Chicken Treats: Delicious Tidbits Add Zest to a Flock’s Winter Diet

An outdoor run gives chickens more than fresh air and a place to exercise. Delicious tidbits are waiting to be discovered outside and break the monotony of daily mash or pellet meals.

Hens find food in even the smallest runs. Unfortunately, they quickly consume green grass yet still find earthworms and grubs while scratching. Occasionally they’ll even snatch a fly from the air, and if they can run down and catch a wandering mouse they’ll soon convert it to high protein food. At Winding Pathways our run is enormous, so our chickens enjoy greenery and insects all summer.

When the ground freezes and the snow flies the run remains a place for exercise, sunshine, and fresh air but there’s not much to eat there. Chickens are forced to dine on the same commercial mash day after day. It meets their nutritional needs but is boring!

Eating scraps

Chickens love treats.

We jazz up their diet with tasty snacks from our kitchen and mealworms.

Fortunately, chickens, like most humans, are omnivores and enjoy a diversity of food. They love most table scraps. On a cold winter morning a handful of leftover bread, pizza crust, salad bits, and meat or fish scraps is enthusiastically devoured.

We accumulate kitchen scraps in a small stainless-steel seamless bucket that’s easy to clean. Each morning we carry it outside. As soon as the hens see one of us carrying the bucket, they run toward us. Our compost bin is immediately outside the chicken run, making it easy to toss the foods chickens will eat into the run and drop the rest in the composter. Generally vegetable and fruit peels get composted while the rest goes into the run. Some people smash eggshells and give them to chickens, but we prefer composting them.  By spring our composter has transformed the scraps we don’t give to chickens and decomposing coop litter into outstanding compost for the garden.  At Winding Pathways everything organic is used and most is returned to the soil.

Every afternoon our hens get a special treat – a scoop of mealworms. They absolutely love them, and we use them to help manage the flock.

According to Cesar, Director of Marketing at Mealworms By the Pound, mealworms are an ideal chicken food supplement.  Nearly all dried mealworms are produced in China. “They  keep about two years as long as they’re stored in a sealed container,” he said.

We bought a 30-pound bag of the dried bug larvae in the fall. They’re expensive so we feed them sparingly as a special treat. We store the mealworms in a metal trash can with a tight-fitting lid and give the hens a small scoop every day. Thirty pounds last all winter. Small bags of dried mealworms can be bought in most stores that sell chicken feed or ordered online.

Our hens love them so much that they come running when we announce, “MEALWORM TIME!” with a husky voice. That’s especially helpful during afternoons when we want to close the pop hole door before sunset. We simply yell “MEALWORM TIME!”, scatter worms inside the coop, and close the pop hole door as soon as all the girls enter.

People tire of monotonous food served every day, and so do chickens. Commercial mash is an outstanding feed but giving hens special treats livens up their day.

2018 Labyrinth Pilgrimages

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
(Fiddler on the Roof)

As 2018 draws to a close and different cultures celebrate traditions near and dear to their hearts, I take pause and reflect on this year of walking labyrinths daily.

When I began walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth late December 2017, I didn’t realize I would commit to walking each day. Sunrise. Sunset. Wind. Rain. Snow. Cold. Hot. Still. In happiness. Sadness. Anger. Calm. Just because. With intention. With others. By myself. Content with nature. Content with self. In Gratitude.

In April when I attended Veriditas Council at Stony Point in NY state, one of the members, Chris Farrow-Noble gave me a book she had written and published on her year-long journey of walking labyrinths. The synchronicity of intent!  So, I began reading her daily entries on the same day I would walk a labyrinth. And, feelings often walked hand-in-hand.

Later in the year, I had re-affirmed that a way to success is to scaffold a new habit on an existing habit. I have a habit of writing a gratitude on a sticky note and putting it in a jar on the kitchen counter. Out in the open where I pass several times a day.  So, I simply started jotting a date and a comment on sticky notes and stacked them beside the jar.

Now, I have started scaffolding my fitness log on top of these two positive habits.

Once I thought about the labyrinths, I have walked this year I added them up. An incredible 32 different labyrinths throughout the year.  Most outside. Some canvas. Others cloth. A few wooden lap ones.

 

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
(Fiddler on the Roof)

As 2018 draws to a close and different cultures celebratetraditions near and dear to their hearts, I take pause and reflect on this year of walking labyrinths daily.

When I began walking the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth late December2017, I didn’t realize I would commit to walking each day. Sunrise. Sunset. Wind. Rain. Snow. Cold. Hot. Still. In happiness. Sadness. Anger. Calm. Just because. With intention. With others. By myself. Content with nature. Contentwith self. Extending positive energy into the Universe to be received where itcan be accepted. In Gratitude.

More recently, as the year closes, I simply enjoy the walk and listen to the sounds. Take in the sights. Become aware of the air around me– the fresh smell of the north wind, wood smoke from the chimney, acrid smell of the recent burn off of the labyrinth. Oh, and the southeast breeze wafting up the “odorless” sewer plant! The texture of the ground underfoot- squishy after a downpour, soft grass, crunchy ice, iron hard dirt, brittle burned stalks of grasses and forbs.

