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Chicks Arrived, Well, Some of Them

May 2, 2012

Chick day is always a day I like to have behind me.  Our chicks come from Idaho, so sorta close, but still I worry about a postal worker going postal on the little peepers so I am always glad when they arrive safe and sound.  Usually they do too, knock on wood, we have been very fortunate with our chick orders over the years.  A few minor glitches but nothing really serious.

I’m not very adventurous when it comes to chickens as you know.  I like the Cornish Cross, and have been very happy with the Black Sex Links as layers.  No need to color code my laying flock anymore, like we used to, so sticking with this breed in fine with me.  I also can’t say enough about buying from a hatchery that has been in business for a long time.  We used to get our chicks from a hatchery in Washington and when high feed prices drove them to retirement, we switched to this hatchery on the recommendation of a friend.  The chicks are always in good shape when they arrive and do well here.

I got up early this morning to await the phone call from the post office, after fidgeting for an hour, I broke down and called, and sure enough the chicks were there.  The postal employee was new and didn’t know to call.  Not a problem.  I was splitting the pullet order with a friend and she was waiting for the chicks  too.  Her kids were very excited!

When I picked up the box at the PO, I quickly glanced at the holes and only saw yellow… .   “Hmmm, the inner voice piped up.  Where are  the little black balls of fuzz?”  I put the box on the pickup seat, and tore open the packing slip, the invoice correlated with my order of meat birds and pullets, so I headed over to my friend’s house to divvy up the goods.

When we pried off the lid, we were totally surprised.  No black chicks!  Only yellow!  Crap!  It looked like a 100 chicks to me, since each quadrant was filled on the shipping box.  So I quickly put the lid back on and tried to reason through this.  I didn’t want 25 extra meat chicks since I only have one field pen, and I really wanted my pullets.  I was hoping they weren’t out in the postal abyss somewhere…especially since it was kind of cold to be shipping chicks.  They really like it warm.  I headed home with MY chicks, leaving a sad little boy behind who WANTED chicks today.  A call to the hatchery confirmed that the pullets never did get shipped – and would come the next week.  And when we took the chicks to the brooder to install them, a count revealed only 75 like I had ordered.  For some reason they were packed for summertime temps with less per quadrant, I have no idea why, but they are safe and sound and all doing well.  Next week they will get some new friends and we’ll just have to deal with having babies a week apart in age.


I believe in imprinting babies, so they know what expect.  So I put out appropriate reading material for them to peruse while they eat breakfast.  I thought a good article about Grimm would be interesting.  Hopefully they won’t be too scared about running into a Klaustreich.  They already were a little doubtful on the way home when I made them listen to the Black Keys.  Gold on the Ceiling was okay, but when Lonely Boys started, they peeped loudly in protest.  Sigh.  Oh well, at least I didn’t crank it… ;)

Like I say when the dogs are horsing around, “Quit having fun, will you!”  Back to business.  I like to have the food and water ready before taking any chicks out of the box.   I also use newspaper for the first day or so, and place food and water stations at each side of the hover, my theory being that the chicks need to eat and drink and I don’t want them to have to look for it the first few days.  I graduate them fairly soon to reel feeders and the bell waterer and take away the papers and small waterers.  And yes, do change the papers every feeding.


This may be considered chick abuse, but I grasp each chick in the box and dip their beaks in the water and then the feed.  It may be one of those old wives tales that isn’t necessary, but I do it anyway.  Probably just pisses them off.

This crew is pretty active and inquisitive.  They don’t look delicious yet, just darn cute!

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44 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2012 10:52 am

    They are awfully sweet. Do you do your own butchering, or take them to a nearby slaughterhouse?

  2. jenj permalink
    May 2, 2012 10:52 am

    So cute at this age!

    Can you please describe your setup for keeping them warm? I’m guessing that the box in the middle has a heat lamp or something over it? Is there a lid too, or is it just open to the air? What kind of lamp/bulb do you use, and how far from the shavings?

