Saturday, October 7, 2017

This Week: Chickens, Larvae, and Other Things That Make Us Happy

Although autumn is still refusing to arrive, Zach and I are making the best of it. We eat salad, keep the fans running, note the yellowed cottonwood leaves (despite everything else being green), and pretend that it’s a month earlier than it is. 

In other news, our chicks are growing up! Their downy feathers are being replaced by strong grown-up pinions, and they grow so much that it’s noticeable from day to day. They’re starting to be shaped less like fluffy balls and more like chickens, including tiny little combs on the Buffys’ and Mayfeathers’ heads. Bobbie Dylan is still terrified of people, but the others are quite friendly, especially one of the Buffys who will hop up on your hand and even sit on your shoulder like a parrot (as my brother’s brother-in-law discovered).

Meanwhile, Zach and I (well, mostly Zach) have been working in fits and starts on getting their outdoor accommodations ready. After much debate we bought a prefab henhouse from My Pet Chicken, but have been building a run from scratch. We’ve connected PVC pipes into a 10’x10’x4’ structure, and are working on attaching hardware cloth to the sides. We have taken the chickens out in it a few times, with supervision, and they love it. They poke around in the grass, chase gnats, flutter and flap and jump around, have little dominance battles where they size each other up, nibble on plantain and dandelion, and sound warning cries whenever a plane flies overhead. Once we get the run completed I’ll let them out more often, even though they won’t live outside full time for another several weeks.

Another rather geeky triumph this week was the discovery of a certain kind of larvae in our compost pile. I hadn’t turned the pile for a while, and when I did, I was met by the sight of a literal swarming pile of maggot-looking things. It was pretty disturbing until we learned that they are actually soliderfly larvae. When Zach properly identified them, he was so happy I thought he was going to dance. Why, you ask? Soldierflies are harmless creatures whose larvae have a voracious appetite— they can liquify a compost pile in a few days if there’s enough of them. Once they grow to full size, they crawl out of the pile as easy-to-harvest protein-packed chicken snacks. So the chain goes like this: you feed your scraps to the larvae, the larvae feed the chickens, the chickens eat less feed, you save money. Circle of life. Zach put some of the larvae into a separate bin, and I feed them our kitchen waste directly, rather than mixing it into straw or leaves.

Well, that’s enough geeky homesteading stuff for one post. Have a great week! Autumn can’t be far away!


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