Hobby Farm Chick Brooding

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So I raise meat chickens. I say I raise a lot of meat chickens. I think it is more than most, but not more than all other hobby farmers. I raise about 1000 a year, and I don’t raise Cornish X chickens. I raise my chickens for the Asian market and they prefer “normal growth” brown feathered chickens. I mostly raise Freedom Rangers, but throughout the summer and spring I will buy hatchery overflows. These days that mostly mean Barred Rock and Buff Orpington cockerels.

Now, the purpose of this post isn’t to declare one method of brooding any better than the next. I just wanted t share my experiences. I preface this by noting that I raise 100% of all my meat birds in a completely free range scenario. My chickens have 3 acres of pasture and 3 acres of woods to roam about all day. I have 2 shelters set up inside of an electric net fence area (82’ x 164’). I do not use pasture tractors due to the fact that they are a bit more labor intensive. That being said, I do lose about 5% of the birds to predators (mostly hawks and owls).

I started brooding my chicks in batches of 100 in a 4×6 homemade brooder. However, I had to rotate a new batch in every month. I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I then started brooding 200 at a time in a shed.   After 1 month I would move them to pasture. The problem with this method was that the chickens always wanted to come back to the shed, and I ended up with chickens all over the property. I finally decided that the best method would be to brood directly on pasture. So far this method has worked very well, and the chickens seem to stay together in the sheltered area of the pasture. Below is exactly how I do it. Again, not the only method, but it may work for you.

When the chicks arrive I place all 200 inside a cardboard brooder that is 4ft by 6 ft. They have access to 2 waterers and one large feeder. The brooder itself is located inside a 10ftx10ft area that is surrounded by 1”x1” poly netting. That area is inside a 10’x20’ chain link dog kennel which in turn in inside a 10×20’ shelterlogic portable shed. These shelterlogic sheds are what I prefer to use as shelter for the free ranging birds once they are grown. I currently have 2 of them in the pasture.

Once the chicks are about a week old I remove the cardboard brooder. Basically I remove it when the little chicks cant get through the 1”x1” poly fencing. I keep the 2 heat lamps (250watt red) hanging in their area for 3 weeks. In the summer I turn them off during the day since our temps get around 90 most days. I do raise the lamps about 3 or 4 inches each week. I have found that chicks are far more hardy then what most people think. Raising have 0 losses. I think the reason most people lose chicks it is due to respiratory issues. Rasing the chicks outdoors eliminates this.

As far as feed I do prefer medicated feed for the 1st week. After that I use a generic starter/grower that is made at our local granary. I do not let the chicks out of the dog kennel until they are fully feathered which is usually around 4 weeks. At this point they join the flock and settle in. I clean the dog kennel out, and get ready for the next batch. It is important to note that I DO NOT brood chicks over winter. I get my 1st batch around March 1st and my last batch around Oct 15th.   Since I am in SE VA we usually have pretty short winter. Last year was super cold for us. As a result my 1st batch didn’t arrive until April 1st.

I know that this method of brooding isn’t for everyone, but I do think it has merit for those who live in more temperate climates. If you can somewhat control predation it is very labor friendly. My theory is that I want to make as much profit as possible per lb. If I can reduce labor involvement, feed cost, and loss then I am winning the battle. I currently get $4/lb for the chickens.   I currently have about $3.00 per bird invested at time of processing. My cost goes up more in winter and down in summer. In my next post I will go over how I keep my feed cost as low as possible all year long.

Thanks for reading!!

