Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicken chat

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Lots of chicken activity over the last few weeks around here. Just the other day we got a new shipment of fuzzballs all the way from the East coast. They showed up within 48 hours of hatching and everyone is super perky and doing well.

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For this batch of meat birds we are trying another hybrid strain that was developed for pastured poultry in France. These 'Freedom Rangers' are supposedly more active and aggressive foragers than the Cornish cross though they do take a few weeks longer to finish and are not broad breasted. Raising several varieties of birds will give our CSA members the chance to experience different types of chicken and allow us to see which varieties perform well on our ranch.

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We've been getting lots of questions about the chicken tractors where the birds are raised as of late. These bottomless pasture pens allow us to move the chickens several times a day to fresh pasture with new bugs, grass and tasty bits and away from their manure.

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We have several different styles of pasture pens but they all allow for the birds to have fresh pasture while keeping them safe from predators. We are most concerned with aerial predators like hawks, especially when the birds are small. We could of course coop the birds at night and let them free range during the day, but this way we know they are protected and able to maximize the use of the pasture.


The pens are moved along by pulling a rope and have a hinged top so we can change out water and feed. By having half the pen covered in tin, it gives the birds a resting place out of the wind, rain and sun. If the weather is especially nasty, we have heavy tarps on hand for added protection.

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Our second batch of meat chickens (Cornish cross) are now about 4 weeks old and ready to move out to the pasture pens. On especially warm days, we put them outside for a few hours but now they are ready for the permanent move. It has been a little chilly at night so we will put out a heat light to help them adjust to the change.

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Finally, the layer birds (which are now about 11 weeks) were starting to outgrow their chicken tractor and were big enough to move down to the chicken house. So with the help of Jerry and Teresa we loaded the whole pen into cages and took them to their new home. They will spend a few weeks getting to know their surroundings before we integrate them with the rest of the flock.

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Having this many chickens is quite the dance of coordinating chick arrivals with available pasture pens with processing dates while rationing feed, meeting target weights and calculating the different grow out periods for each pen of birds. It is very complicated but well worth the effort to create a product that is far and away beyond the average supermarket special.


Jarom said...

Are the layers a mix of brown and white or just white?

Katia said...

The layers are mostly shades of brown with a few blue/green.

Jarom said...

Hooray for araucanas!

Katia said...

Interesting factoid
Most backyard poultry marketed as Araucana or Ameraucana are actually neither of these true breeds but instead merely mixed breeds that may carry the green/blue gene (aka Easter Eggers or Americana - the spelling is important).
Araucana - no tail, ear tufts, pea comb, blue shanks, blue eggs, 5 recognized colors
Ameraucana - definite tails, beards and muffs, pea comb, blue shanks, blue eggs, 8 recognized colors
Easter Egger - could have beards, muffs, tufts, tail or no tail, wide variety of colors and patterns, egg color varies (blue, green, olive, brown, tan, pink)

If a chicken meets all of the breed standards but is not a recognized color or does not breed true, it is considered a lowly EE.

Our 5 chicks were purchased as Americana (a crafty way of saying Easter Eggers). One of the pullets is shaping up to meet the breed characteristics of Ameracauna unless she doesn't lay a blue egg. The rest are just colorful mutts who will hopefully give me pretty eggs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds very complicated! How is Lucille doing?

Anonymous said...

Hey katia Hunter Ignatius here how are The cornish cross's doing? I hope they are doing just fine email me and respond

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