I hope to add more projects we have done around the farm in the future and thought I would start with this one. I usually don't have a plan when I'm building these things. I just pick up the tools and see what happens. The free section on Craig's List can make for some great finds. Also we go to a lot of farm auctions and find great deals.
Truck toppers can be a quick and easy housing and shelter for pigs and chickens if you want to keep things cheap. We have 4 truck toppers in the yard. Three of which we left the way they are so the chickens can spread out to dry areas during those snow days. The one in the pictures below I decided to soup it up a bit. My only regret was using cheap OSB wood. Plywood would have been better to last longer. I popped out the side windows and made a nest box on each side that can be accessed from an outside hatch. Added two windows that prop open on the sides with hardware cloth. Also added a heat lamp that we only use when we have young baby chicks and it serves as a great brooder. You can also stack hay bales on it for added insulation.
In the end I did paint it green helping the wood last longer. We landed the four truck toppers for just $2 a piece. No one else wanted them and we saw some potential in them.
Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 1 of 5
1/11/2013 11:40:37 AM
By Melissa Caughey
Tags: chicks, starting out with chickens, Melissa Caughey, keeping chickens, Melissa Caughey
So, how do I go about this, you ask? Well if you're like me you read everything you can get your hands on, check the internet and dive head first into something figuring you'll just troubleshoot along the way. However, there is some planning to optimize your chicken experiences that will make life easier. So, lets start at the beginning. How do I get the chickens?
Ordering the Flock
There are a few things that you need to ask yourself before you start.
1. Do I want roosters?
2. Do I want baby chicks or full grown egg laying hens?
3. How many chickens do I want?
4. What type of climate do I live in?
5. What do I want my chickens for? Pets, meat, eggs, or a combination?
The February freeze is coming and I want to share some of our tricks we learned to make the cold easier and more efficient. During this time we use deep litter methods which creates good heat by natural decomposition of the lower layers with a clean dry layer on top. I rake our dead prairie grasses with a thatch rake storing it in barrels to save money on something they are just going to poop on. We don't believe in using heat lamps due to their danger of fires and also you don't want to keep your animals too warm. Doing so creates humidity in their shelter and also makes the change going from a warm house to the outside bitter cold hard on them. You're usually better off letting them get cold and use cuddle power to stay warm but in a draft free environment. You don't want to create conditions that can cause pneumonia and certainly don't want to start a barn fire.
Should you find the need to use heat lamps and your cuddle power is low, be sure to secure heat lamps with backup wires or chains. The last thing you want is a chicken to fly into it knocking it down and obviously don't put them in reach of goats. (Red lights are good for chickens as they can't see well in that color and sleep better. White lights are good if you want to trick them into thinking the days are longer so they lay more eggs.) A timer plugged into the heat lamp that comes on early in the morning works great. You want to also keep your outside wattage low to save money and also not overload your circuit.
Another great tool in the photos below is a Thermo cube. This saves energy and is a great option should you want to use a heat lamp but not create too much heat. It turns on at 35 degrees F and off at 45 degrees F. We use a heat lamp and thermo cube in our well pit. The cold at our house can freeze the pipes, cutting off water supply and using these saves some energy and keeps the water flowing.
Pictured below: We use heated dog bowls for chicken water. The wattage is that of a light bulb and they only turn on as the temperature reaches freezing. Personally I would stay away from those expensive metal heated bases for the metal waters because they have a high failure rate. They are always breaking and the dog bowls are way cheaper. They do sell expensive heated plastic chicken waterers but for that kind of money, if the plastic breaks in the cold I would be pretty upset. A flat back rubber heated bucket works just the same and we use them for our goats. The cords are protected by a spiral wire and they can't chew up the rubber.
Also pictured below is a heated hose. This keeps your hose from freezing and is great if you have a fairly short distance to go -- however they are also a bit costly. The distance of hose we need here on the farm is 150 feet so these don't work for us. We have a covered compressor next to our outdoor outlet and blow the hose out everyday and this works great for us but it's a pain.
Heated pet mats. We use these during the cold part of our kidding season for the goats. They usually cuddle with mom but I like to give them another warm option. Goat sweaters also work great for the newborns. A good and cheap do it yourself option we use is the sleeves of sweatshirts from the thrift store. All you have to do is cut the sleeves off and make holes for their legs.