    I’m asking because we had a horrible time keeping our little ones warm this spring – we had to get the lamps really close to them, and then one of the bulbs malfunctioned and caught the shavings on fire! We were lucky that we didn’t burn down the barn (or lose any chicks for that matter), but it was REALLY scary. I’m looking for a better setup for next year, because clearly what we’re using isn’t working OR safe.

    Also, do you only keep your pullets for a year, then they go for the stew pot when the new ones come online? Just curious how you manage them.

    Thanks!

    • May 2, 2012 12:09 pm

      Jen, yes, they are dolls, so sweet the first few days!

      I brood in a small greenhouse, and the box is a hover with two 250 watt heatlamps, ours are hanging, but you can install permanent sockets for the bulbs. The lights are about 18″ above the shavings,and the hover keeps the heat in. To block drafts for the first few nights, I put up draft shields along the sides, and place the feed inside under the hover, and remove the draft shields. Plywood scraps, rigid insulation sheets, cardboard or straw bales all work good for this purpose depending on what you have on hand. In the greenhouse they get lots of natural light, and most days after the first few I turn off the lights during the day.

      I’ve seen hover designs with sawdust on top for insulation, and these usually are really short too, I like the versatility of ours, being taller with more room and think personally the insulation on top is overkill and just one more thing to clean up when after the chicks are done. Of course, we don’t live in a really cold area, and I don’t start chicks until late spring, so in colder climates and for winter chicken raising it may be a viable option.

      I do keep the pullets for one year only – if I don’t find homes for them, they become broth makers. That gives me eggs year round, and for a home flock, this method more than pays for the upkeep and chick cost. My current hens have been laying since August and will continue until then. They are providing 11 to 12 eggs a day and have laid at a good clip all winter. It’s much easier than going to the store for me :)

  3. May 2, 2012 12:03 pm

    Aw. The little meaties are so cute for about the first week. Ours are on week 4, and are soooo not cute anymore. Gonna be glad to get them into the freezer, as we just finished the 2011 birds. Tasty tasty!

  4. May 2, 2012 12:06 pm

    I “abuse” my chicks, too… I think it really does help them. They’ve never seen it before! The only ones I didn’t do it with were the duckling my banty hen hatched :) She’s got it covered!

    We’re getting close to butcher day for the extra roos I have. I’ve been trying to read up and watch videos/pictures about the process. I can’t seem to find anyone in my area that is willing to teach (heck, I can’t even find someone whos done it before!). I’m a little nervous, but my brother has culled before and said he’d take care of that part of it for me! Thank goodness!!

    • May 2, 2012 12:18 pm

      Jenna, at least they have short memories ;)

      You’ll do fine, at first it can be confusing, but it gets easier each time you do it!

      • May 2, 2012 12:40 pm

        I just remembered something else I haven’t found… rigor. I read your turkey post and the one in the link from that post (and several others) but none have mentioned it. Is it not that big of deal? I was under the impression that you need to let it come and go before cooking. I was sure that’s what the problem was with our ruined hog in the ground!

        • May 2, 2012 2:04 pm

          Jenna, I think rigor isn’t mentioned because most of the time it’s assumed you let a carcass completely cool before you cook it or process further.

  5. May 2, 2012 5:39 pm

    Yup, I’m a chick abuser too. I always dip their beaks in the water and food. I do this for the ones I hatch as well.

    • May 3, 2012 5:30 am

      Becky, I think it does help, the mama hen would be showing them where to find water and food, so I guess we have to step in :)

