Cover crops are annual or perennial plant species that grow from seeds and produce their fruits and vegetables throughout the year. They include beans, clover, corn, peas, radishes, rye grasses (barley), sorghum and wheatgrass. These plants provide food for livestock such as poultry, hogs and cattle. Cover crops also improve soil fertility by shading out sunlight during hot summer days while providing shade during cold winter nights when it’s too warm to sleep under shelter.
The most common cover crops used for livestock feed are clover, alfalfa and oats. However, other species of cover crops may be grown for livestock feeding purposes. Examples include buckwheat, dandelion greens, turnip greens and wild rice. All these types of plants have different nutritional values depending upon where they’re grown.
In addition to being useful for livestock feed, some cover crops are valuable as ornamental plants. Commonly grown cover crops include daffodils, daisies, sunflowers and peonies. These flowers are often planted in beds along roadsides or in front of homes so passersby will see them and stop to look at them. Some gardeners even use the leaves of these flowers to make tea!
There are many benefits associated with using cover crops for livestock feed. For one, they’re generally easy to grow and have a low maintenance cost. Also, using cover crops as livestock feed helps add organic material to the soil. Many organic gardeners like using cover crops for this reason. Most importantly, using cover crops for livestock feed helps conserve money that would otherwise be spent on commercial animal feed.
There are many types of chickens that are raised on small farms and in backyards all across the world. They are used for their eggs, their meat, their unique coloring and their peculiar behaviors. They range in size from the large Brahma chickens to the small varieties such as the Silkie Bantam. Some are highly vocal, like the popularhybrid breed while others are quiet, like the Indian Game. Many breeds have special traits relating to color, such as the Calico or the Frizzle.
Chickens are omnivores and will eat anything from small insects to large plants. This means they can be fed a wide variety of items but as a general rule they should have a balance of grains, vegetables and proteins. It’s important to feed your chickens correctly so that you can harvest the most eggs, the most meat when killing them, and so they’re as healthy as possible.
In addition to commercial chicken feeds, you can feed your chickens many household foods. Many farmers have even used these following items with success:
Grains and other seeds: Chickens will eat grains of all types from wheat to corn to seeds such as garbanzos. They’re especially fond of cracked corn. Make sure you don’t give them the type of seed that has additives or has been treated with pesticides though.
Plant matter: Chickens will also eat various types of plants such as grass clippings, leaves, flowers and even some vegetables. Be careful not to feed them anything that’s toxic to them.
Meat and animal products: Most chickens are omnivores so they’ll eat meat and animal byproducts. Some farmers like to feed their chickens table scraps such as eggs, cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, tuna and even chicken itself. You can also feed your chickens dog or cat food.
Feeding your chickens: You should always have a varied diet for your chickens so don’t just feed them table scraps or other foods from your kitchen. Instead buy a commercial chicken feed and have that be their main diet with the kitchen scraps being a supplement.
You should also vary how you feed your chickens as well. For example, in the morning you can feed them cracked corn, then throw some seeds on the ground for them to peck at, and finally at night give them some table scraps.
There are many health benefits from having chickens besides their obvious benefit of providing eggs. For one, they help keep your yard free of bugs such as mosquitoes and flies. Raising chickens also hones your child’s responsibility skills as they’ll have to feed and care for the bird.
Be careful with your chicken and where you let it roam. Many cities have ordinances against owning roosters or hens that are not enclosed. In addition, realize that chickens can and will get out of their enclosed area if they’re determined enough.
Chickens have been kept for centuries for a number of reasons, not just their eggs. Today, many families raise them in their own backyard in order to gain these benefits. If you want your own chickens, be sure to check with your City Hall first to see what the local laws are. Once you have that all settled, you can begin selecting which breed of chicken you’d like to have.
Regardless of the size of birds you get, you’re going to need a good house for them to live in. Depending on the breed, chickens can withstand both cold and hot weather. However, no matter what the weather is outside, they still need a good house to live in so that they stay warm at night.
Your chicken coop needs to be well ventilated (but not drafty) and out of the way of both the elements and predators. Most coops consist of sturdy wood and wire fencing with a pitched roof to keep the snow off in the winter and the sun off of them in the summer.
You’ll need to keep in mind the number of birds you have so that you have enough room for them to both sleep and move around. Each bird will need a minimum of 2 feet by 4 feet of space inside the house. You can make it smaller but they’ll be more comfortable with the extra space.
The roosts need to be strong enough to hold the weight of all of your birds. Although some birds will prefer to sleep on the roosts, some will not. You may need a few more than you think to provide enough roosts for all of them.
The nesting box needs to be separate from the rest of the house because chickens are very clean animals and will not use a nest that has already been used. It also needs to be easily accessible for cleaning.
Much like a dog, your chickens will need to be enclosed within a fence. This is both for their safety and yours. You don’t want them running off and getting lost as well as keeping them from wandering into your yard and eating everything you’ve planted.
The minimum size for a yard for your chickens is 4 feet by 8 feet. You can make it larger if you want but since chickens prefer to scavenge for food as well as be hand fed, they don’t usually stray too far from home.
