Animals – Chickens

September 22, 2013 – Fillin’ the Freezer

Emma played the good daughter when she said she’d come home from school Sunday afternoon to help us move 40-some chickens from outside to the freezer.  It certainly kept the line moving much faster than it otherwise would have.  Linda and Emma cut up all but about 10 of them for parts for quicker meals than a whole roasting chicken, but we left a few to roast or BBQ whole.

The plucker does an amazing job of taking the feathers off.  A just-plucked chicken must be the model for a rubber chicken!

It’s nice to know where the chicken we eat comes from and have a year’s worth of chicken in the freezer.  Especially now that the U.S. made it ok to sell chicken processed in China in the U.S. without having to reveal county-of-origin labeling laws.

July 27, 2013 – They Grow up so Fast!

Fifty-two little yellow fuzzballs arrived this week.  It doesn’t matter what time of year we order chicks, we can always be sure it will bring a cold snap.

Although I must admit that July cold snaps are much more enjoyable than March.  It has been close to or in the 40s, flirting with record lows since they arrived.  But all are doing well so far. In less than 8 weeks they will be all grown up and in the freezer!

October 7th, 2012 – Chickens to the Freezer

Today we were grateful most of our chickens made it safely to maturity (unlike the 10 turkeys this year who all perished by deformed leg problems, storm, or dog).

Martin hauls the chickens to the killing cones, where I deftly make a cut on the side of the neck where they bleed out.

Next, it’s a few dips in about 150 degree water. The chickens are ready to scald when wing feathers pull out easily.

The chickens before the plucker spins.

About 30 seconds later, most of the feathers are gone.

Then the chickens go to a different pair of hands for cleaning and later cutting up into meal-sized portions.  I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly fun day, but it is rewarding have control of the chickens from chick to freezer  – knowing how they’ve lived and been processed.

August 31, 2012 – Trying out “Ranger” Chickens

We’re trying out a new (for us) breed of broiler chickens. Called “red rangers” or “freedom rangers” they grow a bit slower than the super hybrid chickens used in confinement (8 weeks to a 4 lb chicken) and faster than the standard breeds (14 weeks for white rocks or barred rocks).

These guys looks good so far and are supposed to be good foragers as well, wo they maybe a better match for the chicken tractors if they do a great job of foraging.

October 3, 2011 – Chicken Butchering Commences

Yesterday was the day to put the chickens in the freezer.  We skipped the first step in the photo sequence of butchering.

Here a nice bird is ready for the scalder.

A few dips and twists in the hot water and as soon as a wing feather can be plucked off easily by hand, it’s done.

Into the plucker.

about 15 seconds later, they look a lot like rubber chickens.

Emma and Linda cutting them up.

When we went to the chicken tractor, we found one critter had eaten part of a chicken through the wires.  It’s always disheartening to feed an animal to its last day and lose it, but it was only one, and it could have been, and has been worse.

one year ago…”Marching Band Contest”

October 2, 2011 – Getting Ready to Fill the Freezer with Chicken

Here’s the scene the before the chicken butchering commenced.  We’ve now done it enough times that we’ve got it down pretty well.

The line starts in the distance where the chickens are first hung upside down and bled out, then brought to the scalder, then the plucker, then the eviserating, and finally a couple of cold rinses before they are later either washed and bagged whole or cut up.

one year ago…”Chicken Butchering”

March 19, 2011 – New Fence

One thing that is under-appreciated by most urban dwellers is the work and importance of fences.  They’re more work than they seem with branches falling on them in storms and mulberries growing up in them. Lately, we’ve been having too many chicken escapes – they are scratching up the garlic beds and going where they are not supposed to go.  We don’t allow them in the gardens during the growing season.

We put up 150 feet of woven wire around part of the chicken yard.  It used to be cattle panels, with old bits of lath jimmied between the wider squares near the ground the chickens could sneak through.  Now any chickens that get over are flying and get a “wing haircut” to keep them in their place!

We dragged the panels to the back pasture where we could extend our back pasture a bit more as well.  It pretty much shot the afternoon.

one year ago…”Last Lambs Hit the Ground”

January 29, 2011 – Smallest Chicken Egg Ever!

There was a bit of a surprise in the chicken coop this evening – a mini-egg!  This egg was so small it would fall right through the egg basket!

smallest chicken egg

We’ve had some weird eggs before, but never one this small.  I guess if you were on a low cholesterol diet, you couldn’t get into much trouble eating this one.  I was hoping it would have a perfect little yolk, but it was all egg white inside.  Wouldn’t that have been cute in the frying pan?

one year ago…”How Much Noise Does a Skystream Make”

November 17, 2010 – Winter Layer Ration Delivery

Today we got one ton of layer mix – which should hold us until spring.  I make a supplemental cocktail with ingredients from Des Moines Feed mill on Hubbell Ave.  There’s a guy there named Stan who thinks a lot about feed mixes.  Interestingly, there is not any GMO corn in the facility.

For the chickens, I have a mix of probiotics, kelp and many other goodies.  I bring that to the local mill to mix in with the usual feed.  Most of a ton fits in the corn caddy and the rest go in an old stock tank.

one year ago…”Corn Caddy”

October 11, 2010 – Lovin’ the Garden Chickens!

In addition to the mechanically-managed garden spaces, an even better method is the chickens! These chickens are in the garden that contained early season crops and was planted to buckwheat that was allowed to go to seed. Now, the chickens forage over the buckwheat and leave their trail of fertilization.

