Almost to 4 weeks and the chicks have finally moved to the barn. Dain built a wonderful addition, or rather partition in the barn to safely brood and house the chicks. This has become the challenge, to keep them safe from predators untill butcher time. I have a lot invested in them already, 3 weeks and 100 ponds of organic non GMO feed. This months order will include another 200 pounds to ensure I have enough to get me through to butcher time.
Because of the amount of time I have with these chicks, I feel as though I can't get them on pasture long enough. 6 weeks seems like a lot of time but they are just barely feathered out at 4 weeks, and that gives me 2 weeks to be on pasture? Seems like a joke to me. There has to be a middle ground somewhere that allows the hens to do the raising, bringing them out when she feels it necessary instead of when i think its ok. Cause ya know that I could be coddling them a little too much. Somehow all this just feels wrong, or just not sustainable. The upside is that no matter how you look at it this is better than anything I can buy in the store for my family, organic or otherwise. It's fast, I don't have to care for or keep the fox away from these chickens all summer long. I may be under estimating the amount of time too, 8 weeks may be the target....
O.k. not kidding, I think if I somehow became incapacitated and fell into their brooder I might not make it out. The growth rate of these guys is amazing, we are at three weeks as of these last pictures and though they aren't even feathered out completely they are bigger than the dark cornish fully feathered at five weeks last year. I'm at a loss as to how much feed to buy this month to get them through to June. In the first three weeks of life 25 chicks have consumed most of the 100 lbs of starter feed i began this game of chicks with. They are still in the brooder with heat lamps at night, but this set up is on the edge of acceptable. The amount of input is too much for my liking. I'm changing water and adding feed several times a day, and now am adding straw every morning to deal with the poo flow since i ran out of compost. The barn should be ready to hold them by the weekend, and it won't come a moment too soon. I think once these guys are in the freezer i will add biodynamic preps to the floor of the barn coop to prep it for the next batch. All of the litter from the brooder will go into the coop once it is recomposted. When the next batch comes they will skip the brooder tank and go straight to the barn. And for all you kids out there, learn from my mistakes -think big for the fast growers lest they find you unawares and consume you....
O.K. I'm sure you're wondering where I'm going with this one... I think I can see them growing! It seems as though if I sit with them long enough I can see the yellow fluff being parted by feathers....The hulk chickens are about 13 days old now and are almost triple the size they were, almost. I have had no losses yet-incredible I think. Only about 3 pasty butts, and we are almost at 2 weeks! This is about the time I stop worrying about spontaneous death from chicken S.I.D.S. This years chick raising has been a pleasure with no issues. So in addition to the raising of the chicks on fresh biodynamic compost, next year I'm gonna add worms to the mix and prep the chick brooder with biodynamic compost that is mostly finished AND inhabited with worms. Every day I have gone out and gathered worms for my baby mutant chicks to supply them with the extra protein their obscenely fast growing bodies need and argh, does my back hurt! but if they were unknowingly sitting on their meal, I could come by once a day and turn some compost.... My Evil plot thickens....
It never fails, the new chick anxiety, I know what to do and when to do it but does that matter? Thats a big fat no. Are they too hot? Cold? Are they eating the fermented food? maybe I should put dry in too? Is that pasty but? On and on it goes for the first few days at least. This is also the time when you are most likely to lose a chick or two, chick SIDS. Ahh the farm life. It is a little crazy when you wake up with thoughts of baked chicks on your mind-were two heat lamps too much???? But i digress, the chicks are here and all of them made it through the night. I have had only one pasty but so far which is great. Last year there was 5 to 10 a day. It is still early though so I will keep my pasty butt vigil going for the next week or so anyway. We have already hosted chick keep away. Throw in some worms and whoa boy look out, those little buggers will chase the worm holder down steal his loot and run like the dickens. These guys seem more ferocious than the last batch. I'm guessing meat is whats for dinner for these voracious little guys! That'll keep me busy, digging worms for my fast growing little babies! Its great entertainment for the whole family!
