for this as I've never kept guineas. I plan on getting some next spring. But everyone who's had them tells me that they will eliminate ticks.

We have three species of fox here: red, gray and kit. I've never lost birds to a fox altho last weekend a little kit fox was trying to get into the coop. I have lost birds in previous years to the bobcat, raccoon, long-tailed weasel and sharp-shinned hawk. Now my birds are more secure in the coop and chicken tractor. Turkeys, ducks and geese roam free during the day but are confined at night. The chickens are never free because they are too hard to catch, but the tractor gets moved every other day so that they have new greens & bugs regularly. One of my white turkey hens recently drowned in the small pond the ducks & geese use. I guess that she thot the white ducks were turkeys and that she could swim too, if they could.

Nothing will eliminate the ticks. A deer tick nymph is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, and the place is crawling with them. Maybe they would do OK in a confined area, but not on a property surrounded by wooded areas. Dry years are not as bad as wet ones, so they are thriving now. I expect next year to be worse after the tick boom going on now.

We had guinea hens - stupid and noisy birds, far dumber than chicken if that can be believed. At least they were ugly. I did not notice that they did any better than the chicken at controlling the ticks, but then they did not live long enough to be sure. They got picked off by hawks and who knows what very quickly.

Don't know where you are located, but here in California the western fence lizard has some sort of protein that kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and thus keeps the incidence of ticks infected with Lyme disease very low. Lizards Slow Lyme Disease in West I dunno, maybe you can import some of these lizards?

Thanks very much for that link - I've been very worried about Lyme for a long time. There is at least a chance I can hang on to our home, and I can do many other things to deal with what is coming, but Lyme is one issue I cannot solve yet. If you live here, you will get it - period. If you cannot treat it, you will be debilitated and eventually become a burden, unable to contribute to anything. This is at least a possible non-antibiotic. Perhaps this will lead to something that would help.

Sceloporus occidentalis & S. undulatus are sister species. It's conceivable but to my mind highly unlikely that the former possesses the spirochete killing antibody or enzyme and the latter doesn't.

Thanks - I've never seen one. I will be looking!

S. undulatus was common in Illinois when I was a kid but I don't know if its range extends to Penn. I think that it does, tho.

It looks like perhaps the Eastern Fence Lizard is also effective - except that in the Eastern states there are so many other animals for ticks to feed on that it doesn't help much.

EDIT: Maybe I can make our land really really attractive to the Eastern Fence Lizard!

Ahso. Very interesting. Thanks for the link!

I used to catch eastern fence lizards by peeling the bark off dead trees & nabbing them. So if you want habitat for them leave snags standing, I guess.

I'm really pretty excited about this.

* Everything I have looked at so far in terms of potential remedies has been something I could never grow or cultivate around here, and so would be unsustainable or unobtainable - if it even worked.

* Now here is an indigenous creature that has the potential to make a big difference. I may not be the most observant person, but in 46 years of living in this small region of Pennsylvania - most all of it in the country - I don't recall ever seeing one. As a kid I spent a lot of time in the woods, and still do in spite of the ticks. So I have reason to suspect they are not here anymore.

* My property would seem to be ideal habitat. I have seen the successful recovery of turkeys and fox, so I am optimistic that I might be able to reintroduce these lizards here.

If they are not here now, it may make a fair impact on the Lyme situation. Probably more than anything else I can think of. I'm on a mission now!

That's great! Glad to provide you with some inspiration. Would recommend that you check with some local biological authorities (maybe a nearby college/university?) and see what you can find out about the local history of these lizards before you get too gung-ho. There might be non-native concerns, or reasons why they don't live there (predators?)

Good luck!

Hi Mac,

Great post. Favorite memory of mine - bicycling along Ireland's "Western Shores" in County Mayo and staying at rural B&Bs. Relaxing in the B&B yard and watching the chickens vigourously working the bushes for bugs - and then having their eggs for breakfast.

Hi yourself,
I would give a couple of teeth to spend a few months in Ireland but circumstances and money....
Sometimes when I look at pictures of rural Ireland it seems as as if I recognize the individual hills.

What's going on here epitomizes two crucial points about the time in which we are living. The first is that the future, our future, lies in returning to the soil (including chickens and bugs). The second is that the most important thing to try to salvage from the oil age is global communication and science: yes, including chickens and bugs.

This from an old city slicker who has, up til recent years, hated farms and farm life. My daughter lives on a farm/commune where they grow vegetables, goats, guinea hens, etc. no chickens yet, I don't know why. They're very much on the internet.

How global communication will be retained as the oil age winds down I don't know. But lets stick with chickens and bugs for now.

The future is large corporate agribusiness, not any return to the land neoprimative fantasyland.

How nice it must be to see the future!

As long as we have global communications networks, big businesses will be able to manage and organize operations. The Romans built their roads as much for communications as transportation.

The SHORT TERM future for sure is still big ag big biz.

But if somebody doesn't come up with some magic energy bullets pdq,small farmers and local markets are the future.

But I don't doubt that there will be still some thousand acre wheat fields for the foreseeable future,or that one man or woman might have a hundred acres of fruit trees,but the orchards are going to be nearer the customers,and in general there will be a lot less around your Axx to get to your elbow hauling of food within the next decade.

Once energy prices shoot thru the roof,which seems to be as sure a thing as tomorrows sunrise,most of the economies of scale of big ag will vanish and the small operators will be in the drivers seat again.

And if the economy stays in the pits,or if things get radically worse,the one hundred percent vertically integrated agricultural system formerly known as subsistence farming and now relabeled sustainability or localization or whatever will be the "new" way of living for tens of millions of people who have few or no job opportunities available.

Anyone seriously concerned should get involved and get all the hands on experience possible.It might be the difference between living and dying sometime soon.

Think about this paraphrased quote by some English gentlewoman from the early part of the last century:

"I never thought I would be rich enough to own a motor car or poor enough that I couldn't afford servants."

Gardening skills will be a real resume enhancement in future employment markets.

Reading your chicken story was a walk down chicken memory lane for me. I grew up in San Diego (North Park to be exact) and I got my first chicken as a chick for Easter when I was 8 years old (52 years ago). He turned out to be a rooster and I had to give him away because he attacked my 84 year old next door neighbor when she tried to shoo him back into our yard and out of hers. But that first chicken got me started on my chicken career. The next Easter after getting rid of my rooster I got six chicks. They were different colors (red, blue, green, etc) and they grew up into several White Leghorn hens and a rooster.

Your story, Jason, reminded me of those childhood experiences because there are (or at least there were then) a bazillion (sp?) cockroaches in San Diego and all I had to do was move a box or something in my parents garage and dozens of roaches would run out from under it in every direction and the chickens wouldn’t miss any of them. I had chickens till I was about 13 when an apartment building replaced my next-door neighbor’s house. The city officials told my family the chickens had to go. I had the genes of a farmer but I was trapped in the city till I was old enough to leave and find my way out of there.

I didn’t get chickens again till I was about 33 and I’ve had them almost continuously since. Right now I’ve got 12 laying hens, a mother hen with two chicks, 7 “teenage” chicks, and a rooster in a big , completely enclosed chicken-wire run with a solid walk-in coop. I don’t live in town so every wild critter around here lies in wait for chicken dinner. For that reason I can’t leave my chickens out every day, but I still risk it about once a week. That’s partly why I have so many chickens - if I lose one I still get plenty of eggs (which I share with some of my neighbors or the local food bank) and when that happens I just keep the chickens in their coop for a few weeks. The eggs are always best, though, when the chickens can forage. I’ve been thinking about a chicken tractor so that I can pasture 6 or 8 chickens at a time, but it hasn’t gotten to the top of my priority list yet. Your story reminded me of the roaches, though, so I think I’ll drag some scrap wood down to the coop and lay them out to attract bugs.

