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!


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:


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:


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.


Feeding Meat Rabbits

I am attempting to feed my rabbits as naturaly and species specific as I can manage.  I am not a person that just feeds the “total nutrition pellets” of any kind that you can buy at your local store….for any of my animals.  My cats get a raw meat and bones diet, as do my dogs.  The chickens are fed as natural a diet as I can manage as well.  I will do a seperate post in the future on feeding chickens.

When we went to the mother earth news fair this fall I was excited to find a semi-local organic feed supplier, Thayer Feed and Seed.  They are out in Kansas about two hours from me, however, they deliver in the area.  I ordered a bag of their rabbit feed to try it out.  I wasn’t overly impressed, I have to admit.  It was alfalfa meal, peas, oats, barley, wheat, flax, a mineral mix, and molasses.  It smelled good, but it was more powdery then I cared for and the rabbits wasted tons of it digging through for things they liked.  They just didn’t seem to really eat much of the feed, or at least not as much as they dumped out.  So, I searched out another way to feed.  I figured now why don’t I just try to seperate things out and feed them those ingredients, but seperately?

Winter feeding is going to be a bit different then summer feeding for the rabbits.  This winter I am feeding:


Good, green, leafy third cutting alfalfa hay, free choice.  The main component of comercial pellets (at least “top of the line” pelleted feed) and the organic feed I got is alfalfa, so the bulk of the rabbits diet is alfalfa hay.  I bought 10 bales about a month and a half ago and at this point I have only gone through one bale.  The chickens get the leaves that fall off the bale as I break off pieces for the rabbits.  The chickens love the alfalfa more then I figured they would.  The rabbits eat it eagerly as well.  I was giving them just decent grass mix hay before when I was feeding the organic rabbit feed and the pellets, it helps their digestion having the fibers to help move things through.   Rabbits are ruminents, similar to cows, and need the same kind of consideration when it comes to feeding.  I was trying to stay as natural and organic as I could with my feeding, however, I was not able to find organic alfalfa around the area, or even being willing to drive a ways to get it.  I was, however, able to find alfalfa that hadn’t been sprayed with any herbacides or pestacides.  They fertalized the field in the spring, but that was it.  I also made sure I wasn’t getting round up ready alfalfa, which, aparently is already in this area.  People were advertising it like it was a good thing! Ick.  I hope this isn’t a trend for this area….to go to all round up ready alfalfa. 


They get a mix of grains (all organic.)  I include in the mix: 2 parts oats, 1 part barley, 1 part wheat, 1/2 part peas, 1/4 part flax seed.  I added the peas for more protien content, however, they don’t really eat them so when this bag is gone I won’t be ordering them again.  The rabbits get amounts ranging from free choice (nursing does, grow outs) to 1/4 cup (bucks, dry does, pregnant does) to none (fat does/bucks.)  Even for the ones that get nothing if the night is supposed to be really cold I will give them a tablespoon or so of the grain, just to help them produce heat.  I’m a softie when it comes to cold weather, I want them to be able to stay warm. 


Fodder is the other thing I feed.  I grow it myself from a mix of barley, wheat and peas.  When the bag of peas is gone I will be using only the wheat and barley, it seems to grow the fastest with none of the mold issues I have had with the peas.  The rabbits LOVE their fodder.  Its the first thing they go for when I go out to feed them.  They are always excited when I put it in their cages.  I just feed it straight on the wire, I tried putting it in containers for them but they just drug it around and it seemed pointless, so I removed them.  I will be doing a whole post on growing fodder, so I won’t go into it here, but I will say that it cut my already low feed cost way down, even feeding all organic grains.

