Snacks for the Chickens

At the tractor supply store there were these food logs. They often had mealworms or crickets in them along with seeds and other dried veggies. You could buy bags of dried dead insects for your chickens to eat. I didn’t see the point in this when the live ones were all over my property. I also knew, the more bugs i could catch them, the quicker they got full. When they had been given insects there was more feed left in the dispenser at the end of the day. I needed to try to supplement their diets with insects caught on the property because feed was expensive and hard to come by during a time when everyone was panicking and buying it up in 20 bag increments every time the truck arrived. So, i got good at insect catching.

The june bugs were attracted to light. If i stood in the yard with the lantern they flocked to me. Sometimes i would catch a few on the way to the gate in the morning. I would club them, lay them on the floorboard in the car, and feed them to the chickens when i came home from work. However, the most effective way i caught junebugs was to leave the porch light on at sundown. When the bugs came out they were attracted to the light. As they buzzed around it i would trap them between two plastic cups and add them to my stash. However, the chickens had already gone in the coop for the night at this point so i had to store my catch until the following day after work. For a few months my refrigerator always contained a cup of june bugs on the top shelf.

This was my pill bug trap. Pill bugs are actually crustaceans. They have gills and they need moisture in the air to breathe. They will stay underground when it is dry. The chickens love pill bugs. So, i planted some little plants in a muddy area and purposely overwatered it daily. The plant material at the base of each plant became soggy and began to rot. Pill bugs are known for eating dead or rotting plant material. So, when they showed up to munch on the soggy parts of the plants i collected them in a cup and fed them to the chickens. Because i kept the spot over-watered and damp, if one lifted up the pieces of the plants or nearby rocks or leaves, pill bugs could be found in the area for several hours each morning and evening.

The greenhouse disaster stung. It was hard to look at the mess lying in the grass. However, i remember that during assembly the grasshoppers were attracted to the moisture that collected on the plastic panels. When i went to get them, they often couldn’t see me coming as the light reflecting off the moisture on the panels seemed to momentarily blind them. It did me too if i wasn’t careful. I began laying the panels out flat in the yard and when they were wet with the morning dew, i would wait for the sun to hit them just right and then go slap whatever grasshoppers had stopped to get a drink. As my hand got closer, they realized what was coming and tried to jump, but by then it was too late and i usually got around 80 percent of the ones i went after on the panels. I chose the biggest one if there were two present on one panel because as soon as the second one felt the vibration of the slap on the panel he would hop away, seemingly sensing bad news.

There were thousands of grasshoppers. It was a travesty for outdoor gardening and rearing of crops, but, at a time when protein was hard to come by in the stores they were a welcome food source. If they were going to wreak havoc on our lives, we might as well get something good out of the yearly infestation in the area. Some of the larger ones were as big as my hand from the edge of my palm to the tips of my fingers. However, those big ones could jump so high and take off so fast, i never got my hands on a giant one. Only the little ones were inexperienced enough to fall victim to my plots.

The wasps were busy making nests hanging from the roof and the shed roofs. They also put them in the plant boxes over by the fruit trees. I kept an eye on them. I let them build the nests up. I let them put their larvae in there. Then i waited some more. Before the larvae hatched, however, i would take them down, limiting the population of adult wasps i had to contend with and getting the chickens a nutritious snack. I would wait until the mother wasp was away from the nest for a while. Then i would get the broom and knock the nest down. I’d pick it up and take it straight to the chickens where they would make a fast snack out of the little white grubs waiting in their cozy slots.

My tomato plant on the porch served as a good collection station for caterpillars. Butterflies and moths laid eggs on the underside of the leaves. I checked the eggs daily and when they hatched i would make note. I would let the caterpillars eat for a while, until they were fat and juicy. The tomato plant was big and could stand to lose a few leaves here and there. Once the caterpillars were a decent size i would pluck them from the plant and toss them to the chickens.

