Yesterday Heather and I went to a class: Chicken Management 101 that was presented by the WSU Pierce County Extension, and the Pierce Conservation District. It was such a lovely day that it was almost a shame to waste it sitting inside, but we (along with about 100 other people) were eager to learn a little about chickens. Chris Benedict from the WSU Extension facility assembled four people who gave an interesting insight to their experiences with chickens.
Mike Craig of Laharview Farm spoke to us about housing, feeding, and watering of chickens raised for their eggs, or "layers". He had quite a few good tips as far as the size of the pen, feed, fencing, bedding, etc. Chickens need space, they need to eat right, get some exercise and they like a nice warm, dry home. They don't like to drink dirty water, and would appreciate if they didn't have to walk in their feces all day. Hey -- I can relate!
Dr. A. Singh Dhillon with WSU Puyallup addressed chicken parasites and diseases. What can you say? If you have chickens there will be parasites -- get over it! He was very funny, but I have to admit I had a little trouble understanding everything he said. What he did stress was the importance of no cross contamination between your coop and others so never ever accept chicks from other coops into yours (or as he said, just politely say NO!), and wear different boots/shoes if you're visiting another coop.
Annette Masella raises chickens for their eggs. She has a farm, but unfortunately I didn't write the name down. Anyway I think she has about 200 chickens which free range on her three acres. She gave some quick tips on egg cleaning and storage. Her method uses hot water, bleach or a cleaning agent, and she moistens a paper towel and wipes off the egg. This technique differed from a "dry" technique I had read about. She stressed not to use soap -- it will cause diarrhea! She also gave the one tip that caused a strong reaction from both Heather and I. She said to only use paper towels to clean the eggs, because it would insure no cross-contamination. She uses one paper towel per egg. ONE PAPER TOWEL PER EGG!!! Such a waste of resources. Anyway, Heather and I will happily use washcloths. She also said an egg is good for about four weeks in the fridge, which is good to know.
Andy Bary (who I think is Steve Wozniak's twin) finished the class. He was supposed to talk about manure, but basically just told us to read the information he distributed and then answered a few questions. The question I had for him was about chicken feces and dogs. I was concerned my pugs would eat the compost with chicken feces and get sick. Andy said that you should compost the feces for a year before spreading it which was good to hear 'cause some of the websites I've looked at said you could spread compost with fresh feces as long as it wasn't on vegetables that were going to be used fresh (without cooking).
Andy raises his chickens, or "broilers", for their meat. He brought two examples of shelters with runs. One was a manufactured coop with an attached pen. It looked cool but runs around $600. For $600 I think I could hire someone to build me a really nice coop. He also had an example of a chicken tractor that he uses for his broilers which would work for us with a few modifications. His tractor had water dishes that refilled, feeding troughs, a netted area to protect the chickens from predators while they "roamed" (he keeps 30+ broiler hens in an area that would serve about 3 layers), and a shelter to protect them from the elements.
There was a lot of facts given to us in a short period of time so I'm going to have to review the material slowly over the next few days to be able to really digest the information. It was a very informative session though not as detailed as I had hoped. So I'll just have to continue the information gathering phase on my quest to be an urban chicken farmer!