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Posts Tagged ‘Pastured chickens’

Steve and I were exhausted today after our first day of chicken processing on Wednesday. We owe a tremendous thank-you to volunteer Craig Fournier (Patrick’s Dad), who worked way above and beyond the call of duty to help us. Craig applied his training as a chef everywhere from eviscerating to following all the food safety best practices to barbecuing a chicken lunch for us on his smoker grill. Plus, his cheerful spirit and iPod/boombox really helped make the day fun.

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Today we connected the paddocks of our two laying flocks so the younger hens (Barred Rocks, foreground) could meet the older hens (New Hampshire Reds, background). They will all be bunking together once we get the mobile layer coop finished, so we are letting them sort out a new pecking order first. All went well. Everybody was very curious and very skittish. We witnessed a lot of bluster and games of chicken. It was so much fun to watch, we could have sat there all day. But sadly, we are behind schedule on too many other projects (like building a mobile layer coop). Luckily, the grass is behind schedule this year as well.

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Shea Vaccaro and I have spent the past few days assembling this giant tin can in the garage. Whenever I see one of these things on a farm that ostensibly raises grass-fed beef, I question the farmer what it is for (and so should you). Steve will tell you it is our tribute to the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight. But in reality, it is a bulk grain storage bin. Some farmers use them to store grain for their cattle. In our case, it will hold organic chicken feed for our broilers. We can save over 20% of the cost of feed by buying in bulk, rather than in bags.

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The severe weather is taking its toll on our laying hens. Cold has not been the problem. It’s the confinement. The deep snow has blocked their access to their yard. Even though they have double the recommended space per bird inside the greenhouse, some of them have taken to pecking the others.

This is a common problem when chickens are confined. Some theories blame it on parasites, nutritional deficiency, or genetics. We believe the most plausible theory is “misdirected foraging behavior,” and the only ultimate cure will be running around outside when the snow clears. However, we are covering all the bases with a buckshot approach: Diatomaceous earth dustbaths for mites, extra protein,  novel stimuli to distract them, and scratch feed in their bedding to keep them busy foraging.

The one thing we will not try is the standard industrial chicken farm cure: slicing off their beaks.

We are hoping March goes out like a lamb as usual, so we can get them outside soon. We will be working on some adjustments for next year, so we can be better prepared for this much snow.

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After a succesful trial period last year with pasture raised chickens for meat and eggs, we will be offering both chicken and eggs  again for this year.   Click here  for more information on how to order for the upcoming season and for more detailed information about our pastured poultry operations.

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This weekend we moved the chickens into the hoophouse, where they will spend the winter. They are only laying about a dozen eggs a day, but that should improve a lot when we add lighting to their house. They will still have an open door to roam outside during the day all winter long. However, bugs are getting scarce and green grass won’t last much longer. If you would like to experience the deep orange yolks of pastured-raised eggs, stop by soon. When the green grass is gone, the yolks will look like “regular” eggs.

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Dog Days of Summer

After eleven weeks of raising our chicks without incident, we just lost a number of chickens to a night-time predator. At first, we were baffled. The modus operandi did not fit an owl or a weasel or a fox. It turns out, the culprit is a local dog. We think the dog scared the chickens into fleeing the safety of the poultry net fence. We found several killed outside the fence, and a neighbor reported seeing a dog trotting down the street with a chicken in its mouth.

We have enlarged the protective ring around the shelter, and we plan to add roosting poles inside the shelter to encourage the chickens to stay there. It is a bit frustrating that our system has worked against wild predators, but failed against a domesticated pet. Maybe we will have to get our own dog and train it to guard the chickens.

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