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Notes on My Poultry Sanctuary

You will find the following sections in progress below (page started 1/30/2003):

  • Preface
  • How I got Started Keeping Poultry in my Yard
  • Hints on Raising and Caring for Poultry in Your Backyard
  • Hints on Organic or Near-Organic, and Sustainable Care for Poultry
  • Using SAM (Syntropic Antioxidative Microbes) and SAM Products for Poultry Care and Health
  • Electric Fencing: Excellent Low-maintenance Protection Against Predators (red fox, bobcats, coyotes, stray dogs, raccoons, opossums, etc..)


I currently reside on a forested mountainside in a remote rural area -- in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern U.S. In my yard I have about 20 chickens (and a few ducks, geese, turkeys, Bantams and guinea fowl), which I keep primarily as pets and for eggs (I do not eat any of the birds.)  The purpose of this webpage is to share some of my experiences and successes in keeping my birds happy, healthy and well, with some notes on caring for them with sustainable near-organic (or even beyond-organic) environmentally-friendly methods. 

This page will also contain notes on keeping out predators such as red fox, stray dogs, stray cats, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, opossums and other animals. As you may have guessed, the only really practical answer to the latter challenge -- short of building a massive outdoor six-sided cage out of chain link fencing -- is to use a good electric fence, as almost all professional poultry farmers and most backyard chicken keepers do.  For more info on the use of fencing and electric fencing to protect birds from all four-footed predators, please see the section below.

I will also be discussing below a bit my experiences with using beneficial SAM (Syntropic Antioxidative Microbes) brews with my birds to do the following:

  • increase their happiness, health, hardiness and disease-resistance
  • vastly improve the quality of their (natural, no drugs, no chemicals) feed
  • prevent odors from their wastes
  • allow their wastes to decompose quickly to a soft peat-like soil
  • allow the soil in their pens to remain strong and healthy
As of February 2003, this page is very much under development, and I will be adding material as time allows.

How I Got Started Keeping Birds in my Yard

As related above, I live somewhat in solitude in a rather remote wilderness area in the mountains.  Until springtime of 2002, my primary companions -- beyond visitors such as friends or consulting clients -- were my beagle and my cat.  In mid-spring of 2002, I started having fantasies of buying a few baby chicks at my local feed and grain store and raising them in a brooder box in my living room and then allowing them to live outside in my yard.  It sure sounded and felt warm and fun to contemplate having a bunch of baby chicks in my living room for a month or two, but somehow, I felt reluctant.... it felt like it could all become one more distracting chore....  Further, I was not really in the mood for building a brooder box, nor for eventually having to build fencing or at least extend the welded-wire fencing from an old dog pen in my side yard once the chicks had grown enough to move outside.  However, the idea of getting a few baby chicks and eventually having some chicken companions in my yard kept recurring to me, and I kept considering it and rejecting it, despite the added bonus that I would have a ready and cheap source of all-natural organic eggs.  Nonetheless, I mentioned the possibility to a few friends, and finally put it aside.... One Saturday evening as I went to bed, I simply let go of the whole idea, and said on an inner level: "Dear God/Source and my angels, if you really want me to have chickens, I trust that you will send them to me.  However, I have decided that I will not go out and buy chicks and build a brooder box on my own. I refuse to push the river!  If I am meant to have chickens, they will come into my life.  Period, and that is that!  Enuf' said!"  I then turned over and went to sleep.

Well, the next morning, I fed my beagle Toby his breakfast much later than usual for some reason, and then, as soon as he had eaten, took him outside at about 10 AM for his morning romp in the yard so he could do his "business". Since I live in the mountains and in a forest, I never use a leash, and instead simply open the door and walk outside into the wooded yard with Toby.  This particular morning was a bit warm and sunny, and so I stayed outside for a while, enjoying the sunshine and allowing Toby to explore the yard.  I eventually became aware that Toby was doing something very unusual.... he was a few dozen yards from me, and stood frozen,  fixedly "pointing" at a large clump of mountain laurel bushes.  Now, I guess that all beagles can technically "point", as it is likely in their very genes, but I had only seen Toby point about twice before in his entire life, once at a deer along the trail which I had not noticed, and once, on a dark evening, at something rustling in the bushes, which turned out to be a large bobcat. 

