Friday, June 8, 2012

The Roosters are in the FREEZER!

Well the day finally came to say good bye to half of my feathered flock. I got up early and had a cup of coffee to start things off on the right foot. Yesterday I strategically placed the crates near the fence and loaded the ice chests into the truck and backed it up to the fence so that I would have time this morning to catch the roos. I wanted this to be as stress free a process as possible but I didn't want to do it in the dark last night and have them endure the confines of the transport crates all night. So I decided to do it in the morning about an hour and half before I had to be on the road to the processor.

Catching the roosters was fairly easy as they are pretty used to me going inside the hoop house a lot. However getting them to go in the crate with one hand without letting others escape was another story. It was especially difficult because of my sore thumb (table saw accident 11 days ago). I tried to move very slow and not get them all frantic which worked out really well, in fact once I got one in the crate others would come to investigate so I just grabbed one at a time and tried to get them to relax a little before putting them in. The hardest part was lugging the full crate out the spring loaded door of the hoop house. I was surprised how much 7-8 chickens weighed. I originally thought my flock was about 2/3 hens and 1/3 roosters. Wrong, I have exactly 50-50. The only roo that got a repreive was Mr. Waddles because of his smaller size, so I did end up taking the largest hen instead.

Mary from The Hen Connection brought over a mating pair of Royal Palm Turkeys that she has been hatching eggs from for the last few months. I guess they were escaping all the time and she couldn't afford to lose them nor sell them for what she paid for them so they got to come along for the ride to the processor. The drive over to Fruitland is about 40 minutes and none of the birds had any problems. Finding 20lb. bags of ice was a problem though, only one store in town carries them. So I saved about 4 bucks buying the larger 20lb. bags at $3 each compared to 8lbs. for $1.60.

The processor is a small family business and they were really nice and accommodating there at Countryside Poultry Processing. I got to watch everything and talk with the gals about it all. And I got to compare notes with other folks there getting their birds done. Most of the others were Cornish-X and were pretty good looking at 5.5 lbs or so, but she had 3 carcasses thrown out because of congestive heart failure and had lost 15 chicks in the brooder! I only lost 3 chicks in the brooder and 1 rooster at 7 weeks. My roos came in right about 4lbs., some 3.5, others 4.5, which was exactly what I was hoping for. And the cryo bags are vacuum sealed. All in all I was very happy with the processer and would definitely recommend them, especially since their price is almost a $1 less per bird than their competitors. So $65 for 23 chickens (I must have miscounted when I caught the first batch cause I was intending on 22, oh well.)

Here is a couple of the finished chickens. Note the yellow skin and longer breast keel and legs than your standard industrial grocery store Cornish-X. I hear these taste better too. We will find out soon enough.

My freezer is pretty full now, but about half of this batch are already spoken for. If the rest don't sell before I process the hens I will have to drop my price a little. Noticed I was able to save much of the ice for next time. The Hens are scheduled on the 20th so they will be exactly 12 weeks plus one day old. Now that they have some room in the hoop house and no aggressive roos to keep them out of the feeder, I am hoping that they will plump up nicely in the next 12 days.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Transport Crate Build

Finally got off my butt yesterday and built some crates to transport the chickens to the processor (tomorrow). It was a little harder to get started than I expected because 10 days ago I cut the tip of my thumb really bad on the table saw. Hence I have been a little leery to use any saws at all much less its difficult to do anything without using your thumb. Anyhow, here is what I ended up with.

I had to do this job on the cheap cause I am broke. I had purchased the sheet of 7/16" OSB and four 2x4's a week or two ago when I had a few bucks. I was going to buy a bundle (50) of 1/4x1-1/2x48" lath for the slats but decided to use some leftover scraps of 5mm plywood I had from a previous job. I had 3 odd shaped pieces that I thought would be plenty but wound up short by a bunch and had to tear into a good sized 1/3 sheet of the same material. I was surprised by how many slats were needed for 3 crates.