It was painful to read about the heat & drought in Texas. Even though California’s experiencing a drought, the weather has been really easy on us here in NW California so far this year. I wish you, your family, and your animals the best, LaurenB!

Nice light-hearted key post, thanks.

I'll note that here in Hawaii, when conditions are very humid, and the air is still, billions of termites swarm. You can learn to 'feel' it and know when it will hit. We have a "lights out" drill here when it starts and powerdown our house so they all mob the houses of the people who aren't paying attention to nature.

There's an impressive amount of biomass involved. In past years, when my dad was alive next door, he would use a bug zapper, and would watch - highly entertained - as literally pounds of termites immolated themselves. Moreover, our voracious border collie Bippy, who was alway on the make for food, decided to station under the thing and eat the mounds of succulent fatty termites, lapping them up.

Now I will say that in a place where the environment was in some kind of reasonable balance, I wouldn't think that diverting a piece of the food chain from nature would be a good idea; but darn near everything here is an invasive species, and that includes humans and their houses as well as all the species of termites.

It has occurred to me that for the purpose of feeding chickens or doing aquaculture, a person with a deep-cycle battery (charged via solar panel, presumably) and a halogen light could collect humongous quantities of these once the grid fails. If one added a fan and a net to suck them in as they flew into the light, they could fill sacks with them. (or for aquaculture, simply put the bright light an inch off the water with some dimmer ancillary lights to lure the swarms in, and the termites will pile into the water.)

For that matter, humans could probably fry them and eat them directly; chimps like 'em, and the ones that fly are a lot more loaded down with fat. I'm not sure I'll get into that, but I might make a point of becoming known as "the termite-eating guy" if only for a plausible cover for having stored food. Shades of Dracula's "Renfield".

Seriously, as chicken food they'd probably keep alive, or dried or frozen. Eating termites in the form of eggs sounds best to me.

We don't have chickens now, but we have trained our border collies to harvest the blown-down avocados and run them up the hill. They'll run down, find them, run back up and put them gently into a bucket and repeat it for hours as long as you give them an encouraging word each time.

Edit - for some reason this isn't posting, so while waiting for it I found a video link of eating termites directly - seems to work fine. Enjoy.

Your thoughts regarding lights and bugs in a post-peak world reminds me of something...

A beautiful and famous place in Costa Rica called Monteverde started getting a lot of tourists. This meant more hotels, restaurants, and associated lights. People noticed that when a new light was installed in a previously dark place that the bug fauna was huge and diverse. However, over time it reduced, even quite a distance into the adjacent forest.

Scientific studies were conducted and it turns out the local nocturnal insect fauna can be decimated by artificial lights. I think of this sometimes when in my neighborhood or in cities. Imagine how many more living creatures would be about if this place was electrified last year rather than in 1920?

You're too right. I've been to the area in Costa Rica and know what you mean.

There are SO many ways the planet has been degraded that have simply passed notice. I thought, when getting older, that I had lost my childlike impression that there was life all around me. It was shocking to get to Costa Rica and realize that I hadn't changed - the world had. It took going to the cloud forests of Costa Rica in the '90's to see the diversity I grew up with in Indiana in the '50's. Humans are simply toxic, it seems.

In Hawaii, there's not much intact land ecology really to mess up, which is why I posted on termites. But light pollution has certainly taken a huge toll on insects. Then again, they'll bounce back better than most things, some of them.

And termites might be better captured than salmon - I like the idea of humans being only a few trophic levels above photosynthesis.

And termites might be better captured than salmon - I like the idea of humans being only a few trophic levels above photosynthesis.

Yes, I'll have the #3 "Happy Meal" with the termite burger and baked potato to go please...

We have a small pool no longer used for swimming that I use as an aquarium/fish farm.When we go fishing in a nieghbors pond,I bring back blue gill and bass in a bucket and dump them in.A fifteen watt flourescent light suspended just over the water ,with a large piece of white cardboard tilted over it is a superb bug catcher-the ones that bounce off the cardboard go right in the water.
No fish has ever remained in there long enough to grow very much before I scooped it out but I have fed them with stale raw hamburger,shredded cheese,leftover bait minnows and various very small pieces of table scraps.

Bass are finicky feeders but bluegill will eat just anything I've thrown in if it's high in either fat or protein and no bigger than a green pea.

We once had a problem with a type of wasp locally known as bell hornets,which look very much like giant orange yellow jackets about one and a half to two inches long.

They mostly nest high up in cavities in trees and the nests are almost impossible to find.

These wasps will leave thier nest at night,one after another and fly to a light-a lighted window is sufficient to attract them-and buzz around like moths.They are not very aggressive but they WILL sting,and when there are a hundred or so flying around ,a few will inevitably get inside,wear themselves out trying to get out again,and crawl into your bed or clothing when they get tired.

This led to a couple of VERY unpleasant suprises.

I eventually got rid of them by the same means Greenish suggested( could this be a case of convergent survival engineering?) by placing a large pan of water with some cooking oil floating on it on the porch and adding the tilted reflector-one caroom and they were in the water.

And to get back on topic-chickens can swim -or maybe half swim half fly-after a fashion -at least well enough to get out of the water if some kid interested in science happens to throw one in to find out!

Results of this experiment may vary with breed of chicken-the local chickens are regressing to jungle fowl.

I eventually got rid of them by the same means Greenish suggested( could this be a case of convergent survival engineering?) by placing a large pan of water with some cooking oil floating on it on the porch and adding the tilted reflector-one caroom and they were in the water.

Indeed, we've done this here when the termites do an INDOOR swarm (bad sign I assume). I find that a single drop of dish detergent to kill the surface tension does the trick, any bug which hits the water stays down. You'll find the same.

I have used a candle with success for indoor swarms. They would fly towards or through the flame and would usually get their wings burned off, or worse.

A parallel bug-collecting strategy can be used to feed fish and keep the local fly population down. I think I first saw it in an article by the New Alchemy Institute...

In really simple terms it is a roadkill carcass in a chickenwire box that is suspended over a pond or aquaculture tank. Flys are attracted to it and lay eggs on the carcass. Maggots are born and grow in the carcass, but then as part of their life cycle they need to leave the carcass and burrow into the soil for awhile. But since the roadkill is suspended over water they instead drop down to the hungry fish.

This also quickly lowers the local fly population by eliminating young flys. It may be a good permaculture type idea for keeping a farmstead fly-free...

I'll note that here in Hawaii, when conditions are very humid, and the air is still, billions of termites swarm.

Where are you located? I am moving to the Big Island next month, and plan to take up chickens and bees. I had not heard about the termites.

I raised chickens when I was younger (won a blue ribbon at the county fair once with one of my Buff Orpingtons) and my grandfather always had lots of beehives.

I'm on Oahu at a relatively low altitude, and for all I know the principal food for the termites may be the imported pine wood in the homes they eat, although they will also eat logs of course.

I'm sure there are termites on the big isle at low levels in places like Hilo, and the swarms would probably be impressive there. However, as you go inland and higher in elevation they drop off fast. On my cheap lots in upper Puna the altitude plus the thin soil over lava means that the ground termites don't exist there as a problem; I assume there are some flying termites there but I've not heard them mentioned as a problem (or a food source).

My wife and I will quite likely retire to the big isle; it's a special place in many ways as you know. We'd be there now except that my elderly mom's care has fallen to us, and she needs to be near the hospitals. That is one aspect of the big isle, the lack of certain kinds of complexity hits home. The lack of doctors is one; I've heard that there are frequently no doctors in the emergency rooms there, and that when a person gets a nasty fracture they just stabilize the bleeding and give them a jet ticket to Oahu (people stopped getting on the air ambulances since they kept crashing). So if we do move there, it may be in the context of a large enough project to attract and sustain reasonable medical facilities.

