Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Chicken Plunge

When we began planning the farm chickens were the first animal on our list.  We intended to start with two dozen dual purpose birds, harvest some and leave the others for layers.  We began our project successfully in April.  At first I'd intended to mail order our birds but after asking questions at the local feed store I discovered that they ordered their birds from the same hatchery.  Instead of having our birds shipped, we decided we'd get them from the feed store so that we could have the fun of picking the chicks we wanted.

Bright and early on chick day we got to the feed store and picked out 18 chicks. My nine year-old son had been disappointed to discover that the feed store only had pullets.  He wanted roosters and so he was willing to wait until the next day when we could drive to Tractor Supply and hopefully find some cockerels or at least a mixed run and take our chances.  We were in luck.  Plymouth Barred Rocks were the bird of the week.  My son was thrilled! Not only was there the possibility of a rooster but the birds were black and white. 

We started our chicks in a make shift brooding area in the chicken coop.  I used some boards to box in an area under the heat lamp.  That worked fine for the first day and night but then the temperature dropped.  The second night they were moved into our sun porch in a plastic storage box that had been previously used for Christmas decorations.  The chicks stayed happily on the sun porch until they were two weeks old and the temperatures rose a bit so we moved them to the brooder in the chicken coop. 

The brooder area, a coat closet size space with a door, worked perfectly and the chicks lived there happily until they were eight weeks old.  At eight weeks the chicks were transferred to the coop and seemed to glory in their new expansive digs.  We'd succeeded in raising 24 healthy chicks to the stage where they were feathering out and turning into teenage chickens.

For a few weeks we enjoyed watching the mature feathers come in and took pride in the colorful flock that we'd raised.  Then disaster struck.  A neighbor's dog, that had always been penned, got loose and used her shot at freedom to devastate our flock.  Four chickens survived the massacre.

After cleaning up the carnage, we took stock of our chicken situation.  Free range chickens were not going to be possible on the farm.  We couldn't put our chickens in danger like that nor could we put ourselves or the children through the unexpected loss of so many animals again.  We understood that we'd intended to kill about half those birds but with a plan and for a purpose.  The dog's killing of the chickens had been unplanned and pointless.

As we researched and talked about possibilities we liked the idea of the chicken tractor, a movable home for chickens so they can be grass fed without the danger of predators.  After checking the hatchery website we discovered that we could order 100 meat birds for $35 and that those day old chicks could be delivered shortly after we returned from our scheduled vacation.   We were more confident of our ability to raise chicks, had a better understanding of how to use our facilities and felt that the increased temperature would make it possible to start the chicks in the larger room off the main coop.  We put in our order for the chicks and began to prepare for their arrival.

In a few weeks, the chicks will arrive and we'll continue the saga of the chickens but for now we've definitely taken the chicken plunge.  By purchasing that many meat birds, though admittedly we are hoping for a few dual purpose pullets that we could add to our remaining four layers, we've committed to harvesting them.  We are figuring in October we'll be developing a whole new set of chicken skills.

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