The basic size is 24x32" so that I could get all 6 top and bottom pieces from a single sheet. For the 2x2 vertical supports I ripped a couple of the 2x4's in half and cut them 11-1/2" long (6 per crate). And the slats are 1-1/2" wide by 24" for the ends and 32" for the sides. There is about 5/8" gap between the bottom and the first slat so that I can hose them out and allow stuff to flow out. I also scabbed a couple of 2x2 on the bottom so that they can be stacked without hitting the hardware. Of course as usual I had to glue and screw everything. The slats are glued and stapled with two 1" staples on each vertical support.

I continued on the cheap with all the "hardware" by using stuff I already had laying around. The only thing I had to buy were the hinges and I opted to use one each instead of a pair and saved $5. The wood latch is just a piece of the slat plywood that pivots on a screw. And the handles are just some small pieces of rope with a knot on each end.

The paint was just to make hosing them out easier and make them last a little longer. OSB doesn't fare too well in the weather. All in all, not to bad of a job on a budget. The plastic crates available on the internet are ridiculously priced around $100 or so. I am taking about 22-24 chickens to the processor tomorrow so I figured that 3 crates would be enough as they should comfortably hold 8 chickens each.

Today I am withholding all food from the chickens to clean them out before processing. It was nice to have a break from moving the hoop house and feeding them. All I had to do was fill the water bucket. They kinda looked at me expectantly and were a little confused why I didn't move them to fresh grass. I hope the roosters enjoyed their last meal. I know I will enjoy my first chicken dinner this weekend.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Week 11 - Nearing the Finish Line

Wow the chickens have really filled in and are looking great. They are about the same size as my 2 year old layers. I am confident that I can finish off the roosters early which is a good thing because they are starting to crow, and peck each other more--and I don't have much feed left. I went ahead and bought one bag of scratch corn to help stretch the feed and to put a little fat on them.

Mr. Curious here is gonna be Mr. Chicken Dinner pretty quick. I can't believe they are only 10 weeks old.

Yesterday I was able to schedule a day to process the roosters. Mary at The Hen Connection recommended that I try Country Side Poultry Processing in Fruitland. The owner was very nice on the phone and their prices are pretty good, only $2.50 per chicken or $2.85 with a cryobag. I think the cryobag is worth the small additional costs so I will go with that. So this Friday, June 8th the roos will be taking a one way trip to the freezer. I will follow up with a post about how the processing went.

Now I need to get busy and build a few transportation crates to take them in. I am going to use the basic plan from APPPA but modified a little to get 3 crates out of a single sheet of plywood, two 2x4s and a bundle of lath. I will use a sheet of 7/16" OSB and paint the smooth side white to keep the top cool and the bottom easier to clean after use. I will just rip the sheet of OSB in half down the length and in thirds across it giving me 6 pieces just shy of 24x32", which should easily hold 8-10 chickens. I always rip 2x4's in half instead of buying 2x2's because they cost the same and I get 2 for the price of one and the 2x4s are better quality. I will cut them into 11 or 12" pieces for the vertical supports. I think that 6 per crate is enough, but may have to add more depending on the sturdiness of the lath. 4 pieces of lath across each side should be plenty.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Week 10 - And Then There Were 45 / New Coop

It seems that my efforts to prevent the spread of the sickness worked because its been a week and no other chickens got sick, thank God! However the sick chicken progressively got worse and worse but refused to die.  One day I went to check on him and he looks so dehydrated that I literally had to stick his beak in the water and force him to start drinking. The next day he was drinking a little and even a tiny bit. After 8 days I was sure he was going to eventually pull through or he would have died 2 or 3 days earlier. So I was a little surprised, but relieved, that he died the following day. I assume that the 5-6 days are in normal conditions without any help, so unfortunately my trying to help him out probably prolonged his suffering. At least the other 45 chickens are all healthy.