It's a great place to raise chickens; nice low population density and it'll probably fall as the economy goes downhill and people fly to the mainland seeking jobs. A nice nucleus of high tech over by the telescopes as well.

Feel free to mail me if you'd like any perspectives on the big isle. I've lived on Oahu since '75 but have spent a fair bit of time over there over the years sussing it out.

Chickens in the tropics are great at eliminating centipedes, scorpions from by the house.
In the tropics you can grow grasshoppers, but they might fetch a better price as human food than chicken feed (Tourists and traditional Thais enjoy deep fried grasshoppers.)

In Temperate climes, the plank trick is good. My sister-in-law set up a worm-farm. The top story must have been too dry because it became slater city {Porcellio scaber Latreille?} good for her hens but.

One of my former employees in Kaneohe had so many centipedes in her area that she finally kept chickens in her house to eat them, preferring chicken poo on the floor to poisonous stings in her sleep.

Won't see that in any tourist brochure, I'll bet.

My Thai in-laws keep chickens, perhaps 4-5 hens and a dozen or two chicks at a time, plus a handsome rooster. Regarding predators, they roost in a loft directly over the pen where my father-in-laws prized water buffalo (3) are housed at night. I think either there aren't any predators in the area, or the buffalo keep them at bay. I have a feeling it's the latter.

Come to think of it with this keypost title, how about directly farming termites on a large scale as a human food? It'd probably grind up into a nutritious paste. Termite couldn't be any worse than marmite or vegemite.

And a great alternative to soylent green for some places.

Seriously, converting cellulose directly to protein and fat would do well to support things like the proposed "society of sloth". With some good cannabis to get the munchies going, it might even go down OK.

Seems like there would be few "bugs" in such a system; the termite-cellulose connection has proven pretty robust. It'd be mostly a marketing problem. "Freedom Butter - it's 'mitey good!"

(note: this post is not an endorsement of human inhabitation of earth in current numbers).

Groaning, eyes rolling, LMAO!

This is a fun topic. Our dozen hens are approaching their first birthday. The eggs are great and it has helped us build community by selling eggs to friends & neighbors. The chickens are our compost makers. Nearly all scraps & weeds pulled from the garden get thrown into their pen.

One of the funniest sports is to see our hens play a game of rugby when a grasshopper gets into the pen. All chase after the hen who grabbed it and try to steal it. I haven't trusted them to freerange in my backyard for fear of my garden getting demolished, but I think I will let out a few to see if they attack the bugs for me. Actually they seem to love greens a lot, and my grass clippings are a real treat for them.

My latest purchase is a simple automatic waterer that I read about in Backyard Poultry magazine. I can't tell you how cool it it so not have to clean out their water every day. I highly recommend it. It's cheap, easy and is a very small mom & pop idea.

My hens fight over potato bugs sometimes. It is a riot to watch.

Once the garden beds are established I can let them roam without much fear of damage. In fact, they like to eat the slugs and other potential pests which can begin populating the garden in early spring. Giving them a lot of time in the garden right before the spring transplant season is good, then again after the spring plants like lettuce are well rooted.

I have two barrels that collect rainwater that feeds a watering outlet with a level control on it. Every once and a while I have to muck it out, but they never run dry.

As a child I was visiting an elderly acquaintance with chickens. I had this little toy rocket. It had a wooden dowel that you give a quick shove and the nose cone would shoot off the rocket with a popping sound. He had chickens wandering around the yard. I shot the nose cone, a hen made a quick sprint for it and then ran off with it in her beak. I had never seen him laugh so hard.

get some chickens if you can ....

without a rooster you can even hide them out in town

some of my gals ....

Nice gals... wish I could have a couple but DC doesn't allow it (although one anonymous urban farmer made the Washington Post with an article about his hens).

Looked at your Flickr pix and --on a different topic-- have a question. I think I see something like a screen house that you're using to dry trays of tomatoes. True? I have a screen house and am hoping to have lots of tomatoes myself. Is that all I need: Screen house to keep out the flies, hot weather, and a fan?

I use my greenhouse in the summer for drying fruits and vegies

shown is apricots drying

solar fan comes on and runs threw out the day

PS... I am currently not feeding my chicken flock at all.

Thanks for the pic, could you share where you got your solar fan and how it performs. I dried some of my apricots a couple of years ago but later they developed a pretty bad insect infestation inside the bags I stored them in. Any tips for preserving them from pests? Freezing? Other?

Much Thanks


I can't gaurantee that it will work for you but we have had good luck "freezing" dried fruit for a couple of weeks(?) in our deep freeze if I remember correctly.

Your best protection is vigilance -keep an eye on everything and use it up at the first sign of trouble if you can't think of a better solution.

One thing that seems to work for one of my nieghbors is to store foods such a dried fruit in paper grocery bags placed inside old pillow cases made out of some sort of partly synthetic fabric-pure cotton is not very bug resistant.

She ties the opening up with string and then hangs the bags up out of the reach of mice.

You could probably make at least three or four good sized bags out of a large sheet if you can sew.

the fans are from wall mart ... normally used with a 110 to 12v dc adapter.

12 volt panel from an auto supply

And on the subject of postpeak entertainment - how many of you posters know how to hypnotize a chicken?

The Ayatollah Khomeini had other ideas about the entertainment value of chickens; googling "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "chickens" should do it. His writings have many followers, including the current Iranian president.

My tastes are more pedestrian, but I once bought a 17-cent chick at the feed store and convinced my airline-pilot housemate it was a baby minah bird, then watched as he tried to teach it to talk for the next months, getting bigger and uglier all the while. Better'n watching TV.

I had a roommate back in college,a good honest,intelligent city guy who apparently had never been out of the big city until he wound up at Tech.

For some reason or another,a small ornamental gourd found its way into my stuff from home and I just stuck in in our bookcase.

Since he was a philosophy major and having some fun out of me,a Baptist hillbilly,when he asked me what it was I told him it was an experimental apple-not yet in a useful form- we were working on in an attempt to improve the shelf life of apples.

That little gourd was as hard as well seasoned bamboo,and he was still rapping it on the woodwork a year later,marveling at the fact that it had not yet begun to soften up.

But he did get me started on philosophy ,which I abandoned some years later for ev psyc.

> started on philosophy

oldfarmermac, here's one on the origin of religion.

We had chickens too, but the ducks were more engrossing. They'd started out watching TV on the couch with us as hatchlings so were very tame, and one of their favorite activities (and mine, although I'd tire of it sooner) was digging up worms - I'd get out the shovel and they'd come running, and as I was digging one would be standing on the dirt in the shovel, rear end skyward, craning her neck over the edge to see what was coming into view below...

But like I said, I'd get tired of it before they would. So one day I leaned the shovel against the outbuilding, and headed back into the house; when I glanced out the window a few minutes later, there were the ducks, clustered around the shovel, waiting for it.


Duck breed recommendation: Khaki Campbell females, Rouen male; he's more of a gentleman and won't want to do it in the road, at least not every five minutes.

I once had a bunch of Muscovy Ducks. All had names; there was Dick Van Duck, Duck Connors, Duck Aldrin, Momma Duck, Duck Owens, Daisy Duck, and of course, Donald to go with Daisy. I enjoyed them. At the time I had a ferocious dog, Buzz was his name. Buzz loved the ducks and would spend hours watching them as they did their Duck stuff out back. One day I looked to the pasture and there was Buzz, with a line of newborn Ducklings waddling along in back of him, all lined up. I guess they had hatched, seen Buzz before they saw their mother, and imprinted on him. Well the little Ducks grew up, and for sure it was a hoot, watching them stand on one leg, the other outstretched horizontally, to take a dump. We had a terrible winter, in '93, I think. The snow on the ground was 5 feet deep for months. All of my Ducks would get up on the rail of the back porch and try to fly south, but of course, they'd only make it maybe 40 feet before a crash landing in 5 feet of powder snow. So, I'd have to get up on the roof of the house and look for "Duck Holes" out in the snow, mark them on my little gridded map of the backyard, and then spend the afternoon digging them out of the snow. You've never seen a really happy duck until you dig one out of 5 feet of snow. Finally, I had to clear pathways for them but then they never saw daylight, they were in constant shadow, and it was cold. I called my Sister, who lived out on the Utah/Nevada border, where there wasn't so much snow and asked her if the next time she was up north she might drop by and police up all of my Muscovies and relocate them out to the west desert at her place where she had a 3 acre irrigation pond. So, she showed up with her 5 boys, some gunny sacks, and in 5 minutes all of my Ducks were on their way to a new, less chilly life, out in Nevada. That's been quite a while ago. I saw my sister at Christmas time this past year and asked if she still had the Muscovies. She told me the last of them, Duck Connors, had been killed chasing a truck down the road that previous fall. Rest in Peace Duck Connors.

