Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chickens on Pasture

We finally got the chickens out on pasture, which turned out to be a lot more work than we thought.  They were getting a little crowded in the brooder.  First I grabbed a box and placed a few chicks inside it.  They immediately hopped out and started running around the shop.  After a few minutes of chasing, I was able to gather them back up.  I put them back in the brooder and began searching for another way to move them from the brooder to their fenced pasture area.  Soon I found some larger boxes with lids.  I began to place 2 chicks at at time in the box and then quickly pulled the lid back over the box.  This also meant that I had to uncover the box with my hands full of chickens squaking and fluttering about.  I was able to comfortably fit 50 chicks in each box.  By now each chick weighs close to 1 lb. which as I began to pick up the box, realized, adds up rather quickly.  I am not a wimp, 50 lbs is no big deal, but the box was large and akward.  The bottom of the box began to sag under the weight of the chicks.  As the chicks felt the motion of the box being lifted, they started scrambling inside the box which constantly shifted the weight.  I felt like a cartoon character running back and forth trying to balance this large box as the weight shifted from side to side.  I realized that I wasn't going to be able to walk the box out to the pasture without the likely chance of dropping the box and possibly hurting the chicks.

Immediately, I was able to justify yet another use for my new toy.  New is relative as this "toy" is actually 40 years old.  In anticipation of buying our bigger farm, I was checking out the classifieds for farm equipment.  I came across a 1970 International Harvester 656 tractor with a front loader.  The price was right and Hollie and I decided it would be a wise investment given the amount of work required to set up the new farm.  

My two boxes fit just perfectly inside the bucket of the tractor and allowed me to easily place the boxes over the fence of the chicken pasture.  We let the chickens out and after a few minutes of nervously looking around, the chickens began to relax and check out their new home.  I built a plywood box that they can access for shelter.  Their pasture is enclosed by a 4' tall electric net fence.  The fence is more for keeping predators out than keeping chickens in.  Because chickens are covered in feathers, they are insulated from the electric shock of the fence.  Predators that we have in the area include, foxes, racoons, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, badgers, stray dogs and cats, and hawks/eagles/owls.  All of these animals are in abundance because of our remote location.  With the exception of the birds of prey, all of these animals will first try and find a way through the fence rather than dig under the fence.  During this process, they will touch the fence and receive a shock that has almost brought me to my knees at times. (The boys and Hollie find witnessing this hillarious.)  This shock will send any wild animal scrambling and they won't even think twice about trying to dig under.  Hopefully, we won't loose any chickens to the birds of prey as there is really no protection from them.  We may get a livestock guardian dog (LGD) to help us out if we start having problems.

With two trips of the tractor, I was able to get all 207 chickens out on pasture.  Later that evening, it starting getting cold and windy.  I went out to check on the chicks and about 80 of them hadn't been able to find the shelter.  They had all huddled together and were actually spreading their wings to help cover each other.  I was very impressed by this.  I scooped them up and moved them into the shelter with the other chicks.  The next day we woke up to 3" of snow.  I jumped out of bed and went to check out the chicks.     

They were all peeking out of the shelter trying to figure out if they liked this snow or not.  I reached my hand inside the shelter and found it surprisingly warm.  The feeders and waterers were covered in snow which is not good for actively growing birds.  I grabbed the shovel and grumbled to myself as I was shoveling snow for the spoiled chickens.  I then sprinkled a little feed on the ground which gave the chicks the courage to step out of the shelter.  I moved the feeders very close to the shelter and they soon started eating.  After a few minutes, I was able to scoot the feeders back which gave room for more chickens to come out.  Soon they were all out eating, drinking, scratching the ground and discovering the wonderful taste of fresh spring grass.

They are very entertaining almost hypnotizing to watch.  They are now 5 weeks old and thriving.  Contrast this to the commercial breed known as the Cornish Cross which are already reaching a harvest size (3-4 lbs) at this age.  Many of them are barely hanging on to life as they sit planted in front of a feeder and growing too heavy to walk on their own legs and on the verge of a heart attack.  It brings me great joy knowing that we are providing a healthy and happy environment for our chickens.  It is even neater that our customers are supporting this way of farming as this flock and the next two flocks of chickens are already all presold.  Remember, we vote for how our food is raised with our wallets.  The support we have received has us excited to continue raising premium meat, raised on pasture, treated humanely, and raised naturally.     


Rose said...

Wow. I saw white in the first pic and thought you must be raising Cornish X blobs. What breed is that?

We have had issues this spring as well with hard rain that took a toll. Seems unusually cold at night, so we lost some birds--no fun at all.

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...


Some of these chicks are Plymouth Rocks (white variety) and some are Delawares which will get some grey/black feathers as they grow. They are both heritage breeds and featured on the Slow Food Ark of Taste Program. Delawares were the most popular breed in the United States prior to WWII and the development of the Cornish X. The White Plymouth Rock is one of the original breeds used to help develop the Cornish X. The advantage here is that they are a good meaty bird without the ridiculous growth rate and subsequent health problems. Neither breed will have as much breast meat as the Cornish X. But they are very tasty and very hearty.

Jesse said...

Looking good. How are you liking your Kencove fences? I just got a bunch in last week and am liking it quite well. I can relate with the shocks. Working around my fences today I got two shocks. When you're well grounded it can literally knock you over. ;)

In all my reading I haven't come across any of this info on Plymouth Rocks. I'm intrigued. How long of a grow out time are you expecting and at what weight? Are you doing the Delawares and Poulet Rouge at the same time?

Keep up the good work!