  6. Kelly Johnson permalink
    May 2, 2012 5:45 pm

    We just got 14 red sex links that are laying and they are just as sweet as the black sex links we got last year. FYI. In my area I can find laying hens that are around 8 months old for $10 each. Last winter I got 12 black sex links for $100 and I just got 22 laying hens (7 white leghorns/ 15 red sex links) for $220. I put pencil to it last winter and I cant raise them to laying age for that. If you buy a laying hen and keep it for 8 months you get say an average of 5 eggs a week for 32 weeks at $3 a dozen that would be $40 in eggs.You pay $2 for a chick and 8 months later you still havent made money on her yet. I get all mine off craigs list. You have to search for “laying hens” Im sure the hens we got were being fed the cheapest feed possible but after about a month of better food and living conditions they start to really shine. Of course we still got 10 ducklings, 8 turkey keets, 6 jersey giant chicks, 10 black austrothorps, and 6 mystery chicks. Its just not spring without baby chicks. lol

    • May 3, 2012 5:30 am

      Kelly, I’ve had the other sex links before, I just like the feathering on the Black ones, reminds me of my Australorps.

      LOL, I just saw the hens I gave away last August (17 months old at the time) for sale on Craigslist for $10 each this past week. The photo showed them last summer, but said they were Ready to lay, organic raised, and good brown egg layers. Who ever bought them, got took thinking they were getting a Ready to Lay Pullet. The chickens had spotty lay since they molted because they were just fed food garbage instead of layer feed or any type of grain, and they didn’t get to range much. I say caveat emptor if you buy on Craigslist. You’re doing good with your purchases.

      Here’s my figures for raising my pullets and keeping them for one year of laying only.
      Pullet – $2.10
      Feed – $6.60 20 weeks x .33 per pound (based on university figures that it takes 20 pounds of feed to lay point)
      Brooder Electricity – $.12
      Total cost to lay point – $8.82

      Egg Value
      My chickens pretty much have laid 11 – 12 eggs since they started laying last August, only dropping down to 8 a day for a few weeks in December. I’ll say an average of 5 dozen per week for an entire year – 52 weeks x 5 doz eggs = 260 doz x $4.00 dozen = $1040

      I’m not selling my eggs, but if I had to buy comparable eggs I would pay $4.00 a dozen for them. So here is how it pencils out.

      Total value of eggs for one year: $1040.00
      Manure from a dozen hens: Priceless!
      Replacement Pullet cost: (8.82)
      Hen Feed cost 12 mon x $17 (204.00)

      Net 758.00

      This method pays for me, it might not work for others…I save money on brooding costs, because I use a greenhouse (natural light and heat) so I can use less electricity than most people brooding chicks and I am brooding my meat chicks at the same time. I deep bed, so I can gather more manure, which is valuable for garden. Once my chickens start to lay in late August (if I feed them correctly) they will lay until next Aug/Sept before low light triggers molt. At that point my new pullets have started to lay and I can either give/sell/cook my 17 month old hens. Or let my friend sell them as ready to lay pullets on Craigslist ;)

      Of course the first pullets would be the most expensive, because you have to buy all the equipment, but if you buy good quality supplies they should last for years. Until they lay the first egg they can’t begin to pay for themselves, but once you get them laying they should be able to pay for their upkeep and have enough leftover to fund the replacement cost. Assuming you want eggs all the time, you just have a perpetual cycle going. It’s all in the timing and being frugal with your expenses. My chickens are worth their weight in gold just because of the manure I gather from them, the eggs are almost a bonus in my set-up.

      The normal time for pullets to start laying is 18 weeks to 22 weeks, I wonder why yours take 8 months?

      • Kelly Johnson permalink
        May 3, 2012 2:05 pm

        Your right. 18 weeks. I dont know why I had 8 months stuck in my head. lol. I have to admit, I didnt like the pen the chickens I got last was being kept in. The guy was planting a big garden and he couldnt let them out that much. I also have to admit I was looking at your brooding area with envy. The turkeys kept us awake till 2am this morning by the bed and the back porch smells like a pig pen with the ducks in a brooder out there. All we are doing right now is shuffling animals around. I have a pig pen that is getting too small for the pigs I have in there so a larger hog lot is top priority right now. Sheeesh spring is busy.

        • May 3, 2012 3:55 pm

          Kelly, I hear you about spring! All of a sudden everything needs attention:(

          We built that brooder set-up when we were raising hundreds of chickens at a time, those little greenhouses have paid for themselves many times over!

