Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We have Chickens

We have chickens. 100 Chickens. Larry will tell you more.
Larry = yellow. So the big red spot is the heat lamp. I've rigged that up so that it hangs from a wire from one of the ceiling rafters. Easy to turn on and off with a light switch in the barn, and you can raise and lower the lamp using the wire. Its a pretty nice setup and only took me all day on saturday to wire up. I've since put a second heat lamp in, but since I didn't have time to properly wire that one, it is hanging off the romex that is wrapped around a ladder that is leaning over the brooder. Highly Ghetto, but I'll fix it once this set goes out to pasture.... or maybe this weekend. They don't need 2 lights during the day really... but I'd hate to be working above the brooder on the rafters and drop a pair of pliers. Ooppps... 3 dead chickens!

Chickens are actually pretty tough for 24-48 hours... they don't need any food or water. So the Hatchery just puts them in a box and mails them. Then the post office calls you and says, "Ummmm sir, your box is 'cheeping' at us, would you please come get it?". Normal wait is 2 days, but KB works right next to the Northern-Central CO sorting facility so it DIDN'T go to Berthoud. They called me from Longmont. Which was nice as I got the chicks after only 24 hours in the Postal Service system. Only 1 dead chick out of 100. Nice! My "Standard" book says 10% mortality is acceptable. My "Wholistic" book says that they shoot for 1% and .5% is attainable if you worry about nutrition and cleanliness instead of treating the birds like parts in an engine. So these guys show up and I point them at the water and food and they go nuts! You can see them swarming the waterer in the picture.

Red ones are our egg laying chickens.
These are known as "Production Reds". They are a cross of Rhode Island Reds and something. Privett Hatchery's web page is actually pretty freaking terrible. If you know what you want, you can get to where you need to go, but if you want to compare different breeds its aweful. Oh well. I will probably add a batch of straight Rhode Island Reds and compare feeds costs. I've heard that RIR are SUPER aggresive foragers. (meaning they eat bugs and grass instead of expensive chicken feed) We shall see. I'll post some graphs of feed usage and conversion ratios. What really matters in the end though is $in/$out. So it might be that RIR use less feed, but if they make less eggs, I might get owned on the increased labor overhead of managing a larger flock that eats less feed to make the same number of eggs. Like everything on our farm, we are going to manage it for OUR farm. It doesn't matter if Production Reds beat RIR under ideal conditions in a confienment factory farm, what matters is how well they do on our farm under conditions that we find moral. I'm looking forward to it actually (the graphs), I don't get to do much graphing and analysis at my job. I'd like to use that physics degree for SOMETHING.

Yellow ones are the ones we will eat.
These are Cornish-Rock Crosses. This is what people raise to eat. Period. Well ok, backyard folks can raise whatever the heck they want as cost isn't a factor. If you are trying to make money, you raise this bird or you lose to the guy that is. These birds are ready to eat in 8-12 weeks. This is pretty much unnatural and causes the birds LOTS of problems. They simply grow too fast! You have to feed them "magic feed", if you just let them try to eat grass and bugs and stuff in the back yard, you would have dead chicks. You must stay all over the nutrition issues or they will cripple themselves. (bones try to outrace the calcium uptake) That being said, our model does a BETTER job of feeding these suckers than a factory farm. Fresh grass == green salad. Salad is good for you, its good for chickens too! Our model lets them eat as many bugs as they can find on the pasture. Bugs==protien == strong chickens. The key is to make sure they don't eat so much grass they starve. They can starve with a stomach full of grass because the volume/energy ratio of grass is so low compared to grain. In factory farms they are feeding these poor guys the guts from the previous batch of chickens for animal protien. Now don't get me wrong, chickens are omnivores. I have NO problem feeding my chickens animal parts. In fact if you do get 'crippleing' showing up, one the the best ways to cure it is to feed beef liver. (this is not very economical so you try to avoid it, but I feel you owe it to you animals to keep them healthy. If you have to lose your profit on one batch, well, suck it up and feed the beef liver) I will NEVER condone cannibalism though. Its not a moral issue with me, its a disease issue. You don't feed an animal itself unless you want massive disease issues. It no wonder factory farms have so much food poisoning and disease issues.... their practices are shocking. Anyway, our CRs are zipping around, eating the feed, scratching the wood chips, eating the grass and seeds I gave them then crashing out and sleeping for 2 minutes. Its pretty funny, they are like puppies on speed.

These guys will end up white after they molt, the PRs will turn a darker red.

I took a nice walk across the pasture this morning with the dogs and bucket. Each time I found grass that had seed heads on it, I mowed it down and put it in my bucket. 1 gallon of greens every day it a better mineral and vitamin source than whatever ConAgra is trying to sell me. Eat Healthy and you don't NEED drugs. I'm looking forward to the 1st slaughter when I can finally state what my mortality rate is. That way when some confinement farmer starts telling me my model is insane and won't work since chickens will all get sick and die without medicated feed and I can go, "O-RLY? I lost 1%, how many did you have die? 10-20%?"