The fence needs to be strong enough to keep them in and tall enough that they can’t fly over it (unless you want to go through the trouble of electric wiring). Also, the bottom of the fence needs to be buried at least a few inches into the dirt. This will prevent them from digging under the fence.
Finding the Right Breed
Chickens come in a wide variety of colors, feather patterns, and personalities. When choosing your birds, you’re going to want to select ones that are going to be friendly and hardy. Some breeds are better suited for both eggs and meat while others are only good for one or the other.
The most common type of chickens kept by small time farmers are the egg-laying breeds. Each bird will produce an average of one egg per day (sometimes more). These can either be fertile eggs (which you can use to hatch more chickens) or utility eggs (which are just used for cooking).
These birds are not meant to be kept solely for egg production. They are kept merely for their meat. Meat chickens are usually slaughtered when they are very young (sometimes in only a few weeks) and are not inclined to wander far from the safety of their home.
These breeds produce an average amount of eggs and can be butchered when their egg production starts to slow down. However, they do take up more room compared to other breeds since they’re larger. They’re the best of both worlds.
You can pick whatever breed you want as long as they are all the same. However, if you want your birds to produce coloured eggs, you’ll have to get breeds that are known for producing these. Here’s a list of common egg colours and the breeds that produce them.
White – Leghorns, Minorcas, Andalusians
Brown – Redcaps, Rocks, Buff Orpingtons
Blue – Ameraucanas, Brahmas, Malays
Green – Brahmas, Malays, Cochins
Eggerhammers and Easter eggers are hybrid breeds that can produce a variety of colours. You can also use tools like coloured lamps and/or feed additives to alter the colour of the eggs your birds produce.
Housing Your Chickens
Now that you have your equipment, it’s time to build the actual coop. The design of this is really up to you. You can build a standard square or rectangular building or you can get creative and build something more elaborate. It’s completely up to you. Here are some things you want to keep in mind while building though.
Your chickens are not going to just live in the coop. They need a place to get shade during the day and a place to roam at night. Your backyard is completely up to you on what you want to build but I would personally separate it with a fence and put the coop in its own “run” which your chickens can freely roam around in during the day but gets locked up at night. At night, your chickens will be free to roam as a whole and won’t return to the run until morning.
You’ll also want to construct a small shed or shaded area in the run so your birds can get out of the elements. Even if you provide fresh water and food, chickens can and will still drink from and eat anything wet that’s on the ground so you may want to add a small water basin for them in the run. Make sure it’s clean though!
Also of course you are going to want to build your actual coop. You’ll want a sturdy structure here since this is where your birds are going to be sleeping. Try not to skimp on the quality of your materials if you can help it. You don’t want your birds getting out (unless you have a motley crew like I do). You’ll need at least 2 separate areas within the coop.
One for the roosting area and one for the nesting area. The roosting area should be at least 6-8 feet off the ground. This is where your birds will sleep (although they can still fly down to eat and drink). The nesting area should be a solid floor without any holes and raised up so that your birds are actually higher than the roosting area. I would also include some sort of small ledge or shelf near the nesting area so that your birds can store their treasures if they feel so inclined.
The coop doesn’t necessarily need to be enclosed on all sides if you don’t want it to be. You can just build a floor and a roof and leave the walls open on all sides if you want. This will provide more ventilation which is good especially in warmer climates. You’ll probably still want to add walls to the nesting area though since it contains all of the eggs.
While it may not look like it, this is a photo of my own chicken coop.
It’s important to actually clean out the droppings in your coop every once in a while. You don’t really want to be digging through chicken droppings all day so you want some sort of mechanism to dispose of them. In my coop, I actually just built a small underground hatch where I can empty a plastic garbage can under the roosting area and let the chickens do their thing. When the can gets full, I just take it out and throw it away.
Sources & references used in this article:
Cover crops and chicken grazing in a winter fallow field improve soil carbon and nitrogen contents and decrease methane emissions by Z Huabin, Z Linhong, W Jiabing… – Scientific Reports …, 2020 – search.proquest.com
Cover crops in West Africa: Contributing to sustainable agriculture by D Buckles, A Eteka, O Osiname, M Galiba, N Galiano – 1998 – books.google.com
Nutrient status of crop contents of rural scavenging local chickens in Tanzania by NA Mwalusanya, AM Katule, SK Mutayoba… – British Poultry …, 2002 – Taylor & Francis
Crop content in nutrient-restricted versus non-restricted organic laying hens with access to different forage vegetations by K Horsted, JE Hermansen, H Ranvig – British Poultry Science, 2007 – Taylor & Francis
Short-term effects on productivity and egg quality in nutrient-restricted versus non-restricted organic layers with access to different forage crops by K Horsted, M Hammersh⊘ j… – Acta Agriculturae Scand …, 2006 – Taylor & Francis
Whole wheat versus mixed layer diet as supplementary feed to layers foraging a sequence of different forage crops by K Horsted, JE Hermansen – Animal, 2007 – cambridge.org
The effect of feather eating on feed passage in laying hens by A Harlander-Matauschek, HP Piepho, W Bessei – Poultry Science, 2006 – Elsevier
Metabolizable energy of crop contents in free-range hens by MA Lomu, PC Glatz, YJ Ru – International Journal of Poultry Science, 2004 – Citeseer