So april is here again, spring has sprung and its time for the coming of the chicks. This is the second year I have ordered chicks for the purpose of filling my freezer. Chicken is the most consumed meat in this house and after learning of the horrid things chickens are fed to force fast growth I had gone to Organic chicken from the grocer. But even that is just not good enough. With GMO soy and corn making up most of the feed these days I just decided I would get my own chicks and learn the dirty deed of butchering. Its not so bad after all, the chickens don't get boxed up and shipped to the butcher. Each one is caught and handled with care and reverence, reducing the stress hormones that may affect the meat quality. I also know that all they are ever fed is organic non GMO, non soy feed, supplemented with things like apple cider vinegar and kelp. Countryside Organics makes a wonderful feed that I can trust is made from the best ingredients. So anyhoo, my chicks come on thursday shipped through the good ole' USPS. The brooder is all set loaded with a floor of biodynamic compost/ leaf litter. This helps their little immune systems to get a good head start and also gives them nutrients that aren't found in feed. They definitely need to eat a pound o' dirt in their lifetime to stay healthy. I will also be fermenting their food for the first couple of weeks. This ensures that you get the most out of your feed. The tiny microbes that predigest some elements of the grains leave behind vitamins like K, B and C. From the reading I've done it also reduces the amounts of feed needed and for the fast growers I got I would love that to be true. That brings me to the choice of breed this year. They are Cornish Cross, exclusively bred for meat production. Last year I went for Dark Cornish that were supposed to be dual purpose, but ended up tough when they finally got big enough to butcher. Though I find the idea of chickens going from chicks to butcher weight in 6 to 8 weeks slightly unnatural, the thought of 25 chickens eating feed for two months instead of five is quite attractive. On with the experiments!
I wanna say that free range pastured poultry is a problem free method of chicken propagation. Using electric fencing protects from surrounding terrain but leaves the sky open to intruders. It doesn't cover the chickens in case of hawk attack. The field I have the chickens in is in a "holler" surrounded by trees, sounds great you say? It's like running the gauntlet says the chickens. Since the begining of my chicken raising career I have lost chickens to a host of things all with their tell tale kill methods. The Hawk though seems the most magical in it's method- they just disappear. I haven't ever seen a hawk attack, those hawk eyes know when I'm lookin'. But Gramma saw one taking a dive off a tree day before yesterday, headed behind the garage where the chickens hide out. That evening when we went to put up chickens for the night good ole' blackfoot was missing. She was mean as hell and i'm sure got in a few licks before going down. Or up as the case seems to be. After several of these disappearances during the daylight hours I must admit defeat. In my situation I'm afraid that the chicken tractor is going to be the only way to raise chickens without keeping a good many for hawk feed. Don't get me wrong, I love those things, but is there anyone who knows of a chicken protecting dog or donkey/dog mix that will allow the pasture raising of chickens?
Hard to believe in this day and age that live animals can be shipped via U.S. mail. Order newly hatched chicks these days and you can get them shipped to your post office. Evidently each chick has the remainder of the yolk sack inside them that will last for several days. It can take that long for the last of the eggs to hatch, and the mother won't move until the last egg hatches. This gives chicken breeders about three days to get them through the mail. Last year was my first time doing this, and boy was my mail lady anxious to get me there for pick up. When I entered the building loud chirps could be heard immediately. A cacophony of tiny bird sounds, unbelievably load, pouring from the mailroom. The look of relief on the mail ladies face upon my announcement of pickup could be FELT. I cradled the box under one arm and rushed to the old dodge to make my way home. The sound was deafening, such tiny bodies, such piercing sound. My poor poor mail lady.
That day I won't soon forget, the long ride home and the dismay at finding the almost mummified remains of several chicks that did't make it. They do send extras in the event of catastrophe but somehow that doesn't make up for the loss. Then there is the dunking of each little beak into the water as you transfer them to their new home. Let me tell you, allowing your hen to go broody doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world after all that mess. I could rename farming to "101 ways to make your life harder" , like this is really better than letting hens hatch out their own chicks.
Born in New Hampshire and raised in Maine, Eva's passion for living self sustainably began with Helen and Scott Nearing. Both were homesteaders who carved their lives from the land. Eva now lives in Eastern West Virginia, with her husband Dain and daughter Shayna, carving out her own life.