Wi-Fi Thermometers: These are a great tool if you want to monitor the outside temperature in any outside shelter from inside your home. We use these in our chicken incubators as well. They also can measure the humidity which is important while incubating eggs.
Outdoor electrical outlet covers. These are very easy to install and are great if you need to leave cords plugged in outside. They keep them dry in the wet weather. Also pictured below is a special electrical tape. I'm not quite sure what its called but we use this when we need to join two electrical cords together to be left out in the weather. The tape is not sticky at all but somehow when it's wrapped it creates a chemical reaction that makes it bond together making a water tight seal. So cool.
The dryer vent below is a great use of lost energy. We use this on our dryer in the winter. Instead of blowing the heat outside it keeps the heat inside where you want it. The only hassle of this is to keep water in the base which catches the lint so there is no mess in the air and you have extra heat in the house. This works great in Colorado where the low humidity makes my lips bleed but I wouldn't use it in a place like Florida or your walls will be dripping and mold may form.
Most importantly is to keep yourself warm outside as well. Get some nice wool socks. A good pair of Carhartts plus compression under-layers (better known as long johns) makes a huge difference. The compression clothing is just that. It's made of 100% polyester, fits tight and wicks great. Getting out of the shirt makes you look like your trying to escape a straight jacket but they are completely comfortable to wear. Under Armor is the most popular brand of this type of gear. I personally buy mine on Ebay and the brand is Go-Gear. You can get a shirt, pants, and hat all for $50, where Under Armor can cost you $50 plus, just for a shirt. For guys this is a mentally better option than the old trick of wearing panty hose. I'm neither denying or confirming I've tried this option :p
These are just some of the tricks we learned over the years. They are great products that can sometimes be overlooked but they make winter just a little easier. It seems like just as you get done prepping for the winter your then prepping again for the summer heat. Just part of the joys of farming.
I’m starting to believe that T.V. just might influence decision making and the "Gold Finger"of chickens masterminded my demise to prove it. My day started as normal just a couple of days ago. I always seem to wake at 3:30 am every morning, which leaves me a lot of time until the sun comes up before I go care for the animals. This particular morning I happened to spend the dark part of my morning watching Tom Cruise in Ghost Protocol. A movie that would soon would haunt me for days. Pun intended ; )
The day was starting to wind down as night time was approaching after I spent the entire day working outside since we had a nice break in the weather. As some hens were starting to roost, I noticed one hen that was apparent she was the rooster’s new favorite. We have specially made capes that we put on these hens to protect their feathers from being torn up and she was already half way there. The mission I chose to accept was to engage this Top Gun chicken. It’s not always easy to catch some free range hens out in the open. Some surrender willingly and others become NFL running backs with wings.
Usually I can walk a bird into certain corners of the yard to catch them easier but this turd somehow knew my playbook. I can’t explain how a bird knows it’s on your radar. You can walk into a yard full of chickens never making eye contact with the adversary yet somehow they know they have been targeted for extraction. Chickens are way smarter than most think. This 3 pound monster led me on a slow round about chase dodging through holes and over obstacles like a jungle rat. I’m pretty sure if they had thumbs this hen would have led me into a dead-fall pit with bamboo spikes buried by leaves. Frustration had started to set in.
As you know when frustration sets in on the male genus, we soon become primitives that throw wrenches and our rational thought soon turns into simple thought. I was on a mission, not to be outsmarted and loose this battle to a hobbit.
Finally my opportunity arose. She was cornered in an empty 3 sided pallet compost bin and I was sure victory was mine! Nope… she flew over before I could get there. Thinking “Oh it’s on now”, this is where the movie comes into play. For some reason I forgot that I’m in my mid 30’s now and not as flexible as I like to think I am. In hot pursuit now, I run full speed at this pallet thinking “I’m going to fly too and show you.”
Seemed like a good idea at the time. I somehow had a lot of thoughts running through my head while mid air as if time had slowed down. As my right leg cleared the top of the pallet the first thought was “Oh crap, I can’t bend in suspender coveralls!” It seems they are not made to wear while jumping track hurdles. My left shin caught the top of the pallet and oh it hurt but I knew more hurt was coming. The next thought while mid air was “What am I doing up here? I’m too old for contact sports!” Next thought was “protect the face,” as I saw the dirt coming. I cleared the pallet but not like I planned. I dug my skidding elbows into the ground and didn’t loose any teeth but I’m pretty sure the heels of my boots hit the back of my head.