    • Head Farm Steward permalink
      May 3, 2012 10:50 am

      I know a number of farmers who buy their pullets ready to lay thousands at a time for about $6/bird, sell their eggs for $6/dozen and don’t believe there is any money in it. There is a lot of labor in sorting, washing and packing eggs. Layers are more of a complimentary enterprise. I heard Salatin say he figures a layer is worth $12 over the course of its life…but it would be worth raising a pasture of nothing but roosters to keep his pastures sanitized.

      We bought pullets off of CL several times. Each experience was different and each reinforced the need to look closely. The first batch had never seen bedding or sunlight. They had balls of dried manure on each claw. We shouldn’t have bought them. The second batch were free-ranged and healthy birds. They were in dirty housing with open-topped waterers (read: dirty and drowning) but allowed out all day. The third time I bought a few 2-month old Americauna pullets from a feed store. They were well bedded but in close quarters and had pecked each other horribly. There was even a pullet down in the middle of the cage with a bad leg. Why leave that out for customers to see?

      Now we raise our own pullets. I raise extra for friends and neighbors since I seem to have a knack for it. I have a few extra I may put on CL and encourage potential buyers to look closely at our whole farm before giving us their money. That’s what I do now.

      Finally, any attempt at profitability with layers can be quickly wiped out by a single mink. The seas are pretty rough out there.

      • May 3, 2012 11:05 am

        HFM, besides all your good points above, when you sell eggs (besides just to neighbors) you need new cartons, flats & cases etc., and they are very expensive. Broilers are much more lucrative and good centerfpiece material.

        I’ll add bobcats and cougars to your mink problem. I’m sticking with my coddled hens and raising the pullets every year.

        • May 3, 2012 11:12 am

          All that said, eggs are an inexpensive way to gain interest in our farm activities. New customers come back to tell me how orange their omlet was or how gooey their brownies were or how much their cake rose. They say, “It’s not like anything I can buy in the store!” Then they want to know about chicken. Then they want a turkey. Then they want half of a hog…now we’re talking profit margins. They just have to get that first fix of real food from my loss leader eggs.

        • May 3, 2012 12:15 pm

          HFM, I agree, my extra eggs have spread more good will than you can believe. Same with a broiler out of the freezer. :)

  7. May 2, 2012 8:07 pm

    Oh So Cute:)

  8. May 2, 2012 8:15 pm

    You mention that you have a field pen. Is it a Polyface Farm-esque one or did you design your own? I’m raising my first batch of broilers right now and they’re heading out into their field pen next week. Gotta admit, I’m a little nervous! I’ve been lowering the temperature of their brooder gradually but I’m not sure if I should shut the heat lamps off completely a couple days prior to transferring them outside? I’m sure it gets easier with practice but there’s a lot to think about the first time around!

    • May 2, 2012 10:06 pm

      Yep, it’s Polyface style, I like those, and had good success with them when we sold chickens. Now that we are just raising our own, I still like it!

      It’s tough to move them out, you hope for good weather for the time they are on pasture.

  9. May 2, 2012 9:00 pm

    Glad I’m not the only one that always dips beaks. I figure it can’t hurt, but you’re probably right, just pisses them off!

    We’re doing fall meaties again, but I’ve got 14 layer chicks in the brooder shed – 10 black sex links and 4 welsummers. I had 5 welsummers but one went missing somewhere along the way… :( Love both breeds!

    I may have to get Mike to build me a hover for the meat birds – I just used a cardboard box for the pullets, but harder to do for 75 chicks!

    • May 3, 2012 4:33 am

      Laura, you’ll like the ease of the hover, compared to a box for sure. We were laughing yesterday remembering a wily cat we had that found a tiny breach in the brooder and would go in and help himself to a chick. He was getting away with it until one day we saw him with a mouthful of chick :( Bad Kittie!! Until that time we hadn’t missed any… :(

      • May 3, 2012 9:54 am

        They’ve got access to a fenced yard with grass. My bet is that she found a spot just big enough to slip out and I just didn’t notice. That’s what I get for not counting them every day!

