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.