So, about the chickens, I've lost a few to Skunks. But, I've found, and this is strictly my observation, if you can keep some geese, especially three or four ganders with their hens, they will keep most of the predators away from the place, including Coyotes and Foxes. A gander isn't so keene to go hand to hand with a skunk though and that's because of the skunks weaponry. So, skunks are still a problem. But, I've never lost a Goose to a predator and mine have the run of the place day and night. Now and then, in the middle of the night I'll wake to a Goose Tussle out in the Barnyard. I think it's just those Ganders chasing off an inquisitive Coyote. My chickens are free range, returning to the barn, or to the chicken coop at sundown. Free Range Chickens are happy chickens and my motto here is "Happy Eggs from Happy Chickens". Best from the Fremont

...geese... will keep most of the predators away from the place...

Last year I had a big ole gray goose and a white duck. The goose was nasty tempered. When the bobcat showed up I imagine (didn't see it) that the goose attacked while the duck cowered in terror. The duck survived and the goose ended up a pile of gray feathers. Even its bill & feet were eaten.

This year my birds are more secure and the bobcat hasn't showed up. I've had a skunk and a kit fox after them but these predators haven't been able to get into the cage.

But, I've never lost a Goose to a predator and mine have the run of the place day and night

If one considers rats to be predators - I've lost 'em to 'em. The rats fell over the course of 2-3 weeks to the .22 cal....

There was this local one horse farmer once who if it weeren't for bad luck wouldn't have had any luck at all-drought,storm ,blight,foxes,and not even a boy pig to keep his girl pig happy-and so when she came into season he had to load her-which ,if you have ever tried to do ,you know is QUITE a job- in his pickup and haul her over to a nieghbors house.Two trips, the third to make sure.On the third day,while eating breakfast his wife looked out the window and said "At least you don't hav to load the pig today.She's arready in the truck!

Ahhh...My neighbor tells the story of how once a hen became trapped in the smokehouse and no one knew it for a couple days.

When they realized it he went and opened the smoke house door.

Since she had been without food or water for almost 3 days he thought that is where she would go.

She didn't he said..."She made a bee line straight for the rooster."


I had a small rescue rooster, little bantam, named Roosty for about a year, but I live in town and was compelled to place him in a box in the cellar every night. Sometimes I'd forget and wake up at midnight and in pouring cold winter rain to go out into the mud and pick Roosty out of the coop.

Anyhow, I sent him to the country after getting a letter from the City.

But the sorry thing is, now my hens want ME to service them. They make this squat pose when I approach. Wish I had a rooster that could make a few conjugal visits now and then and spare me the pity on my hens.

Has any body done any research on stopping roosters from crowing?

And has any body challenged anti chicken ordinances by means of comparing dogs barking and roosters crowing?

Chickens are definitely less of a problem noise wise imo ,every thing else equal.

I have lived in a nieghborhood where so many dogs barked so often that the only way to sleep was to button up in a room with a noisy air conditioner to create enough white noise to drown out the dogs.

I posted elsewhere in this article about using a truck box as a barn or coop.I have one old aluminum box that was originally refrigerated,and it's lined with about two inches of fiberglass covered with a top layer of quarter inch plywood,and the doors have thick rubber jaskets and three point cam locks.I don't think even a grizzly bear could break into such a box.Not very quickly any way.

(Arranging the ventilation might take a few hours if your intend to use the box as a coop and lock it up.)

So I went inside and got my brother to close the door and yelled at the top of my lungs to see how sound tight she is and our opinion is that from seventy five to a hundred feet away you would not notice a crowing rooster if there is any background noise.And I've personally never been in a city that even at three am is dead quiet.

Another thing I have noticed ,but never given any thought until now, is that our roosters seem to crow very little or not at all on extremely dark nights - nights when there is no moon and very heavy cloud cover or heavy fog.A coop made from an insulated box or otherwise sound proofed and light proofed might get the job done.

Such boxes are fairly hard to find but the very cheapest to buy salvage because of the extra trouble required to break them up.

And don't forget that the energy both human and fossil embedded in it's construction is not wasted!

One last thought- I've never had any personal experience with falcons but I have read that when hooded they are very docile and very quiet.Somebody who has time to raise a pet rooster could experiment with hooding him at night,which would take only a minute or so when opening and closing the coop. Young Chickens are easily handled and petted and will readily learn to eat from your hands and sit on your lap,etc,and remain pets for as long as you care to pet them.

Hooding a pet rooster at roosting time should be no problem.

And contriving some sort of little harness intended to turn him into a silent rooster rather than a draft rooster might work too.Ducks are used as living fishing poles by means of a harness that prevents them from swallowing the catch .

As a last resort a vet might legally silence a rooster for maybe about the same price that he deprives Fido of his sex life if somebody asked him,but I've never heard of this being done.We still desex and dehorn our own bull calves legally and I suppose it would be legal to do your own roosters vocal cords if done for legitimate agricultural reasons. Learning how might involve a lot of roasted rooster dinners.

There was a good article in "Backyard Poultry" magazine a few months ago about your very question. There are some things to try (actually there are a few fairly silent breeds)but in the end, there is no way to really quiet a rooster down. If you are in a city that allows hens only (like Boulder, CO) your rooster is probably going to end up in the stew pot or given to someone in the country. Most hatcheries have gotten pretty good at supplying sexed chicks though.

You don't need the roosters for eggs. That's always the first question I get from people, "don't you need a rooster for eggs?" to which I reply "does a woman need a man to ovulate?". Fertile eggs are only needed if you really want to hatch chicks, and there are tons of easier ways to get a flock started from mail order chicks to fertile eggs from e-bay. For most small backyard flocks, it ain't worth the time & trouble to have the rooster. He tends to be a bit hard on the hens too, often scratching off their back feathers... With chickens at least, I have to say males are only good for one thing besides looking pretty and amusing us with their behavior.

In a normal chicken society the roosters actively defend thier hens and the little chicks and do a good bit of foraging for the hens-a rooster that finds something good calls his hens and allows them to eat first.

"Oversexed"roosters are not common in my experience and I speculate that they don't have enough outlets for thier energy when confined,as that's the only time I have seen hens -abused -I guess is the word.

But I am NOT a poultry expert.

Roosters are not likely to possess enough brains to appreciate the concept of rape.

Yep, you're right about "in a normal chicken society" roosters really look out for everyone and do their part as protective Dad. If we had more land outside of city limits I would have a rooster for the fun factor.

I was speaking about small flocks in backyards in cities. My lot is tiny and butts right up to neighbors on each side.

Life goes on without a rooster just fine. Some breeds are more aggressive than others. Game bird roosters are notoriously jealous and rough at times, whereas the game bird hens can be the best moms around. It all depends. For beginners though or most small flocks I bet eating is the typical fate of a rooster. Now if or when TSHTF, I think animal noise in the city will be the last of our worries and I wouldn't hesitate to add a rooster to be fully sustainable and self sufficient. But if it gets that bad, there will be plenty else to worry about. In the meantime they sure are fun to mess with raising and the eggs are a real delight both in eating and sharing.