Like any guy that just did something stupid, I immediately got up and continued the hot pursuit, now with a limp and damaged ego and ignoring the amount of pain I was suffering. Failure was not an option. I quickly spotted my new arch nemesis in the coop on a roost with the other hens thinking she would blend in and loose me in disguise. Not a chance. I had won! Or did I? Oh it hurts and I feel pretty stupid but I still won ; ) A Pyrrhic victory.
I put the cape on her and finished locking all the animals in. I was scared to pull up my pant leg and look at my shin. After making it inside to end the day, my back was killing me from the mid air Yoga backwards bend. I then revealed my shin. It was swollen the size of an egg which seemed just ironic that a chicken was the reason. Days later I’m still feeling the pain from the battle field. I have to wonder if watching Mission Impossible brought out that goofy childhood dream of being a Ninja, giving me a false sense of invincibility. But I’m no Jackie Chan. In the end I learned that I shouldn't throw wrenches like a monkey and I should think rationally more often, like Diana. Most importantly, Carharts don’t have crotch flexibility. Diana asked "why didn't you just wait for them to roost?" I might have grunted like a caveman to that common sense. Mission accomplished but next time I want a stunt double.
This was our first year raising hybrid meat birds. Prior to this we had only raised and processed heritage Rhode Island Reds for our own consumption. While we are not seasoned pro’s of meat birds, we sure did learn a lot just in the one first summer experiment and thought we would share what we have learned.
We had always heard of the Cornish Rock Cross, your traditional store bought chicken (also referred to as the Franken Chicken and now we see why.) We decided as curious farmers to find out the difference for ourselves. We had been trained that chicken was supposed to look and taste like what we have all always bought from the grocery store. After having only tried Rhode Island Reds that were half the size and had way less breast meat (the real normal chicken) we just had to try the hybrids and we wanted them to free range along side of all our other animals.
We bought 20 Freedom Rangers from Travis at Mountain Acres Farm in Black Forest and 30 Cornish Rock Crosses from another farm, as week old peeps for our experiment. We had a whole other coop separate from our eggs layers that we quickly named the “meat wagon.” Right off the bat we noticed that they were already double the size of our heritage birds that we would hatch in our incubators. They grew and grew fast. They also ate and ate a lot. This showed us the importance of only raising them in the Summer to save on feed costs as they would free range.
Freedom Rangers are ready to process at 12 to 16 weeks costing more in feed compared to the explosive growth of the Cornish, ready at 8 to 12 weeks. This is obviously way less than 4 to 6 months for a heritage breed. The Freedom Ranger in my opinion is your best bet and I will explain why in more detail.
Rangers have less breast meat and more dark meat than a Cornish but the flavor is just wonderful. Now being trained to the taste of the big plant chickens, I still prefer the Cornish for its double breasted white meat and Free Ranging them on natural feed and no chemicals makes a big taste difference making them all the better. But raising the Cornish has its complications.
As they grew… if you blink you might miss an inch of growth, we quickly realized that the Freedom Rangers were the only ones that would go in and roost and the Cornish’s stayed on the ground and had to be rounded up and led into the coops at night. This is likely a good thing. They are known to break their legs since they can’t support all that fast weight growth. It was then that we made new night time housing for them out of simple truck bed toppers that we bought at a local farm auction for just $2 a piece. This worked great for them. Both breeds as young birds seemed full of energy, healthy and behaved much like any other chicken.
The Cornish birds however started to look rougher as they got bigger. They are bred to pluck easy which created a pretty big problem for us. Their feathers were not coming in like a normal chicken and they looked like they had bald spots. This was also topped with a condition we learned of called “Aescites.” We learned that these birds are not recommended at altitudes above 6,000 feet. Aescites is a condition of excess fluids in the body and also is a condition of congenital heart failure which they are prone to due too their rate of growth. Out of the 50 birds, we only had one Cornish just die for no apparent reason. Our biggest problem was Cannibalism.
The high altitude causing the excess fluid created a condition where the fluids gathered in their belly close to the bum. This protrusion caused them to poo on themselves and they were not a pretty bird to look at. Actually we didn’t even want people to see them and think we took bad care of our animals. Raising them out on the free range with all our other hens was a bad idea. They did go hunting for bugs with the rest of the flock (but mainly stayed close to their feeder) however as you may know that when a chicken see’s something unusual such as missing feathers they peck out of curiosity.
