Another Summer on the Ladd Farm
Or Silkies Really Do Love Zucchini Squash
The last time that I wrote about a Silkie summer on my farm it was 1999. I told a story about my son getting chicken feed in his diaper and the resulting diaper rash. Well, my two-year old daughter, Emily, has also managed to do the same this year. She was happily feeding birdseed to the garden flock one minute and the next minute had poured a large quantity into the front of her diaper. Somehow, the chicken feed in the diaper incident makes me feel like things are perfectly normal. Emily is quite a Silkie fan. I just love Silkies for the way they are nice for children to be around. My Silkie hens and pullets and quite a few of the males let my little girl carry them all over the barn and garden.
The weather in July in southeastern Missouri is brutally hot and extremely damp and humid at the moment. The drought of three years ago is a distant memory. Thunderstorms pop up several times a week and it is hotter after the rain! The ground actually steams. My Silkies are grateful for the fans sitting all over the barn. I’m grateful too as I perspire while feeding and watering each evening. July and January are the toughest months. In July, I can barely keep enough water in front of all the birds because of the heat. In January, I can barely keep the water from freezing. Both times of the year mean hard WORK. At least the mosquitoes are not as bad as usual this year.
In this heat, our garden is growing like mad. The zucchinis are growing faster than we can pick them. My husband forgot to harvest them for two days straight. He returned to my kitchen on the third day with several zucchini the size of small baseball bats. Annoyed that the zucchinis were much too large and tough for frying, I pulled out my food processor and grated zucchini every night for nearly a week. The Silkies loved the grated zucchini mixed with their breeder crumble and a generous amount of vegetable oil. (I feed 22% game bird breeder well mixed with other high protein grains and a few extra treats.) They seemed to think the 1 ˝ inch zucchini strings were worms! The sound of excited clucking and Silkies rushing your feet is a happy, distinctly pleasant sound that makes me smile. At least I found a use for those giant zucchinis!
Most Silkie breeders that I know feed some sort of dry poultry crumble with a protein percentage ranging from 16% to 30%. I find that my Silkie flock thrives when I use a 22% game bird crumble with quite a few treats added to it for variety. I feel like the 16% standard laying rations is too low to keep all of those Silkie feathers in good condition. I never fail to regret those times that the better feed has been unavailable and that I have resorted to the laying ration. My flock seems to fall apart! In contrast, my flock will do fine on plain 22% ration but the life and excitement is missing from feed time. They eat when I put the feed in front of them but they don’t seem to enjoy it. For about 60 adult Silkies and 15 older juvenile Silkies, I feed about 12 pounds of game bird crumble and whatever extra food is left over on my table. Young chicks still get an 18% medicated crumble. After I buy groceries on Sunday afternoon, I clean out my refrigerator and these extras go to the Silkies. (Sometimes I even buy treats for the Silkies!) The Silkies seem to eat almost anything and variety seems to make them healthier and livelier. I buy 128-ounce jugs of cooking oil to add to their feed. I add about 8 ounces of Red Cell, an equine vitamin supplement, to every 28 ounces of oil and spray a liberal amount of this supplement on the feed in addition to at least a cup of straight oil each day. At least once a week, I add 8 ounces of yogurt. When I am getting more eggs than I know what to do with, I scramble up a batch for the Silkies to eat. Many people seem to prefer to boil the eggs and crush them shells and all before feeding. I like to scramble them. The Silkies seem to make happier noises when they smell scrambled eggs. I add about 4 to 6 pounds of different grains at each feeding. I like safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, dry pigeon peas, popcorn, Milo, wheat, crimped oats, millet, and just about anything found in the bird seed section of the farm supply store. Pay attention to the labels on the back of the bags and try to feed the higher protein seeds to keep from lowering your overall protein percentage too much. My protein percentage hovers around 19% at most feedings.
Feeding better feed is a bit more expensive than feeding the inexpensive laying ration. However, I decided long ago that if I couldn’t afford “chicken feed” then I needed fewer chickens! A word to the wise: Don’t hatch more chicks or keep more Silkies than you have the time, energy and money to care for.
Well, the summer day is getting hotter and it is time to head back out to the zucchini patch to pick squash again. I find that I resent finding the overly large ones less and less now that I know how much my Silkies love grated zucchini “worms.”