The left side of the photo shows ground the chickens have already passed over and the chicken tractor will now be moved downhill towards the camera.  I like this because it cleans up the buckwheat and some other seeds but yet leaves some plant material that decomposes easily on the gardens over winter to protect the soil.

“one year ago…”Front Page News: Part 2”

July 28, 2010 – New Layers

New laying chicks came today. These ladies will be in full production next spring.

We’ve got some hens three years old and a handful have learned bad habits, so this fall, we’ll get out supply of stewing hens for winter-time chicken soup.

The turkeys this year turned out badly. The message is that we can’t leave the farm this month. Of course, we lost Tank on the vacation to Minnesota, and a one-night getaway last weekend, the farm watcher dis chores in the evening, and in the morning 17 of the turkeys were dead. It was a hot day. They were not smothered in a pile, nor were they at the extremities of the brooder, nor did they have visible marks or bites. The only thing out of the ordinary (but not this year) was a big lighting storm. At any rate it is a bit disheartening to lose them – both for the price at $5 per poult and the lack of turkey at Thanksgiving.

one year ago…”Sunflowers”

May 5, 2010 – New Chicks Arrive on the Farm

Yesterday 103 broiler chicks arrived at the farm.  They are safely tucked in the brooding area.

chicks under brooding light

I’m sure there will be more photos as these guys grow up.  The weather, of course, is supposed to turn colder this weekend – into the 30’s (no matter when the chicks are ordered, you can always count on cold weather very soon after their arrival.

one year ago…”Feeding the World”

January 13, 2010 – Chickens in Nest Box

This year, I thought I’d try to occasionally post some everyday farm scenes that have become routine to us, but probably not for everyone.  Today it is to the chicken coop.

chicken on nest box

Here’s a laying hen (as opposed to a broiler, which is raised for meat).  Generally in the first few hours of the morning, the hens will hop into a nest box where they feel a bit protected, and lay an egg.  They prefer to lay an egg in a nest box where there is already an egg.  They are trying to make a clutch of 10 or so eggs to sit on and raise into more chickens.  Unfortunately for the chickens, we come each day and take the beginnings of the clutch and they have to start all over the next day.

egg clutch

This is what might have been under the hen had I disturbed her – this is from a different box.  We often get asked how you can get eggs without a rooster – hens will lay eggs whether or not there is a rooster around – only difference being if there is not a rooster, all the eggs will be infertile and will never hatch.

one year ago…”Lab Results Are In

November 21, 2009 – Morning Wake-Up

The last few mornings have been foggy. Haven’t had many days when we’ve had to chop ice off the turkey water yet and Thanksgiving is almost here! The weather chat on the Weather Underground is that following the coldest October on record, November has been warmer than October – and that has never happened.  It might not keep up the last week of the month, but so far it’s been nice – pasture still green, lettuce still in the garden.

One of the rooster announces the start of the day.

one year ago…”Sweet Sound of Success”

November 6, 2009 – New Layers

We were alerted to someone who had brooded more heavy breed  layers than they could accommodate, so we bought 20 pullets just about ready to lay.  We’ll put some of our older hens in the freezer for stewing.

The girls bringing the pullets into the chicken coop.

speckled sussex chicken

One of the more interesting pullets is this Speckled Sussex hen.

band chickens

Each year we band the new chicks with colored zip ties and write the color an year on the wall inside the chicken coop.  So all of this year’s new hens are green, last year’s hens were red, and before that white.  It’s simple and it works well.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #140″

September 29, 2009 – Mother Hen

Mother hen found a new cavity in the hay – yesterday I picked up 50 bales of hay and haphazardly piled a few misshapen bales near the door and came back to properly stack them and found the mother hen and her seven chicks had adopted it as their home for the time being.

In this photo, you can just see two of the chicks – one on top and one peeking out underneath her – the other five are huddled under the hen out of view.

one year ago…”Corn and Bean Harvest”

September 20, 2009 – Inaugural Chicken Butchering

Today was the day we’ve been anticipating for quite some time. Two years ago the closest locker that butchered chickens (about 25 miles away) stopped processing chickens. Last year, the next closest locker (about 80 miles away) stopped doing chickens. Rather than drive even further – twice – once to drop off and a day or so later to pick up, we decided to try to be more efficient and do it ourselves.

Here’s the initial setup.  I made some makeshift killing cones out of some aluminum flashing I had lying around.  Hiding behind the cones is a 35 quart turkey fryer for a scalder, then the new featherman plucker, (we looked into making a homemade whizbang, but the price was 2/3 of a featherman so we went in with two other farmers to get this plucker). Next is the table for cutting up, finally some big coolers for chill tanks.  We decided to take it easy and only do 20 birds the first time to test out our system.

Linda working on cutting up a chicken.  We are very pleased with the way the afternoon went.  It probably took about an hour and half to do the 20 birds, not counting set-up and cleanup.  It’s not often that something goes better and takes less time than you plan for, but that was the case today.  I think the key was having great information.  The featherman web site has a great couple of YouTubes showing how to butcher that were very helpful in addition to GJ from her butchering many decades ago.