I called Toby several times, but could not get his attention off whatever he was pointing at so fixedly.  Finally, I walked over to him and asked Toby what he was pointing at; he just kept pointing, shaking with excitement.  I peered into the cluster of mountain laurel, and I gradually discerned two adult hens, kinda reddish in color, standing there. Once they realized I had seen them, they strutted out of the bushes, and came a bit closer to me.  After I was finished admiring them, I told them that I realized that they had probably wandered off -- or been chased off by predators -- from their home, and that they were welcome to move in to my yard and stay with me if they wished.  After a while, I went back into the house with Toby. 

As evening fell, I noticed that the hens were still in my yard, so I reminded them that they were welcome to move in with me.  I tidied up a ten by ten foot open patio space under an overhanging porch, and made room for them on top of some plastic 30-gallon compost pails in a corner of that space, in case they wished to roost there.  However, as it grew darker, I became worried that they might not want to choose the space under the overhanging porch, but might prefer something safer, perhaps inside the fence of my old dog pen.  So, as dusk fell, I cleaned up Toby's old doghouse, which had sat unused for years, put it on cinder blocks in the old dog pen, and then nailed a long dowel stick to the peak of the roof, so that the two hens would have somewhere to roost.  As I finished my task, I looked around for the hens, and discovered that they had already settled in for the night in the patio/foyer area under the porch, and they did not seem at all interested in moving into the old dog pen and the extra safety afforded by it's welded wire fence.  They had settled in on top of the old compost pails, and were settling down to go to sleep for the night. 

Within days, it was obvious that the hens, whom I started to call Mrs. Weatherbee and Mrs. Merriweather, had adopted me and had moved in to stay. I did not need to worry at all immediately about feeding them, since it was springtime, and my yard and woods held enough food for dozens of chickens.  Rather, I gave them a bowl of water in the sheltered area they had chosen for sleeping, and then set about making their night-time roosting spot more comfortable and safe.  Since it was obvious that they did not wish to move into the old dog pen, but preferred to freely roam the yard, I put some old scrap plywood on top of the 30 gallon compost pails which had become their roosting area, and then moved the doghouse-cum-roosting pole on top of that.  This gave the hens greater height above ground at night to afford more safety while roosting, and also more comfort than standing on the plastic lids of garbage pails which had been converted to compost pails.

Within a week, the hens had started laying eggs daily, under the sloping branches of a dense fir tree, which I harvested and ate each day.  Well, somehow, since I figured that the arrival of the hens had been a sign from the angels, I decided to go down to my local Southern States feed and grain store, and buy a few baby chicks.  So, I made a couple of jury-rigged broody boxes for a tabletop in my living room, rigged up a couple of heat lamps for warmth, and went to town and picked up about a dozen chicks.  However, it did not stop there.... a few weeks later, as the first batch of chicks were nearly ready to be moved outdoors, I broke down and again went to the feed store... This time I bought eight more chicks, which moved in to a new, larger, custom-made brooder box which I had built in the interim.  Around this time, some Amish and Old Order Mennonite organic farmer friends in Pennsylvania also got in the act.  A wonderful Amish farmer named Jacob Zook gave me a beautiful white Bantam hen sitting on a dozen eggs, and a wonderful Old Order Mennonite family who ran a farm near Harrisburg gave me two old Barred Plymouth Rock hens and a big old white rooster.

It did not stop there. Within a month, a third "wild" or wandering hen walked out of the woods -- from the same place and direction from which the earlier two hens had come -- this one was an adolescent, about 15 weeks old, and she decided to move into my bird sanctuary as well.  I eventually also purchased two baby turkeys and eleven baby guinea fowl.  These were shortly followed by 2 baby ducks and 2 baby geese, which my traditional farmer friends had advised me would act as "watchducks" and "watchgeese" and defend the other birds against any predators such as owls, hawks, fox or coyote (and, yes, the geese and ducks have worked admirably to protect the other birds from hawks and owls; the issue of fox or coyote is a moot point, because my combination of fence plus electric fence is 100% effective in keeping all four-footed predators away from my birds.)  Meanwhile, my slowly growing menagerie of outdoor birds was still wandering the yard freely, with nary a mishap but for when one wandered out into the road and temporarily slowed down the occasional car which passed my house. 

