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Tuesday
Sep112018

How To Train Chickens

With their ridiculous walk and all that squawking, it’s hard to picture your chickens navigating an obstacle course or riding on your handlebars. Yet there’s more happening behind those little beady eyes than you might think. Much more.

 

For starters, chickens are self aware. They recognize their own reflection, and perceive that others have thoughts and intentions, and that their behavior can affect actions in others. Their language is complex and distinct, much like the speech of primates, dolphins and whales. Research has also shown that chickens…

 -display self control and restraint.

 -make sophisticated forage and security decisions.

 -anticipate events and plan ahead. 

 -worry, show empathy, deceive and plot revenge.

 -perceive that objects hidden from view are still there.

 -recognize abstract ideas, concepts of physics, mathematics and gravity.

 -understand that actions that have future consequences.

 -learn by observing, and pass down cultural knowledge  - like social customs, foraging strategies, safety      habits, and dust bathing techniques - across and down generations.

 -observe and analyze your behavior, learning patterns and language.

Okay, so there might be something happening in that little bird brain after all. But how do you train one to play tic tac toe in Las Vegas? 

 

With food.

 

Connecting over food is an important social custom for chickens ( and humans) and when you  share food with them, you earn high standing with your flock and create a “draw”. Sharing treats  trains your birds to want to be with you, and even seek you out. This builds trust and reduces stress, and makes your hens easier to corral, catch, and train.

 

In many ways training chickens is like training dogs, yet unlike dogs, chickens can learn after only one session. Chickens think and act as individuals, and training them with treats isn’t the same as Pavlov style physical conditioning. They don’t have the same instinct to “obey the alpha” that a dog does. With chickens, training is a process of mental engagement and communication.

 

Start by calling to your flock in a pleasant tone of voice, using the same call every time so that they learn that you are talking specifically to them, and come to recognize the call. Once they grasp that you’re talking specifically to them, their interaction with you will quickly increase. Use treats like mealworms to build excitement and anticipation before training sessions. Try sprinkling a few treats on the ground, then shake the bag and encourage them to follow you. Remember not to make an sudden movements during training, and generously share those treats and praise when they successfully perform a task. Soon your birds will come running when called, and over time they’ll be relaxed enough in your personal space to hop up on your lap, or perch on your arm. Before you know it they’ll be day trading and playing chess. 



Tuesday
Sep112018

Health Benefits of Leafy Greens

Fresh flavors that delight the palate. Fun colors and textures that add verve to any meal. Fast growing plants that are easy to cultivate at home - even in small spaces. There’s already so much to love about leafy greens like kale and chard, but when you consider the health benefits, you may just have to bump them on up to your organic garden A list. Most leafy green varieties thrive in cool weather, so plan on early spring and fall plantings for these, but with a little afternoon shade, heat-tolerant varieties of kale, collards and swiss chard can hold up even in hot summer weather.

 

Arugula 
Improves immune system and bone health, and inhibits cancer growth.
 

 

Collard Greens
Help control osteoporosis, lower LDL cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and support cardiovascular health.
 

 

Kale
Most nutrient dense leafy green, promotes healthy vision and fights cancer. Kale is also high in fiber which helps control blood sugar.
 

 

Mustard Greens
Help prevent arthritis and anemia, lower LDL cholesterol, improve skin and eye health, and prevent cancer.
 

 

Romaine Lettuce
Promotes heart health, prevents strokes and cancer. Romaine also builds healthy skin, eyes, bones.
 

 

Spinach
Improves red blood cell function, strengthens bones, regulates heart rate, blood pressure
and combats free radicals.
 

 

Swiss Chard 
Helps maintain connective tissue, controls heart rate, blood pressure and sugar levels. Chard also boosts the immune system, helps fight cancer and decreases the risk of obesity and diabetes.
 

 

 

Turnip Greens
Enhance collagen synthesis for healthy skin and hair, fight anemia, builds healthy bones, boosts immune defenses against cancer and illness.
 

 

Monday
Nov132017

Elegant Efficiency : Brenda Gaisor's Organic Garden

Brenda Gaisor loves being efficient, and she had long considered the organic food-growing potential of her sunny backyard, that until now, had only grown grass, and a handful of culinary herbs and tomato plants. On rainy days, she pondered how some of that water gushing from her downspouts might be collected and used to water plants instead, and had long intended to divert all those  coffee grinds, egg shells, and apple cores from the trash bin to a compost bin. She dreamed about having an organic garden like the ones in all the fine gardening magazines, and a few years ago, even bought a book on composting. Encouraged by these examples, and the firm belief that “food is thy medicine, and medicine they food”, she selected a sunny nook, tucked behind a wall alongside the house for an organic garden, compost bin and rainwater harvesting tank. 