Coincidentally, I learned in April at the Veriditas Council at Stony Point in NY state, that one of the members, Chris Farrow-Noble, had also walked for a year and gave me a signed book she had written and published on her year-long journey of walking labyrinths. The synchronicity of intent!  So, I began reading her daily entries on the same day I would walk a labyrinth. And, feelings often walked hand-in-hand.

Later in the year, I had re-affirmed that a way to success is to scaffold a new habit on an existing habit. I have a habit of writing a gratitude on a sticky note and putting it in a jar on the kitchen counter. Out in the open where I pass several times a day. So, I simply started jotting a date and a comment on sticky notes and stacked them beside the jar.

Now, I have started scaffolding my fitness log on top of these two positive habits.

Once I thought about the labyrinths I have walked this year I added them up. An incredible 32 different labyrinths throughout the year.  One about every eleven days. Most outside. Some canvas. Others cloth. A few wooden lap ones.  And on rare occasions when I was flying and not at all in locations to use a cloth, lap or physical labyrinth, I used the palm technique of tracing a three-circuit labyrinth on my hands.  It tickles!

My thoughts are not deep or profound.  It’s just been a good journey.

Labyrinths Around the Twin Cities

                                    Around the Midwest

Boxelder Bugs

Lots of boxelder bugs are traipsing through homes this winter to the consternation of human occupants. We reluctantly share our home with a few during cold months.

This amazingly common and crafty insect is a true bug named for common boxelder tree. You don’t have to have boxelder trees nearby to “enjoy” visits by the bug. Maples and ash trees of several species make suitable hosts. Since these trees are everywhere in suburbia it’s no wonder boxelder bugs pester so many people. The insect makes its living feeding on tree seeds and sap yet poses no threat to its host. Unlike the pests of many other trees, boxelder bugs don’t kill trees.

Come fall box elder bugs prepare for cold weather by tucking themselves into bark crevices to patiently wait out the cold. However, they would rather be warm. If a house is nearby, they seem to sense that soon the furnace will be going and indoors is the best place to overwinter.

How Boxelder Bugs Get In

Box Elder bugs on outside window

All this winter box elder bugs have gathered on warm sunny sides of homes.

Although they are fairly large insects boxelder bugs can crawl through tiny cracks and holes. Often, they swarm in the sun on the exterior of a house and some manage to find their way inside. Winter is spent idly exploring light fixtures, furniture, and walls.

They are not really a serious pest. Pesky might be a better way to describe them. Boxelder bugs neither bite nor sting. They do sometimes crawl on people and pets. Perhaps their most disagreeable characteristics are pooping and emitting a disagreeable odor if they are crushed. It’s this bad odor that protects them from predators. Hardly anything will eat a boxelder bug.

Getting Rid of Boxelder Bugs in Your Home

Want to rid the house of boxelder bugs? The best defense is a caulking gun. Late each summer seal up cracks that allow them to squeeze into the house. Look for cracks and holes around window and door frames and around wires and pipes leading into the home. Bugs discovered wandering around inside can be vacuumed up, and a shop vac can suck up hundreds sunning on the exterior. Dump them in soapy water and they’ll quickly drown. A hose can also knock them off an exterior wall. Insecticides kill them but perhaps create more problems than they solve. Some people report that spraying them with soapy water also kills them.

We’ve had some success at Winding Pathways in reducing the number of bugs we pick off walls and windows in the winter. We used to bring in a week’s worth of firewood and stack it near the woodstove.  For years we didn’t realize boxelder bugs were hiding in the wood. Once they warmed up the insects set out exploring the house. Now we leave wood outside and only bring in a few pieces that go directly into the stove. It’s reduced, but not eliminated, the number of boxelder bugs inside.

Boxelder bugs aren’t harmful, but they are pesky and goofy. Caulking a home’s cracks can encourage them to winter outdoors in trees, rather than in homes. One speaker on Science Fridays quipped, “Boxelder bugs have nowhere to go and all day to get there.”

Three Critical Emergency Items

  • Note: Our comments are personal observations. We have not been paid by any company to review their products.

Wildfires in California. Hurricanes along the coast. Blizzards and tornadoes everywhere.  In this era of climate change every household should prepare for long stretches without electrical power or even the possibility of evacuating at short notice. And the recent earthquake in Alaska reminds us of the importance of being prepared especially in cold months when food, water, and shelter are critical.

Fortunately, many families have assembled emergency kits that include a mix of essential items useful when the lights go out. For detail see the Winding Pathways article on important items to stock in the kit. Emergency kits can be quickly grabbed if evacuation is needed and the contents help make life more comfortable should there be no need to leave but the house has no electricity.

