Tag Archives: chickens

Winter Wonderland

Good Life Ranch after 6" of snow.

Welcome to Lindsey’s first winter!

My wife has lived in south Texas her whole life, so we’re calling this her first winter.

The recent storm that ripped across the midwest dropped 6.5 inches of snow on our ranch over the last 24 hours.  The snow fell slowly as large soft flakes, then ramped up to heavy sheets of tiny flakes, and then settled into a fairly consistent flurry pattern.  The ranch really looks lovely from the ridge while blanketed with snow.

The goats and poultry have definitely changed activity patterns!  There’s a lot less roaming around and a lot more hunkering down under the shelter or in the coops.  Our Great Pyrenees guardian dogs absolutely love the snow…  I think they feel camouflaged so they can sneak up on the coyotes.

The chickens pretty much stayed in the coop today rather than scratching around for food, but on the plus side one of the chickens decided that today is the day to lay our first egg!  Lindsey found it in the milkcrate nest boxes we’ve got fixed to the wall in the poultry house.  We collected it and took it inside where I fried it up.  Lindsey and I shared it and I can report that it’s MUCH better than store-bought eggs, even though we buy the cage-free organic eggs from the store.  This egg (even though there hasn’t been green grass for weeks) had a yolk that was brilliant orange in color.  Amazing!

We’ve enjoyed a little romping of our own in the snow.  I wish my insides felt better from the surgery because it’s perfect sledding weather and we’ve got half of our ranch covered in large hills!

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Lindsey’s Fall “Break”

 

The foliage along Dry Creek is beginning to change colors.

 

Lindsey has had the last 11 days off of work, so on her fall “break” she became my willing helper!  I’ve saved up 2 large tasks that needed two people to complete – cleaning out the barn and setting up the greenhouse.  The greenhouse will be covered in its entirety in a separate post once it’s finished, so stay tuned.

I must apologize for not writing as often as I should.  If excuses are necessary, then mine are:
1.  we’ve had visitors, farmsitters, and went to a wedding.
2.  it hasn’t rained in many moons, so my indoor time has been greatly diminished.
3.  it really does take a lot of work to get this place up and running, and sometimes after completing the physical work the last thing I want to do is rehash it.

The wedding was my brother’s.  It took place in Breckenridge, Colorado, which meant vacation time!  Lindsey’s parents were kind enough to farmsit for us while we went to the wedding.  They took care of all of the animals and gardens while Lindsey and I celebrated with Billy and Keri.  Breckenridge was beautiful in the fall and the weekend was almost perfect.  The wedding was perfect.  The Razorbacks blew the lead they had over then-#1 Alabama, and that was the only perfect weekend foil.

 

Lindsey and I keep Billy's dog Maddie company during the rehearsal.

 

 

Ten Mile Station, site of Billy and Keri's wedding. Isn't it gorgeous?

 

 

Aspens in fall colors provide a backdrop for the wedding.

 

Back in Kentucky the trees are changing colors, too.  Some of them, like the maples and pears, are changing colors because it’s October and that’s what they do.  Others of them, like the cypresses and pines, are changing colors because it’s been so dry here that they are starting to yellow and brown.  Needles are drying up and falling off.  Our brainstormed U-Pick-‘Em Christmas tree idea is starting to lose inventory before December even gets close.  The pasture crackles underfoot.  We need rain badly.  Hopefully it will rain before winter.

If we do get winter storms, we now have a place that can shelter the animals!  Lindsey and I spent 3 days clearing out the barn from top to bottom, eliminating many years of junk, debris, and manure.  Now we’ve got some stalls for the goats in case we get wet windy weather in the winter.

I don’t know exactly when our barn was built.  The previous owner of the property said the 1920’s or 1930’s.  I know that it was standing for sure in 1947, because there is a whole family’s worth of initials from the original family to have owned the property carved into one of the planks and it’s dated “1947.”  My father-in-law’s a detective.  I listen and learn.  The barn is 2 stories with a drive-through lane through the middle of the ground floor.  On one side of the drive through lane are 2 stalls, a large storage area, and a staircase to the hayloft on the second floor.  On the other side of the driving lane is a single stall and an even larger storage area.  On that side there is also a small storage area above the stall.