I was pleased for a number of reasons.  The plucker worked like a champ – it tumbled the feathers off in a matter of seconds.  The makeshift scalder worked well enough and kept the temperature very steady.  I’m pleased with the flexibility as well.  Before, you needed to get appointments at the locker 8 weeks ahead of time.  Now, the birds can be done when they are ready, not when the schedule says.  We’ll probably end up doing a couple of times per batch – give some of the smaller ones time to catch up or have batches with different sizes.  The threat of transporting in hot weather is gone as well.  I also think it’s cleaner – for the birds and the people.  No co-mingling or cross-contamination with other chickens.  There was not a noticeable smell doing this outside.  That is in contrast to the waterproof-apron- wearing employees in a hot, humid soup of water vapor and chicken dander in the plants. I also like the more humane killing method, to my way of thinking, using the cones instead of the wildly flopping birds of other methods.  We also ended up much cleaner than I imagined

All in all, we are very pleased with the event and will have the rest to do in a while and then turkeys at Thanksgiving.

one year ago…”Claire’s Birthday Event”

September 2, 2009 – Rogue Chicks

This hen is a repeat offender in hatching a clutch of eggs away from the hen house.  This is her second brood of the summer, this time eight delightful chicks.

About half of them are black and the rest variations of brown.  You can see all eight of them here if you count the leg of the one behind the hen.

Here’s a close-up of one of the chicks – looks like this one may have some Aracuna parentage.

one year ago…”Please Flush”

August 26, 2009 – Chicken Tractors

It’s going to be a lean chicken year at high hopes this year.  Uncertainty about lockers closing down and deliberations about buying a chicken plucker pushed our decision to get chicks out to our second batch time, and the skunk killing about 65 of our chicks leaves us with about 35 left, probably about enough for our family and none for sale.

The remaining chickens are tucked away in their movable chicken tractors where they get fresh pasture daily and protection from varmits.

one year ago…”Linda on Grinnell College Home Page”

August 1, 2009 – Skunk in the Brooding House; 35 Lost

Martin came running in the house this morning at chore time, yelling in an excitable voice about a skunk in with the chicks. Even though we have a cat named skunk, the intensity of his voice told us it was not a cat skunk, but a skunk skunk.

We went out to see what was up and sure enough, in the corner of the brooding area was a skunk, with bodies of dead chicks littered about the brooding area.

I couldn’t shoot the skunk in the brooding area because it was on a cement floor and had a small cement wall next to it. So Houston, we have a problem. We need to get the skunk out of the cafeteria. This particular skunk had violated our “tithing to nature” and had decimated over 1/3 of our chickens.

We sat and thought for a while – tried opening the doors and banging on metal to try to make the skunk decide to leave. It’s a delicate matter to try to upset the skunk enough to leave, but not enough to make it spray. This is the question nearly every ruralite has to face sometime – how do I get rid of the skunk?

The obvious answers are to let it leave on its own, or try to catch it in a live trap. Neither of those were acceptable since it was already in the cafeteria, so to speak, and not in any hurry to leave or to walk into a baited trap. Then it dawned on me – water! Rain happens in nature – the skunk should not be too alarmed with rain and it might make the skunk want to leave to seek shelter. So we retrieved a hose out and gently sprinkled the skunk from on high – much like a cat, the skunk did not like the rain, but was familiar enough with it not to be alarmed enough to spray and ran out of the building where he was immediately introduced to Mr. Remington for violating the tithing to nature rule at high hopes.

one year ago…”Envirothon Part 1: The Long Road to Flagstaff”

June 17, 2009 – More “Wild Chicks”

Martin had been keeping his eyes on a clutch of eggs in the barn.  When we were working on the door, Martin found the eggs were all cracked.

I told him to look for the chicks, because maybe they had hatched (or eaten by a critter).

It didn’t take him long to find the mother and the chicks, in this case a Buff Orpington hen and five chicks.  Finding a “free range” mother hen and chicks is like a combination of Santa’s presents and finding a 20 dollar bill on the street.  It sure beats keeping motherless chicks under a brooder.

one year ago…”Claire in Washington DC: Episode 1″

June 10, 2009 – Road Hay

Is it free?  Is it easy?  Do kids like to help? Sign me up – it’s “road hay” season again. The county sickle-bar mowers have cut the long grass along the sides of the roads and it seems a waste to just let it sit there.

We can always use organic material, whether for bedding, composting, or in this case, Martin is spreading it around in the area close to the chicken coop where all the plants have been beaten down.  It’s easy to scoop up with a hay fork and Martin likes to pack it into the pickup truck with the topper and we can get quite an amount in one trip and then decide where it will do the most good.

one year ago…”Bad Feeling about Next Few Days”

January 23, 2009 – Laying Hen Update

The layers we ordered in early December were finally given free reign of the coop this week.

They are growing up nicely and all of them survived the brooding in temperatures down to -25.

Getting in and out of the coop has been a challenge, with the continual drifting, water dripping off the roof and filling waterers.  So, it was time to get the axe and shovel out and free the doors of snow and ice.

one year ago…”It’s Cold, That Leaves Only Accounting”

December 7, 2008 – Off Season Brooding

We have experienced reduced production in the laying hens, in part because we did not replace our two and three year old hens last summer.  So, to get back on track next spring, we ordered 35 more last week.

You may remember the entry about trying to ready the new brooder.  With the cold weather, we decided to try to keep the chick in the basement for a few weeks, rather than having them out in the cold coop while breeding them.  So far so good – they don’t eat much and don’t smell as long as the “litter box” is changed occasionally.

one year ago…”Early Winter”.

