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.