The day is here, the meat chicks are coming this morning- I hope. They have spent the last two days in the U.S. mail system and today has to be the day they come without fear of losing them to hunger and dehydration. Three days is the max the chicks can live off the yolk sack they hatch out with.
So as is usual there is a cold snap for the next 3 days, never fails. The brooder has been warming all night with both lights on and I'm hoping that will be enough to keep the 30 i have warm. I've got this down to a science though. i have a 300 gallon galvanized horse waterer to keep them in for the first 3 or 4 weeks, which i line with fresh leaf litter or finished compost to get their little guts going with friendly microbes. Chickens get a lot of nutrients from dirt if it is biologically active, add dirt with worms and the chicks get extra protein as well. I've found that i don't lose any chicks and don't have any mud butt if i do this and feed them non-medicated feed that is crushed grain, organic, non-GMO. It truly makes a difference, when i got the batch of turkeys, red ranger, and americanas i was fighting mud butt for a week- those guys get in and are put on medicated feed and clean shavings right away.
Life lessons from chickens… Let the kids eat dirt!
Yesterday was a strange day filled with quiet observation, wonder, and smiles. In preparation of the meat chicks coming tomorrow i had to move the turkeys and chicks in the brooder to the half of the barn with the outside run. This also happens to be the half of the barn that contains the nesting boxes for the grown egg layers I've currently got. To say they were put out having their favorite egg laying spot given to a bunch of turkeys would be putting it mildly. They complained and Squawked all afternoon trying to find ways in that i may have overlooked. There are two roosters hanging with 6 hens- and before you say anything i know its one too many- But my husband made friends with the roo named Johnny, and the hens made friends with the roo named Randy, so Johnny has been busy trying to woo the hens away from Randy for some time. The result to my dismay has been competitive barnyard chicken rape. I was ready to take out both roosters just to give the girls a break. (meaning make chicken stew) Then this crazy thing happened that i just happened to see. In the midst of the squawking for the old nesting spots, Johnny stepped into the replacement nesting box that i had put into their pen and started purring while pretending to lay an egg. It was the craziest thing i'd ever seen, and he stayed in the nest purring till one of the hens started watching him and crawled up into the nest with him and gently pecked around his head. He then seemed to wait till she was almost impatient with him before getting up and allowing her on the nest. Then he stood right next to the nest continuing to purr while she happily arranged her new nest. I walked away shaking my head and did find an egg there a little while later. It's funny the amount of time i end up spending just watching things. I always try to get the list done in a timely and efficient way but the observation is half the fun of farming and i would miss things like chicken wooing and chick pig piles...
Ok so it's really the chicken turkey shuffle this time around- who cares, I've finally added to the slowly growing variety of things on the farm. Six turkeys are hanging out with six americanas for the new laying hens, and five red rangers that I'm experimenting with as a new meat breed. The red rangers started off with a hitch, losing one chick early on to what i think was some kind of deformity. Not a good sign, but what can i expect from mass produced chicks? So anyhow the plan is for a carefully executed rotation of bird stock from brooders to barn to pasture to provide the safest environment for the birds while giving them pasture access. This is harder than i wanted it to be and maybe harder that it really has to be. The reality is that the bodies of cornish cross are the opposite of sustainable. Their genetics are geared for one thing and one thing only- the production of meat. So as a result they don't ever fully feather out and basically stop moving around a whole lot after 6 weeks. For me this means i feel the need to keep them under the warming lamps longer and by the time i feel like i can put them on pasture there is precious little time for them to enjoy it before they are too big to want to move or be moved around on said pasture. This is why I've gotten the five red rangers, just to see if i can get a fastish growing meat bird that can still move around at 8 weeks and taste great at the extended growing time of 12 weeks.
Another bonus with putting them on pasture is that they are pooping machines and can fertilize the entire space given in a day. For soil building this is the most awesome thing. I am ashamed to say that i do like the the raw efficiency that these birds exhibit in the act of meat making and am glad to butcher them when the time comes. So much so that i am staggering two largish (Ha! for me anyway) meat orders by one month so i will get 30 cornish cross mid april and 30 mid May, with butcher dates in mid june and mid july. My hope is that the harvest in the garden doesn't really kick in till after mid july- which may be asking a lot….
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.