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.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Week 6 - Fixed Roosts

So here we are entering week 6, that makes the chickens 5 weeks old, almost half way through their projected life span. I have been watching lots of videos on YouTube such as Joel Salatin - Pastured Poultry - Part 1 and Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma and I highly recommend that you watch some too. Its amazing to me how the industrialization of food has separated us from the source of our food and thus respecting and appreciating the plants and animals that we consume. Raising these chickens has given me a new perspective on what it takes to raise quality food, the time, effort and money required. And as a consequence, more respect for life and ultimately the sacrifice of it.

Anyhow, I was growing tired of moving the little roosting bars in and out of the hoop house in order to move it. Now I know that most people don't even bother providing roosts for their meat chickens, probably because the Cornish-X bird can barely walk much less jump up on a roost. But most of my Rangers like to roost and it keeps them cleaner by not having to lay in their own poop. So I screwed a couple 2x2's between the plywood back and the skids of the hoop house and then screwed on several roosts from some small Poplar trees that I recently thinned out (they are about 1-2 inches thick). Not sure if the spacing is adequate when they get bigger but I can always move them. After just 5 minutes several were already taking advantage of their new roosts.

It continues to amaze me how fast these guys are growing. I can literally see the difference from day to day. This rooster is already sporting some wattles and a nice comb. Oddly enough my straight run chicks seem to be about 1/3 cockerels and 2/3 pullets.

I am now feeding them twice a day, about 15 cups each time (and some grit) so a total of 30 cups a day. If the feed trough is empty they act like they have been starved to death for a week when I fill it up and go into a feeding frenzy for 10 minutes. Then they spread out and graze on the grass.

I was feeding them first then pulling the hoop house to new grass thinking that they would all be at the feeder and not get run over by the back wall. Turns out this was not a good practice. When the feed trough gets pulled along with the hoop house the chickens scatter and I have had a chicken get a foot or leg stuck underneath the back end 3 different times. Plus their attention is on the food and some spillage that is left on the ground right where the back wall will drag over them.

Now that the chickens are bigger and can't escape I removed the 2x2 under the back cross member. A week ago I removed the front one and replaced it with a one foot wide strip of chicken wire and it works great. I would recommend doing the same on the back for smaller chicks but it is pointless now. This too makes it much easier to drag the hoop house.

What I discovered is that it is better to move the hoop house first. Then the chickens pay attention to the moving hoop house instead of eating and are learning that this brings them fresh grass. As hungry as they are they immediately start grazing on the new grass. If I wait just a few minutes (while filling the water bucket and hosing off the feed trough, etc.) then they don't go insane when I put the feed in and continue to eat more grass. Eventually this will add up to replace many pounds of feed. I also learned to fill the water bucket after moving the house and not before because it adds weight and sways back and forth when full.

[LESSON LEARNED] Move the hoop house first and then fill the water and feeder.

This is a better shot of how a chicken drinks from a chicken water nipple. The nipples do waste about half the water as some of it drips on the ground, but having clean fresh water without any poop or mud in it is sooooo worth it. I never have to clean it our other than a quick rinse once a week to keep it from growing algae.

On a sad note, I have one chicken that has leg problems. They don't feel broken but they are abnormally large, and he walks bow legged. More like waddles than walks, which he doesn't do much of. He gets around okay and I am sure he will survive but I don't know what caused this. I assume it is just an abnormality and not the result of anything I did. None of the rest of the chickens have this problem, and its in both legs so I don't think it was from getting stuck under the back of the hoop house. I would appreciate a post if anyone has an idea or what I can do to prevent this in the future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Water Nipples

Yeah! The chicken water nipples that I ordered finally arrived in the mail today.

I used an old 5 gallon bucket and a lid (the kind with a small pour spout hole in it). I drilled out 6 evenly spaced holes in the bottom using an 11/32" drill bit, then screwed in the nipples by hand until they were fully seated. Put the lid on and hung the bucket from the peak of the hoop house, and filled it with water using the small hole in the lid. It occurred to me that if you don't put a lid on it, a chicken might drown in the bucket. It also keeps the bugs and debris out of the water.

