Tag Archives: Buff Orpingtons

Thanksgiving Turkeys

The turkeys head off for processing. This is the only time they've been caged.

This morning I gathered up 40 Buff Orpington broiler chickens that have lived on pasture in 2 of our chicken scooters for the last 11 weeks.  It took the Buff Orpingtons almost twice as long to reach market weight as the Cornish X batch we processed 5 weeks ago, and they aren’t as heavy still.  Advantages in their favor:  they ate less feed than the Cornish, ate more grass, were more active, and stayed cleaner.  The Cornish have the double breast that most customers expect and taste great.  We’ll  see how the Buffs taste soon.  I’m interested to see, because to my knowledge I’ve never eaten a chicken that wasn’t a Cornish, White Rock, or a cross thereof.

The turkeys have free ranged all over our property gathering most of their own feed.  We put a little broiler ration and scratch grains in a bin to encourage them to roost in the poultry shed at night (they have to be bribed not to roost in the barn rafters), but other than that little bit of feed they’ve done well at fending for themselves eating grass, acorns, grasshoppers, berries, seeds, and “their” heirloom garden tomatoes.  They’ve swung on our front porch swing and chased the dog.  They’ve discovered that they cannot swim and that they can perch on one of the goats.  Undoubtably a finer life than 99.9% of all American turkeys.

The turkeys were harder to pack off emotionally.  We’ve had them since the 1st of July, and they kinda grow on you.  They’re not real smart, but they do follow you around while you’re doing chores or anything else they find interesting and keep you entertained with their antics.  This year we’ve raised 11 of the heritage breed turkeys to a “light” market weight.  I say “light” market weight because July to November is not quite enough time to grow them out completely.  We’ll see how much they weigh tomorrow afternoon.

You see only 5 turkeys in the picture because the other 6 have received “pardons” this year.  We’ve sold 3 of them and are eating 2 with our families at Thanksgiving, but the other 6 will be breeders for us in the spring.  We kept one tom and two hens of 2 rare heritage breeds – the Black, or Black Spanish, and the Chocolate.  We processed four Bourbon Reds (3 toms and 1 hen) and one Chocolate tom.

We’ll let you know how they are on the table.

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Sunday on the Ranch

The garden has exploded with yellow late-summer flowers.

One of the best things about working outside on the ranch every day is getting to see things change.  New plants, birds, and fish show up all the time.  For instance, the flower garden has exploded with coreopsis.  Yellow everywhere!  This garden has progressed from lilies to hollyhocks to coreopsis in the 2.5 months since we’ve been here.  I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors change on the trees in another few weeks and the reemergence of flowers and leaves in the spring.  Fall is coming – 45 degrees here last night.

Despite the falling temps, we decided to go ahead and put the 2-week-old chicks out in their chicken scooters yesterday.  It’s been in the low 90’s here for the last few weeks, but yesterday was a beautiful 75-degree day and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get the birds out on grass.  Lindsey and I loaded up each scooter with 25 chicks and watched the Buff Orpingtons run around exploring their new environment.  Then we watched the Cornish X chicks lay down next to the feeder as soon as we put them in the scooter, showing little interest in the grass or bugs all around them.  They definitely hung out in the shade underneath the tarp section of their scooter all day.  Their strategy of laying down with their head in the feeder definitely produces a heavier bird, however.  We weighed a couple of birds as we put them into the tractor – Buff Orpington chick 7 ounces, Cornish X chick 17 ounces after 2 weeks.  Damn!

The little Buff Orpington chicks explore their new digs inside the scooter.

The Buff Orps are always moving!

The Cornish X chicks prefer to sit in the shade as close to the feeder as possible rather than explore their surroundings.

The goats have names now.  As I mentioned before these are the first does in our as-of-now-rather-small breeding herd, so they are safe to name because we won’t be eating these.  We rather unimaginatively named the red doe Roja.  Maybe we miss speaking the little bit of Spanish we used to in San Antonio.  My brother Scott suggested Nadine for the little white doeling after Nadine Gordimer (the South African Nobel laureate author) since Boer goats were originally developed in South Africa.  Nadine also wrote about social justice, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this whole endeavor in the first place.

The goats are getting more used to us.  Roja is very inquisitive.  She always comes over to investigate whatever we’re doing when we’re in the paddock with them.  She stops short of allowing us to touch her yet, but she’s getting there.  Nadine, being smaller, is much more cautious.  She is beginning to approach us, but always keeps Roja’s body between her and us.  She is also much quicker to run away if we moved suddenly or do something really scary like stand up.  They both spend a lot of time grazing and browsing, which is ultimately how we want them to get all of their nutrients.  They had access to both grass and pelleted feed at Triple Holler, so right now I’m offering them pellets every other day in an effort to wean them onto grass and browse only without forcing them to go cold turkey.  They seem to be adjusting well, but they really like the pellets.

The goats are very inquisitive and are coming closer and closer every day. Soon we'll be able to play and romp!

They have also discovered the mineral block (like goat vitamins) in their area and seem to like it.  Roja especially goes to town on it.  Nadine nibbles it a little every now and then.  They have also figured out how much fun it is to climb on top of the dog crates I haven’t taken out of the yard yet.

Roja has discovered the mineral block.

Roja likes to take in the view from the top of the dog crate.

Roja munches on the grass in the backyard "paddock."

I also knocked together a very rudimentary shelter for the goats – just something to allow them to get out of the sun or rain if they wanted to.  I used old 2x6s vertically on the bottom for skids and cross-braced them with other scrap wood.  Then I drilled holes in the 2x6s and put short sections of rebar sticking up from the holes.  I then bent PVC pipes from one side to the other to form a hoop structure.  Then zip ties connect the tarp to the PVC frame.  Voìla!  Lightweight portable goat shelter!

