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Value Added Agriculture

Backyard poultry can provide a fun hobby

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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Backyard Gardener

Many gardeners live in rural areas with space and zoning that can support small poultry flocks. Poultry can benefit gardeners in several ways: food from eggs and/or meat; weed control; insect/snail/slug control; and nutrient-rich manure that can be composted or used as a garden soil amendment. Beside these benefits, home food production is fun, educational and rewarding.

For gardening and manure production, a small flock of chickens is ideal. Manure can be collected inside the pen and the night roosting area or chicken house. Free-ranging chickens also fertilize the area, but it's difficult to collect the manure except on the bottoms of your shoes. Chicken manure contains a good balance of essential plant nutri-' ents. On average, it will have about 1 to 2 percent nitrogen, 1 to 2 percent phosphorus and 1 percent potassium. If chicken manure is directly incorporated into soil, planting should be delayed for about a month. If composted, the nitrogen in the manure will enhance biological activity and consequent breakdown of other materials.

An egg-producing chicken flock should be replaced every three or so years to maintain production levels.

Buy chicks from reputable sources. Local feed stores usually get chicks in early spring. However, catalogs ship day-old chicks via air mail through summer and into fall. Some suppliers will determine sex of the chicks with about 95 percent or greater reliability which generally costs a little more. By the way, you do not need a rooster to produce eggs. In fact, the absence of roosters may be greatly appreciated by your neighbors.

Young chicks need lots of care during the first few weeks, and you should be prepared for them when they arrive. Reputable suppliers will provide feeding and care instructions.

The smaller the hen, the more efficient her production, which also lowers your feed cost per dozen eggs.

Leghorns and sex-link crosses have been developed for egg production and disease resistance. Most pullets come into egg production at 20 to 24 weeks or age. You can expect to get about a dozen eggs from each four, to five pounds of feed.

My wife and I are on our fourth flock of chickens. Breeds we prefer for egg production include Americanas, Barred Rocks, and Rhode Island Reds. We use pine shavings or shredded paper as bedding inside the chicken house and compost this with our other garden and household waste. We also, rake out the pen and compost the manure we collect.

Our chickens free-range about half the time in our fenced yard and are shut in each night to protect them from predators. Our vegetable garden is fenced to exclude the chickens, but they have access to the entire garden perimeter. This is within a quarter acre fenced yard and they have free access to our compost pile the chickens do most of the compost turning for me. I like to think this arrangement helps control insects and weeds. The free-ranging also makes them vulnerable to predators such as hawks and bobcats. We lock them in a secure run with access to the coop each night.

Turkeys are great for meat production and are usually processed when they are 20 to 30 weeks old.

Young turkeys need a little additional coaxing to get them to eat and drink.

Guinea fowl are considered superior to chickens for garden insect control but are also elusive and can fly.

Ducks and geese are easy to raise and grow very fast. By the time they are 5 or 6 weeks old, they will eat lots of fresh green grass if it is available. Swimming water is not necessary, but fresh drinking water must always be available for any poultry species.

Backyard poultry flocks are fun and the fresh eggs are fantastic. For more details about poultry care feeding, space requirements, facilities there are.many great books and Web resources available. A good online publication called "How to Keep a Small Poultry Flock" is available from New Mexico State University at: www.cahe.nmsu. edu/pubs/_ circulars/Circ477.html. Also, before starting a flock, you should be prepared with a predator-proof coop and run and have a look into local zoning ordinances and homeowners association rules to determine whether your community allows backyard poultry.

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Camp Verde office at 554-8999, ext. 3, or e-mail to cottonwoodmg@yahoo. com and include your name, address and phone number. The Camp Verde office is located at 2830 North Commonwealth Drive, Suite 103. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener website: http://cals.arizona. edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.

Jeff Schalau is county director and associate agent of Agriculture & Natural Resources for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County.

Copyright 2012 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: June 20, 2012

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