Cornish cross v2.0 and Chicken plucker v3.0

We raised up some cornsh cross chickens this spring.  The last time we raised cornish cross was almos the last time ever for raising them, for me anyway.  They were disgusting.  Absolutely disgusting.  We raised them up in a chicken tractor, ala Joel Salatin, but on a smaller scale.  I’m not sure if the tractor was too small, moved too little, or who knows what but they spent all their time laying around eating and pooping.  They were covered in their own shit when we went to butcher them  The smell was just down right nasty enough to make you gag when they hit the scalding water.  I refused to do them again like that, in fact, I couldn’t even eat the meat and ended up giving it away.

Enter learning about fodder, fermented feed, and paddock shift.

After the dog attack and slaughter of most of my flock of laying hens I ordered some more this spring, buckeyes of course.  I love my Buckeyes.  I’m impatient, so wanted to get them ASAP in the spring, however the only way that was going to happen was if I ordered minimum of 15.  I definitely did not have room for 15 laying hens so I decided to order 5 sexed pullets and 10 meat birds to try out things I had learned about raising meat birds.  I lost 2 of the meat birds in the first couple days after they came in the mail (they sent 11 meat birds) but raised up 9 happy, healthy, non-smelly , running around, sumo wrestler meat birds.

How did I do It? In my suburban >. 3 acre back yard,  no less?

Half their daily ration was fodder, the other half was fermented chicken feed from my local(ish) feed mill, soy free and organic of course.  They went outside during the day starting at 2 weeks old, and at 3 weeks they were outside full time.  They were shifted around my yard every couple of days until they were 4 weeks old and then they were put in the rabbit barn (at night) where they roosted(!) on the hay bales in there.  I had no idea meat birds wanted to roost!  Every week a new part of the intensively planted “pasture area” was opened up to them for scratching, pecking, and running around.  Yes, I said running.  Did you know Cornish cross could run?  They are fast little boogers too!  They look like little sumo wrestlers running around the yard.  I should have taken some video, it was super cute to watch.  They had solid, normal looking chicken poops, no diarrhea at all.  No poopy feathers, no smell to their bedding, no smell at all, not in the brooder, not in their coop, just none.  These were real chickens. They acted like real chickens.  I really enjoyed having them around.

We butchered them just before 10 weeks old, however we could have done it at 8 weeks and ended up with the same weights,  they didn’t grow at all between 8 weeks old and 10 weeks old ( i weighed them live the same way I weigh my rabbits: a cloth bag and a fish/luggage hanging scale.)  Carcass weights were 4.5 lbs on average.  Very nice beast size and huge thighs.  The meat was tender, juicy, and so flavorful.  Completely amazing.   I used 2 bags of chick starter (100lbs) and around 50lbs (maybe, it’s hard to tell, I grow so much fodder for all the animlas) of mixed wheat and barley for fodder, however this was split between the 9 meat birds and the 5 replacement layers so it wasn’t just the meat birds that this amount fed.  Man, they loved their fodder.  I fed them enough chick starter in the morning around 9-10am that by late afternoon they had some, but not a lot, left, and by evening they were empty.  In the evening they got their fodder.  They spent 90% of their day pecking and scratching and dust bathing, basically just being chickens.

I am extremely happy with my results of raising these Cornish cross birds and will be doing it again in the future.  I really, really enjoyed having them around,  and in fact,  kinda miss the funny little clowns.   I’m curious to be a bit more scientific on charting how much I feed them since the 5 replacement layers were added in on the feed cost.  It was crazy to me how much bigger the Cornish cross were then the buckeyes at every stage of growth.  Heck at 10 weeks one of the roosters from the Cornish cross started crowing!  I must have stood there with  my mouth hanging open for 5 minutes the first time I heard it.  I think it was the same rooster that was starting to get mean.  Next time I will butcher at least a week earlier, probably two, if the grow out rate is the same.

We used the drill chicken plucker , modified to not fly off the table like before, to pluck the birds:

All of the information about the modifications are in the video.  It worked great!

-Fin

Chicken Feeder

I built my own chicken feeder out of a 4 foot piece of 5 inch pvc pipe and two end caps.  I had my brother cut all of them in half, then I glued the end caps on with JB weld and sealed it with some silicone to keep the feed from getting caught in between the glued part.  I made an L – shaped holder out of some of the scraps of wood left over from my fodder rack, and some stuff I found laying around.  I always keep scrap wood around, it always ends up coming in handy.

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I used some 2 x 4’s on the outside as well since the wood that is the chicken coop walls is pretty thin:

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Here’s the whole thing:

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It works out really well to feed the chickens.  I put their fermented feed in one side and the fodder in the other.  They always eat the fodder straight away, then come back for the fermented feed over the course of the rest of the day.

It’s a total hack, but I’m extremely happy with how it’s working for me.

-Fin

Found in a Chicken

When the dog killed the chickens I got home in time and only one had been eaten, by a totally different dog then the one had killed them.  I went ahead and stuck them in the freezer (waste not, want not) to butcher later when I had time, it was late evening when I found them.  The we’re laying hens, that had just started laying again when the dog killed them.

