Monday, June 22, 2009

Reds vs Rocks

We are coming to the end of our first experiment with raising broilers. All in all, its been good. We've had fun being chased by the Rocks (Cornish Rock Cross) and hearing our adolescent rooster learn how to crow. This morning when he crowed at 5:00 a.m. I made the appointment with the lady down the street to process the batch. I will be dropping them off tomorrow morning.

My original plan was to do it myself. My first flock was small, 6 chicks, that were supposed to be ready last weekend. I would take Saturday to process them and have two weeks before the larger flock of nine were ready. But then the first flock turned about to be a slower growing chicken (Reds) and all 15 were going to be ready at the same time. As the deadline approached, the weekend before was taken up with a homeschool conference, and we were planning to leave early Monday morning to visit family for a week, I began to realize that there was not a lot of margin in case anything went wrong, or it took a lot more time than I had planned.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Improved Chicken Tractor

This morning we put out our second flock in their new and improved chicken tractor. The main improvements were:
  1. No plywood floor - allowing more access to grass and bugs and also eliminating need to clean up coop area.
  2. Larger fully covered area - since I didn't include a wall with chicken door, I made the back area 3 feet deep instead of only 2 feet deep to offer better protection from the elements.
  3. Extended roof over entire area to provide shade (I was surprised how much the chickens did not like direct sun)
  4. Added a small door (to the left of the huddle of chickens) - so we don't have to keep lifting the entire one end of the tractor to get the food and water in and out.
At first the little flock (Rock Cornish Cross) seemed a bit traumatized after being whisked from their nice, warm Whizbang Garden Cart in my basement, to the blustery day we were having. They just hunkered down, and fluffed out their feathers right where I put them just inside the door. But eventually they started moving around and made their way down to the more sheltered area of the tractor.

By the way, anyone know the origin of the phrase, "madder than a wet hen"? I have not had the occasion to see any of my flock wet yet, and I am a little curious as to what happens when a hen gets wet. Let me know if you can shed some light on this for me. Thanks!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Raising Chickens: Week Five

Feeding time! These guys are getting ready to go outside and join the older flock. As the bedding in the Whizbang Garden Cart gets deeper, they keep getting closer to the top, and they keep getting bigger themselves. I keep worring that one day I'm going to go down into the basement and find one or more chickens has actually flown the coop. Tomorrow morning, Memorial Day, I hope to put the final touches on their chicken tractor (name given to a portable chicken coop) and then put them outside as well.
The older flock is now used to their outside home. Although in today's heat and humidity I was surprised to find them all huddled inside the coop section, trying to stay in the shade. When I opened the outside door, they were all in there panting! Although I had read about it, I had never seen a chicken pant before. My wife had put together a great shade awning using an old flannel sheet and a couple of C clamps from my workshop. I'll have to share a picture of this later. Doesn't one of those chickens seem a lot taller than the others?
Yes, that's a chicken sitting on top of the waterer! We had heard how they like to be up high, but this is ridiculous! I guess I'm really going to have to get some perches in there for them. About an hour ago, they went through their first thunderstorm while outside. In fact, it was their first rain fall. I'll have to see how well they weathered the storm in the morning.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

They're Out!

Today was the big day! I got up early this morning to attach the chicken wire and put on the finishing touches to our portable chicken coop. Then my sons and I manhandled it out of the basement (it just fit through the bilco doors!) and out into the yard.

We put the six red broilers into the coop part and then we waited. One brave chicken stepped out onto the grass, but the rest seemed to have no desire to explore their brave new world. What can I say? They were all chicken!
I called home during lunch and was told that they still hadn't ventured out enough to get any water or food. But as we were talking, one of them found the food and I guess good news travels fast since it wasn't long before all six were out and fighting over lunch.

I am hoping that by the time I get home from work, they will have settled into becoming regular pastured poultry!


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Raising Chickens: Week Four - Outgrowing Their Homes

This week has caught me scurrying around trying to keep up with my flocks' growth! I keep thinking about Herrick's pastoral posts about the tranquility of the agrarian lifestyle, and here I find myself falling further behind, with all the accompanying stress.

First I found my new flock, these super growing Cornish Rock Cross birds, quickly outgrowing their cardboard box. In fact, they were beginning to develop bare spots on their chest and bottoms, which I attributed to not being able to keep their quarters clean. So I quickly got my recently built, although not yet sanded and stained, Whizbang Garden Cart ready as a new expanded home. Now they have plenty of room to run around and I find that it is a lot easier to keep up with them.

Meanwhile, the first flock continues to grow into well-developed birds. Here is a picture of Luncheon (or is it Munchin?), one of the chipmunk colored chicks we received. I've spoken to the hatchery and have confirmed that these are Red Broilers, a cross breed that takes longer to raise than the others, but reportedly has a denser, more flavorful meat. I must say that they, as a bird, seem to be much more attractive and natural looking than those "super growers."

I am almost finished with their new home. This portable chicken coop (still have to put on the wire) will be their new home. The run is 4' by 6' with a 4' by 2' covered coop to provide protection from the elements. Since it can get pretty hot around here in June, I may want to provide some shading for them as well. Hopefully next week, I will be able to share pictures of my first pastured flock!


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Raising Chickens: Week Three

The third week of our chicken raising experiment began with the addition of our second flock! We have nine Rock Cornish Cross chicks. These are the chickens that are bred for growing the fastest, and we have already seen how that translates into increased appetites. The day after we got them I went down into the basement to check them out and was surprised to see their feeder almost empty. In fact the chicks were reaching so far to get food their entire heads and necks were inside the feeder! That quickly woke me up to the fact that a flock of nine (50% bigger than our first flock of 6) made up of these super growing chickens are going to need a lot more attention. We now check their food and water at least twice daily.

Meanwhile, our first flock is continuing to grow and needs to be moved out of their Weedeater box. So I am now frantically building a portable chicken coop (often called a chicken tractor, or in the UK a chicken ark). I'll post later on Building A Portable Chicken Coop.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Week 2

We begin Week 2 with the chickens graduating to the WeedEater box. I had originally planned to move them into the Whizbang Garden Cart when it was finished, but my wife reminded me of this WeedEater box we had lying around, and it is just the right size. Besides, this will leave my cart available for when we get 5 cubic yards of bedding mix next week to do our landscaping out front (but that's another post.)

It's been fun to watch their wing feathers come in this week. Their bodies are still pretty much fluffy, although one can begin to see tail feathers and the feathers around their necks beginning to come in as well. I had planned to use sawdust from a local custom furniture place, but after being warned by my chicken email list about the dangers of black walnut and the preference for pine wood shavings, I found Agway had bales for sale for a little over six dollars. It only took maybe 1/3 of a bale to get the WeedEater box ready, so there should be plenty left for the next flock.

I'm hoping the chicks will be able to stay in this box until I put them outside. By then I hope to build two portable chicken pens (often called chicken tractors or chicken arks). If you are interested in seeing the variety of portable pens others have built, go on over to The City Chicken and check out their over 100 pictures.

Here's one of the nicest I've seen. The Isthmus Handyman has plans for sale over on his site. Since this is our first experiment with chickens, anthing I build will probably be much smaller and less involved. Although I do like that flower box!