Last week I switched the chickens feed from Grower to Finisher. This week I can tell that they have put on some weight. The roosters are starting to crow in the morning and they are also starting to get more aggressive with one another. I think I will process them out soon and give the hens a little more room. Looks like the feed I bought is just barely going to be enough or I might have to get one more bag for the hen's last few days. If I can stretch out the feed I will come in right at my projected feed budget.

On an unrelated note I have been working on a new chicken coop for the last few weeks to make a little extra money. I tried a new design thinking it would work well for a slide out liter tray, but half way through the build I got frustrated with the design and changed things up. I was originally going to have only wire mesh on the top portion of the sides but thought that wind blowing through the coop right where they would be roosting would not be a good idea. So I filled it in with plywood. The trim was a mess because of how I did the legs on the outside (to accommodation the slide out liter tray, which I decided not to do either). And because I have no vents now I needed to make my window open instead of fixed. All told I put so much time and labor into fixing my mistakes that I could never recover by selling it. But it turned out okay I think.

I ended up using the new coop for my Maran chicks that are now 6 weeks old. I needed to get them out of the brooder box but I was trying to get some grass seed started in the grow out pen and it needs another week or two before I can put the chicks in there. So I put them in the coop and just kept them in there for a week. They seem to like it a lot cause there is more room for them. They are noticeably more active and alert than the meat chickens were at this age, but they are much smaller of course. Two of them have already managed to roost on the top roost bar that looks out the window.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Week 9 - Scared Sick

Last Saturday morning I went to move the hoop house and one of the roosters was laying down in the back corner and wouldn't get up when I tried to pull the pen forward. So I went inside and tried to shoo him away form the back corner, but he wasn't buying it. So I picked him up and tossed him forward, to which he seemed to respond flapping his wings and such. When it came time to move the hoop house later that same afternoon, this rooster wasn't going to move for anything and other roosters were pecking at him. When I picked him up he didn't even resist. Lethargic = Sickness!

I immediately pulled him out of the hoop house and isolated him in one half of the old brooder box. I was really worried that the next morning I would find even more sick birds. This could be devastating to the whole flock. All the time and money and energy spent for a bunch of sick and dying birds was all I could think of. I got so stressed out that I had to go on a motorcycle ride to get away and relax.

I called my 'chicken friend' Mary at "The Hen Connection" to ask her advice and she said it is most likely coccidiosis. This was not comforting news as it can easily be spread from one sick chicken to all the rest in just a few days. Thankfully I caught it early and isolated the sick chicken, and since I move the hoop house to fresh grass twice a day, chances of the other chickens being exposed to the oocysts in the sick chicken's poop is very unlikely. However I wasn't taking any chances. So I pulled the feeder out and completely cleaned it and then hosed off any poop on the roosts and corner braces of the hoop house. Then I moved the hoop house to new ground. 

According to everything I read on coccidiosis, infected chickens will typically die in 5 to 6 days, or they may recover. So far my sick chicken is still kicking but his lethargy is getting worse. He won't hardly move anything but his head and does not seem interested in eating or drinking. Also he does have diarrhea as expected, however its not bloody at all, but very green. Part of me hopes he gets better, but then what would I do with him as I would be scared to put him back in with the other chickens, especially if was week and malnourished. The other part of me hopes he just dies quickly so as not to suffer too much. Only time will tell.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Week 8 - Routine

Well both I and the chickens have finally settled into a regular routine. I take care of them twice a day, usually 8:00am and 4:00pm. Move the hoop house, fill the water bucket, fill the feed trough. The chickens are eating less feed and more grass now so that there is a little bit of feed leftover, and when I fill it up they don't go into a feeding frenzy anymore. In fact usually just a few at a time will eat the feed while the rest peck at the grass and weeds.