When I hung it I used a flat nylon tie down with a hook on it and just hung the bucket handle on the hook. That way I can easily remove the bucket with out untying anything. The hardest part was hanging it at the right height so that the chickens can reach it but not too low. Now that I think about it, a ratchet tie down would work nicely to be able to adjust the height as the chickens grow.

It took the chickens all of about 5 minutes to figure out how to use them. One curious cockerel started pecking at one of the red nipples and was surprised when water came out. Soon others followed suite (as chickens always do) and before you know it they were all happily drinking away.

Now when I move the hoop house the water bucket will come along for the ride. And 5 gallons should last them all day so I don't have to worry about re-filling it 3 times a day. The best part is NO POOP in the water like you get with a bowl or font. Between my sliding feed trough and my hanging water bucket, my chicken chores are a breeze now. All I have left is to build a bigger roost bar system that is suspended off the ground.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Maran Chicks

On a totally unrelated note, we bought 5 Maran chicks from our neighbor Rick at about a week ago. They have been living in a clear plastic storage bin brooder but I moved them yesterday into one half of the big white brooder box. They have lots of room now and are pretty happy in there.

This is the original guy that I hatched from my home-made ice chest incubator. The other 5 are a couple days behind. We gave him a stuffed animal to keep him company when he was all by himself. (An eagle, really?!? You would think that I could have found a stuffed chicken so close to Easter time, but no such luck.) Now this little guy has taken on the role as protector of the flock (we are convinced that he is going to be a rooster). Any disturbance and he cranes his neck to see what's going on, then rushes to the intruding hand, etc. and begins pecking at it.

My original intent was to take advantage of one of our layer hens that went broody and put some eggs under her. Then she could raise them and we will have some fresh new layers next year. However she came off the eggs after about a week. I didn't think any of them would make it cause the eggs were barely warm when I found them and I had difficulty getting my incubator to stabilize on a good temperature for a few days. So out of 6 eggs I got this one little guy. I couldn't leave him alone so we bought the other 5 as soon as they hatched. Now we have 3 Black Copper Marans, 2 Blue Copper Marans, and this one guy somewhere in between, as he is from a different blood line. I thought he was black but now he looks gray when compared to the other chicks.

Week 5 - Its a Chicken!

Well the chicks turned into chickens over night. Yesterday I swear they looked like large Naked Neck Turken chicks, but the chicken growth fairy must have sprinkled pixie dust on them overnight because this morning they look like pullets. They are exactly 29 days old and going through feed like mad. Their feet and legs are huge, and one of them is walking funny and I am worried about them eating too much. I was just with holding food at night, but I think I am going to ration how much feed they get during the day as well.

A couple of them managed to squeeze underneath the back of the hoop house (the ground was fairly uneven) and tried to escape, but my wife (in my absence) braved the hot wire on the gate and rounded up all the escapees and blocked off the gap. This morning I screwed a 2x2" across the bottom of both ends. This makes it much more difficult to drag the hoop house to fresh grass, but I guess I have to wait a few more weeks or rig up a wire flap or something. 

I was pretty sure that I could get away with not moving the hoop house for 2 or 3 days at this stage, but to my surprise, the grass was pretty well used up in one day, even at their small size now. Their first two days in the hoop house I moved it a half length. This morning I moved it a full length. Moving it is a pain cause I have to pull out the feeders and water and the roost bars (I just screwed some branches to a couple 1x2's and just leaned it up against the back wall)

I gave up on the 2 red plastic 24 inch feeders. Its ridiculously difficult for me to get them open, they are always covered in mud and poop, and they are no longer big enough for the chickens to all eat at once. So I built two new 5 foot long feed trough out of a ten foot piece of vinyl rain gutter this morning (but I am only using one right now). Because I was too cheap to buy the plastic ends and sealant, I had to cut some wooden ends out of 2x4's. The hardest part was coming up with a disrupter so they don't bill the feed out or walk all over it and poop in it. I bent some 2 inch welded fence wire into a peak and attached it inside the trough. Seems to work pretty well so far.

I want the feeders to move with the hoop house so I mounted the trough on a 6' cedar fence board and attached an eyelet on one end with a foot of small chain and a spring clasp (from an old dog leash) that hooks the feeder to an eyelet inside the front of the hoop house near the door. This way when I pull the hoop house, the feeder gets pulled right along with it. And I can easily un-hook it and pull it out if necessary.