Well, as the baby geese and ducks matured in the brooder box in the house, reality hit my outdoor flock... I started losing birds in the morning hours, at the rate of about one every day or other day, to a female red fox who nested in an old artesian well springhead across the street.  In fact, as her very first victim, she chose not my little Bantam or one of the adolescent hens which had been moved outside, but rather my very large old and tough rooster.  As the predation continued, I had to quickly decide what to do. I certainly had no desire to harm the fox, as she was only doing what God had made her to do, but I just did not want her eating my kids.....  I eventually had a few losses as well which were not from Mrs. Fox, but rather from a stray neighbor's dog, a stray neighbor's cat, and one apparently from a raccoon at night.  I was not happy, and I started figuring out ways to manage my growing flock and keep the birds safe. 

As the stories of my losses spread among the local livestock and farm world, I received plenty of offers from folks who were willing to come up and either shoot or trap the fox, but I politely refused all offers.  I finally decided that I would need to beef up the 3-foot high welded wire fence enclosure which had been the old dog pen, and then emplace several electric fence wires on the outside at intervals, and also one on top.  Luckily, I had built electric fences several times before, so the electric part was not a problem.  Rather, the job of beefing up the old welded wire fencing became a mechanical chore which took me several hours per day for several weeks.  However, as soon as possible, I managed to get my birds moved into the enclosed and electrified pen, and eventually built a second pen -- using a cheap, affordable, ready-to-use 164-foot roll of portable flexible electric poultry netting -- outside the first pen, to accommodate the Bantams, turkeys and guinea fowl, thus keeping them separate from my Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock chickens.  The two ducks and two geese, when they moved outside, chose to move into the larger, older pen with the big chickens, in which I had built a spacious 10 foot by 12 foot "flying buttress" poultry shelter for night-time roosting. 

Incidentally, the electric fencing worked perfectly, keeping out all four-footed predators.  I have had one or two incursions by hawks, one of which was so amazing -- where my female duck beat up the hawk, paralyzed it and nearly killed it -- that I will likely eventually devote an entire section on this page to the story, replete with photos, at some later date.  I eventually had one loss of a guinea hen at night in mid-winter, which may have been due to a raccoon or opossum which climbed up a tree outside the fence, crossed over to a tree inside the pen, then climbed down into the pen and climbed another tree (inside the pen) to attack my guinea hen.  However, this is hardly any failure of the electric fence, but rather an extremely rare occurrence which I could have prevented if I had spent the time to trim branches...

Just after the last of my baby birds had moved out into the pens, another hen, this time an  adolescent Rhode Island Red hen, a couple of weeks younger than my own batch of now-adolescent Rhode Island red hens, walked out of the woods and asked if she, too, could move in, just as had Mrs. Weatherbee and Mrs. Merriweather before her.  So, I picked her up and held her for awhile, and then I moved her into the pen with my own adolescent chickens.  She has been here ever since.  However, my "farm" somehow became known as the local bird-adoption shelter, and since that time I have adopted numerous chickens who had become homeless or were about to become homeless, including about 14 beautiful Bantams.

Now, if you have been keeping count, you will have noticed that my bird count must be getting pretty high.  Luckily, my ex-wife Lisa, who has chickens of her own, was willing to take over a dozen birds at one time in mid-summer 2002, and so my bird population is still quite manageable.  Except, of course, for my rapidly-growing Bantam population, due to my beautiful white Bantam hen Henrietta, who successfully hatches and lovingly raises broods even in late November....

Using SAM and SAM Products for Poultry Care and Health

As mentioned above I have been, since December 2002, playing with using beneficial SAM (Syntropic Antioxidative Microbes) brews with my birds to do the following:

  • increase their happiness, health, hardiness and disease-resistance
  • vastly improve the quality of their (natural, no drugs, no chemicals) feed
  • prevent odors from their wastes
  • allow their wastes to decompose quickly to a soft peat-like soil
  • allow the soil in their pens to remain strong and healthy
 I get the SAM organisms to the birds and waste in the following ways:
  • as a probiotic in their drinking water and "ponds''
  • as a probiotic in their feed
  • to make a special fermented bran product called bokashi with which I supplement their feed (4% of feed) daily
  • to treat their wastes to manage odor and speed de-composition into a peat-like beneficial substance
  • to treat the soil in their pens so it is not destroyed by the presence of the birds and so that it is more healthful for them
I also have created a website devoted solely to SAM and its uses in agriculture, waste management, human health, and several other fields. To go to that page, simply click here.