Once they draw blood they then are drawn to that and become Cannibals. We had more skin damage which quickly became a pain while plucking them. We lost a few birds due too our egg layers pecking and the Cornish’s unwillingness to get away or stand up for themselves. One case was so bad that the whole tail from the oil gland to the bum was completely eaten off in just one afternoon. You may notice I don’t mention the Freedom Rangers much and this is because they grew so healthy and normal looking just like a normal chicken with no health or behavioral problems and we won’t be doing Cornish’s again despite the faster growth. The whole process of raising the Cornish just makes me nauseous to think of it but I got to admit the meat and large amount of the meat really tastes wonderful.
The popular Polyface farm that we love to follow for their great success, raises Cornish’s for meat birds simply because most people don’t know what a normal “real” chicken should look and taste like. Heritage birds just don’t sell as well because of the trend to corporate mass farming from the natural farmer. You will however still taste a difference in natural raised hybrid V.S. corporate raised chlorine bathed and antibiotic fed bird. The health benefits of a natural raised bird are always your best option, no matter the breed.
The Freedom Ranger did take longer (also meaning more feed) to grow; however they were virtually trouble free and fully feathered, healthy looking birds. Neither of these two breeds can be bred to hatch the same results. The Cornish get so big so fast they just can’t breed. The Freedom Ranger can breed but you won’t end up with a true Freedom Ranger being born and they will take longer to grow. They are a proprietary bird out of France so it’s hard to tell what breeds were crossed to result in the Freedom Ranger. The Cornish is also a mystery mix with 80 percent of them coming from 4 major companies.
In the end we could have let our Freedom Rangers live longer but as the Cornish grew older they started to slow down and we had a few that you could hear having a hard time breathing due to their breasts growing so big and squeezing their esophagus. We didn’t let them get past 12 weeks. The Rangers averaged between 4 to 6 pounds processed and the Franken chickens were 5 to 7 pounds with the males being the bigger birds.
Our first experience sure did teach us a lot and it was worth the experiment to know first hand. While the end result from both breeds did end the same with great tasting meat, we don’t recommend the Cornish if you take pride in the appearance of your flock. They were just not pleasant to look at and we didn’t want them to be seen by customers. I am really picky about my food and don’t like images of the animal in my head while eating dinner. This is just the way they were genetically made to be and the Rangers were so much more pleasant. We likely won’t be trying the Cornish again anytime soon. We gave them a happy and healthy free ranging life but some birds are just prone to more problems. It may cost more to raise a Ranger but you sure do feel better about your farm raising what we now consider a “normal” chicken. We’re sticking to Rangers and Heritage breeds in the future.
The extinction of the small farmer and the difficulty in raising Free Range Organic Animals
(From one small farmer’s perspective)
Ken Ulin – Lilbitfarms
I don’t want this to sound like a complaint article but I want to share with anyone looking to get into this style of farming or with those already in it. We have been building our farm for over 3 years now and one thing we found is there will always be something to fix, constant improvements to be made, and more to learn. Don’t forget the costs and hard task of marketing, farmers markets, land, quality animals and quality service. We have had complaints about our prices but we strive to bring the old farming style back without sacrificing the health of our animals, health of people, and quality service. I refuse to go the “corporate” way to save a penny for a cheaper product and take on more than we can handle, otherwise we would just be another Tyson or Monsanto which defeats the purpose.
We currently have ducks, turkeys, goats and chickens. All your work quickly becomes animal care with little time to actually make money unless you have 9 kids working the farm. Fires, droughts, and high gas prices can make you wonder if you’re going to make it. The last two years feed, and especially hay, prices have tripled. Our local feed store sells a bale of alfalfa for $15 per bale. Our goats go through a bale of hay per day and on top of that 1 lb of grain per goat, plus other care costs! Making friends in the field and learning from others' experience is essential to save major headaches. The start up costs alone will leave you at a loss for at least two years and that’s without buying all the fancy equipment and animal housing.
You really have to love and be dedicated to what you’re trying to accomplish. Our animal feed costs more than our own grocery bill and feed is only one small part of farming. But to work towards the goal of self sustainability and working for yourself can be a priceless experience. You will work harder than any other job you have ever had, though at times you will have nervous breakdowns when everything goes wrong. Your animals can sense your bad mood and will act as if they want to push your buttons but they are really just nervous if you can’t be a good actor around them. No matter how much the weather is making chores harder, smile and don’t let them know. We have one crazy sensitive goat that will kick the milk bucket or squat in it if she thinks you’re mad.