I am still waiting for the "chicken nipples" that I ordered to arrive so that I can hang a water bucket as well, but for now they just have a large bowl that I have to rinse and fill twice a day. I also need to build some larger roost bars and get them off the ground as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Week 4 - Getting Bigger

Today the chicks are 22 days old, and they are starting to look like little chickens instead of big chicks. They are almost completely feathered out and are flying and running around like crazy. No losses or sickness that I can tell. They seem to really enjoy being outside with room to roam and forage and enjoy the sun shine (it rained all day yesterday).

I raised the roosting branches a little higher the other day and put a step behind the heat box to encourage them to get used to jumping up on top of stuff and roosting.

They have been foraging and eating lots of grass as well. The grass in the pen started out about 8-10 inches tall and is now down to 3 inches in just one week. Today I start switching the feed from 23% Chick Starter to 20% BTG Grower. I bought 300 lbs. yesterday, I just hope that is enough to get through another 3-4 weeks. I am filling both of those 24" feeders twice a day now. By the way, I am only using locally milled "Dr. Jim Z's (Zamzows) Premium - All Natural Feed". Its the "Highest Quality Hand Crafted feed that is Medication Free, Urea Free, Meat and Bone Meal Free, and Pesticide Free. I get it at the Feed Mill in Meridian Idaho.

[UPDATE] Well Saturday was very warm and the grow out pen is about worn out. The grass is down to the ground and the poop is starting to smell. So we moved the chicks from the grow out pen into the hoop house. It was more work than I expected. We cornered the chicks in the pen and caught them one at a time and put them into a large dog kennel and then wheel barrowed them out to the hoop house in 2 batches. This was a good opportunity to count them and all 46 were there as expected.

The single chick that I gave to my friend Mary is also doing well and is helping to raise a bunch of day old chicks that she hatched out of her incubator. The meat chick is so large that the hatchlings apparently think that it's their mother. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hoop House Build

Well (finally) here are some pictures of my hoop house! Several folks have asked me for plans but this build was done ad-hoc so I didn't really have any plans to share. So, here are some links to a few different plans for building a similar hoop house/coop: 

The basic idea behind pastured poultry is to move the chickens to fresh grass each day. So the pen needs to be light enough to pull with a rope by a single person or a riding lawn mower. Lots of people use a 10x10' pasture pen that is only 2 feet high. I chose a hoop house over a pasture pen because I can walk inside to change out the feed and water, catch chickens, etc.

It has an 8x12' foot print and is 6' high, enough to be able to walk around inside. It is basically made of 3 "ranch panels" (4 gauge galvanized welded wire) that are pushed up into a hoop inside of the pressure treated frame. I put a heavy duty U.V. protected tarp over the back 8' leaving 4' open (covered in chicken wire) for sun and ventilation. I covered the perimeter with 4 foot high chicken wire in case the tarp rips or I want fold it up on the sides. Attaching the chicken wire was very laborious, even using wire "zip" ties. Make sure to use the black (U.V. protected) ones.

The ends were the most difficult part to figure out. Chicken wire by itself is not predator proof and the ranch panels were too cumbersome (and very sharp at the ends) to use. I have been saving this piece of 3/8" ACX plywood for years and finally found a good use for it. I just tacked it in place and traced out the hoop and cut it to fit. I did not want it to become a 3 sided parachute in the wind so I put in a foot of chicken wire near the top of the back so the wind will go through it. The A-frame 2x4's are to keep the ranch panel at the peak in place and help support the plywood as well. I probably need to put some stain or paint it or it won't last very long.

My son's dog "Moo Moo" (cause his coloring looks like a cow) for some perspective of the size.

The door on the front is almost 3x6' and has sprung hinges (screen door style) and two locks. I purposely made it swing out so that if a predator tried to get in it couldn't push its way through. Later on I added some left over heavy wire fencing to the door and the front to beef up the chicken wire. Next time I will use plywood or 2" welded wire covered with chicken wire for the ends.

LESSON LEARNED: Chicken wire sucks. Use alternatives when ever possible.