        Luckily our new barn cat (a feral from Seattle) doesn’t seem inclined to leave the barn yet so she’s not hunting my chicks!

  10. Bee permalink
    May 3, 2012 5:24 am

    I’m trying to get away from having to order chicks so I can be independent of the hatcheries. A few of my Australorps have always gone broody in the past, but this is a new strain from a different hatchery and nobody has started setting yet. I’ll give them another month or so and if they’re still disinterested, I’ll do some in the incubator. I also have some Delawares (which will also set) that I’m crossing on Buff Cornish to see if I can come up with a meat bird that will reproduce itself. According to my research, a guy named Tim Shell developed a cross that he called the Corndel about 10 years ago. Shell moved to China and the breed languished, but it sounds as though it has possibilities. I want a good meat bird that will range and isn’t so sensitive to heat as the standard Cornish Cross, even if it takes a few more weeks to mature. Got 19 eggs in the incubator and a Cornish hen setting on another 5 or 6. If I’m not successful, I may just go to the Cornish for meat; when we butchered the excess roosters last fall, the Cornish birds were plump, tasty and fairly tender even at 12 weeks.

    • May 3, 2012 5:35 am

      Bee, I raised some of Tim’s birds and went to his farm as part of an APPPA symposium. They did great, but the keeping of the breeders would prove to be too much for my capabilities. Anyway the chicks did good and reached a 4# carcass in about 9 1/2 weeks.

      My personal answer would be to quit poultry when SHTF.

      • Head Farm Steward permalink
        May 3, 2012 10:51 am

        …or raise ducks. They grow quickly.

        • May 3, 2012 11:01 am

          HFM, like your mink comment above, we have too many predators here for much of any poultry anyway unless we keep them in. Ducks aren’t my cup of tea…but Carol Deppe swears by them for WSHTF.

        • Head Farm Steward permalink
          May 3, 2012 11:09 am

          Oh, that’s what I needed. Another site to read cover to cover. Thanks…lol

      • Bee permalink
        May 4, 2012 5:58 am

        MOH, you’re the first person I’ve found who actually had some contact with the Corndels! Do you know how they were in terms of ranging and health issues? Tim Shell seems to have vanished from the face of the earth, and I haven’t been able to find any good info. I would welcome any tips you might have. thanks!

        • May 4, 2012 7:43 am

          Bee, I’ll dig through my stuff, I have that paper work somewhere (in a safe place, no doubt…)and I have photos too. The chicks were real healthy, just took a longer grow out, I didn’t see any difference in the two, but we’ve not had the problems with CX that a lot of people do. Keeping the breeder flock was the hard part of the plan. The symposium (2 delegates per state or region) was about establishing breeder flocks in different bio-regions to alleviate some of the problem with the airlines threatening to quit shipping live chicks, and also to see if the parents were raised on pasture if the resulting hatching eggs produced a stronger bird. The airlines never did quit shipping and no one that I know that attended that symposium ever had much luck with the idea. It was a good idea but seasoned pastured poultry people didn’t really have much of a problem with Cornish anyway, so the idea dies out. It’s a good idea, but the learning curve would huge, and the expense high.

          Tim was one of Joel’s early apprentices, and went into missionary work I believe. His farm was beautiful :)

  11. May 3, 2012 9:54 am

    no accounting for the musical tastes of chickens. Thanks for the $ breakdown though, I always find that kind of info very interesting and useful.

    • May 3, 2012 12:13 pm

      Spudlust, I agree, it’s nice to have a gauge so you at least get some idea what you’re getting into. The best part of my scaled down poultry operation is that I can get 11 cubic yards of bedding from a flock of 12 in a years time, if I deep bed and don’t free range. That’s why free-range doesn’t pencil out for me, our larger pastured flock was a different story however, they were more valuable on the pasture. Just trying to adapt…

  12. Janet permalink
    May 3, 2012 11:20 am

    you are so funny! Thanks for making me laugh today. Love all your posts, I always learn so much.