June 27, 2008 – Chickens Need Rethinking

The loss of our local chicken locker threw us for a loop this year.  Instead of driving 20 minutes away and taking the chickens with us when we left, the closest other locker is an hour and 20 minutes away and we needed to take two trips, once to drop them off, then another to pick them up the next day.

The chicken raising business is perhaps the riskiest and least profitable enterprise we do.  Feed went up 25%, butchering cost doubled, and we used $70 in gas just to drop off and pick up the chickens at the locker.  I dropped them off on Wednesday and because of the longer trip to locker than usual and heat while we were waiting in line to start, we started losing chickens waiting in line.  I think we lost seven of the largest ones as they are most prone to overheat. Another person waiting with us had the same problem, but we were able to move about 50 of her chickens from her horse trailer to the empty box of the pickup.

The next episode was when Linda picked them up the next day – a storm had moved through the town before Linda arrived and power was out at the locker.  The locker owner understandably did not want to open the locker doors with the power off, because he wanted to keep as much cold in the locker while the power was off.  So more waiting while waiting for power to be restored.

We dropped about half the frozen chickens off with customers and kept the rest as a 50-50 mix between frozen and fresh for ourselves.  So this morning Linda and Emma worked on cutting up the chickens in meal-sized portions for quick winter meals.

We’ve been debating doing on-farm butchering, and the cost associated with the locker, the gas to drive there and the eight hours of time driving and waiting at the locker (not counting waiting for power to be restored) push us to think about that direction.

one year ago…”Milestones”

June 14, 2008 – Nearby Tornado Cell

We had a nice day – no rain, but heavy rain and hail just missed us when a supercell passed to our north a few miles.

This is a look at the backside of the storm just after a tornado warning was issued. The whitish part nearing the ground to the left of the farmstead in the distance is what everyone was worried about. We were so grateful we were spared more rain or wind damage.

As the barn and chicken coop are sopping wet with manure and water and the first hay cutting has not yet been made, I improvised and found some bedding along the road! It was easy to pick up and I hauled five truckloads home from within a mile of our house for the barn and coop.

The chickens are enjoying their new bedding, complete with seeds to peck at for fun and nutrition!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #76″

May 16, 2008 – Tyson’s “Natural Raised Without Antibiotics” NOT!

It was much heralded when Tyson Meats came out with a line of “chicken raised without antibiotics” last year. Pay very close attention to the wording of the claim. Americans, led by doctors who see increasing cases of antibiotic resistance in human patients, have become more aware of the importance of not ingesting antibiotics as a course of daily life, thus the press release from Tyson announcing the new line of chicken.

Now, Tyson’s biggest competitors have taken Tyson to court. First, for labeling their chicken “raised without antibiotics” because it infers that other chicken is not as good. There have been a number of cases of “food disparagement” mainly against organic or natural food companies whose mainline competitors claim that making a statement that milk is free of rBSt or free of antibiotics disparages other foods and the courts have been sympathetic and ruled against the labels. The organic meat company I had the privilege of serving on the board of directors ran into this when a few years ago we wanted to test every beef animal for BSE at the company’s cost and put on the label “each animal tested for BSE,” but that would have been big trouble because it implies that other meat is not safe. The USDA forbid us in this case.

I always thought that this was a law aimed directly at small and organic companies from the big food corporations. After all, virtually any marketing claim implies that one product is better than another. Take Campbell’s Soup “Mm-Mm Good” – doesn’t that imply that other soups are not good? Or doesn’t “Good to the Last Drop” imply that other coffees beside Maxwell house are not good to the last drop.? Or perhaps closer to Tyson’s case is that “Finger Lickin’ Good” KFC chicken claim means that other chicken isn’t. I think you probably get my point.

The only difference with the latest Tyson case was that it was a big company suing another company for food disparagement. Tyson’s main competitors Smithfield and Perdue have lost $10’s of millions to Tyson as a result of consumers running to Tyson’s new “raised without antibiotics” label. In the course of the lawsuit this bit of Pulitzer-quality deceptive language came out of Tyson’s regarding their “raised without antibiotics claim:”

Then during trial in federal court in Baltimore, Tyson officials acknowledged they also inject eggs several days before they hatch with antibiotics that are approved for use in humans. Dave Hogberg, Tyson’s senior vice president for consumer products, said it is a common industry practice.

Hogberg said injecting eggs with antibiotics did not undermine the “raised without antibiotic” label because the term “raised” is understood to cover the period that begins with hatching.

More consumers are becoming concerned about the use of antibiotics in poultry, swine and cattle because they and many public health experts think that it contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant viruses in humans.

So, watch the language carefully – injecting the eggs with an anti-biotic bath means “raised without antibiotics!”

one year ago…”Technical Communication Conference”

April 28, 2008 – Hot Chicks and Cold Nights

I wonder how many googlers will be very disappointed in viewing real chicks after searching for “hot chicks” in a search engine!

I’ve found over the years the most reliable predictor of unseasonably cold weather is the day chicks arrive on the farm. This year is no exception – we expect a low in the 20’s tonight and our county has a freeze warning and a flood warning – now there’s a combination that sounds like fun!

The chicks came at an unexpected time, so being the good farmer, I just used whatever I could find lying around to help keep the heat close to the chicks. Linda says these chicks must feel like they’re “living in a van down by the river” due to their ramshackle accommodations (apologies to the late Chris Farley). There’s a piece of leftover metal siding, an old storm window screen draped with one of the circa 1972 draperies that graced our house when we moved in, another more modern screen with an old sheet, and a salvaged window out of an outbuilding.