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The Scoop on the Coop

So over the past few years I have constructed or bought many different chicken coops. One thing I have learned is coops come in all shapes and sizes, and you can spend various amounts on your coop. No matter the look or cost your chickens will love it as long as they are safe, dry, and out of the wind.
The 1st bit of advice I would give is to get your hands on some chicken coop plans. You can get plans from all sorts of places. The internet is crawling with information. You can get plans for free, but my experience is that those plans are usually lacking detail. If you are an experienced woodworker then you will be all set. However, if you are new to chickens and woodworking I would suggest paying for coop plans that are more detailed.
Now you might be thinking it would be easier to just buy a chicken coop that is already built. That is always an option. However, ask yourself a serious question. Why did you want to hobby farm? Why do you want chickens? For me the answer was simple. I wanted to simplify my way of living. I wanted to learn how to build things and be resourceful. I no longer wanted to depend on big box stores. Part of the process was the initial build and preparation. Also, my family’s income dropped when we started hobby farming. If I could buy some coop plans, build a coop, and SAVE MONEY then I succeeded.
Pre fab coops sell for a ton of money if they are built to last. I was looking at some chicken tractors the other day that were over $1400 each. They only housed 10 hens or less. Trust me when I say that you can build a coop yourself for much much less. I have built coops for less than $100.
Lastly, when you are putting together your materials to build the coop try to re-purpose things. If you look on Craigslist or local Facebook sales pages you can often find wood for cheap. Remember that other people might have left over lumber from a project they completed. I once picked up ten 12’ 2×6 for free from a construction site. When I asked the worker about the lumber he informed it was being thrown out. He then told me to take it if I wanted it. Just keep your eyes open when out and about in your community. Then there are always pallets. They seem to be everywhere. They work great for all types of projects.
One last tidbit before I go. If you can build your own chicken coop you can build most other animal housing as well. Horse runs, goat sheds, and lambing huts to name a few. They are far easier to build because they don’t have roosting bars and nest boxes. Most don’t have doors or windows. Good luck on your build. I am sure your chickens will thank you for it!!

Just have to love the Backyard Chicken Movement!!!!

So as some of you may know I sell pasture raised broilers and fryers.  I usually get somewhere around $4 a pound if you figure it all out.  I discovered last year that I could make more money with less work by selling started pullets.  I sell my 16+ week old pullets for $15 each no matter the breed.  Most of the time they are production reds or barred rocks.  It is a lot less work for sure.  The difference is I usually sell broilers by the 20 count and these pullets 2 or 3 at a time.  No matter,  it is still a lot less work.  I am thinking next year I may have to only raise pullets.  What do any of you think??

BTW this is not really my planned blog for the week.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about this for some reason.  Stat tuned for my blog on Chicken Coops and Coop Plans.  Hopefully I will have it finished tomorrow.

Have a GREAT DAY!!!

Hello world!

So 4 years ago my wife and I decided to make a change.  We wanted to move to a small hobby farm where we could grow our veggies, and feed and grow our own meat.   She also wanted farm fresh eggs, and a dairy goat.  In the beginning a resisted the whole notion of goats.  The idea of milking twice a day didn’t appeal to me.  Instead we started with laying hens and sheep.  We had a small garden with tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, and sweet potatoes.  So that was the start of something new.

Throughout the last 4 years we have learned a ton of stuff.  I say stuff because you cant begin to imagine the wide variety of information that your brain processes on a farm.  We learned that sheep were not for us even though we loved a freezer full of lamb.  We learned that a large garden was not for us.  We are in an area that has an awesome produce auction, so it is easy to get local veggies for a great price.  Oh, and my wife did get that dairy goat she always wanted.  In fact we now I have 4 girls and 2 boys.  They have quickly become the center piece of our little farm.  We also  now raise a lot of chickens.  I mean a lot. During the summer months it is not unusual for us to have well over 400 chickens.  We have a customer that buys all of our broilers, most of our eggs, and some quail too.

Write a blog they said…..so here we are.  I resisted this idea for a long time because I felt like I wasn’t an expert. I felt like I wouldn’t have enough worthwhile knowledge to share with anyone.  However, recently I have been asked by so many people for advice that I thought it might be time.  Understand that I am no expert.  I still fail all the time.  However, out of my failures have come some really cool successes.  I have managed to raise chickens, pull kid goats, process all sorts of livestock for the freezer, build things, fix things, and even grow food for my family.  I assure you that 4 years ago I didn’t know how to do most of those things.  I went online, found blogs, watch you tube videos, and met others in my situation to learn how to do things.  I discovered I can do most anything I want or need to do.

My commitment is to blog at least once a week as long as at least 1 person wants to read it.  I will share ideas, plans, and products I have used to make my life easier.  I will also share the blogs and vlogs of others that have helped me over the last 4 years.  I have created a website as well that I will keep as up to date a possible.  Wish me luck, but most of enjoy.  If you have any suggestions or advice please SHARE!!!

Thanks