 

Brenda liked the smart appearance of the 18” tall Kitchen Garden design, which features a sturdy, comfortable  seating cap. The Kitchen Garden raised bed design has two huge advantages for gardeners. One is that, being the height of a typical bench or chair seat, it makes gardening much more comfortable. The other key advantage to the 18” height, is that it makes the garden virtually inaccessible to the hungry rabbits that can lay claim to some small corner of nearly every suburban backyard.

 

Brenda Gaisor's Organic Garden from Microfarm Organic Gardens on Vimeo.

Our Kitchen Garden raised beds are made with untreated red cedar, which is naturally resistant to decay and insects, and once the garden beds are leveled and staked in place, they’re filled with an OMRI approved, organic soil and amendment blend. We installed Brenda’s garden in October, and planted an assortment of cool season varieties, including Marathon broccoli, Amara mustard greens, Georgia collard greens, arugula, and a mix of lettuces. In just two weeks they harvested their first salad greens!

 

Brenda was already sold on the idea of using a compost bin to recycle plant-based kitchen waste like coffee grinds, egg shells, and apple cores, into compost for her garden, but loved that ,with our spacious cedar compost bin design, she can add grass clippings and leaves to the list as well. Our compost bin is made with the same untreated red cedar that we use for garden beds, chicken coops, greenhouses, and other garden projects, and it has excellent air circulation, and features removable slats in front, for easy access to the compost pile. 

And while there is a spigot just a few feet away from the garden, Brenda wanted to harvest rainwater to use during the drier summer months. She selected a 200 gallon above ground rainwater storage tank, which we connected using a special diverter that allows water to bypass the tank, once it fills up. This simple method helps avoid water damage to a home’s foundation, that can happen if a rain tank overflows in a heavy rainstorm. 

Friday
Oct272017

How to Maintain Harmony in the Hen House

At around 6 weeks of age, your chickens will skirmish to establish their position in the flock’s peck order, which will regulate the flock’s social structure, and minimize stress and conflict. After the peck order has been determined, higher ranking birds use eye contact and other gestures to prevent lower ranking birds from encroaching on their space. But sometimes a nasty glare from the alpha hen isn’t enough to keep things civil in the coop, and tempers flare. Consider these tips that can help maintain harmony in your backyard flock.

 

-Choose a coop design with good air circulation, and plenty of space for your hens to roam. Nooks and alcoves built into the design make it easier for lower ranking birds to avoid ones that are above them in the peck order.

-Provide enough feed and water stations for your flock to prevent lower ranking birds from being chased away from a single feeder or waterer.

-If you must move your hens, avoid combining birds from different groups, as this increases stress, and peck order aggression.

 

-Try not to introduce new birds into an established flock, which confuses the established peck order and can lead to aggressive behaviors targeted towards the new birds, like vent picking and feather pulling. If you do introduce a new bird, darkening the lighting in the coop will make it less conspicuous to the older birds. 

-If fighting is a problem in your flock, check to see if common stressors like poor air circulation, cramped conditions, or inadequate food supply are the reasons.

-Don’t cull a bird simply because it’s at the bottom of the peck order - remember that as long as you have more than one chicken, there will always be one at the bottom of the peck order.

 

 

Friday
Oct272017

5 Microscopic Compost Bin All Stars

The microorganisms that live and wok in your compost pile, will never complain, or call in sick. They won’t ask for a benefits package with a 401k matching plan, and dental insurance. All they ask for in return for their hard work, are your coffee grinds, grass clippings, egg shells, and banana peels. If only they had tiny little, hands - and you had time - you might try to shake a few billion of them in thanks. Instead, take a minute to learn a little bit about these unseen compost bin all stars, and give them a shout out the next time you toss in an apple core.

 

Bacteria

 They’re the smallest living organisms, and also the most numerous in your compost pile ; they make up as much as 90% of the billions of microorganisms living in one small spoonful of compost. 

 

Actinomycetes

These tiny compost dwellers create the earthy smell that’s associated with soil and compost. Because of their long, branched filaments, which resemble a spider web,  Actinomycetes look similar to fungi. Their enzymes allow them to process lignin, chitin, cellulose, and proteins - making actinomycetes especially useful in breaking down woody stems, branches, bark and paper.

 


Fungi

These compost workhorses include aerobic molds, and yeasts, that vigorously colonize and spread new cells and filaments in the material. They process the cellulose in tough debris, allowing bacteria to complete the decomposition process, and they’re especially useful in breaking down compost because they can break down organic residues that are too acidic or nitrogen deficient for bacteria to process.

 


Protozoa

These are the funny looking one-celled organisms with lots of little hairs, from elementary school science class, and you can find them inside water droplets in your compost pile. Well, you probably can’t find them, but they’re there, although they play a smaller role in the compost pile than bacteria and fungi, by obtaining food from decaying organic matter in much the same way.

 


Rotifers

Like protozoa, these microorganisms are also found in water inside your compost pile, but rotifers are multicellular and, like protozoa, feed on organic matter and ingest bacteria and fungi.