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.

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.”

Glacier Advances to Winding Pathways

Dump truck and rocks

Glacial rocks arrive at Winding Pathways.

A modern glacier visited Winding Pathways in October.

Our area of Iowa doesn’t have much rock. There’s limestone bedrock in some places. Over the top is a thick layer of subsoil and topsoil with one exception. Glacial erratics.

Thousands of years ago the Upper Midwest was a cold world. Summers were so frigid that the previous winter’s snow didn’t melt. It packed down on top of previous winter’s snow and formed ice. Thick ice is fluid. It moves. Slowly. But it moves. Up in today’s Minnesota, glaciers scooped up granite and other rocks and gave each one a grand, if pokey, ride. As the ice inched forward, often southward, it carried rocks. Often they churned along the bottom of the ice, gradually rounding off like pebbles in the ocean surf do.

Fifteen or twenty thousand years ago the climate warmed. Ancient climate change. Instead of expanding, glaciers shrank, leaving their stone cargo in place, often hundreds of miles from where they were scooped from the ground.

Glacial erratic

This massive erratic is the centerpiece of a new Marion, IA, park.

 

It’s complicated because there were several glacial periods of warming and cooling. Sometimes a new glacier picked up and moved rocks left by earlier ice sheets thousands of years earlier. The last glacier to visit Iowa melted about 12,000 years ago, leaving erratics here and there in the prairie that was converted to farm fields. Two of the most renowned glacial erratics in Eastern Iowa are Waldo’s Rock in Marion, and Bever Park’s boulder that generations of kids have climbed.

At Winding Pathways, we needed a retaining wall and first considered using manufactured concrete blocks. Then, we met Cody Rossman of Hardscapes. His business crafts glacial erratics into retaining walls. It’s not easy. Those hunks of rounded granite are heavy.

Cody’s crew brought truckloads of erratics to our yard from where the last glacier abandoned them near Troy Mills, Iowa. It took a husky truck about 45 minutes to bring the rocks 24 miles. That’s nearly 30 miles an hour.

It’s not certain how fast glaciers moved rocks, but it was slow. It could have taken years, decades, or even centuries for ice to move our rocks 24 miles. A speedy glacier might move a rock a mile a decade. Maybe a mile a century. Cody’s method was faster.

The wall’s in place. Every time we look at the rocks we wonder about their travel. Probably they originated in Minnesota hundreds of thousands of years ago to end up preventing erosion in our yard. What stories they could tell? Winding Pathways will find out in a few weeks when retired geologist, Ray Anderson visits and inspects the rocks and shares their stories.

Our wildlife also loves the rocks. A chpmunk popped up between two rocks as soon as the work crews left for the day. The uneven rock surfaces and the nooks and crannies between them provide safe living spaces for our chipmunks and garter snakes.

 

Monarchs On Their Way South

Monarch Butterfly

Butterfly on plant

This past summer we enjoyed watching many monarch butterflies flutter over our prairie labyrinth. Numbers were way up from last year.

These intrepid insects are now en route to wintering grounds in Mexico. We look forward to their return next year.

Monarchs suffered huge population declines due to varied stresses on their lives. In farm country, most fencerows, waterways, and pastures that once harbored milkweed and wildflowers that provided both caterpillars and adults with food have disappeared. Today’s farmland is a pesticide-laced monoculture of just a few crops.

In town, manicured and sprayed lawns are as devoid of diversity as a cornfield and can’t sustain beautiful wildlife like butterflies.

The news would be more distressing had people not responded with enthusiasm to the monarchs’ decline. This summer we were delighted to see dozens of homeowners in Cedar Rapids and other towns let their lawns grow taller. Many planted pollinator patches in even tiny yards that include a diversity of native plants, including milkweeds.   We took joy in seeing a small patch of milkweeds nurtured by the staff of a convenience store in a tiny patch of dirt near the gas pumps.

Lawn with milkweed on it.

Grow a wild patch on your lawn to encourage butterflies.

Every pollinator patch, even if tiny, adds beauty and diversity to our world. We urge everyone to assist wildlife by creating natural plantings, even in urban areas.

Many Iowans have been inspired by the Monarch Zones Project. Founded by Clark McLeod, the Project provides workshops, encouragement, equipment, and seeds to help people assist this beautiful insect and hundreds of other beneficial species that add richness to our lives and health to the environment.

Next spring’s planting season isn’t far off. Now’s a fine time to plan to expand or create a pollinator patch in the yard. For help contact Monarch Research Project. Let’s continue to work together to create wondrous yards.

Bon voyage, Monarchs!

 

EGO CORDLESS CHAINSAW

Chips flew from a white oak limb as our son-in-law, Brian Ohlen, masterfully wielded a cordless chainsaw. He and our daughter, Nancy, were visiting from their Alaskan home.  Because Brian is a veteran chainsaw operator and former logger, we wanted his opinion on the EGO cordless chainsaw we recently acquired.

EGO Chain Saw

Brain Ohlen found the EGO Chain Saw to be efficient and lightweight.

The tree provided a great test. White oak is one of the best firewoods, but it’s a hard, tough wood that tests a saw. An extreme April windstorm snapped our tree off about twenty feet above the ground. Its massive top landed close to our barn. We were saddened to lose the magnificent oak that had spent a century converting Iowa’s sunlight into wood, but its death meant that we could, in turn, convert that solar energy into heat in our woodstove.