Hooding a pet rooster at roosting time should be no problem.

We did that once it became obvious that the rooster wasn't a mynah bird and the airline pilot lost interest. It had an effect, but as I recall it wasn't perfect and the neighbors kept complaining - half from the remaining noise and the other half because they thought that hooding a chicken was animal abuse. So we ultimately fried him up and all neighbors were happy.

Now if he had talked...

On the site Journey to forever there is a farming site; you are looking for the name George sheffield oliver, He studied and applied Darwins work on earthworms to the extent that he built hen houses to protect worm populations as a food source for the birds. His great achievement was to use the simple blow fly to breed maggots in wire nets and place them on rotation in the houses for the hens. As a medical Doctor his real legacy is this work.

Ahhh, yes the magots for birds. has done work with black soldier fly larve. as an example.

Combine the autoclave with the humanue movement (would have linked to but he re-did the 51+ megs and now I can't find the bit about how if one eats only squash, one has sweet smelling fecal matter) so you know you've hit the 160+ degree mark to short circuit the human -> chicken -> human pathogen rotation. A big pressure cooker with the all metal seal from all american corp will give you lifetimes of use.

You can also combine a 600 to 2000 volt electric grid and fly attractant from the local farm store as a way to add to the bug biomass. 600 volts tends to stun, 2000 gives a crack and will destroy things like wings but not blow the bug apart. Older microwaves use transformers to get 2800+ volts. One can then 'step down' the voltage with a dimmer light switch. Glass/plexiglass with the grid attached to that gives a visual queue for the fly to try to leave. The top would appeal to the natural 'fly up' behavior.

Their enthusiasm for worms, and little arthropods makes it clear that they would like more of them in their diet and that the coop has a shortage.

How to grow mealworms for your flock.

Starting a (very) small egg farm (50 birds) in 2006 was part of opening my eyes to the realities of oil dependence. A small number of chickens can be fed from forage and local sources, but we rapidly learned that anything resembling a commercial egg farm (thousands of hens) involves massive oil inputs, to harvest, mill, and transport vast amounts of grain. Only some backyard eggs are sustainable, and backyard eggs aren't sold in stores.

It is even more clear here in Hawaii, at the end of a long supply chain. The chicken feed is grown in Iowa with diesel-burning tractors, shipped all the way across the country on fossil-burning trucks and trains, another diesel-burning boat to Honolulu, a barge to Hilo, then more gasoline to get it to the farm. It doesn’t make any sense, environmentally or economically. It isn’t even remotely sustainable.

For those interested in how to feed a chicken sustainably on a pacific island:

I would love to keep chickens but unfortunately I have a small balcony in Putney London and it is currently being taken over by this monster Hydroponic Tomato plant(which has doubled in size since I took the photo): day...

Regards, Nick.

I have 5 week old chicks, for layers, and my young kids adore them, they forget about watching movies while learning about the cycles of life.

I'm trying to decide now what coop setup to build. What have others found has worked best?

I can put a coop in our fenced goat pen (no goats currently) and let them roam around in there. Or build a portable coop/run that can be closer to the house for convenience and that my kids are more likely to interact with. My experience with portable rigs in the past is if you won't keep up with moving it the chickens destroy that patch of lawn very quickly. Predators at night have been an issue with flocks in the past, and a warm tight coop will be need for Maine winters. I think they'd be okay roaming the yard during the day though; I have about 1 acre.

My chicken coop is 8x8 feet. It used to be a storage shed but was under water a number of times (floods) so the Oriented Strand Board siding was shot. I put new OSB on the sides and new plywood for floors.
I then covered the outside (sides and roof) with metal pole barn siding. The floor on the inside was covered with old used aluminum sign blanks. This metal on all surfaces makes it completely predator proof and rodent proof. When the chickens are locked up for the night they are 100% safe.
As I live in the cold Winter Midwest, I put 3 1/2" fiberglass insulation (R-11) in the walls and ceilings and lined the interior ceiling and walls with plastic sheeting like you find in bathrooms. Makes the interior very easy to clean up Spring and Fall. The floor is covered with a foot of wood shavings. I have a 300 watt heat lamp on a thermostat that keeps the chicken house above freezing (so the water doesn't freeze - and the chickens too!) even in the worst Winter weather.
My chicken have a very large chicken wire fenced pen, but they usually fly up onto the gate and down outside the pen to run all over the yard and surrounding area. At times like when I get tired when splitting wood and stop and sit in a lawn chair for a while the hens will come over and jump up on my foot and walk up my leg onto my lap and get right up close to look me in the eye for a while and then walk back down my leg and jump off my shoe. They especially like it when I am eating bing cherries or grapes when sitting outside as when I come across a bad one I just throw it to the chickens. Seems like nothing goes to waste when you have chickens.

What I've found that works well as a portable cage or "chicken tractor" is 16' long hog panels covered with chicken wire. I bought four panels and cut one for the ends with a metal cutting blade in the circle saw. The wire is attached to the panels with Locksit clips which I ordered out of the Randall Burkey poultry supply catalog. I use the small sized clips. The cheapest pliers break so order the pricier pair. The sides, top and ends are wired together with baling wire. Two people can easily move the cage with the hens in it. Just don't lift it high enuf when moving it for the hens to escape. An old sheet of plywood provides shade & rain cover. We also built a more substantial wooden coop with attached runs for the birds but aren't using it much during the summer. It's insulated and has a heat lamp which will only be turned on during the coldest winter nights.

There are dozens of examples of coops and chicken tractors at The City Chicken. It's where I picked up ideas (plus forums that detail pro and con experiences) for my 12'x6' chicken tractor.

Lateral discoveries?

I can think of a few.

First homegrown corn. Corn is very nutritious and easy to store. Very tasty and we always grew enough to have meal or cornbread back in my youth.

So I keep my corn and grind it. Here is the discovery..If you grind the corn and store it in...say a plastic bag? Mine developed insect life. Somehow I think it attracts moisture more easily. Whatever. I then decided to only grind enough meal for short periods of time.

Moon plants. If you find tomato horn worms on your tomatoes then you need to plant some moonflowers nearby. I find that this is the first choice of the worms...also there are identical to tobacco hornworms.

Big worms that can devastate a plant easily. The moon plants attract them and I can easily pick them off there and destroy them.

Coons and deer in your garden. I have a cousin who uses white polyester/plastic fencing material. About 2 inches wide and threaded with small wires to carry the electric charge. He puts one low and one higher..about high enough off the ground to discourage a coon and the other for the deer, higher yet...he claims it works.

I am going to try it next year. All my effort this year failed and my corn crop is gone as most of the peas and beans. This is due to the enormous destruction to the woodlands from the ice storm. Little food and nuts. Almost nothing to forage on. So they attacks homesteads.

This is as bad as I have ever seen. The coons are on a huge increase due to nature and climate changes actions.


I feel the best way to store dry corn is to leave it on the cob and husk.
Shuck and shell as needed.


We probably call moonflowers something else around here,or maybe we don't have any.

What do they look like?

Chickens evolved in the tropical jungles of SE Asia. Lots of bugs and other small critters there for them to eat, not so much grain. They are omnivores, but are naturally adapted to having a lot of animal matter in their diet. Thus, it only makes sense to give them access to as many insects, worms, and other small creepy crawlies as they can find. Feed them an exclusively vegetarian diet and they will "survive", but that is not the same thing as thriving, which is what you really want livestock to do.

True. If poultry are confined, they must be fed a complete balanced ration. But if they are allowed to forage they can get by on inexpensive "scratch" grains. They get their protein and micronutrients from the insects & other inverts they find.

pill bugs (known as the wood louse in Britain, and a member of the class Isopoda)

For the interested, isopods are crustaceans, more closely related to shrimp than say grasshoppers or beetles.

