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

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