I must admit, I’m partial to the genius that is the old window over the makeshift brooder as it keeps heat in, while offering a peep in at the peeps.

one year ago…”Starting to Plant 150 Trees”

March 18, 2008 – We Knew This Day Would Come…

Today we got the phone call that our local locker that processes chickens is closing its doors to chicken processing.  Golly’s Locker in Maxwell is no longer an option.  That means if we want to have our chickens processed at a locker, it would be about 360 miles of driving to drive there, drop off, pick up frozen birds and back home.  We’re going to have to think about on-farm processing as an alternative.

one year ago…”Back on the Farm”

March 10, 2008 – Chicken Feed

Today the feed truck delivered a ton of layer feed.  We have it mixed at the local mill.  It’s more economical than buying the bags at the farm store and we can keep the anti-biotics out.  When I was buying oyster shell at the farm store, I noticed that the feed prices weren’t up as much as I thought they should be.  Then I spotted the feed bags were now 40 pounds instead of 50 pounds! No doubt for “easier handling!”

At any rate, it sure is convenient to have the truck back right into the shed and unload into a wagon.  Fewer trips for us to town and we seldom have to worry about running out. It just so happened, that the truck was able to drive in on frozen ground today as the promised warm-up the next few days will undoubtedly lead to mud and big ruts if the truck came a couple of days from now.

one year ago…”Spring Getaway for Mark and Linda”

October 28, 2007 – Rare Breed Chickens “Silver Campine”

The rare breed chickens the girls purchased a few months ago are growing up! 

There’s really no way to describe them other than “chickeny” with their black, white and red coloring, long legs, and chicken strut. The bird in the foreground is a “Silver Campine” a breed originating in Belgium and came out of favor when the commercial chicken industry got off the ground after WWII and the industry standardized on a few breeds and left many of the other breeds behind.

one year ago…

September 16, 2007 – Wild Chicks!

In all the excitement of the past few days, I’ve neglected the “wild chick” story.  While we were getting the horse settled the girls saw a hen with chicks under its wings.  They were, as Martin described them, “wild chicks” as they were laid, brooded, and hatched without the aid of a nursery.

It’s the first time that a hen has brooded chicks, and we were in the dark that the hen had squirrelled the eggs away.  There are three of them, all different colors, so they may have different pappas.

one year ago…

August 29, 2007 – Fowl Brooding

We’ve got three separate batches of poultry brooding now – 50 more broilers in the old hog barn, and in one half of the chicken coop, we’ve got the fancy chickens and guineas.  The broilers can’t be with any others since they are too pushy and the fancy chickens and guineas can’t be together since they require food of differing protien levels.

So our solution was to stick an old piece of paneling in the ring to divide it up.  The paneling has come into many uses – we ripped all the sheets of the dark paneling off the walls of the house shortly after we moved in and I just stuck it in a shed and slowly have been finding uses for it in unexpected ways.

one year ago…

August 24, 2007 – Fancy Fowl

Claire and Emma pooled some of their money to buy some fancy and rare breeds of guinea hens and chickens. They ordered them from Sandhill Preservation Center, a place devoted to the continuation of rare breeds of fowl and heirloom seeds.

This is a Partridge Silkie. This will be a small, fancy chicken with feathered feet (you can already see the feathers on the feet!)

Now, I know some of the skeptics out there may think this may be a copycat attempt to cash in on the good fortune of the folks at Sugar Creek Farm who won a trip to Hollywood and Disneyland with the Chicken Little crew, all just for having a picture of a silkie on their blog! It’s a fun story and you can see part of the story at their site. The girls just liked this chicken and we can only hope that Chicken Little 2 gives us a call!

We think this is a Coral Blue Guinea keat. They ordered about 12 of each – so now there is be even more diversity on the farm!

one year ago…

July 3, 2007 – Chickens Gone

Today was the last day at the farm for the first batch of broilers.

This picture shows the chickens last week. We had the best batch ever.  We ordered 100 birds, and brought 100 birds to the locker. We even left one behind at the farm that we somehow missed in the flurry of excitement in loading them into the transport cages, so we really ended up with 101 birds.  And that remaining chicken looks quite depressed – like somehow she’s missed her calling in life, or has an extreme case of surviivor’s guilt!  Some of you may still be back at the “ordered 100 birds and ended up with 101.”  It’s not a story of the fishes and loaves, but rather the hatchery usually sends a few extra in case some chicks die in transport.  We actually recieved 102 birds, so that means only one chick died along the way from brooding through delivery to the locker.

We had some frozen for our customers and brought some home and Linda and Emma cut up about 20 of them for quick and easy meals later in the year. 

one year ago…

June 3, 2007 – Chickens Movin’ on Out

Yesterday we moved the chickens out to pasture.  They are a little over 3 weeks old. Here’s a chicken tractor full of new laying hens.  These ladies will be with us for 2-3 years.  They will be in the chicken tractors until fall and then they’ll join the laying hen flock.

They’ve got everything they need in here – fresh grass to live on (moved to fresh grass daily), food, water, and protection from predators.

This picture compares a laying hen chick (dark) with one of the cornish-cross broilers (white) at about three weeks of age. You’ll notice a big difference in size and agility!

one year ago…

May 25, 2007 – Cute Chick

Our favorite chickens are the laying hens as they harbor a bit of wildness and “chickenness” mostly bred out of the meat birds.  We usually get 25 mixed breed pullets to refresh our layer flock.