Chickens will eat Sumac seeds. An elderly acquaintance of mine that lived alone had a stroke and he had chickens. It was hit or miss for someone to make it in to feed his chickens, I sacked up a couple of gunny sacks of the sumac bobs and dumped it in his hen house. They don't devour it like they do corn but they would peck around on it between feedings of grain. Lot of sumac in the southeast, considered a pest by some.

I have a neighbor that has ditch that filled with leaf litter that they didn't clean out. There's chickens around and the leaves are always fluffed up, the chickens scratch around in them for worms and stuff. This site discusses contructing worm beds from leaves, grass clippings and such for the purpose of feeding chickens.

My grandparents let the chickens run loose everywhere. But they always let them in the henhouse at night.

There are a huge number of problems that one must guard against with loose chickens,especially in my part of the country.

First is a huge increase in raptors. Chicken hawks or I call Red Tail Hawks are most common. I have had them 'stoop' a rabbit right in front of my tractor while cutting hay.

Usually when the hawks hunt they tend to make a whistling noise as they decide to attack...and the chickens know this sound very well and will start to run to hide upon hearing it but many are taken,,right in your yard.

I could imitate this sound by whistling and watch the chickens are get flustered and running around.

The other is skunks, coons, weasels and snakes as well as foxes.

Lot of chicken snakes around here. They will go right to the nest and swallow the eggs right fast. Snakes getting in a henhouse were common.

Best to have a few good dogs to keep watch, yet the sly animals can usually fool the dogs.

But if you stay home on your farm , where you need to be, then you can handle most of these problems. If your gone,,well then you might have a lot of loss.

Good fresh eggs are worth the time and trouble to let them free range and for frying there is not much better than good free ranch chicken.

Airdale-I been getting my eggs from a farmer but they always have a bad smell to them. I think its the laying mash he uses. It makes it hard for me to eat them sometimes its so rank. One is my limit then. They are not old either for its easy to tell that...they just got this 'commercial feed' smell.

Hi Airdale. An old feller in Illinois told me the following story and swore it was true: A black rat snake crawled up into a manger attached to the side of a barn & swallowed a hen's egg. The snake proceeded to crawl partially thru a knot hole in the barn siding and swallowed another egg on the other side. Unable to go forward or backward due to the bulges in its sides on either side of the barn wall, that's how they found it. Believe it or not!

The term "chicken hawk" is usually reserved for an accipiter, usually Coopers hawk. While the larger goshawk & smaller sharp-shinned are primarily forest birds, the Coopers hawk is a more open country predator, formerly specialized in prairie chickens. Since prairie chickens are all but extinct any more, they've had to expand their menu. All accipiters are specialized predators of other birds. In Brasil there's even a tiny accipiter that specializes in taking hummingbirds! Every year since at least 2003 we've had a pair of sharp-shinned hawks nesting in a large cottonwood on the property. In years past I've lost pullets to them. Red-tailed hawk is a buteo and is more of a predator on mammals but one would no doubt take a chicken if the opportunity presented itself.

We have chosen to live in a small midwestern city (college town) as our best bet as a good place to be in the post-peak world. We are able to bike most places we need to go, have developed a good network of neighbors and friends, etc. Unfortunately, our town has a "no chickens" ordinance, and while there are a number of people interested in raising urban hens, for eggs, insect control, and for the manure for our gardens, the initial attempt to get the ordinance looked at has led to quite a bit of anti-chicken public outcry. My own councilperson, who ran on a progressive/sustainablity platform, has said there is no way he would support allowing urban hens "because he grew up with chickens".

I know many other communities have had or are having the urban hen discussion as well.

I recently took a trip to a poor rural village in Central America where chickens, pigs, and dogs all roamed freely, in and out of the houses. I was struck with a couple of things. First, there were far fewer bothersome insects than I expected in the rain forest. I wonder if that was partly due to the chickens. Also, there was really no problems with unpleasant odors or piles of excrement. Again, I suspect the chickens had a role in this, dealing with maggots and so on as they developed on the pig and dog piles. And finally, I was amazed at the lack of interest the dogs showed in the chickens. Maybe dogs with a penchant for chasing chickens just weren't allowed to survive, but I know for sure that I wouldn't trust my 2 dogs anywhere near roaming chickens or chicks.

Where I live one can keep chickens if a "special use permit" is obtained from the city first. I don't have a permit. Our property is five acres and is wooded; the birds can't be seen from the road. I purchased pullets since I didn't want the neighbors hearing a rooster. One of the 'pullets' turned out to be a cockerel. Once he started crowing we ate him. I may eventually get a permit but I kinduv like the subversive aspect of having a "guerrilla" poultry operation.

Yes, I could probably get away with stealth chickens, and I know people who do. Or at least, I probably could have gotten away with it before the public outcry started. But I feel strongly that part of coming to grips with the change in lifestyle we all have coming is to educate people and encourage them on the importance of making better choices--local foods, home gardens, lower energy use, alternative transportation, etc. These things need to become mainstream, not what a few fringe ex-hippie communist types do :) So I deliberately got involved in the effort to change the ordinance rather than trying to sneak around it.

Our new ordinance specifically says that if you are in the agricultural or conservation districts (most of the township), then don't bother complaining about things like chickens or other ag annoyances. Of course, this could also apply to modern chemical usages too, so it's not all good.

Regarding dogs and chickens, I imagine its just a case of training. Whereas we don't have a dog yet - can't justify the cost - we do have a cat to control the smaller animals. She's basically an autonomous killing machine that can go just about anywhere, including into the chicken coop. But she's been trained to leave the chickens and chicks alone and can be often seen wondering through the free-range flock, tail flicking in annoyance, but not bothering them.

I'd imagine training a dog would be far easier. Even animals live by rules, they just need to know what the rules are. If they can't be trained, they're of little use on a farm and have to be got rid of or controlled in other ways. Which was the fate of my last tick eating male guinea fowl which was just too dumb to do anything with and was causing chaos. For a quite life, keep females only where possible :)

One of our first birds was a big and aggressive rooster - he and our barn tomcat would hunt together. It was quite a site to see them stalking through the grass!

Neither the dogs or cats bother the chickens, but the dogs did need to be trained to leave them alone. The cats grew up with them and mostly they just seem not to notice them.

Anyone ever try llamas?

Around here, flocks of sheep and alpacas often have 1-2 llamas to protect them from coyotes. I don't know if they'll guard chickens as well.

Thanks Jason for this key post.

Wendell Berry says: "..if you're going to have sustainable agriculture.. You must have diversity. You must have both plants and animals."

I suppose that most people would think in terms of hogs or cattle in this regard but apparently like you, I think in terms of earthworms and isopods and other soil fauna. Where I work the "soil" is lifeless and serves only as a rooting medium. Nutrients are applied in the form of I-NPK and often chelated micronutrients must be added. My own property is managed completely differently. I strive to obtain all the organic matter I possibly can, to be composted or spread directly on the ground as mulch. The farm where I'm employed looks like the moon while my own place is lush and green. I have water rights and use as much water as my system has the capacity for, to keep the mulched ground wet and teeming with life. Wildlife abounds and my poultry have plenty of forage this way. In the post-PO future people will be forced by necessity to farm more the way I do and less after the manner of the ag science station where I work, altho my ways are pretty much scoffed at now.

Thanks for letting me know more about what you do! Given your expertise I'd love to get your feedback on this:

Thanks for sharing the whitepaper Jason.

My undergrad education was in vertebrate zoology (mostly fish & herps) and grad work was in ecology & evolution (catfish phylogenetics) so I'm not really an ag expert at all. Just an aging hippie who has gardened all his life. I was hired here for experimental design & data analysis 'expertise' altho I do occasionally get to get my hands dirty and drive tractors. :) I enjoyed the whitepaper very much. It was well done and I agree with its contents completely. The following is just a few comments that come to mind.