We found all manner of stuff in the barn.  Greenhouse panels (yay!).  Ancient corn cobs and tobacco leaves (expected).  Large piles of rusty barbed wire (boo!).  Manure, hay, tobacco plates, tobacco sticks, trellises, lumber, scrap metal, an antenna, plastic mulching sheets, planters, draft horse collars.  We learned that baling twine never disintegrates and that it’s best not to think about how old that cloud of manure dust may be.

In any case, most of the barn is in good shape.  Two of the three stalls are usable right now if we needed to put the goats in there during a severe winter storm.  The other stall needs a new floor and a new floor beam.  That’s a project for another day, but other than that and some rotted floorboards in the hayloft the barn is in surprisingly good structural shape.

Almost everything we found got saved or recycled.  We did dump one load at the landfill, unfortunately, but that couldn’t be helped.  One load of trash that we couldn’t think of a use of from at least 64 years of inhabitation isn’t too terrible, I guess.  We paid $13 to dump the load of trash and got $37.50 for the aluminum and scrap metal, so all in all we have a clean barn and enough money to see a couple of movies.  That’s right, big city friends, I said a couple of movies.  For both of us.  Life’s cheaper at the Green River Theater.

Enjoy a few pictures of the barn cleanin’:

 

Lindsey sweeps out one of the barn's stalls.

 

 

No, I'm not robbing the barn. The hankerchief was necessary to keep manure dust out of my mouth.

 

 

Shoveling ancient hay and manure from the barn's hayloft.

 

 

The floor in the barn loft could use some work, but at least it's visible now. It was buried under corn cobs and tobacco leaves.

 

 

Any guesses as to what these might be? The one on the left is ceramic. The right one is metallic.

 

 

One of the stalls has a floor that has seen better days. A future project...

 

 

The big pile of junk in the barn. Most will be re-used in Lifestyles Lane, some had to go to the scrap metal place. A little went to the dump, unfortunately.

 

 

The turkeys enjoyed perching on all of the new stuff coming out of the barn and generally getting in the way as much as possible.

 

The turkeys enjoyed sitting on all of the new perches we were providing them as we cleaned the barn.  Being old heritage breeds, they are quite good flyers and are capable of roosting in the trees and on top of the barn when they want to.  Their favorite nighttime roost is the tailgate of the trailer, but I make them go in the poultry house.  We have enough coyotes around here at night without putting sleepy turkey on their menu.

 

Everything's a turkey perch. Fence. Trash. Front porch swing. Truck. Tree. Cold frame. Dog. Chicken tractor....

 

The turkeys are getting pretty big now.  Big enough that they’ve decided that they can chase Scooter, our 45-lb dog, around with impunity.  One hen in particular seems to enjoy tormenting him, but the whole flock will join her.  He will mostly stand his ground with the one hen, but as soon as multiple turkeys enter the fray, he takes off running and the turkeys take off chasing him.  Bailey, our older dog who is roughly twice Scooter’s size, occasionally comes to his rescue and chases the turkeys away.  Mostly she seems to enjoy watching the turkeys do to Scooter what Scooter does to her most of the time.  I’m not sure what brought this on.  Scootie’s new favorite thing is finding the turkey feathers on the ground and running all over the place with the feathers in his mouth.  Maybe the turkeys think he’s stealing them.

 

Scooter's latest fascination is turkey feathers. He loves to collect them and run all over the place with them in his mouth.

 

Besides the barn, our farm is starting to appear more legit.  We’ve made some money lately selling rabbits.  The goats are rotating through the pasture.  The junk, debris, and construction materials have been removed from the fields.  Neighbor David has harvested his corn from the fields he leases from us.  In exchange he’s cut and baled the hay in the front pasture.  All in all, the farm is looking much better than when we arrived in June.

 

Neighbor David's hay bales decorate the front field.

 

In other news on the bird front, the Cornish X White Rock broilers have a date with the processor on Tuesday morning.  This time, in an effort to be as local as possible, we are using the processor 8 minutes away from us for the first time.  We’ll see how he does!  I can tell you that we won’t be having any underweight chickens this time.  Check out these fatties in the video below:

The guineas have also been growing, although we’re just using them for tick management around the house and barn area.  Some of them have fallen prey to a couple of critters, but the remaining ones sure do a great job clearing out ticks and grasshoppers!