Brian kept running the saw as chips flew and piece after piece of firewood-sized wood dropped from thick limbs.  After the battery finally was depleted and we took a break while it recharged, Brain remarked, “This saw is amazing. It’s lightweight and quiet and it cuts swiftly.” He looked the saw over and added, “I was surprised at how long the battery lasted.”

Rich also is an accomplished chainsaw operator who logged for the US Forest Service one summer in Idaho. Like Brian, he is amazed at the efficiency and ease of use of the EGO saw.

Cordless, battery-operated carpentry tools emerged on the market a couple of decades ago and today are valued by craftsmen and women for their power, ease of use, and efficiency. More recently, battery fueled chainsaws entered the market. The key to their value is the ability of lithium-ion batteries to store an enormous amount of energy.

The EGO saw is highly user-friendly It eliminates the need for gasoline and runs without the smelly exhaust of a gas saw. It’s lightweight and runs much quieter than a gasoline counterpart. Like gas saws, it requires bar oil to lubricate the chain and occasional sharpening. Unlike most gas saws EGO has crafted the saw to be user-friendly.  For example, no tools are needed to open and close the sprocket housing or tighten the chain. This makes use a snap and saves time and the need to cart around a bar tool.

When I asked Brian’s opinion of the saw he responded, “This is an excellent saw for a homeowner who needs to cut dead branches and trim trees. It’s also a fast firewood cutter.”

Chain Saw Equipment

Protective gear keeps workers safer.

There is an important similarity shared by all chainsaws. They are powerful tools that must be used with respect and caution to prevent injury. When running any chainsaw wear eye, ear, and face protection, long pants, sturdy leather gloves and boots, and saw chaps. Saw chaps clip over pants and are designed to instantly stop a cutting chain that touches it. Chaps prevent serious injury to the thigh.

 

The EGO chainsaw is a dandy tool useful around the home. The battery that runs it also powers many other EGO tools, making a cordless tool system practical.

FIREFLIES RETURN TO DELIGHT FAMILY

“It was amazing! Gorgeous!  Fireflies danced over our prairie most of the summer, and they weren’t here when it was a mowed lawn,” said Katie Hill with much enthusiasm

She and her husband Tim are restoring an island of ecological health just three miles from downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. First Avenue is one of the busiest urban streets in Iowa, constantly filled with cars, motorcycles, and trucks. A bald eagle flying over the road would look down at an urbanized landscape – except for five acres of verdant beauty just a few feet east of the Avenue. The oasis is nestled between suburban developments, a high-rise condominium, and a senior residence complex.

Katie and Tim bought three and a half acres and a home about 15 years ago. It was convenient to his work at a law office a stone’s throw from their land. “We did the standard expected landscaping of mowing and spraying for about a decade,” she said.

Creating Habitat

Although the yard was large it lacked plant diversity and wildlife. Then came the change.

“We stopped spraying and I took delight when creeping Charlie and dandelions took hold. Many people don’t like them, but creeping Charlie has a gorgeous flower that bumblebees love, and it smells nice. Dandelions are beautiful, and bees love them,” she said. Then she broadcast prairie seed on a low area that had been lawn. After a couple of years big bluestem, Indian grass, and many native flowers appeared. Encouraged by their first prairie the Hill’s planted new ones in formerly mowed and sprayed lawns.   They’ve been helped by David Novak, owner of a small company that helps people restore natural areas.

“We were delighted when lightning bugs appeared over the prairie. They don’t like mowed lawn but love taller plants.  We watch them dance on summer evenings. These beautiful insects completely avoid the mowed lawns of our neighbors,” Tim and Katie remarked.

Early in 2018, the Hills bought about an acre and a half of land adjoining their property   Years before several houses stood on the property but it had been purchased by a developer who planned to build two condominium towers. He razed the houses and built one condo tower but abandoned plans to build the second.

Restoring the Land

As we walked through the area Katie showed us her new prairie plantings in what had once been a lawn while Tim pointed out where the houses had stood. As the years go by the residents of the existing condominium tower will gaze downward during the day on wildflowers dancing in the breeze and butterflies sipping nectar from prairie blooms. As twilight approaches, they’ll enjoy fireflies blinking their tiny lights.

In addition to creating beauty and feeling the joy of making the earth healthier, the Hills are benefiting the community beyond their property. Prairie grasses absorb stormwater that once sheeted off their land and into storm sewers and eventually Cedar Lake. Their land nurtures wildlife as its beauty increases and diversifies.

“We feel good about what we are doing. We are helping nature restore itself in the heart of the city, but it also does one other thing. When we were mowing and spraying it was costing us about $600 a month to maintain the property. Now that’s dropped to about 90 bucks, so we’re saving money,” the Hills explained.

In the process of restoring their land, Tim and Katie Hill are also getting a fulfilling ecological education.

Win!  Win! Win!

“It’s a win, win, win,” smiled Katie. “It’s a win for us saving money. It’s a win for us to have the time to be entertained by the wildlife diversity. And, most importantly, it’s a win for Mother Nature.”