  13. akaangrywhiteman permalink
    May 3, 2012 6:35 pm

    Water boarding chickens ay? Your a mean one Mrs grinch!!

  14. May 4, 2012 8:38 am

    Bee, here is a recap of the Corndel breeding conference:

    Thirty-one Pastured Poultry producers (PPPs) from 16 states gathered in Virginia in August 1999 to learn the current state of the art of producing hatching eggs and broiler chicks from parent stock raised on pasture. This first-ever Pastured Peepers Symposium was organized by the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA), and made possible by financial support from Heifer Project International (HPI).

    PPPs have long recognized that the broiler chicks most commonly used by the conventional poultry industry are not very well suited for the way we want to raise them on pasture. They have been bred to grow fast, and they do! So fast, in fact, that weak legs and hearts are common, they do not forage very well, and they are very susceptible to heat stress. All they want to do is eat, rest, and eat again. While this lazy couch-potato attitude toward life may be appropriate for a bird raised in confinement where there is not much else to do but eat and rest, it prevents these birds from enjoying life to the fullest when they are raised on pasture.

    For pasture-based poultry production we definitely want a bird which will grow fast, but we don’t want one whose heart cannot keep up with its body’s growth rate. We want birds that are healthy, hardy, vigorous, and able to walk and forage well. We want birds that will thrive on pasture, and produce a top-quality meat carcass at the same time.

    A few years ago the Salatin family and several other PPPs in Virginia began to wonder if some of the same positive benefits of raising poultry on green grass could be found in chicks whose parents were raised and kept on pasture. Compared to confinement rearing, they reasoned, we get healthier broilers on pasture, and better quality eggs with darker orange yolks from hens on pasture, so we just might get healthier chicks, too, if we raise their parents on pasture. Thus began the effort to produce and compare Pastured Peepers to the conventional industry chicks we’ve all been using.

    The number of Pastured Peepers produced has grown from a very small beginning just three years ago. Most of the PPPs who have tried them have been favorably impressed by their vigor and survivability, but it is still too early to tell if they are significantly better than the conventional industry chicks. And there is still a great deal to learn about this aspect of Pastured Poultry production. Timothy Shell (a member of APPPA’s Board of Directors) and his wife Naomi of Mt. Solon, VA, are the current leaders in this field. Their 200-hen flock produced over 12,000 chicks in the 1999 season. The Shells were the primary hosts of our 1999 Pastured Peepers Symposium, as we focused on learning as much as possible from their experience. Our hope is that more PPPs around the country will raise some Pastured Peepers so we can expand our collective knowledge much faster and share this with each other through APPPA.

    We are grateful to the Shells for being our hosts, for sharing their knowledge, and for continuing the spirit of sharing and cooperation we appreciate so much in APPPA. During our sojourn in Virginia we also spent an afternoon at Good Earth Farm with Andy Lee and Patricia Foreman, and one day at Polyface Farm with Joel and Teresa Salatin and family. We owe many thanks to them as well.

    We all know that many things in life are more difficult and more complex than raising chickens. We also know, however, that raising chickens (just like any other enterprise) does have its own particular complexities and specialized knowledge. In this Symposium we learned of several important aspects of Pastured Peeper production which must be given special consideration and which are significantly different than raising broilers on pasture.

    One of the most basic differences is the challenge of managing and controlling the grazing of a large group of adult birds in a manner consistent with our pasturing philosophy. Many people who wanted to produce eggs have added nest boxes to standard pasture pens and learned that this system requires a lot of labor compared to the relatively small number of hens in each pen. Portable hen houses (“eggmobiles”) for day ranging hens have worked well for some folks, but not so well for others who have smaller acreage and don’t really want the hens roosting on their front porch or roaming uncontrolled through their garden.