Speaking of predators, the coyotes have been coming close at night.  The other night they were right outside the goats’ paddock.  I could hear the coyotes making a racket and I could hear our livestock guardian dog Maggie growling.  Usually she barks a lot at night as she patrols, but this was deep-throated, threatening growling.  The coyotes eventually took off, so Maggie did her job in the first challenge of her authority.  Way to go, girl!

 

Maggie's mug. This is what coyotes see when they sniff around the goats at night.

 

 

Lindsey feeds Maggie while Bailey investigates the possibility of pilfering her food.

 

 

Maggie's goat herd is rotating through the pastures, hopefully focusing on the many weeds that choke out our grasses and legumes at the moment.

 

Our last project over Lindsey’s “break” has been building the greenhouse.  We’ve had our first frosts already, so we need to get our sensitive San Antonio plants inside the shelter of the greenhouse soon.  It should be ready inside of a week now, and we’ll have a post dedicated to it once the structure is completed.

 

We had our first hard frost on October 2nd. The goats didn't seem to mind, but the basil sure did.

 

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Fall Approacheth

My family poses on (and around, for Grandma Bailey) one of the hay bales in the ridgetop field.

Fall is coming very quickly, especially for those of us who are used to South Texas.  In South Texas fall is more of an idea than an actual season.  No trees change color, there’s no falling leaves, and we really never have a frost until maybe January, if then.  Here it’s Labor Day and we haven’t used the air conditioner in about a week, the smaller shrubs and trees are starting to change colors faintly, and I can definitely see my breath in the mornings.  In our rural neighborhood the second or third haying is being finished, the corn mazes are springing up, and pumpkins are starting to appear at roadside stands.  Alas, the squash bugs got our pumpkins.

This weekend we took advantage of the wonderful 70-degree weather and went hiking around our property.  We always discover new things and enjoy passing by some of our favorite spots, such as the cave and the Crazy Plant.

Scooter "El Conquistador Timido" examines the entrance to the small cave we've found. Neither Scooter nor Lindsey will go in it.

Lindsey poses next to the Crazy Plant. This unidentified monster has the biggest leaves I've ever seen on a plant this far north of the tropics. Anyone care to ID it?

Bailey and Scooter love to go on the hikes.  Sometimes the turkeys try to follow, too, but they get tired quickly.  🙂  They just like to follow me wherever I go.  It’ll make the week before Thanksgiving logistically simpler if they keep doing that.  Today I was sitting in the porch swing shelling some of the black beans we’ve grown and the turkeys decided to come sit on the porch with me.  A couple of them even decided to sit on the other bench.  They’re funny, I tell you.

The turkeys hold court on the front porch while I was shelling black beans. The turkeys are always doing something amusing.

We also got the fall veggies planted today after a trip to Louisville to buy a suit for my brother’s wedding.  Hopefully we can just cover them during the tricky cold nights and have a good harvest through late November.  Today Swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, carrots, lettuces (Romaine and Simpson’s), snap peas, and onions went into the ground.  I’m trying an experiment, so I just basically swept the squash vine remains into a corner to compost in place and then prepped the soil before I mixed all the seeds together and scattered them.  I’ve seen some permaculture videos about doing that and it seems to work out well for them, so I thought I’d try it.  I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

As noted yesterday, the final batch of broilers for the year was put out on pasture this weekend and they are doing well.  I just wanted to report on the first couple of tractor moves because I’ve never seen anyone else discuss this point before.  In any case, there is a definite learning curve for the little chicks the first couple of times the tractor is moved in the morning.  I can understand.  If my house started to move one length over, I would be freaked out too.  The little chicks don’t know what to do the first few times this happens.  They learn to walk along with it pretty quickly, but the first couple of moves always happen in 1″ or 2″ increments with multiple stops when loud squawking alerts me to the fact that some chick has a leg (or wing, or neck) stuck underneath the tractor somewhere.  Right now we’re still in the learning curve for this batch – today moving each tractor took 4 or 5 minutes.  Usually it’s less than 10 seconds.  The White Rocks from last batch learned quickly, though, and I’m confident that these chicks are bright enough to figure this out soon.