Some Basics -- How I Have Used Syntropic Antioxidative Microbes (SAM) So Far with Poultry
As you may know already from reading the sections above, I live on a forested mountainside in a remote wilderness area in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern U.S., and I have about 30 pet birds (chickens, Bantams, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks and geese) in my yard, all within two modestly-sized (well, this is a forested mountainside, not open flat fields!) pens surrounded by electric fencing (to keep out the four-legged predators, especially the red fox!)  I started using SAM Type 4 microbes with my birds in late December 2002, adding small amounts of the fermented microbial liquid to their feed on a daily basis and to their water on a twice-weekly basis. I have observed the following, even during really cold winters and hot humid summers:
  • my birds are even happier than before
  • my birds are even healthier than before
  • there is even far less odor in their houses and the pens
  • their waste accumulations, particularly the outdoor ones, quickly change to a fine moist peat-like humus
  • their indoor waste accumulations (which I do not spray diligently, as I want them to stay relatively dry) are showing the same changes, and with almost zero odor as well.

Notes on Electric Fencing to Manage Four-legged Predators

When I first started keeping birds here in my yard, I took advantage of the fact that I live in the wilderness, and simply let them wander the yard, offering them food, and, of course, a fairly safe sheltered roosting place at night.  That worked well for about 6 weeks, until the local red fox and bobcats happened to hear, via a predator hotline or the red fox predator website, that my yard had lots of free meals for the taking. I quickly started losing one or more birds per day (mostly in the first 7 hours of daytime), mostly to red fox, even a massive, tough old white rooster bigger than a Volkswagen -- he was snatched one day in mid-morning by a brazen red fox.  I finally realized that I had to get serious and make some concerted effort to contain the birds in a smaller, safer area, and then protect them from the predators.... The answer was electric fencing. Luckily for me, I had built electric fences before, and am sort of an expert in that field, as I useta be an electrical engineer, and before that I had been a ham radio operator since age seven, tinkering with all sorts of electrical and electronic things, including high voltages and electric fences for livestock.  So, it was quite easy to implement an effective electric fencing system to protect the birds.  Therefore, a section below will offer what I have learned about construction of good electric fencing systems for birds (aka poultry) -- again, the goal is not so much to keep the birds in as to keep all four-legged predators out...

First, much as I have already mentioned above, the primary purpose of an electric fence -- at least for me in my situation here on a forested mountainside -- is not so much to keep the birds inside the pen as to protect them from four-footed predators such as red fox, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, opossums, stray dogs and stray cats.  Of course, a fence will not stop aerial predators such as hawks and owls, nor the crows who love to prey on very young baby chicks, but, implemented properly, will offer literally 100% protection against four-legged predators. 

I have two pens, adjacent to each other and which share on common "fence wall" and gate.  One pen consists of 4 foot high welded wire fence, with strands of electric wire mounted on the outside of the fence via standoff insulators, with the lowest positioned about 5 inches above the ground, and about 5 inches out from the fence, to prevent any animals from attempting to burrow under the fence. The strands above it discourage predators from attempting to climb the fence. There are also a total of six strands of wire and electric fence ribbon (alternating ground and hot wires) mounted above the welded wire fence, extending its height to 5.5 feet, with the highest "wire" being a 1/2" wide electrified "ribbon". 

The second pen, newer, is surrounded by a 164-foot (pre-fabricated) length of 4-foot high portable electric fence netting designed for use with poultry, and stabilized with additional fiberglass poles as needed, with a makeshift gate at one end.  If you are not familiar with such portable fence netting, it is usually sold in 164 foot lengths, and consists of insulating vertical strands (forming a mesh) with alternating hot and grounded horizontal strands consisting of wire and fabric filaments. 

This system works well for me and I have never had any problems with four-footed predators getting into the pens since setting up these fences.  However, I must also note that I do not experience extremely heavy predator pressure, as do many farmers whose farms are located on flat plains and consist of open fields. For example, I know one farmer who keeps both cattle and chickens who experiences such severe predator pressure from raccoons and opossum that he employs, for his 1/4 acre poultry pen, a nine-foot high welded wire fence surrounded by strands of electric wire, and he also has much of the "roof" of the pen covered as well with chicken fencing -- again to keep out overly-persistent predators.

For an electric fence charger, I recommend only a good, reliable low-impedance charger, and I recommend an excellent ground system consisting of at least four or five ground rods, each spaced at least 9 feet apart.  Never buy the cheaper old-fashioned "weed-chopper" or "weed-eater" models, but rather only the modern "low-impedance" models.