Speaking of grass and weeds, what is left of my "pasture" is mostly weeds and very little grass. I have seeded it three times now but not much seems to grow but cheat grass and weeds. At least the goats and the chickens are keeping it ate down and I don't really have to mow it anymore. This fall I am going to put in sprinklers if it kills me. Right now I am dragging around hoses and two tower sprinklers, but I don't like running them all the time off my well pump. I really need to get an irrigation pump and hook into that. Hopefully next spring the pasture will be in better condition.

Anyhow, if the chickens are on a patch with very little grass, I move them one extra time per day, usually around noon. Here are some pictures I took this afternoon just after moving the hoop house, and as you can see they are happy as clams to get to new ground.

Mr. White is always at the center of attention. Plus he is easy to photograph cause he makes a great target in the sea of meandering reds.

Here is a very curious Roo. The chickens are getting used to me coming inside twice a day and don't run away or panic much anymore. I can usually even pet them for a second or two before they squawk and run.  This guy came right up to me and almost stuck his beak into the camera.

The other morning at first light one of the Roos made a (feeble) attempt to crow. He hears my neighbors roosters and is trying to copy them but it sounded more like a wounded cat than a "cock a doodle-do".

I discovered a couple new mole hills in the pasture this week. So yesterday I got the hose, put it in the hole and flushed out the mole, and got it into a bucket, and filled it with 6 inches of water. They only struggle for less than a minute. Seems like a simple, clean and humane way to get rid of them before they make an utter mess of the ground. Much easier than traps and smoke bombs, never had any success with those. I had an infestation of them on the other side of my property several years ago and didn't know how to get rid of them, so now that section of ground is all uneven and rutted which makes it a pain in the butt to mow. So I now have a zero tolerance policy for moles.

Here is a good example of a pretty pullet. They seem to be lighter in color and with less black in the feather tips.

The Roo's are definitely bigger than the pullets and will probably get processed a week or 10 days before the pullets do. I probably need to start thinking about scheduling the processing and start working on building some transportation crates. That will probably be my next project.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Week 7 - Half Way There

Well the chickens have reached the half way mark. Not much to report this week as it has been mostly uneventful. Except for yesterday morning when Granny Goat somehow nosed her way into the hoop house while I was filling the water bucket and spilled the feed that I had just filled up all over the ground, and the water overflowed everywhere while I was trying to get that stupid goat out without causing a panic and trampling my chickens to death. I could have killed her then and there. Oh well.

Here are some pictures of the chickens I took today as they turned 6 weeks old.

This is Mr. White, as he is the only white bird I have. Oddly enough he is pretty high on the pecking order and commands a little respect from the others.

This is Mr. Brown as he is the darkest colored bird I have. 

The rest of them fall somewhere in between and look like this in coloring. 

This here is Mr. Waddles, as he is the one chicken with messed up legs.

He can waddle around bow legged but prefers not to and mostly lays around. Not sure why this happened to him but he has been this way since week 2 or 3 back in the brooder box. I remember when I saw his legs that I changed the starter feed from 25% to 23% protein because I was afraid they were growing too fast to support their little legs. Odd thing is that his legs and feet are abnormally large compared to the others. I wish I knew what causes this so I can prevent it in the future. If he stays the same he might survive to processing but I am not betting on it at this point.

Anyhow, at the rate they are consuming feed, the 300 lbs. of Grower will not last through 8 weeks. So I ended up buying another 100 pounds today. All told I figure they will go through:
  • 100 lbs. of Starter (3 weeks)
  • 400 lbs. of Grower (5 weeks)
  • 600 lbs. of Finisher (4 weeks)
That's about $350 in feed alone, which is almost $8/bird if 45 survive to processing, which is another $3/bird for a total of $11/bird (not including electricity for heat lamp, gas for transportation, bedding for the bedding, etc.) I figure $3.50/lb. is about as cheap as I can sell them just to break even on each bird. Of course we are going to keep half of them for ourselves, so while we will lose money on those birds, it will be offset by not having to purchase any chicken for a year. Next time I will buy 1000 lb. totes of Grower and Finisher and raise 2 batches about 4 weeks apart to save a little money on feed.