I spend less on feed for my rabbits, even with all my feed and growing grains being organic (I use the same grains to feed that I do to grow) then I did buying non organic comercial pellets.  I’m not sure how much less, I haven’t kept track, but I can see the over all feed consumption is way down.  They seem far more satisfied with what they are getting now then they did when I was feeding pellets.  I’m not sure how much my growth rate is different from feeding pellets, however, I recently compared growing does of the same age, from the same litter, that I got from a friend that feeds only pellets and they were the same size.  Even if the growth rate for the fryers is less on the natural feeding I am still happy to keep feeding them longer, since the feed cost is cheaper.  I would rather have quality natural and organic nutrition going into something I am going to feed my family then faster growth rate.

They also get free choice natural mineral salt rocks in every cage.  That way they can self regulate their mineral and salt intake.  I’m not using those mineral spools that are sold in the rabbit section of the local TSC, I actually bought the “Salty Buck” mineral salt rock sold over in the deer hunting secton.  They are cheaper, and from my research, better then the spools. 

This summer I am planning on pasturing my grow outs, and feeding my breeders from the garden and yard.  I will keep growing the fodder as long as I can as the weather warms up, however, the seeds need 60-70 degrees to sprout with no mold issues.  We keep the house in the 65 degree range in the winter, but tend toward the 80’s in the summer.  They will continue to get alfalfa hay and grain through out the summer.  I’m curious how long my 10 bales of hay will last, I’m hoping well into the summer. 

Disclaimer:  I’m not advocating this is how you should feed your rabbits.  You need to do your own research and decide for yourself.  This is just how I have decided to feed my rabbits at this time.  As I do more research, this may change,  however, as of now, this is my general feeding program.


Fodder Growing System

I’ve done a LOT of reading on growing fodder for about a year now.  I had intended on getting it set up to try just as the weather got cooler, however, life got in the way, as it often does.  We had some roofers put a new roof on my grandmothers house….which turned out to be a seriously frusterating experience.   Then a week later, my grandma died.  Its been a pretty rough fall.  I’ve been growing fodder for about two-three-ish months now, and I have to say, I am a convert. 

Here is my system setup:


It’s set up in my laundry room, which is hard to take pictures in, due to the fact that there is a freezer sitting right where I should be standing for the best camera angle.  There is one more shelf on top there that you can’t see in the picture.  It has tomorrows fodder in it.  I take 11 days to gow out my fodder, some people take less time, but my house is fairly cold so it takes me 11 days.  Each shelf is tilted so the water runs into the shelf below, back and forth across the boxes.  There are holes in one side of the boxes for drainage, like so:


I got these boxes from Home Depot for 97 cents each.  They are your basic shoebox sized boxes.  They are also sold at Big Lots and Lowes for within pennies of the same price.  I recommend getting all your boxes from the same place, since each store varies slightly on the box shape.  The ones that I got from Big Lots were a bit rounder then the ones from Home Depot.  The rack set up is just cobbled together from stuff I had laying around here at home.  I am seriously thinking about building a rack out of PVC, however, just to get all the dementions right and facilitate drainage.  The wire racks sometimes hit the holes that are drilled into the boxes just right so they don’t drain perfecty into the box below, making a mess.  There is a big tub I got from Wal-Mart to catch the water below.  I don’t recirculate the water in my system, the bottom bucket is for catching water only.  You can set up a system with a pump to water it for you on a timer, I just haven’t since I have great results just watering once a day.  I use two gallons of water daily in my system.  I dump the water outside, so its not wasted by pouring it down the drain. 

This is how I start:


I do 2 boxes for the rabbits, and 1 box for the chickens.  The chickens system is set up slightly different then the rabbits, since I feed them more sprouts then fodder, and I will be discussing their system in my chicken feeding post.  The boxes contain 1/2 cup peas, 1/2 c wheat, 1/2 c barley.  I was sprouting each grain separately, however, I had a problem with the peas molding around day 9-10 as well as terribly slow growth, when I started doing them together the mold problem was eliminated,  however they still grow really slow compared to the wheat and barley.  I will be eliminating the peas when this bag is gone, the rabbits don’t like them dry, the chickens won’t eat them sprouted, and they mold too easily.  It’s just not worth the cost.  They are twice as expensive as the wheat and barley, and a much bigger pain in the ass.  I’m concerned they will lead to mold in my system again, so I am keeping a close eye on things.  I may try recirculating the water when I am out of peas and see how that works for me.  I probably won’t up the amount of wheat and barley to make up for the loss of the peas, they produce most of the mass of the fodder I am feeding out as it is. 