There were a couple other types of bugs i collected for the chickens that i don’t have pictured here because they required more effort to catch and stopping to photograph them wasn’t really on my mind while doing it. I caught crickets for the chickens sometimes. Unlike the grasshoppers i had no problem picking up by the legs and carrying across the yard to give to the chickens, the crickets were greasy and slippery to the touch. They were not my favorite to catch but the chickens found them tasty so of course i was going to provide when the opportunity arose. They were often found in the garden in late spring. They would hide under leaves and walk along the perimeter of the tent. Occasionally i’d spot them in the grass in the yard or next to the porch steps. I would then stomp them with my boot and deliver the still somewhat intact morsel to the chickens on a leaf. They were thrilled. The chickens really liked cricket. I just could not understand, for the life of me, how an insect was achieving “greasy”. I mean, it was like these things were rubbed down in olive oil.

The other thing i would catch for my chickens on the regular was walking sticks. They would cling to the sides of the house, the sheds, and the well house, up high near the roof. I would get my broom, slap the walking stick, and it would fall to the ground, arms flailing like a boxer ready to fight. Then i would smash and smash and smash the walking stick with the broom until it was fatally wounded and guts were peaking out. I would grab a leg and carry it across the yard and call “Here chick chick chick chick!” All of the chickens would come running but it was Ira who would go berserk when he saw what i was holding. Walking sticks were Ira’s absolute favorite. He loved them more than all other things i fed them. He would fight the chickens to the death to get his hands on a walking stick, though he seemed only slightly interested in everything else i threw in, and the chickens knew it. Most of them just stayed out of his way and let him have it when i threw in a walking stick as it wasn’t worth the bodily harm that would be inflicted if he missed his opportunity to gobble down his favorite snack. Ira would eat these things whole. The chickens tended to peck them apart and eat a single limb or mid-section at a time. Ira just grabbed it, folded it, and swallowed. I think walking sticks were how he got so much bigger than the chickens so quickly. He was all grown up and ready to make little chicks thanks to a steady diet of giant walking sticks bigger than my hand. The chickens would need another couple months to catch up. They had not yet hit puberty and Ira had. One very sexually frustrated rooster would make my life a living nightmare until those ladies caught up with him.

There were scorpions. They could be found underneath rocks. I would flip a rock over, then stomp on the scorpion with my boot. If i was feeling nice i would cut the stinger off before i threw it to the chickens. If i was tired, i let them chop it off with their beaks. I kept a number of large rocks over by the orchard so i could weight down blankets in the winter. Now, in summer, they became scorpion traps that i checked weekly. Getting stung was always a possibility so it was not a daily hunt like with june bugs on the porch. Hunting scorpions was something i did when other food sources were scarce, when it was too dry for the pill bugs and the june bugs hadn’t shown up in a few days.

I found earth worms when i went digging for wild onions for me to eat. There were earthworms and grub worms/junebug larvae that i unearthed with my shovel. I put them in a cup and when i was done digging i’d empty it in the chicken pen.

This is a medium day’s haul. There’s a number of june bugs and a grasshopper i stomped with my boot in the yard.

My mind turned every insect i encountered into an opportunity to feed the chickens. I was pretty good at catching things in the moment but i also began setting traps that i could consult if it had been a slow day. I took a number of plastic cups and stacked them together. Then i set a rock in the bottom of each cup, lifting it up just a little bit, creating a space between the bottom of the cup and the ceiling created by the cup on top of it. Curious bugs would fall down the sides of the cup and then be met with the ceiling formed by the cup on top of it. Flying bugs hit the ceiling each time they tried to escape and crawling bugs found the sides of the cup too slippery to climb. So i had this stack of cups with a few bugs sitting in various levels of the stack each afternoon when i came home from work. I often found june bugs in there. Sometimes i found beetles or moths. Occasionally a scorpion lay curled in the bottom of the cup. Nasty suckers. But, the chickens loved them.

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