Here’s one of the layer chicks.  Some of them look like owls, others look like hawks, and some like the traditional barnyard chickens.  These guys are almost ready to head out of the indoor brooder and into the chicken tractors

one year ago…

May 8, 2007 – Keepin’ the Chicks Hot

Today the first batch of chicks arrived. It’s important to keep the chicks hot the first few days – 90 degrees to start and then slowly dropping until they have lost their fluffiness and grow their feathers.

It seems like there is some reverse imprinting with the chicks – it seems whoever happens to be home and dips their beaks in water and sets them up in the brooder is the main caretaker and worrier. This year it’s Linda!

one year ago…

May 5, 2007 – These Boots are Made for the Hen House

This afternoon’s main job was cleaning out a winter of “processed” chicken food and bedding from the chicken coop.  Linda decided to splurge and get a new pair of boots.  I can only imagine the tight advertising copywriting that led to the impulsive purchase of these beauties.

These boots boast the color of black patent leather made of a 100% neoprene high-top that sit atop a 3/4 inch heel. The high-cut vamp features a rolled edge design (to allow your foot to slide easily into the boot without snagging your hose (water) on slippery mud. The suede-like leather heel lining cradles your heel while preventing slippage on wet manure. If you prefer “a little more boot” to cover the sides of your feet when the going gets deep, this is your best bet. 

Claire had to be at school for a band thing at 5:45 am and Emma had to be at her school at 6:45 am. So we had a full day of work today. The hen house is all clean, bedding hauled away and doused with water to start the composting. I was able to get some temporary fencing up in the back pasture to let the goats roam wide, and finished applying the last of the wood chips on the property and only have about 20 pine trees left.  Linda got the brooding room all ready for the 125 chickens that will arrive on Tuesday. 

one year ago…

March 28, 2007 – The Goose Gets a Gander

Today, our two geese have a chance for a more complete and fulfilling life with the entrance of a gander! He’s in the middle, we’re thinking of calling him Mr.Toulouse Goose, or Mr. T. for short, but our shortest human rejects Mr. T. Martin prefers the  longer version.

You can read about the utility of the geese in solving our chicken predator problem in the October 26, 2006 blog entry.

one year ago…

December 10, 2006 – Roving Bands of Chickens

The warm weather continues. The chickens are liking the lack of snow cover. Once the snow comes, the free-range roaming instincts are limited.

This is one of the roosters we hatched ourselves. He’s pretty happy with himself this evening. (But then, the roosters always seem quite happy with themselves.)

He’s the leader of the group of “gypsy chickens” who roam separately from the rest of the flock and end up in places they shouldn’t be. We are actually looking forward to a few snow days so they can learn were they should be. These chickens do not lay in the nest boxes – we find clutches of eggs here and there from this roaming band.

one year ago…

November 14, 2006 – New Pastured Poultry Breed – Finally!

I’ve been hearing rumors for years of a chicken faster growing than the standard breeds, but not quite as fast as the cornish-cross confinement-style chicken. I believe these birds were developed from some french stock. There are four different breeds with slightly different characteristics. They are distributed by a Canadian company, but there is a hatchery in West, Bend, IA. The prices seemed very reasonable as well.

For all you chicken growers out there looking for a hardier, even tastier, bird that takes only a couple of extra weeks to finish, check out the “Freedom Rangers” website.

one year ago…

October 23, 2006 – Guard Geese

These ladies are our chicken protectors! At one time we were losing a chicken about every other night – it would be partially eaten in the coop overnight. Nothing too big could get in the building, so we are guessing unless some animal learned to unlatch the door, it was most likely a mink or weasel.

A neighbor suggested to get a goose, since the geese are fairly alarmist when it comes to new creatures in their space. So we did, and whether by luck or design – we have not lost a single chicken to predation overnight since the geese have arrived.

October 10, 2006 – Egg Production Slowing

It’s the time of year that egg production drops as the light decreases. We don’t “force” our hens to lay like the big egg houses do by keeping the lights on all the time, nor do we withhold feed the last days of the hen’s life to trick her into a burst of laying before death. We’re able to ebb and flow with the chicken’s natural cycles, so we get an overflow of eggs in the spring and fewer in the winter.

We have a few young hens (pullets) just starting to lay. Their eggs the first few weeks are about half the size of regular eggs. They often appear in strange places until the pullets figure out it’s nice to lay them in the warm, cozy, nest boxes to make a bigger clutch with other hens.

August 9, 2006 – When it Rains…

We’ve had less than two inches of rain this summer, at a time when we usually receive about 12 inches. Dry.

That ended with a vengeance Wednesday and Thursday – nearly two inches in that time period, including sheets of rain pouring down in horizontal sheets. The rain is welcomed, but of course it coincided with moving broilers out to the chicken tractors.
They are still small and not able to withstand such an assault – so were were out just past daybreak after the main wind and rain front moved through, hauling shivering chickens back to the brooder building to warm up under the heat lamps.

I think all but maybe one will make it (keeping my fingers crossed).

July 22, 2006 – Here We Go Again

Today a package arrived in the morning. Any ideas what could come in a package like this?

There’s holes in the boxes, the post office calls us to pick it up at 7:00 am, even though it is regular post, not express.