Now there are more good days than bad if you love what you’re doing but the times come around when you just need a day off. Forget about it. It's seven days a week. The animals don’t care if you're sick or needing a vacation. They depend on you to survive and your tiny bank account depends on you to market. (Farming isn't a rich person’s life by far) We moved here 4 years ago for our love of the mountains and camping. The only mountain we have seen in three years is Pikes Peak from a distance. Unless you know someone with the knowledge and willingness to come to your farm and cover for you, the only vacation may be an afternoon nap.
Now for the “meat” of raising animals, assuming you haven’t given up reading this far… one key is to know your local regulations. Chances are everything you want to do is illegal. But don’t let it discourage you from doing anything or you will always work for someone else instead of going for your dreams. Corporate lobbyists, government regulations and the FDA are the ones to thank for this. There is even an egg law on the books if you can believe that. It’s best to know ahead of time if it’s worth the effort and risk to you.
Free Range and Organic! It doesn't come without a labor intensive price. If you can still find $5 dozen free range eggs you’re lucky. You won’t get rich on eggs. Actually you’re lucky to cover your feed, cartons, housing, labor, gas and time at markets. It boils down for us as a nice perk to offer our milk customers. Unfortunately we decided to drop out of the egg business for now until improvements and efficiency can be worked out. Feed costs, time invested for care and chicken poo (as I call them, “land mines”) finally broke the camel's back.
Over the summer we hatched and sold baby chicks, raised and housed 200 laying hens, meat birds, turkeys and ducks. We processed 120 chickens just before winter and got our numbers down to a few ducks, turkeys and 80 chickens. Over the years we have watched feed prices go up and up. Now it’s the time of year that chickens molt, growing new feathers and stopping laying. Most folks don’t take that into account for summer profits when the hens are cranking the eggs out. That winter loss, topped with our only predator loss from a neighboring dog attack, scared the survivors so bad they stopped laying completely. At night, coyotes are our biggest predator but everyone gets locked up as the sun goes down. After spending hundreds and hundreds for feed and not getting any eggs we just decided to start over keeping only 25 hens.
Improvements we want to make before taking on this venture again are from lessons learned and hope to have it back up and running by the summer. We just love raising peeps from the day they were eggs. However, we are going a slightly different direction this time. Organic feed? Not always the best in my experience. We did an experiment on some of our hens over the summer. While feeding organic to the rest of our flock, we locked some hens in our breeder housing and fed them Nutrena from the local Big R store. Why did we feel the need to experiment? We started noticing our egg shells in our young flock getting thinner and thinner despite the availability of oyster shells (calcium). Our hens were also starting to look a bit sickly. Now the hens getting Nutrena with no antibiotics for a month started looking better and the egg shells doubled in thickness while the egg inside looked and tasted just as healthy. We are going naturally free range raised next time around instead of organic. Getting good and cheap organic food can be a challenge for a non profitable portion of the business.
For the small backyard flock owner some of this won’t be as big of a deal but if you plan to have a big flock, PLEASE for your own sanity make your coop mobile and away from your house if possible. One chicken produces 40 pounds of manure a year. We had 200 chickens running free. The poo math makes me nauseous. No matter how much you sweep the ground and watch your step you will hit a land mine. I call it the chicken shuffle trying to drag your feet to get as much of it out of the tread of your shoes as possible. I clean the coops and sweep the surrounding area daily. I spent more time on birds than I did caring for the goats needs. Milking, feeding and mucking the goat barn went way quicker. Plus chickens can get everywhere and anywhere and then they want to turd on your hard work. Gardens are very hard to keep them out of and they love to dig holes. If you net a garden bed they will get stuck in it. We recently ran across some mobile home axles with wheels and plan to make mobile coops with wire bottoms for the summer and a board we can scrape off in the winter making cleaning simple. The mobile coops will hook up to my tractor and can be moved daily to fertilize the field and since chickens stay close to their coops we can move them out into the field away from the house maintaining their free range humane way of life and poop free shoes.
