Clockwise from top left: Golden Laced Wyandotte, Delaware, Black Australorp, Mottled Houdan (pix from the web)
Focusing on what’s going right rather all that’s gone wrong recently, we are now wholly preparing for our first ever foray into raising meat chickens. FIFTY, to be exact! We had them on order to come this week until we had gotten the call from the adoption agency, and so we pushed their arrival out to July 15th, and frankly, I’m kind of relieved that either way they are not going to be here this week. With temperatures still in the 60’s here on the coast in early June, it’s going to be way more fun for them to spend their lives here fully in July and August (and less time under the heat lamp!).
(PS – I hate the term broiler because honestly, when do I ever Broil a chicken?)
After getting a whole mess of locally raised frozen birds from our neighbors who run the lovely Melville Farms when we moved out here, we have decided to give raising them a whirl. After all, we have several unused stalls in our barn, so one is perfect for the first few weeks of chick-ness, and more than enough outdoor space to fit a DIY chicken tractor for them to spend the majority of their lives.
Why 50, it seems like so much, right? Two reasons – first, my initial estimate was almost one chicken a week for a year (as these birds are smaller than those factory farmed, hormone-filled things that you find at non-organic grocers, my husband and I can take down a chicken in one night with just enough leftovers for lunch the next day); and second, everyone always loses a few along the way I’ve read, so I’ll be happy if 40 survive. Ew, I know, but I’m trying to de-city myself a wee bit in this regard and appreciate more wholly where my food comes from.
And nope, I’ve not figured out if I’ll be brave enough to wield the knife on their final day, but there’s a first time for everything, right?
One thing (just like when we got our ducks) that was vital to us is that we support not only heritage breeds, but also ones that are on the Livestock Conservancy watch/threatened/critical list, so we are trying out four different breeds:
And because they’re getting Scratch ‘n’ Peck organic feed (AMEN that our feed store just started carrying the brand as they don’t sell broiler feed on their website unless you’re a real farmer buying 2 tons at a time…ummm, notsomuch!!…and I’m sure as hell not feeding Purina to our flock), we’re definitely not doing this for the money! My homework on that showed that DIY feed (buying ingredients in bulk then mixing them) is much more expensive, and honestly, for my first time I just want to make sure I can keep as many of these 50 alive as possible before delving into creative feeding techniques. We’ve run the numbers and this first go-round should be the equivalent to the cost of buying an organic chicken per week at the co-op or slightly less…hopefully a bit less as I am planning on doing the fermentation thing with the food as I read it’s not only a healthy thing but makes the existing food go a lot further.
In the meantime, we’ve been using up all our leftover materials to build a brooder for the first three weeks (below left) and a chicken tractor for the last 5-8 weeks depending on how fast they grow (below right). The 6’x6′ brooder is in a stall in the barn and while I know a lot of them out there are uncovered, there are just too many suspicious creatures out here at night that i don’t trust to leave our ‘investment’ alone, so we covered everything and put a lid with a hinge on it. Dan still is putting together an apparatus to hang the heat light from . The 10’x10′ chicken tractor pretty much looks like a larger/taller version of the brooder, except to make it lightweight and therefore mobile, we decided to use the crap-ton of leftover 3′ PVC pipes I had around from building the 7′ hoops over our raised beds. And – thank you Pinterest! – all the hardware cloth is connected with, yes, zipties. What’s the trashy blue? Those would be old tarps to create some shade on hot afternoons – should it ever get hot here (we are hoping to finally get into the 70’s tomorrow…). Definitely MacGyver-inspired. But hey, with exception of the $10 worth of PVC joints to connect the pipes and one small roll of hardware cloth when we ran out? The rest of the materials, including all the wood, were sourced right here out of our garage & barn. Sweet. As we’re not sure if we’ll want to do this every year, it’s nice to do this for minimal expense.
While we have a lot of acreage, we’ve placed the tractor inside the veggie garden so they can keep the area ‘mowed’ per se, and for additional protection from predators who so far seem to be not venturing over the fence. Will be interesting to see what the ducks think of their temporary neighbors 🙂 It will also be great because it’s a fairly flat area near the hose so when it’s processing time we can just bring a table and all the accoutrements out there and be ready to roll.
Let the adventure begin!