While I was butchering them I found this inside:

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It was the first time I’d ever seen it and I thought it was super cool.

Damn dog.

-Fin

Fodder System Updates

I’ve run into a couple issues, as well as changed the way I do a few things.  This is an ever evolving system, as I learn and make adjustments on how I do things.  I will keep updating my fodder system posts as I make changes, so keep on the lookout for those. 

I have done a few experiments concerning oats, and they have all really been failures.  I tried adding an equal amount of oats to the chickens sprouts, the oats molded after just a day.  I rinsed them well every day and about half sprouted, but the seed itself continued to mold.  The chickens ate them, but I am not happy with feeding them moldy things so I won’t do that again.  I tried to just sprout oats by themselves, however, they molded and there was no growth.  I tried rinsing them in both cold and warm water, as I’d read that oats need the warmth, with no luck either way.  I will be calling the oats a failure for me, and won’t be messing with them again.  

It got really cold here and the laundry room was colder then normal so I went to a 12 day sprout for the rabbits.  That has seemed to give me a better growth on things but I’m keeping an eye out for mold.  I had one problem with mold on my pea/wheat/barley blend when I let it go for an extra day, however I am attributing that to my decision to not water the last day sprouts.  I have returned to watering them and haven’t had any problems since. 

I have nixed the peas in the mix completely.  I’m not at all happy with the growth on them, OR the growth of the barley and wheat when mixed with the peas.  I haven’t had any mold problems attributed to the peas, with the exception of that one time, just extremely pathetic growth.  I will crush and feed out the peas to my meat birds in the spring, as well as seed the yard with them to get rid of this bag.  I won’t be buying them again going forward.  I’m disappointed that the peas didn’t work out, they seemed like a really good idea.  The stuff I’ve read made them out to be a nice tender sprout with a crunchy treat at the end, which they were, but the growth I got out of them was really pathetic. The rabbits really liked them, they tended to eat those first, but with the mold issues and growth I just can’t justify them. I may try a few more experiments with them in the future, I do have over half a 50 lb bag left!

I am currently trying a mix of wheat and barley together for the rabbits.  It seems to be growing well for the chickens, so hopefully I will go back to seeing my original amazing growth on that mix.  If it dosn’t work, I will go back to switching between pure wheat and pure barley, I know that I get really good growth off those two grains separately.  I can do all barley one day and all wheat the next, then not have to worry about splitting pans or who got what yesterday.

I will be going up to three boxes a day for the rabbits soon, the little guys are starting to be not so little and are eating more every day.  I’d rather have too much of the fodder and compost it, then have too little and have them eating more hay.  I feel the live food is fresher and more nutrient dense then the hay is, plus it’s cheaper! I will have another litter on the ground soon as well and Mrs. Clause will be upping her intake to compensate. 

If you looked at my fodder system pictures you might be thinking there isn’t enough room to add a third box a day.  You’d be right.  Blazed Monkey is making me a fodder rack.  He will be doing a post on the building of it soon, and after I get it up and running I will be posting pictures on another update post.

I’ve changed the way I’m draining the fodder as well.  I’m not happy with the holes on one end system.  I find that the water only runs along the bottom, and not in enough volume to get the top seeds wet on the off side.  Like so:

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I am going to a drain straight down system, slowly.  I am taking the boxes I have and plugging the original holes I drilled with silicon caulk, then drilling new, slightly smaller holes along the middle.  I will post pictures in the future.  This should make it so the water runs sown and gets the whole seed bed wet. Like so:

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I think dry seeds have been adding to my poor growth, so have been watering heavier on the bottom rows.  It has made a bit of difference, but I really think taking the peas out will make a bigger difference.  Going forward I will be changing those two things, and hopefully the straight down holes will help eliminate some of the  wet floor issues I’ve been having as well. 

Overall, I’m very happy with the fodder, these are just some tweaks I am making to my system.

-Fin

Feeding Chickens

I’ve been changing the way I’m feeding my chickens over the last couple months.  While I was doing my research on fodder systems for the rabbits I realized that I could feed my chickens fodder as well.  It was a bit of a revelation to me, I just hadn’t thought about it before.  The reading I’ve been doing seems to say that they like sprouted feed a bit more then actual fodder, so that’s what I’ve been doing for them.

My system looks like this:

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It’s just shoe boxes stacked on top of each other.  Each one has holes drilled into the bottom on one side.  I water the top one and the water trickles down to the bottom, empty, box.  I alternate the side the holes are on in each box so the water has to flow the length of the box on the way down.  The lids have a hole in them so the water can flow through:

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Each box has 1/4 cup wheat, 1/4 cup barley, and 1/4 cup peas.  I have eliminated the peas starting today, since they don’t eat them.  I’m not sure why they don’t seem to like them, but they’ve been picking around them for a month now, so I don’t think they are going to start eating them any time soon.  I am feeding 5 chickens right now, 3 hens and 2 “hens” that started crowing today.  I will be feeding 3 chickens very soon….