The example of the traditional Chinese farmer demonstrates that a dense population can be fed sustainably. Doing so requires the input of 5 - 7 tons of finished compost per crop per acre per year. Sometimes the same land would produce up to four crops per year, requiring 20 - 28 tons of compost. This amount of finished compost might correspond to 50 tons of raw organic material per acre per year. This is an enormous amount of material to acquire, process & apply sans FFed equipment. Rural China had an intricate network of canals for providing water for rice cultivation and also serving transportation needs. Boats continuously carried food from the farms to the cities, and human excrement from the cities back to the farms to be composted. Here in the US rather than having canals we have roads & highways. Pretty worthless for moving compostables when there's no gas or diesel. The point I'm leading up to is that it's going to be extremely difficult to move the massive amounts of organic material necessary to maintain soil fertility post-PO, Alan's electrified rail & Bob's spiderweb wheelbarrows notwithstanding. And another issue is that the knowledge base of the traditional Chinese farmer is all but lost. My older son's girlfriend is from Guangzhou. Her parents still possess some of this ancient knowledge but she and her sisters have had little incentive to learn it.

Another thing is that I'm not convinced it's a good idea to amend soil with charcoal. Not that I think doing so harms the soil - in fact, micropores in charcoal probably provide surface area for beneficial bacteria. To my mind, tho, C sequestration in soil needs to be in the form of refractile fulvic & humic substances rather than inert charcoal. I burn wood at home and sieve my ashes, returning the charcoal to the fireplace insert. I haven't read all that much about 'terra preta' or biochar, however, and might change my mind about the benefits if I knew more.

I would like to think that the ecocidal ape could make the conversion from current agro-industrial practices to agro-ecological sustainability but I don't think there's any chance of this happening voluntarily and don't think that anywhere near current population levels can be sustained sans FF input to ag. Perhaps if (when) human population is reduced by an order & a half of magnitude the survivors will be forced by necessity to revert to something approaching the sustainable methods of growing food of the traditional Chinese farmer. I'm just not sure that after the Crash, there'll be any survivors.

I haven't read all that much about 'terra preta' or biochar, however, and might change my mind about the benefits if I knew more.

Eline Ingrham shares your POV - but the charcoal soaked in, say, urea has increased yields for the 1st year.

And others claim to notice yield increases - but that could just be due to water retention.

Thanks for the feedback.

You probably noticed that I was reserving judgment on the benefits of biochar, especially in the temperate zone. I await the flurry of research that will come out over the next few years.


I've tried a very small scale very informal biochar experiment-no measurements and no records,as has one good friend.

We can't see any noticeable difference between the "test plots" and the "control plots"-the ground to either side,but that doesn't really prove anything other than maybe we're in good shape for water this year and that we have good well maintained garden soil.

A generous appliction of wood ashes does produce a perceptible effect on same crop -sweet peppers-planted in the same plot.

My gut feeling is that if you've got it,charcoal might be very useful on depleted soils-especially soils very low on organic matter.

We have traditionally piled and burned the "brush"(pruned wood) from our orchards ,as well as any handy downed trees or logging debris in spots we planned to use as small usually temporary gardens.

I suppose a hot enough fire that lasts long enough can do some serious damage to soil,but you couldn't prove it by us.These fires often last most of a day before burning down to hot coals covered with light fluffy ashes,which may remain hot for a couple more days.

Such mini gardens are perfect for watermelons and cantaloupes and require no plowing or cultivation .We just make hills every five feet or so,plant about five seed per hill and thats about it,except for the usual deer/groundhog/bug problems.Hoeing helps -if you get to it,but you still get some nice sweet melons if you don't.

Here wood ashes are a mixed blessing since the soil pH is already high (8.2). I do spread ashes in the wooded areas but only sparingly in the garden.

The example of the traditional Chinese farmer demonstrates that a dense population can be fed sustainably. Doing so requires the input of 5 - 7 tons of finished compost per crop per acre per year. Sometimes the same land would produce up to four crops per year, requiring 20 - 28 tons of compost. This amount of finished compost might correspond to 50 tons of raw organic material per acre per year.

That doesn't seem sustainable. How many acres does it take to produce 50 tons of raw organic material? Ten maybe?

Much of it was crop residue: stems, husks and even roots were pulled & composted. Nothing was wasted. Even worn out clothing would be shredded by hand so that the fibers would decay into compost faster. When wood was cut from hillsides or cemetery plots the leaves would be stripped for composting. Human & other animal excrement and other compostable materials were transported from the cities to the farms. Green manures were grown in winter for composting. Also, canals were constantly being dredged as they silted in, and the mud and aquatic vegetation was mixed with other materials to be composted. Composting techniques were varied & elaborate and were often very labor intensive. The traditional Chinese farmer knew nothing about soil chemistry yet nutritional deficiencies in crops were diagnosed and corrected thru the application of appropriately chosen compostable materials & methods. Both aerobic & anaerobic composting was resorted to, as need required. Also, four crops per year was exception and only doable under favorable conditions. Two or three crops would be more typical.

The fact that the Chinese managed to sustain soil fertility down thru the centuries by these means demonstrates that it can be done. But can people used to McDonald's & convenience foods do it? Can they do it without a truck or trailer? Hunger is a great motivator and no doubt people will attempt to grow their own food when necessity requires it. But even if initially successful they will soon deplete whatever native fertility the soil possesses unless they resort to practices similar to those of traditional Chinese agriculturalists. Few people today would even know where to begin.

JB - we have chickens too, though down to 8 from 12 - unknown predator.

This is a dumbish question - but if you put boards down or 'structure' to attract bugs, don't you eventually pull all the bugs in from the periphery and the chickens eat them all and local bug population (local meaning 40-50 feet) declines? Or for all practical purposes is that not an issue? In other words, when you put down boards, when you lift them up once a week, do you notice a decrease in the bug numbers?

I believe the idea is that they can spend enough time under the boards to procreate and build their populations. The structure is therefore not simply to "attract" but to provide secure habitat--although not perfectly secure. My boards are untouched for a few weeks at a time. Populations seem to alter according to season as much as anything else. So far I've never seen a dearth of pill bugs and earwigs wherever they have a place to hide!

Sorry about your population crash. Chicken burials aren't fun.

Hey Nate,
I don't know why, but I do a post asking for feedback on "lateral thinking in problem solving" which is just like something you would do and instead of answering this question all people want to do is talk about their flock.

That's fine, but perhaps the question would have worked better if I had a different lead-in. Something about chickens makes people want to talk about them and not the big picture. In your studies of the brain, perhaps you've sorted out why this is? Do we have a "chicken lobe" somewhere?


There's plenty of lateral in here - livestock guardian dogs as a means to deal with predators, possible ways to deal with debilitating illnesses passed by ticks, etc. What were you expecting?

Oh, just stuff unrelated to chickens BUT related to lateral thinking. I am not complaining. This is all good.

Starting from chickens you can go anywhere.

This whole post has been a cock-tease.

I was going to post something about lateral thinking just to please Jason, but then I chickened out.

I was going to respond to Nate but given the content of his post I didn't want to egg him on.

If you still want to talk about lateral thinking, bug me about it later.

If it makes you feel better, I've had a real good time reading this thread, and have learned a lot.

Not currently in a position to keep chickens, but my attention has been caught.

Shelter for animals and weather proof storage for everything from hand tools to next years seed corn can be a real problem.Good buildings aren't cheap-not even chicken coops.

The van bodies (cargo boxes) mounted on highway trucks eventually need replacing because even a slight leak can ruin a cargo,and newer bodies are lighter and prettier,and don't need painting,etc,the net result being that you can get one cheap-a lot cheaper than the lumber to build a good lockable shed the same size.