A few more problems we observed with free range hens. They are very susceptible to pests from other wild animals running around. To treat that many birds one by one can be a daunting chore. You quickly have to become a wide receiver with a blocker helping you catch them out of the air for some breeds. Leghorns are the worst to catch and are not personable at all. On occasions you have to play detective as well, looking for any possible egg laying sites outside of the multiple nest boxes you built. Of course when you find the secret treasure stash in the field somewhere, you can’t use the eggs since you do not know how long they've been there. When you hatch new babies and raise them to the age to introduce to the older flock all you will hear is yelping chickens all day long while the older ones bully them around (not hurting them though.) This goes on until the young-lings are fully grown. The nice thing about chickens is that they will put themselves to bed as the sun is going down. The bad thing is if you know bad weather is coming there is no rounding them up early… It’s impossible. In the winter it’s no big deal when the sun goes down around 4-5 and then you can enjoy the rest of your night. In the summer however, when the sun doesn’t go down till 8 pm, you don’t go to bed until they do.
I went on so long and could keep going because there is so much to the farm life but then I would have a book, so I will keep the next animals a bit shorter... but I can't make any promises :p
Ducks: Unbelievably cute. Grow faster than the Harry Potter movies. Their poo is way more and worse than chickens. I know I mention poo a lot but I have come to the understanding that I’m now a turd herder by profession. Ducks like to take a swim and dirty up the chicken’s water all the time even though they have their own pond that gets cleaned daily. They do not go to bed by themselves. They have to be led to bed nightly. (Once again a reason for no vacations) But they are extremely cold hardy and the eggs are great for baking.
Turkeys: This was our first year owning turkeys. My only problem with turkeys is they are more time consuming to process and they too won’t go to bed when night falls. It’s not fun to carry 30 plus pound birds across they yard every night. They are so friendly it’s unbelievable. At least the ones we had and still have.
Goats: They are such a great versatile animal for so many products but this comes at a price. Fencing and housing can be a lot of work. Besides you don’t want a 150 pound animal jumping all over your new car or chewing the siding off the side of your house. They will stay at your house if they get out but then it’s party time for them like a heavy metal party smashing stuff and laughing only to give you puppy dog eyes when you catch them. Luckily fencing doesn't have to be high. They don’t seem to want to jump even though they can. We also have 3 strand electrified pastures to rotate them on and once they get shocked once or twice they never try again. Goats also have to be tucked into their stalls nightly. We also have to milk daily twice a day no matter the weather. Keeping them in milk takes multiple trips to the breeder when each go in heat. That breeding window is small so we drop everything and get the horse trailer hooked up. Watching a male buck do his thing is not one of my favorite days and the doe smells for days after from his stink. The girls are truly fun animals though. Smelly at times and a little more complicated but catching that baby goat during birth is such a surreal moment. When things go bad in birth you never know what’s going to happen and a bit of panic kicks in. For us they are like the family dog and we always fear some day we will face a loss due to complications. There is a learning curve on all animals but more so the goats for us. If you plan to register them you need to know how the ADGA works and tattoo them in the ear or tail with your registered farm name. There are vaccinations, blood draws for CDT and CAE testing but dis-budding is by far the worst -- burning their horns off at only a few weeks old. They scream and it smells but it’s for their best. We had two goats with horns and goats like to head butt to play. Horns cause injuries and they also get their heads stuck in fences.
All this can be discouraging but not enough to quit. While it has its ups and downs, we feel a great sense of pride in the hard work and the appreciation we get from our wonderful customers. Just remember, your local farmer is trying to make food that you want and not what King Soopers wants. We feel healthier ourselves eating real food with no chemicals plus it tastes so much better, rather than making food in mass quantity and then treating it to make it “safe.” I don’t believe chemicals are safe...
We need more farmers! Good ones that is. Harnesses whatever interests you and just go with it or you will never know what could have been. There is always competition but quality and happy customers will make you happy, successful and stand out from others. This wasn’t meant to discourage but to help anyone new from making the same mistakes and also share some learned knowledge. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the mistakes. Just come back stronger.
Thank you and best wishes.
Ken - Lilbitfarms.com
I finally slapped together a well working chicken processing area under our carport for a shade area. I have a lot of improvements I would like to make but this really worked well to get us started at a cheap cost. The only thing not pictured is a turkey fryer that we bought at an auction for scalding the chickens for plucking. most everything is recycled stuff or auction finds including the nice stainless steel sink we scored for $30. Click images for more explanation. We have since processed 17 birds (to be sold soon). It's such a great thing. Just yesterday we had another young rooster causing chaos and our setup is so easy to whip things out for one bird. The only difference being that I hand plucked the roo instead of breaking out the pluck-er. Hand plucking isn't too hard but it sure is tedious. He put up a good chase in the yard. He was a 4 month old easter egger roo. He went right from evisceration to the grill for an afternoon meal. It was the best chicken I ever tasted and very rewarding :D I started off being slow and anal in cleaning the birds. My second day doing it I managed to get a lot faster at it. We also did 6 midget white turkeys. I tell ya things are much more quiet and peaceful around here already.