Since I will be going down to 3 chickens in a couple days, I have started putting 1/4 cup wheat and 1/4 cup barley in to soak:

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I soak the grains anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, I haven’t noticed any difference in growth depending on time I’ve soaked them so I don’t worry about it too much.  I stick the grain in in the morning, and rinse it really well in a strainer in the evening:

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It rotates through the system and on day 7 it looks like this:

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This is when I feed it out to the chickens.  I have tried various days of sprouting up through fodder, and my chickens seem to eat day 7 sprouts the best. 

I also feed the chickens fermented feed:

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This is organic layer ration.  It is a mixed grain feed that I get from Thayer Feed and Seed.  I didn’t care for it too much when I was feeding it out dry to the chickens.  It seemed like it was ground too fine, and almost seemed to be dust to me.  Now that I am fermenting it it seems to work really well.

I started my fermented feed with kefir whey.   I have an ongoing milk kefir culture that I drink as well as feed to the animals so I strained out the whey and mixed it with some of the layer ration and water, then left it to ferment for two days.  Every day I feed out about 4 cups of the fermented feed, add 2 cups of dry layer ration, some water, and stir.  It seems that the two cups of layer ration I put in there turn into about 4 cups of fermented feed. 

The chickens really like the fermented feed.  They took right to it.  I have noticed a reduction in smell in the coop, not that it smelled to begin with, but it smells like nothing now.  They also get scraps from the house, occasional kefir, and alfalfa scraps from the rabbits.  They have a big area to free range in, as well as having access to the whole garden during the winter.  I’m not sure how much nutrition they are getting out of free ranging in the winter, but they sure do like to get out and scratch around.  I’m dumping all the rabbit cage stuff into the garden as well, and they like to pick out the grains and fallen alfalfa from there as well. 

I’ve been reading a thread on backyardchickens.com about feeding fermented feed to Cornish cross meat birds.  It is supposed to make them better able to absorb the nutrients in the feed and therefor grow better, move around better, and not sit around in a pile of their own poop, so there for reducing smell.  I am excited to try it, I refuse to ever again butcher meat chickens that smelled like our last batch of Cornish cross…..I couldn’t even eat them, I kept smelling that smell, even though no one else could.

After our dog died this year we got a female aussie.  She was fine with the chickens right up until she wasn’t…..she ended up killing all but three of my chickens.  We re-homed her,  I can’t have a dog that kills my stock.  Right now I have 2 Buckeye’s and 1 Black Marans…..as well as two “hens” we held back from our last heavy meat bird order, that turned out to be roosters.  I saw one of them crowing today.  So, today I ordered 5 female Buckeye’s and 10 Cornish cross meat birds, they will be delivered the week of March 17th, from Meyer Hatchery.  I will be raising my new girls in the house so I have pet laying birds, which I want, being just a backyard flock.  I like my super friendly birds, and I’m in love with the Buckeye’s.  The Cornish cross will be an experiment to see if I can raise them on fermented feed and get a better smelling free ranger with a heavy breast.  I don’t mind the Cornish cross as meat birds, but man I can’t stand the smell!!!!

-Fin

Chicks

I’ve been bad about posting.

I keep meaning to do an update on the hatching chicks,  but the whole thing was kind of a horrible learning experience so I just haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it.  I will try to get a post about it out soonish,  but in the mean time here are some pics of them several days old. 

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They are ridiculously cute.

Yes,  there are only 5 of them. 

Yes,  I started with 18 eggs. 

Gives you some guesses about this as a horrible learning experience,  no?

-Fin

Broody Chickens

Two of my chickens decided to go broody on me.

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One has gone broody three times on me since I got her.   I tried putting a golf ball in the other nest box to try to move her over but she went right back to the original nest and then another of them decided she was going to sit on the golf ball.

Well,  since the one has gone broody so many times now I decided she could be productive and hatch out some eggs for me.  I decided to check Craigslist to see if anyone out there was selling fertilized eggs.  I really had no plan in mind on what kind of eggs I wanted but I was hoping for one of the heirloom breeds.  I ended up with birchen marans.

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The eggs are really dark brown and quite a bit bigger then the eggs my hens lay.  I’d say my hens lay a large egg and these were an extra large if you go by the ones from the grocery store.

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I should have taken a comparison picture,  but didn’t think of it.

I bought 16 eggs,  8 for each hen.  The guy gave me 18, two extra to account for non fertility of a couple.   I picked up the eggs on June 2 and put them under the hens that night.   We should be looking at having them hatch around June 22nd or so.

Last night we candeled the eggs. Out of 18 we found 2 that were definitely bad, and one we weren’t sure about so we just went ahead and left it just in case. I imagine it will end up not hatching but since this was our first time we figured better safe then sorry.

I tried to take pictures of the candeling but my camera phone was just not up to the task. We opened the two bad eggs when we got inside just out of curiosity. One was completely unfertile with no blood spot or anything. The other was a dime sized chick that had obviously not made it past the first several days. I would imagine if we were to open the other one that we suspect is bad we would find a quarter sized chick that had died a couple days past the other one.

I am looking forward to the hatching. I am very excited to watch the hens raise their broods. 10 more days and they should be all hatched out!

-Fin