It’s round 2 of baby chicks! It’s sure easier to brood chicks in July than in March. Cousin Jill from California was amazed the chicks come through the mail.

June 24, 2006 – We Saw Rain!

We went to Des Moines this afternoon and drove through sheets of driving rain. However, the rain at our place is more like the desert “1 inch rainfall” – drops 1 inch apart.

Here’s the view of the day’s heaviest rainfall – the drops evaporate before they can wash the dust off the back window of the van.
The chickens are nearing their final flight into the freezer.

They are enjoying the sunny days. Today the girls stocked up on baking materials for farmers market, getting sugar and flour in 25 lb bags!
Nana came down for an early birthday party for Martin and made dirt cake in the back of a toy dump truck – very popular!

June 20, 2006 – Shh, Don’t Tell the Chickens it’s Not Raining!

I found a new way to convince the chickens to go inside the night-time shelter other than shooing by hand or with sticks – virtual thunderstorms!

I just spray the hose into the air and as the “rain” comes down, they scurry into the shelter. No more convincing chickens it’s time to go inside. It works like a champ.

May 12, 2006 – Chicks!

I hope this title doesn’t get me traffic for folks cruising for non-poultry-chicks. They will be greatly disappointed! As usual, we can predict the weather on the day the chicks come without consulting the weather forecaster. Today is in the mid 40’s with 20-30 mph wind, rain. Yesterday was the same except 30-40 mph wind and lower 50’s.

Here are the chicks, tucked in their makeshift brooder, currently comfortable.
Those of you who have chicks will recognize the following classic chick pose –

the refreshing head up after taking a drink. I fell behind at work this week, so had to work more than usual – but it was a good day to do that. Also worked on getting the last of the spring newsletters out. More off the list.

May 7, 2006 – An Old Story

Here’s the latest version of the story retold many times over – the hatching of baby chicks. About a month ago we sequestered 2 White Rocks, 2 Black Australorps, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Auracunas with a Black Australorps rooster and put the eggs in an incubator.

Here’s the incubator about a day before the chicks are ready to hatch.

Before this, they were in egg carton like plastic holders that turned the eggs.

The first pecks out of the shell as the chicks come out. We could hear them peeping in the eggs before they hatched.

Here’s a little one just a few minutes out of the shell – still wet and looking a bit punkish.

Finally, they are moved to the brooding house. In here they are under a red light. I’m not sure we need a red light for these few chicks, but all the advice says to use a red bulb in case one starts to bleed, the others won’t see it. (In larger groups, they will pick at each other as soon as they see a spot of blood and kill each other.) These guys will get a chance to grow a bit before the meat birds come and can all go to the locker together (at least the roosters – the hens will replenish our layers). We are excited to see what kind of birds they look at from the mixes we bred.

March 25, 2006 – Seeding the Universe With Chickens

Today we had a visit from the good people at Gracious Acres. They put up a brand new chicken coop in the past few days and were ready for some hens. Our hens have been outproducing our egg demand, so they came over to get a half dozen. That’s two more than we were seeded with nine years ago when we moved here and had an empty coop and no clue what to do with chickens. We’ve now sent (live) chickens to two states!

Martin had a great time as one his his “classmates” came to his farm and he was able to show his farm.

The fun begins as the chicken round-up begins.

The chickens safely tucked away in the truck are ready to go.

I’m not sure how to caption this one – other than what more could a little boy want than a little girl who has a big truck!

January 16, 2006 – Black Astralops

With our fall batch of broilers we ordered 25 straight run Black Astralops. We have a customer from Brazil who wants black chickens, so we ordered some for eggs and meat. Most of them are hens, only about 7 or so are roosters, which is fine for us. They have not yet started laying – should be any day now.

The roosters are very attractive – they have an iridescent green sheen to the black feathers and lots of big tail feathers.

October 22, 2005 – Garlic In

Today we got the garlic in (but not mulched). It does so much better planted late fall than spring. We planted five different varieties: California Early White, California Late White, Music, Chesnok Red, and Siberian. We planted a bit more than last year – last year we had about 200 ft of garlic, this year we have about 360 feet.
We also rearranged some chickens.
We moved two groups to garden clean-up patrol – the Black Astralops were assigned to the former tomato patch to clean up the rotten fruit on the ground.
The mixed standard layers pullets were assigned to the gladiolas and pole beans (the part of the garden most weedy by the end of the year).

I’m really loving these chickens in the garden after harvest to clean up the waste/seeds/weeds. They really seem to enjoy it and leave some fertilizer in place. It’s like getting free weeding and fertilizing!

October 12, 2005 – Aftermath

Today was poultry to meat day. Here is the aftermath of the trip to the locker. The day starts early – I rolled out of bed about 3:30 am and headed to the locker – the birds were loaded the night before. It was a restless night. Like the first night the chicks arrive, the last night is stressful. I was tossing and turning, wondering if the new system would work. I decided to put all the chickens in the new trailer instead of in the pickup. That way there is one “dirty” vehicle and one “clean” vehicle to take them home in. I had reservations at the first restless toss – I stacked the cages three high, with solid trailer sides on two sides and more cages on the others. What if there wasn’t enough air and they all suffocated? What if the few loose turkeys got crushed by a shifting load of cages? Thankfully, there was no loss and all made it ok.
Here’s the biggest turkey:

This is what a 35 lb bronze-breasted turkey looks like! Linda cut this up into many, many meals. It was also Emma’s turn to try her hand at learning how to cut up a chicken.