    Thus, we were thrilled to see the FeatherNet system of layer management now in use at both the Shell Farm and at Polyface Farm. This system uses poultry electronet to free range laying hens around a portable hoophouse which provides shelter for the nest boxes and provides a place for the birds to sleep at night and get out of bad weather when necessary. Enough electronet is used to create a pen large enough to accommodate the birds for three days. Then the fencing, hoophouse, birds and all are moved to a fresh spot of grass every three days. This system dramatically reduces the labor required for a large number of birds, while enabling the farm family to truly control and manage the grazing of their birds. The most common style of electronet available today comes from Premier Fence Systems in Iowa. You may order a copy of their catalog by calling 800-282-6631. Or you may email them (premier@se-iowa.net).

    A second major difference is the restricted feeding program which is required for breeding stock. If these birds were fed free-choice (like the broilers) they would simply be too fat and overweight for good production. Both egg production and hatchability are adversely affected by obesity in replacement pullets and hens. And when I say restricted feeding, I mean RESTRICTED! Most of us could hardly believe that the birds would do well on the small amount of feed which was recommended. It makes sense when you think about it, but this requires a big mental adjustment for broiler producers: instead of producing a bird with a four-pound carcass at eight weeks of age, you now want a bird that is only slightly larger than that at 24 weeks of age! This much slower growth rate translates to a huge difference in the amount of feed consumed by the birds each day.

    The Shells have followed the feeding guide table contained in the “Hubbard Classic Breeder Management Guide,” published by the Research and Development Department of Hubbard Farms in New Hampshire (phone: 603-756-3311). Hubbard Farms and several other poultry companies have their management guides posted on the worldwide web. A listing of some of those can be found at this site prepared by the Virginia Extension Service (http://www.apsc.vt.edu/Faculty/Clauer/resource/breeder).

    We also observed that the physical act of feeding the birds requires some creative thinking in this restricted feeding regime. It is extremely difficult to walk among the ravenous birds if you’re carrying their next meal in a bucket. You are almost certain to injure some of them because of their frenzied crowding around your feet. Tim Shell has solved this problem with lightweight feeder troughs made from PVC pipe which he is able to slide under the electronet fencing. This allows him to pull the empty troughs outside the fencing, fill them there without the birds getting in his way, and then pull them quickly back inside the fencing where the birds swarm over them to begin their meal. It is also vital to have enough trough space for all the birds to eat at once, because all the feed will be consumed in about 15 minutes! If they cannot all get to the feed at the same time, some of the birds will not get their share.

    The poultry company management guides also contain useful information about the best male to female ratio for maximum egg fertility. The Hubbard guide recommends eight to nine males per 100 females from the beginning of egg laying through peak production, and gradually reducing to seven or eight good males per 100 females by the end of the laying period. This ratio is important to maintain: too few males will result in infertile eggs, too many roosters will increase the physical stress on the females (even to the point of injuring them).

    One suggestion which might help the hens maintain the feather covering on their backs and be more comfortable throughout the breeding period is to clip the tips of the toes of the males when they are only a few days old. Without toenails, the roosters would do a lot less damage to the hens. Some producers will not want to do this to their rooster chicks, and I understand that, but it is also pretty unpleasant when hens are severely scratched (and sometimes seriously wounded) by the roosters mounting them. Too many roosters can be a real problem.

    Another critical aspect of this enterprise is egg handling. It is absolutely essential to manage your flock so the hens can lay their clean eggs in clean nests and you can keep them clean until they go into the incubator. No floor eggs or dirty eggs should be used for hatching. Egg cleanliness has a dramatic effect on hatchability.

    Hatching eggs should also be selected for uniformity of size. Eggs with shell defects or double yolks should not be used for hatching. More detailed recommendations for egg handling can be found in the poultry company management guides.