To help give you some idea of how you can set up a simple electric fence system and what you might need in the way of equipment, here is a copy of a "help me!" e-mail which I recently received from someone in Eastern Pennsylvania, along with my reply to her:

Sylvia wrote:

I love your informative website

I have Guineas and baby chickens..all pets of course..we Love all animals.
On Wednesday I heard a commotion, screamed and ran outside. A RED FOX was in the middle of my 6 one year old Guineas..I herded them into the pen..did not release the until today..12:30 afternoon..I waited by a tree..just watching nature..all of a sudden that nasty fox sprinted from the hedgerow towards my precious birds! I screamed and he ran after several yells~~

I need to install an electric fence..will it work for fox? I live in Eastern Pa. near Phila.....please help! any numbers you can..or call...


Here is the reply which I sent to her:
Hi Sylvia:

Yes, electric fence will work perfectly and 100% for red fox, bobcats, opossums, raccoons, stray dogs, stray cats, and stray humans.  Perhaps easiest is the 164 foot lengths of prefab flexible portable electric fence netting, 4 feet high, complete with stakes, sold for about $150 per roll, as mentioned on my website.  Meanwhile, tying your dog outside during highest risk daylight hours will scare off the fox, unless dog is very small...  Also, if you eat meat, urinating on nearby trees circling the bird area may repel fox temporarily -- she will think there is a larger predator nearby.  However, these are temporary measures -- you need electric fence for longer term.

By the way, red fox are actually very sweet, intelligent, beautiful animals, very lovable.  They are just doing what comes naturally.  No need to hate the red fox, and rather, just keep her from eating your pets. 

Here is more detail: I suggest that you purchase one or more 164 foot length rolls of Electric Fence Netting from Kencove Farm Fence Supplies in Western PA.  Their phone number is 1-800-536-2683, and their website is at  Two or more rolls may be connected to extend length. 

I suggest Kencove's Model NPX Poultry Electric Netting, (14 line wires, 3.5" spacing, semi-rigid stays, 164 feet long, Double pin, 15 posts, pos-neg.).  Each roll is $156.  More than one roll may be purchased and joined together to make a larger pen.

You will also need a good low-impedance fence charger, three ground rods, some soft aluminum ground wire, some extra fiberglass fence posts.  The NPX Poultry Electric Netting comes with 15 posts, about one per every 11 feet -- you will likely want about 9 extra fiberglass posts, clips to attach the netting to the extra posts, plus one "hammering cap" to place over the top of the post to protect it while hammering it into the soil.

For a fence charger, I recommend any of the following:

Kencove Model 6 charger (Kencove Order # EK6; $182.00)
SE-3 charger (Kencove Order # EM1; $109.50)
By the way, the extra fiberglass posts are:
SunGuard 3/8 inch Fiber Rod, Kencove order # F38-5SG, $1.46 each, you will want at least 9 (nine).
The clips to attach the fence to the extra posts (rods) are:
Stainless Steel 3/8 in. rod clip, long tail, Kencove order # F3S, at $0.17 each, you will want to purchase 3 for every extra rod/post which you buy.
Then, the little gizmo to protect the top of the posts while hammering them into the soil are:
Nylon Drive Cap, for 3/8" fiberglass rod, Kencove order # F3N, $4.85 each; you need only one.
Again, a reminder on electric fence chargers: never buy the cheaper old-fashioned "weed-chopper" or "weed-eater" models, but rather only the modern "low-impedance" models.

By the way, I strongly recommend both the Speedrite electric fence chargers and the Gallagher fence chargers, both from New Zealand, especially their dual-power models, which run on 120 VAC most of the time, but during a power failure they automatically switch to drawing 12 volt DC power from a backup 12 volt automotive or marine storage battery (you need to purchase the battery separately at a local battery store....!)  However, while Kencove does carry one or two of the Speedrite lines (they do not seem to carry any automatic-switchover dual-power models), they do not carry Gallagher chargers, so you will need to purchase them elsewhere.  You can find Gallagher chargers online or via some local farm supply stores.  Also, for a given energy rating, Gallagher charges can be rather expensive. However, they are very reliable.  I often use the Speedrite Panther B3000 charger here, which is a dual power supply model, automatically switching between AC line and DC battery power as needed. For backup, I use a Gallagher B75 battery-operated electric fence charger.

Best of luck!

with care,

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