Two items often are forgotten but become critically important during a widespread emergency. Be sure to keep these on hand:

CASH:

When the power goes out credit and debit cards probably won’t work. Cash always works. Keeping a couple of hundred dollars in small bills makes buying necessary items during a power outage possible. It’s a good idea to hide money somewhere in the emergency preparedness kit.

CHARGING:

When Hurricane Sandy left millions of people without electrical power for weeks a critical problem was the inability to charge cell phones and other electronic devices. The cell network was operating since companies have backup generators. But most people’s phone batteries discharged, and they had no ready way to recharge them. Fortunately, there are several options for charging. Here are two that work well:

Important items to have along.

Solar chargers help keep people connected when the power goes out.

Solar chargers:   Small inexpensive solar powered devices charge phones when placed in the sun. These are sold in camping and electronic stores. They will work on cloudy days, although charging will be slower than when the sun shines.

Battery chargers:   For many years we’ve used Milwaukee brand drills and saws for projects around the house. The company recently sent us an ideal product to solve two problems posed by power failures. It is a light powered by the same lithium-ion batteries that run power tools. The light has a port enabling connection with cell phones. It charges them up quickly. We always keep four batteries fully charged, and each battery will run the light for many hours and recharge a phone several times. The light is surprisingly bright, and we’ll bring it on future camping trips instead of our old gasoline lantern. This device fills two emergency needs-light and charging.

The lantern throws excellent light after dark.

The lantern throws excellent light after dark.

When buying cordless power tools and other accessories it’s a good idea to purchase ones that can both run the tools and charge a phone.

Potable Water:

There is a third item that’s also often forgotten. That’s drinking water. We keep in storage 25 gallons of clean water in five-gallon containers. Should that run out we have two backpacker style filters that remove bacteria and viruses from water. If we need even more water, we keep a few tiny jars of water purification pills in our emergency bin.  Water filters and purification tablets are sold in camping stores and are usually marketed to backpackers. These enable purifying water from nearby ponds and streams.

Hopefully, the power won’t ever go out, but the reality is that storms are increasing.  Along with them comes higher odds that the power will go out. It’s best to be ready.

Mice! Keeping them Out of the House

After a balmy fall, the television weather report promised near record cold and snow in three or four days. Mice don’t have televisions but somehow, they knew this because several of the tiny mammals successfully entered our house just before cold arrived. One scurried across the floor as we were reading the morning newspaper.

Years ago we read our then young children a delightful book about a mouse in the house. The story goes: “There is a mouse in the house. It is a very nice mouse.  It has a long, long tail and shiny eyes. My mother likes the mouse. But, she says, ‘A mouse does not belong in a house.’”

We agree and have developed a strategy to keep them out – at least most of them.

One tactic we do not do is poison. Karla Bloem of the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, reminds us that poison spreads.  When a predator eats a poisoned mouse, it absorbs the poison.  Over time, the poison builds up and kills the predator. People end up with more mice that can cause problems.

Here’s what we do at Winding Pathways:

  • Encourage predators. We love to hear the barred owls call on dark evenings, and occasionally we spot a red-tailed hawk in a tree out the window. Both are outstanding mouse catchers. Owls work the night shift and hawks the day.
  • Keep food secure. If mice smell dinner they’ll come right in uninvited and help themselves. It’s important to never leave food out unprotected. We store grain, flour, pasta, cookies and other foods in metal or stout plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. We don’t leave fruits and vegetables on countertops.
  • Tighten up the house. Before it gets cold, we check our house over carefully. Any narrow cracks get filled with caulk.  If we find a wider crack, we fill it with expanding foam. Often entry points for mice and insects are around pipes and wires leading into the home. Caulk and expanding foam help seal off the entry.   Drain pipes sometimes are entry points. “Chore Girl” type metal cleaning pads work great for filling pipes where liquids or air needs to come and go. Wad up the metal pads and jam them into the pipe. Spaces in the cleaning pads let air and moisture enter or leave but keep mice out.
  • Bring out the traps. Despite our best efforts, some mice make it into the house. Usually, we don’t see them but do see their calling cards – their tiny black droppings.

Effectively setting traps

Old fashioned mouse traps still catch mice efficiently, but a few tricks make success more likely. (With the exception of the poison information in this website, we have found this information to be appropriate.)

Bait. Probably the best bait is peanut butter. It just takes a tiny dab on the trigger to work.

Placement. Where you set traps is important. Mice naturally run along walls and dart under counters if they can. Traps set in the middle of a room are less likely to catch mice than those set along a wall with the trigger on the wall side.

Mouse traps

Place several mouse traps where mice tend to enter.

Double up. It’s usually most effective to set several traps in the same spot. So, set two or three touching each other. The first trap or two might not catch the mouse.  Usually one will

Keep setting the traps until you catch no more mice. Often people assume they have one mouse, but likely, there are more.  Keep trapping until they’re all gone. We dispose of dead mice by simply tossing them outside for our local opossum to eat. They can be flushed down the toilet.  Always be sure to wash your hands after handling mice or traps.