Our neighbor was nice enough to give us an old camper he didn’t want for free. I tried to talk him down more but he wouldn’t budge on the price. We’ve had it sitting in our field for the longest time thinking of using it for baby goats but since we have so many more new bird kids, it was time to move it and make a coop out of it. I first gutted most of the stuff out of it. The best part of this coop is most of the work was already done. It had doors, windows, cabinet nest boxes etc… and it didn’t take the work of building something from scratch.
I’m not sure about the outside cosmetics just yet. The wood you see on the outside was just some cheap auction wood we had lying un-used and I threw it up against the side. We had to level the camper out on pallets and 4x4’s to keep it from moving. It’s not the prettiest coop but it’s recycling at its best. It should house 20 plus birds since they only get locked up at night. The roosts worked out perfect ending up right in front of the windows and nest boxes. I took the stove out so they don’t have worries and nightmares about a stove.
Eventually the sink will lose the wood shavings and be a waterer I think. I couldn’t do it now since the rubber on the drain plug won’t hold water but eventually I think it will be a nice and easy way to drain and fill their water. We also use the sand out of our yard for the floor since it’s free and we can use a cat litter scoop to clean it. We save the wood shavings for the nest boxes.
These kids are going to be living in style thanks to our neighbor. Were just going to have to go old school and save the tent for that day when we can make it back into the mountains we all miss so much. It’s a sacrifice I made for our chicks. It’s not a chick magnet camper but I tried to hide it at the back of everything. I know I’m going to hear it that first day of camping when we wake up with sore backs out of a tent :p
The pictures are from beginning to end. I still have to put some hardware cloth over some windows that didn't have screens, paint the roosts and maybe dress up the outside somehow. Haven't thought that one through just yet.
Today was this batch of chicks first day of free-ranging and they did great. I thought they were going to get picked on but the older girls were just more curious than anything. They seem to grow so fast. It was so fun to watch them explore a whole new world for the first time. We have 13 Rhode Island Reds left that are a month old and 25 one week old chicks for sale. I hope we can find good homes for all of them soon but they have a home here for now. Babies are the best. I wish they would stay that small but it would make for some really tiny eggs. The ducks keep getting more stupid cute everyday.
In the photo below with the truck topper turned into coop is where we kept them with a heat lamp for a while and you can see the big girls made a mess out of the wood chips. The babies are sleeping in the big girl coop now. Also in one of the photos there is a chick that looks like its gagging. Our food really isn't that bad. She's just being overly dramatic :D
They sure took their time about it but we finally have our first two baby ducks. I know they take longer than chicks to hatch so we put them in the incubator a week earlier and since we only have one laying Pekins we could only do 7 eggs. I know for chicks the hatch rate declines after seven days. Two didn't make it the first week so we have three more that have Pipped the shell and they are making me wait on them. They are going to get the stink eye when they finally decide to show up.
We have a buyer for two and plan to keep three so we can hatch more in the future. They are so cute I hate them. The photos are fresh out of the incubator so they will only get more cute until they start pooping. Speaking of which, We have 7 turkeys in a tub and they eat more than our 25 baby chicks in the photo below yet they don't seem to poop... much at this point. I don't understand but I like the poop factor. We keep all our birds on towels the first week since they like to eat the wood chips.
I was awoken at 3am by what sounded like our metal fireplace stack being ripped off the roof by the wind. After running outside I couldn't see anything. I can only assume it must have been the neighbors car hitting it and it's too dark in the field to see it out there. Oh yeah.. in case your wondering, the news said today is going to be a cold bucket of suck and used the term hurricane force winds... plus schools are delaying. (Great) I been up since the car hit our fire stack cleaning tubs, changing waters, replenishing food, filling the next incubator with easter eggers (7 more ducks are a week along) and even breaking out the snow gear I stupidly put away too soon hoping it was over.
If you know anyone that want's chickens, the next hatch of ducks, or baby goats due in the next 2 to 3 weeks, we are getting over run and please pass the word. Our work load is incredible. Were going to hold onto the turkeys for breeders if possible and future meat birds.