    During the Symposium we visited the local hatchery which does custom incubation and hatching for the Shell Family. There we learned about the many technicalities involved in this aspect of producing healthy chicks: cleanliness, temperature and humidity control throughout incubation, frequent egg turning, and adjusting the temperature and humidity during the final stages of hatching. I was amazed to learn how critical the final hatching stage is: everything can be fine up to that point, and then healthy embryos can die in the last day if the humidity in the hatcher is wrong. While some PPPs will want to acquire an incubator and hatch their own eggs, I believe it is highly advisable to find an experienced hatchery to handle the incubation and hatching of our pasture-produced eggs. I am sure they would do a better job of that than I would. It would take me a long time to learn the things they already know, so I would gladly pay a reasonable price for this service. (This year the Shells paid their custom hatchery eight cents per egg set.)

    What does the future hold for Pastured Peepers? I think they have a lot of potential to strengthen Pastured Poultry enterprises by providing chicks more suitable for the pastured production model. We have to really prove that, however, by producing many more of them and seeing how they actually perform in different parts of the country. There is still a great deal to learn about how to better manage breeder and layer flocks on pasture. I’m sure that lots of innovation is still possible in the design of fencing, shelters, feeders and nest boxes for Pastured Poultry systems.

    We also have an immense amount to learn about the genetics of our birds, and which breeds and strains can perform best on pasture. This subject area holds a great deal of promise as well. The Pastured Peeper field is wide open for creative minds and energetic farm families who want to be part of healthy, wholesome agriculture in North America.

    In addition to everything we learned about Pastured Peepers, we also learned a tremendous amount from the other Symposium participants about Pastured Poultry production and marketing in general in their part of the country. It was really uplifting to meet everyone and realize what a strong foundation of Pastured Poultry producers is growing throughout the country. This truly was a memorable and powerful gathering of the pioneers of Pastured Poultry. As one participant remarked, “This was a great learning experience. I’m very proud to be an APPPA member.”

    Well, so am I!

    Skip Polson
    APPPA President

    • May 8, 2012 11:59 am

      Thanks for posting that. As pointed out by @Bee, Tim Shell is all over APPPA literature then seemingly fell off the face of the Earth. Your detail and that article help fill in some gaps.

      Bring on the Memoirs ebook.

  15. Hayden permalink
    May 6, 2012 10:54 am

    ACKKK! Dipping beaks in feed? I was told to do this in water, but hadn’t seen instruction for dipping in feed or I would have. I can tell you that my Buff Orpingtons (25) Silver Laced Wyandottes (25) Freedom Rangers (150) and guineas (now up to 300 in 3 separate batches): each batch all found the feed easily and began eating long before I finished dipping beaks in water and getting everyone unpacked. I lost control of brooder temps on one batch of guineas and lost some (heat too high) and have lasting size discrepancies as a result. All of the other chicks and keets were/are growing well and pretty uniformly.

    Maybe I’m glad I didn’t know. Dipping 150 beaks in water for my last couple of batches took a long time as it was!

    • May 7, 2012 4:53 am

      Hayden, I don’t know if it is necessary or not, I just place the water next to the feed, and do it in one fairly sweeping motion. Grab the chick, dip in water, and feed and set down. Every time I do that I think of my mom wiping something off my face when I was little! You know how you protest a tiny bit, but you know any effort on your part is futile :)

      Sorry about the guineas :(

      Turkey answer: The way it always worked out for us on turkeys was that they ended up being brooded at different time when we did chicks, and always ended up in the same type of rotation as the meat birds, once poultry pass per year on the pasture. I know lots of folks raise them together, and have no problems. Many raise their poults with chicks so the chicks give the turkeys the idea to eat. The only caution is that turkeys like it much warmer than chicks, but I think the chicks take warm better, than turkeys take colder.

      • May 8, 2012 11:57 am

        We don’t dip beaks anymore. One of them will figure it out then the idea will spread among the chicks. Poults are another story.

        We used watering nipples this year and the curious chicks were on top of that within seconds. Amazing.

  16. Hele Cairns permalink
    May 25, 2012 1:44 am

    Thanks for The Balck Keys link. Loved it :)

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