The new portable goat shelter we whipped up with skids, rebar, PVC, and a tarp. Nothing new was bought except the tarp.

Other animals are finally proving useful as well.  The turkeys have learned that there are bugs in the gardens and now patrol the 2 raised beds and the tomato patch every few hours looking for tasty morsels.  While they’re up around the house they also like to perch on the trailer, the pickup’s tailgate, and the swing on the porch.  It’s pretty funny.  I’ll try to post a picture of them on the swing if I can catch them doing it.

The turkeys have finally discovered that there are usually bugs and slugs in the garden. If only they'd found 'em before the squash bug epidemic!

This week our neighbor David and I (25% him and 75% me by time, 75% him and 25% me by amount of grass cut) got the front pasture mowed.  David has the large advantage of tractor ownership.  I have the disadvantage of walk-behind bush hog ownership.  Hence the time/productivity disparity.  Oh well.  At least I don’t have to fill out an embarrassing TPS report about it.  The grass started out 3 feet high all over the place and over my head in others.  It’s now a pretty uniform 3 inches and round bales of hay dot the pasture.

The tall grass in the front pasture before David and I cut it. The grass was 3 feet high everywhere and 6 feet high in places.

The pasture looks much better now! David also ended up with 45-50 bales of hay for his dairy as well.

After cutting, David baled the hay in the front field.

The huge plus of this cutting is that the front of the property now looks as if someone lives here!  Additionally, the grass is now free of competition from taller woody weeds and should be able to put on a burst of growth here in the fall growing season.  The bad news is that now I can see how little humus and organic matter we have in the soil.  The soil is just bare between the crowns of grass plants.  We’ve got a lot of soil building to do here!  Prescription:  rotational grazing with ruminant animals.  Before we can do that, I’ve gotta put in a fence.  Anyone want to come help?  🙂

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New Chicks!

Dawn breaks over Chicken Gizzard Ridge. Viewed from our back door.

The picture above is what I get to see every morning as I start my chores and whatever other tasks I have assigned myself for the day.  On this day, the Liberty post office called and that means only one thing – new chicks have arrived!  I snapped this picture on my way to the brooders to turn on the clamp lights that we use to warm our chicks’ brood chambers.  I turn them on before I head off to the post office so that they’ll be nice and toasty for the chicks by the time we return.

The first batch of 25 White Rock chicks is heading to the processor on Monday.  I know that under ideal conditions we would have new chicks ready for pasture rather than the brooder at this point, but I wanted us to raise one batch of chicks from start to finish before we ordered more so that we could reflect on things (ISA students and personnel should try to refrain from screaming at my use of the r-word) and make any necessary changes before we got another batch started.  We learned a few things during the first batch, especially regarding my design of the chicken scooter, and have revamped things a little for this new group.  Additionally, we’ll be raising 75 chickens in 3 different tractors this time rather than 1 group of 25.

We ordered this batch of chicks from Mt. Healthy hatchery in Cincinnati.  We used McMurray hatchery last time, and the chicks they sent worked well.  We decided to try Mt. Healthy as well because Cincinnati is far closer to us than McMurray is and closer means less stress on the chicks during shipping.  Mt. Healthy doesn’t have the heritage breeds of turkeys, ducks, and geese that we want to raise, so McMurray will still get our business until we can “grow our own,” and they may get our business still with the chickens.  We’ll have to compare once both batches of chicks have been raised.  McMurray may be a tough act to follow, however.  We lost the “free rare exotic” chick that they sent us with our order of Black Australorps and White Rocks, but we haven’t lost ANY of the Black Australorps and the only 2 White Rocks we’ve lost were due to a marauding cat rather than any issue of health and vigor with the chicks.

I ordered 50 Buff Orpington chicks deliberately.  They are supposed to be a good meat breed and very calm and quiet for chickens.  The White Rocks have grown wonderfully, but are quite feisty with each other.  The Buffs are also a very pretty color – see the pictures below.  Mt. Healthy was offering 25 free chicks “hatchery choice” along with our order of 50 chicks, so I took them up on it figuring we had the tractor space and the feed anyway.  The website said that the free chicks would not be Cornish X, but when the box came it definitely said “Cornish” on it and the chicks look a lot more like Cornish X than Dark Cornish so I think they had some extra of those this week.

As I’ve stated in the “Livestocking Plans – Chickens” post, we don’t want to raise Cornish X even though they are the premier meat bird around today in terms of rapid growth, feed conversion ratio, and price.  We don’t feel they are meant for pasture life, and we want a breed that will run around and forage more than Cornish X do.  So initially I was pretty disappointed when I saw the box labeled “Cornish.”  As I thought about it more, though, this will be a good opportunity to take some data and we can compare the Cornish X to another breed on our pastures under our management at the exact same time.  Back to science for me!  My favorite part was when Lindsey said the exact same thing when she came home and saw them.

Both the Buff Orpingtons and the Cornish X chicks had 1 DOA, unfortunately.  The rest of the chicks appear to be settling in well.  Check out the photos below.  As you can see, we went the cheaper route with the bedding this time and utilized the chippings and shreddings from all of the brush that I’ve cleared over the last few weeks – thank you to Phillip and Eldon Beachy for repairing the chipper!  This bedding is coarser than the store-bought wood shavings but should hold more waste per unit because of the higher C to N ratio.  We’ll see!  It is definitely free and local, however.

A group of Cornish Cross chicks. They were the "Free Bonus 25 Chicks."

A cohort of 50 Buff Orpington chicks.

The Buff Orpingtons again. I think these chicks are the best color!

Buff Orpington chicks from their point of view.

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