Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chickens: Phase 2

Our group of 100 cockrels is now four weeks old.  Yesterday, we spent several hours fashioning a chicken tractor for them.  The tractor is designed to house the chickens safely while giving them the opportunity to range on grass.  The idea is to create safe, affordable housing and cut the cost of chicken feed.  We are all for this because last week the boys ate almost 100 lbs of feed.  If they continue at that rate for the next eight weeks, I doubt we would break even on the chicken project.

Building the chicken tractor proved managable.  In less than three hours we had a completed pen.  Rob looked at several examples in books and online and we discussed how it would be used and the plans for moving it.  He hasn't done the research that I have and it helped me to explain it so we could both clarify what we were trying to accomplish.  We fashioned the tractor out of 12' x 2" boards.  The measurements of the entire pen is 12'x10'x2'.   It took eleven boards to create the entire tractor.  We used 48" chicken wire to cover the top and a portion of the sides and 24" chicken wire to complete the job.  Three panels of fiberglass roof cover the remainder of the top.  Other materials used were wood screws and endless staples.

Moving the boys was a little more challenging.  We tried to box them but they wouldn't stay put so we ended up carrying them out two at a time.  Thankfully there were four of us for the job.  We were all pleasantly surprised to discover we still have all 100 chicks.  It's hard to count them when they are in the the brooder.

We plan to keep the chickens in the tractor, moving it daily, until they are ready to harvest.  We hope that will be in about ten weeks.  The boys are all Rhode Island Reds so their finished weight should be between six and eight pounds.  

This batch is really just an experiment to see if we can do this.  We'll know better after harvest when we can figure our total cost including time involved for harvest.  If this is profitable and not totally repuslive to us, we'll make plans to  increase our operation for next spring.  As a small farm, we can process up to 1000 chickens without needing to deal with inspections.  I figure in a summer we can probably raise and harvest between 600 and 800 birds.  We'd need at least three more chicken tractors but it could be done.

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