Wow, has it really been almost 3 months since I posted last? Where has the time gone? There has been a lot that has gone on in the past 3 months that I’ll catch you up on in future posts. Today, I’ll highlight 3 lessons I’ve learned in the past 3 months.
Lesson 1: Design Matters
I was getting tired of the hens sleeping and pooping in the chickshaw nest boxes. This lead to poop covered eggs and chickens who started laying in other places because of the poop. The chickens LOVE laying in the broody tote. So, when one of our buff pullets went broody and we gave her the tote to hatch eggs (another post) we needed another solution for the nest boxes. So, we bought two 18 gallon totes and cut holes in the long side of them. The hens love them, they keep the hay dry, and the eggs clean. However, there is a problem with the design that I didn’t foresee. One afternoon, when I was out collecting eggs, I saw that one of the totes was flipped on its side with the hole facing the ground. When I lifted the tote, it was heavier than it should have been with just hay inside. I popped off the lid and I found one of our Leghorn cross hens in there, dead. She hadn’t been dead long either. It was only a moderately warm day and the tote had been in the sun all morning. That was enough to cause the hen to die from over heating. To remedy the problem, I put heavy stone pavers in the bottom of the totes to keep them from flipping. In future, I plan to turn these totes into chicken transport bins with a wire window for ventilation. When I replace them, I’ll be putting the access holes in one of the short ends of the tote as they are highly unlikely to tip onto that side with the hole down. Sorry, for the bad picture. I wanted to get this post out today and it was getting dark so I took the picture through the upstairs window. You can see the nest box tote behind the chickshaw
Lesson 2: Ask a Lot of Questions
Over the past month, I’ve stumbled upon the idea of getting heritage breed meat birds to eat rather than raising dual purpose birds primarily for meat. We will still be eating some of our dual purpose culls, but one bird barely has enough meat on it for one dinner, never mind leftovers. Plus, some of the family prefers white meat to dark meat and the dual purpose birds have very little dark meat. The Large Fowl Cornish chicken grows out to similar proportions as a Cornish Cross hybrid does, but they take about twice as long to get to a good slaughter size. However, they are a sustainable heritage breed that doesn’t die from leg or heart problems before the reach maturity and can live a long, healthy life. I wanted to get my hands on White Cornish, but there are very few breeders of Large Fowl Whites and they are pretty far away and/or their breeding trios are VERY expensive. However, I found a show breeder of Large Fowl Dark Cornish for a reasonable price that was about 5 and a half hours from us. I was able to cut the travel time to them a good bit because we went to the city for a business trip to visit with my new manager and swinging by the breeder on the way home only added 3 hours to our homeward trip as opposed to making a special 11 hour round trip for the birds. When I arrived I found 3 absolutely beautiful birds that were exactly what I was looking for. While I was talking to the breeder’s wife, she mentioned that they used Frontline on the birds to keep mites away. I didn’t think much of it in the moment so I brought the birds home. After I recovered from the trip a bit, I did some research on Frontline in birds. I found this well researched article about using Frontline on chickens. Apparently, even CAFOs aren’t allowed to use the stuff. It is a carcinogen that remains in the system for 8 weeks or so and can be found in a chicken’s fat for up to 8 months. So, the current plan is to wait at least 8 weeks before trying to incubate any eggs from these girls and we won’t be eating anything directly (meat or eggs) from these birds. This will also give the birds a chance to get used to being on grass and eating organic feed. If I could go back, and do it all again, I would have asked more questions about what products and medicines were used on the birds before I bought them and I wouldn’t have bought these particular birds since I want to keep this operation as organic as possible. That being said, they are beautiful, well bred birds.
Lesson 3: Scout Auctions Before Selling at Them
I head from someone online that they had great success selling their chickens at auction. At the auction she scouted, roosters were going for $10-50 depending on breed and looks and young trios of birds were going for $75-150 depending on breed and looks. That got me very excited. I had two roosters (one Delaware, one New Hampshire) that were both royal pains in the butt. They weren’t human aggressive, but one of them wasn’t very nice in a flock situation and caused problems and the other started mercilessly beating up on another rooster. I also had 2 hens of each breed I had decided not to use as breeders but I was keeping them for layers. I decided I would bundle them up as trios and sell them at auction. The night before, Matthew and I put together temporary cages out of one of our potato cages cut in half, 1/4″ plywood that had been left out to be put in the burn pile, and a few zip ties. I originally tried to use boxes with wire windows but the Delaware hens busted through them in almost no time flat. The reason we decided to go with containers made of leftover scrap material is because the container goes with the birds at this auction and I didn’t want to buy a crate only to have it taken. Again, sorry for the photo. This was taken before I left for the auction and I only had the outdoor flood lights on.
After driving two hours on little sleep and waiting 5 hours for the auction to start, I discovered that this auction was a buyers’ auction. All the animals were going for lower prices than I thought they should. I was aghast when I thought my Delaware trio brought only $9 and my New Hampshire Trio brought $8. At those prices, after the auction took their cut, I would have only received $10.75. That would be less than what I paid for two of the Delawares as day old chicks. However, yesterday I received a letter from the auction with a check and a seller’s receipt. Imagine my surprise when the check was made out for $36.25. Huh?!?! I look at the seller’s receipt, apparently the bid price was PER Head, not per box. Whew. So my birds sold for $27 and $24 and $36.25 is what was left over after the auction fees. It wasn’t as much as what I was hoping for but at least I’ll be able to buy almost 1.5 bags of feed with that money.