Emma was a quick learner and cut up her first one nearly flawlessly! After the turkey, this chicken looked like a cornish game hen.

September 25, 2005 – A Great Rotation

I’m especially proud of this rotation we’ve put together this year. First was potatoes and onions. After onions and potatoes were pulled, we planted buckwheat, which acted as a cover crop and great flowers for the bees. Now we are running chicken tractors over the buckwheat – the chickens are eating all the seeds and leaves and leaving next year’s fertilizer!
chickens on buckwheat

To the right, you can see the garden the chickens have cleaned up and towards the top, the buckwheat waiting to be eaten. The chickens are eating virtually none of their usual food, preferring the buckwheat.
Just as things were getting dry and I was about ready to water this year’s trees, the skies opened up with about 1.5 inches of rain this weekend.

July 14, 2005 – “Sweet Winter Chickens”

Today Claire and I were up at 4 am and off to the locker. She has written about it, but I haven’t seen it yet. We got the assembly line going today cutting up chicken – breasts in bags, soup parts in bags, etc. We left a few whole, but got quite a few cut up. The new portable outdoor counter I made out of the old kitchen countertop and some old refrigerator grates worked very well – the birds could drain on the grates, and be cut up on the counter, built for tall people like ourselves. Then the meat was into the vacuum seal-a-meal.
Marty helped carry bags into the freezer telling me. “Dad, these chickens are for winter, right?” I replied, “They sure are.” Martin’s response was “These will be sweet chickens in the winter.”

July 13, 2005 – Chicken Loading

We just finished loading the chickens in all the chicken cages for transport to the locker tomorrow. It’s finally become a bit of a routine and marking of the season for us. After dark, the chickens are loaded into the crates and put in the pickup truck. I postponed the appointment at the locker a week since it seemed they weren’t growing as well in the heat. Now, however they seem very nice and plump.

About 4 am, I’ll awake and bring them to the locker, hand them to the slaughtering man six at a time and in a few minutes we’ll have dressed chickens ready to go home.

April has now figured out her job. She used to bark and flail at the chickens as they squawked and fluttered on their way to the chicken cages. Now she just watches and spends the night by the truck under the yard light, guarding the chickens all night long.

We always worry about heat this time of year. It is not uncommon to lose chickens due to the heat. Sugar Creek Farm had just such an experience (my nightmare) earlier this year.

Claire claims she wants to come tomorrow morning. We’ll wake her up and see what happens.

June 8, 2005 – Playground! and Sick Chickens

Today the playground is open for play for the kids (I still need to anchor it, put up the slide, and perhaps shore up some joints I think the manufacturer scrimped on and put some wood preservative).


We had a bit of weather this morning – about an inch of hard rain, wind and temps in the low 60’s. After the storm blew through, a strong wind 40-50 mph blew for about a half hour. When we went out to check the chickens, most of the 25 broilers in the chicken tractor were laying flat, drenched, eyes closed, looking dead. We scooped up the handful that were still upright to the hog barn and put the brooding lamps back on them. The rest of them, when we picked them up, twitched and opened their eyes, so we put them all under the heat. As of now, only three have died, three are still not moving, three look ragged, and the rest look as “normal” as a three and a half week broiler can look.

However, this is not as bad as our classmates and fellow bloggers at Sugar Creek Farm who lost about half of their chickens the day before they went to the locker to the heat. That’s one thing I always worry about – losing them all at the last minute after all the work and $$ is into them.

May 11, 2005 – Hot Chicks (at least we hope so)

Chicks arrived yesterday. We ordered 75 broilers, 25 mixed breed layers, and 10 bronze-breasted turkeys. One thing is certain, whenever we order chicks, the weather takes a turn to cold. Not a problem unless you need 90 degrees to survive. I went out to check them this mid-morning and the brooders and heat lamps were all off. A check of the wiring found that the old-fashioned round fuse in the building they live in was loose – I just had to tighten it.

Here are the chicks all huddled under the light after the power was restored. babychicks

Here’s Martin showing off his favorite! martin and chick

The turkeys are in a separate area – you can see a few sticking their heads out in this photograph.


Last night we finally got a soaking rain – about 2 inches – the first good rain since the trees were planted. It was a wet, blustery day, so Martin and I spent most of the day cleaning out the laundry room, doing laundry, and the biggest time-sucker of all – going through all his clothes in drawers, boxes, and bags and sorting to the right season, stack for future, stack for Goodwill, and stack for resale. Martin was a trouper, trying on clothes for a good part of the afternoon.

May 2, 2005 – Another Frigid May Day

Today was just as ugly as yesterday. At least when I washed the van this am, the water didn’t freeze on the vehicle as it was 33 degrees.
grow light
The seeds we started really want to go outside, but that would be cold-blooded murder on days like today. This weekend we put some of the broccoli and cauliflower out to get hardened off (used to real sunlight) but the wind really made them look bad, but not as bad as they did after they were put into the mud room for shelter and a dog/cat/child stepped/dropped something on them.

Let’s think happy thoughts, shall we? We are trying to incubate our first eggs. These are Guinea Hen eggs and are expensive through the hatcheries (about $5.00 each) and guineas are notorious for wanderlust and never coming back. We have two we think are a pair of the right combination, (although we haven’t seen them being amorous). guinea eggs

Guineas love insects, so we hope to employ some natural insect control in the garden.