These boxes are world class bargains!

They are built of aluminum or fiberglass panels mostly but some really old ones are steel.

I bought one eight by eight by twelve a couple of years ago for two hundred bucks and a hundred to have it delivered.

All that was necessary to put it in to use was block it up a foot off the ground to keep the bottom dry and pick up an extra padlock .

It will outlast me and probably another four or five generations-it was necessarily built to withstand the constant pounding of an over the road truck and a constant high wind.When it's finally beyond use,it will still be worth a good bit.Aluminum is going to be a very valuable metal in the future.

The next one I buy I intend to get the whole truck,once all the salvageable parts are sold,and cut off the cab and fabricate a trailer tongue.Viola!Moveable barn-if you have a farm tractor,or a really stout 4x4.

I've seen lots of derelict trucks with the tires still pumped up after even fifteen or twenty years-and flat tires will still roll!

Don't know if this is lateral thinking, but its an experience.
I live in Vermont's Green Mountains – my home and acreage is around 2000 feet in elevation and has a creek running from west to east across the property. There's a series of beaver dams along the entire length of the creek – some of them are active and some are not. The beavers sort of move up and down the creek.
For the past two ( or maybe more ) years there was a newly build dam right on the easternmost property line. The dam was built in a fairly narrow and steep spot and produced a pretty deep pond. Over time the lodge began to deteriorate and the beavers left the lodge and began to live in the banks but they needed to build the dam up a bit higher to secure the bank dwellings. The pond became more impressive.
I began to eye the dam and the considerable fall as a potential micro hydro power generation site.
One morning I was walking along the creek with my dog and stopped at that pond to watch the beavers and generally marvel at the whole glorious event of nature. You can't imagine a more placid scene. Quiet, smooth water, a beaver swimming languidly along, no noises other than whatever nature provides. Next morning I went out for the usual morning walk and my wife went along too. We got to the beaver pond and saw devastation. The dam had given way and the entire pond was totally drained. There had not been any rain overnight and I live pretty much at the top of the mountain and know that nothing could have happened that caused a discharge of water. The dam just could no longer handle the pressure placed on it and just collapsed.
I'm now glad that I did not move forward on the micro-hydro plan.

nice post; learned a couple of things to try with my chickens reading 1/2 or so.

got a hen setting currently hoping to expand our flock.

i love the clucking/cooing hens do. i'd swear my late grandmother made some similar sounds the last year or so of her 90 + y/o life. soothing to me.

For those who live in warm climates and wishing to increase the 'bug protein' content of you chickens' diet, you might look into soldier fly larvae.

In Costa Rica, they took over one of my compost barrels that got too anaerobic and are cranking out the high protein bio-mass that my fish and the neighbors chickens both seem to crave.

It is a great way to dispose of fallen fruit, cleanings from the grease trap on my septic system and meaty scraps from the kitchen.

Since soldier flies don't eat as adults, they don't bother you in the kitchen or outside. If you want to avoid handling them, just leave the incubator where the chickens can get to it and pick off the mature larvae as they crawl out to complete their life cycle.

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs can be excellent small-livestock guards. I've had four. But make sure you get a pup from a breeder who will guarantee working-quality dogs, or take failures back. Breeding to a pedigree, for show standard ruins everything PDQ. Unpedigreed, certified workers are the goods.

A good Anatolian will protect anything of his/hers/yours against anything; everything from hawks, foxes and weasels to wolves, bears and big cats.

Jekyll and Hyde dogs: soft, loving and tolerant with your small creatures, including children, but like the beserk warriors of ancient times when something bad appears, and able to shift from the one state to the other in a fraction of a second.

Always on watch, but usually in a sedentary mode which requires surprisingly modest amounts of low-energy food. My guys have always been very cheap to keep. Virtually no vet's bills, because the traditional bloodlines produce incredibly healthy, hardy dogs. I have never done routine vaccinations or medications of any kind.

Coban kopegim which I've seen in the mountains of Turkey are sometime left to care for a flock and find their own food -- often such things as grasshoppers and mice -- for several days at a time, as I've been shown and told by highland shepherds. It's a commonplace of their experience that the dogs are always with the sheep when the shepherd returns, and not a single animal is missing.

Good dogs from any member of this family of breeds should show the same excellence. Breed-family members include Pyreneans, Maremmas, Kuvasc, Sar Planinacs, Greek Shepherds, Armenian Gamprs, Caucasian Ovcharkas, and Afghan Kuchis. See Robert Denlinger's Denstar Farm website for truly wonderful stories and pictures of his working Kuvasok, Pyreneans and Ovcharkas. Also Erick Conard's Lucky Hit Ranch website for similar information and pix of Anatolians.

Your description is very accurate for our livestock guardian. Just when you think she's not paying attention, off she goes. I'm continually amazed at how keen her senses must be. It really makes you appreciate the value of a real working dog, and why man has lived with dogs for so long. They can do things we simply never could. On top of that, she's a real sweetheart. I love our little short haired mutt too, but she does not have the same instincts, and there is just something very special about our working girl.

Hi Twilight! You didn't say which of the breeds your girl is? What you describe is SO familiar to me. Just how they are. A really good dog (or two; at one time I had three at once) will put a total end to all your predator problems. So it seems anyway, from lots of feedback from farmers who've begun to try them: dropping from a real problem to absolute zero losses, as soon as the dogs get to work. And conservational too. The dogs kill predators only occasionally. It's a live-and-let-live things. There was one Anatolian in the US just recently who fostered two raccoon kits, until they grew up and took off. They continued to return to visit her from time to time. And whilst she always welcomed them and lay with them en famille for a while, she knew too to make sure that they left the livestock alone. This is very much what the elder dogs do when reining in and training the rumbustious instincts of young 'teenage' dogs under their tutelage. The saying is that the very best teacher for a young dog is an elder dog actually working on the job. They really keep the teenagers under control quite strictly. Lamb-damage, for example, from over-rough play, just isn't a problem in such a set-up. I've seen flocks in mountain valleys in Turkey where really small pups who had been chosen to keep as replacement workers were left unsupervised with the flock, in the care of the adult dogs along with the sheep, and the shepherds were confident to leave the pups so, knowing that they would be comprehensively cared-for, against all possiblities of danger. Good dogs of these breeds are simply awsome in their intelligent discrimination of situations, and in their dedicated commitment to keeping all safe and right. Like sheepdogs, they really need to work, to feel fulfulled in their lives. Everyone who starts to keep these dogs soon begins to feel, as you say, that there's something really special about them. Experience confirms that there is. And such loveable creatures too. True symbionts with humans!

Incidentally, The Coppingers, Ray and Lorna, were running a US Department of Agriculture-funded project in the 1970's to study and collect pups from the various Eurasian shepherd-dog breeds, to provide foundation stock for introducing them to the US, as a non-lethal way of preventing predator damage to livestock, after wolves and bears gained more legal protection around that time. They had considerable success not only with the traditional breeds, but also with cross-bred puppies which they offered to participating farmers. Seems that the concentrated behaviour patterns are strong in all the working breeds, and do fine in mixed dogs too.

Some interesting background in this interview with them:

Interesting background. She only took out one chicken while she was a pup (playing). Ours is a mix - Spanish Ranch Mastiff, Italian Maremma, and Polish Tatra. Our place is not that large, and one dog can easily watch over it. She rarely chases predators off into the woods (our hound mutt does that), rather she stays with her charges and protects them.

Damn! I forgot to put Tatras in the list of family members. And Mastinos too. I saw a brief video clip recently of a Spaniard with a Mastino who looked so like my first Turkish Shepherd, Mishca, that anyone who knew anything about Anatolians, and not knowing that they were watching a scene in Spain, would have asserted confidently that that's what the dog was.

Your girl sounds as if she must be absolutely glorious. I'm afraid you're destined to be helplessly enslaved with love for her....