I put my grain in the box, fill it with water, and let it set soaking for anywhere from 4-10 hours.  It’s usually around 6 or so hours that it soaks, but I really don’t make a big deal about how long it is in there.  I set it up in the morning, and drain and rinse them in a strainer in the evening when I am feeding the rabbits.  I don’t use any bleach or vinegar in the soak water,  some people do,  but I haven’t seen a need.


I make sure to rinse the grains really well at this stage.  It helps to prevent mold by getting rid of the chaff and dust that would cause thing to clog up.  The grains put off quite a bit of starch in this stage so rinsing it well helps the system to stay cleaner in the long run, also reducing your chances of mold.  From here they get put into one of the boxes with holes and then put in the bottom of my growing rack.  They move from the bottom to the top, over and up day by day. 

Here is day one (bottom right) two (bottom left), three (top right) and four (top left):


Here is day five (bottom right), day six (bottom left), day seven (top right) and day eight (top left):


Here is day nine (bottom right), day ten (bottom left) and day eleven (both top):


You can see there is a very dramatic greening up in the last half of the growth cycle compared to the first half.  They spend several days growing roots, then they put out the green sprouts. These grow under one two bulb florescent light fixture in the ceiling of my laundry room, there isnt any other lighting, and no windows.  I’ve tried putting them outside on the days that its nice out, but it seems to make absolutuly no difference in growth so I’ve stopped doing that. 

Here is a picure of the mat of fodder taken out of the plastic shoe box:


The mat of roots:


The peas are kinda weird, they grow wildly through out the mass.  Some even down, as you can see. Here it is from the top, you can see the pea shoots look different from the wheat and barley, which look similar:


I feed this amount, roughly, per rabbit (normal sized pack of playing cards for size reference):




The dry weight of the grain I am putting into the each shoe box weighs 9.5 oz.  The fodder I am getting out weighs 3lbs 8 oz…..thats almost 6 times the weight of the dry grain!  I know there is alot of gain in moisture, however, there is a huge gain in avaliable nutrients as well.  This link is to a fodder thread on that has alot of growing information as well as nutrition information on fodder vs. dry grains as well.  Its geared toward chickens, but I put it to use for my rabbits. The current issue of Backwoods Home Magazine has a good article about growing fodder as well.  The author of that article has posted in the thread that I linked to.

Overall I am pleased with my fodder experiment.  I will be continuing to grow and feed out fodder to my rabbits in the future.  Just seeing how much they like it, and how good they look, is enough for me.  It dosn’t take me more then 10 minutes a day to do everything that needs to be done with my fodder system.  I’m sure I could figure out ways to automate it more and spend even less time on it.  There are some really awesome commercial systems out there for growing fodder, but they start over $1000 and just go up from there.  I have about $30 into my system right now, and that whole cost is from the boxes that I bought to grow in.  Everything else I had laying around the house.  I actually started my experiment in planter flats, like you see in commercial green houses, however, that just produced way more fodder then I needed.  It was taking me several days to get through one flat of feed.  Two of the shoe boxes seem to be perfect for my needs at this time. 

The barley seems to be harder to find for some people then the wheat does.  I can say that in my experience the wheat and the barley both seem to grow at the same rate, with the same ease, and are loved by the rabbits equally.  I haven’t tried oats, everything I’ve read seems to point to them being really hard to get to sprout, and easily mold.  I may do an experiement with them in the future, just to see for myself, but for now wheat and barley seem to be the way to go.