Nice and cozy inside, yet some sun and lots of ventilation. I think I will add some roost bars at the back and I need to build a feed trough (maybe out of plastic rain gutter) and get some "chicken nipples" for a 5 gallon water bucket. I will hang the water bucket from the peak near the door to make it easy to change out. And the feed troughs will probably sit on the corner braces so that they move with the house when I pull it to fresh grass each day.

Turns out that my new neighbor across the street raises Black and Blue Copper Marans (very dark brown eggs) and Ameraucana (blue Easter Eggers) on his small family farm ( and is making some decent money at it selling chicks this spring. He asked me to build him one or two of these hoop houses for his extra cockerels. I ended up using 5mm under-layment plywood on both ends but had to primer seal it because it wasn't exterior grade plywood. Here it is just before I put the tarp on. Its a little different but probably stronger than mine.

Week 3 - Grow Out Pen

I decided that the brooder box is not big enough for 50 chicks through 3 or 4 weeks. So I started working on a "grow out pen". Next to the shed there is a 12x20 foot section that is very well fenced with 2" welded wire. So I added a layer of 1" plastic mesh that I had laying around to the front half, and wired up a 2 foot high border of scrap OSB plywood around the perimeter of the back half and across the gate (so that I can step over it but the chicks can't get out). I put a tarp over half the area so they will have shade and dry ground.

The best idea came from Mary, was to build a "heat box" rather than using a 250 watt heat lamp. A heat box is 3 to 4 foot square, a foot high with a roof but no floor, and a small gap at the bottom for the chicks to be able to get under neath. I wired it up with two regular old 60 watt light bulbs on opposite ends on the inside near the top. I also screwed a cedar board over the gap at the bottom on the two back sides so that it will contain the heat better and give them safe corner. Not only does the box keep them warm, but it also provides them shelter and protection from cats and hawks, and uses less than half the electricity of a single heat lamp.

LESSON LEARNED: Use a heat box in a confined area rather than brooder box.

Yesterday the chicks were 2 weeks old and just way too big for the brooder box. So I decided it was time to move half of them to the grow out pen. I tried to pick out the ones that had the most feathers. I ended up with 24 in the pen and 22 left in the brooder box. Here you can see them in their new home for the next week or two.

I sat and watched them carefully for an hour or so. At first they were very timid and took near 20 minutes to come out of the box that I moved them in. Then they finally started to check things out. It was really fun to watch them explore and flap their wings and run around. Some were even flapping and chest bumping with each other, probably learning how to be roosters. You can see a few chicks just under the heat box in these pictures.

My layer hens were extremely jealous to see these guys eating in front of them, so I threw some scratch for them in front of the pen so that everyone can get to know each other. Maybe the chicks will learn some "chicken behavior" from them, who knows, can't hurt.

This guy is Mr. Curious. I watched him (he has a distinguishing white breast) as he was always the first one to explore around the back side of the heat box, out to the back corners of the pen, then he came right up to my layer hen, "Beakers", without any hesitation. Could be that he is brave, could be that he is curious enough to get himself in trouble. We will see.


The first half of the chicks did so well in the pen that I moved the other half in to the pen 3 days later. I was worried about the cooler weather (40-45 degrees at night) for the first night with each move, but all survived and are doing great. I cleaned the disgusting pine shavings out of the brooder box and cleaned up the mess in the shed. Now both my compost bins are full.

The chicks have almost finished the first 50 pound bag of feed (25% protein BTG starter), I am going to put them on 23% protein chick starter for the next week or so to reduce the protein content some. Then they will all get moved out to the hoop house. I still haven't posted my hoop house build. I will do that soon.

And we got a pair of goats, "Brownie" and "Granny", to eat down the grass and weeds in the pasture. That was another whole adventure! I had to add a hot wire to the pasture fence to keep the younger one from getting her head stuck in the fence. Some how she managed to squeeze it through, but then the angle of her horns didn't allow her to back her head out. It was a major struggle to free her without cutting my fence. After the fourth time I put her on a cable tie out until I got the hot wire finished. It took her all of 5 seconds to figure out the hot wire, I about died laughing when she hit it with her nose and jumped 6 feet straight up in the air. She won't do that again.