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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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Rabbit Moving Day


The migration formation of the rabbit scooters, each scooter containing 2-5 rabbits.

We got the rabbits put into their scooters for pasturing yesterday.  Almost all of the males went into the tractors grouped by size.  The only exceptions are the males that we are saving for breeding stock.  The females stayed in the hutches for now.  We’ll select breeding stock from them as well, and the remaining rabbits will be sold for food or pets.  Most of the females were separated so that only 1 or 2 is in each pen.  All of the rabbits are maturing and beginning to fight a little bit, so hopefully this will minimize the fighting.

Lindsey makes fun of me for putting the pens into the formation depicted above, but there are good reasons for doing so and all of the animals in movable scooters will be in this type of formation.  Here’s why:
1.  It puts the pens close together without the sides rubbing (means repairs don’t have to happen as often).
2.  The pens are as close as possible to each other while still leaving space to maneuver around them.  This means that you can service each cage efficiently in a small area without tripping over them.
3.  If there is a slope to the land that the pens are on, staggering the scooters like this keeps poopy runoff from inundating the downhill pens during rainstorms.
4.  You can run the pens without leaving “space” between the sides so that all of the pasture gets the nitrogen deposits left by the animals.  If you put the cages in a straight line side-by-side, you have to leave room to walk between them in order to service the cages.  This means there is grass that doesn’t get eaten and pasture that doesn’t get manure.  Soon, you have a striped field.

The bunnies we’re pasturing right now are crosses between Flemish Giant bucks and various does (mostly Californian and New Zealand types).  Here’s the rabbits inside one of the scooters:

The inside of a loaded rabbit scooter. The 2x2s at the bottom run parallel to the way the scooter is pulled so that the grass stands up for the rabbits.

As you can see, the rabbits have plenty of room.  Additionally, since they eat a TON of grass, we’re moving them 3 times per day.  Though that seems like a lot, it’s really only 1 extra trip out to the area because the other animals necessitate trips out to the pasture in the morning and evening.  So I just go out there once more before lunch and move the rabbit scooters one length to fresh grass.  This seems to be worth the trouble, because they reduced their pellet consumption by at least half yesterday and today so far.  I’ll get solid before and after numbers for comparison and share them once they’ve been on pasture for a while longer, but that amounts to a $12 savings per week if that trend continues.

Why pasture rabbits at all?  The USDA already says that “domestic rabbit is the most nutritious meat available” and that rabbit has the highest percentage of protein and the lowest percentages of fat and calories when compared to veal, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, and pork (USDA Circular 549).  This table comes from that circular:

SPECIES CALORIES PER POUND % PROTEIN % FAT
RABBIT 795 20.8 10.2
CHICKEN 810 20.0 11.0
VEAL 840 19.1 12.0
TURKEY 1190 20.0 20.1
LAMB 1420 15.7 27.7
BEEF 1440 16.3 28.0
PORK 2050 11.9 45.0

So if rabbit is this healthy to begin with, why pasture them?  Well, we believe that the compounds found in fresh green plants add vitamins and minerals (CLAs, carotenes, etc) that simply can’t be created in the meat any other way.  There are lots of studies that have been done on beef and poultry to verify the added health benefits.  I’d be really interested in seeing actual data comparing pastured rabbit to conventional rabbit, but I haven’t seen any such study anywhere.  As a science teacher, I would make the hypothesis that if pasturing beef and poultry increases the nutritional level of the meat, then pasturing rabbits would also increase the nutritional level of the rabbit meat.

There are other producers in Virginia and Tennessee that I know of who offer “pastured” rabbit.  However, they bring the pasture to the rabbit in the form of green-chopped materials.  I feel that this is more labor than moving a few rabbit pens.  Plus, having the rabbit scooters means that the fertility from the rabbit manure is placed directly on the soil without me having to haul it or compost it.  Second, and more importantly for us, the rabbit scooters allow the rabbit to act more like a rabbit, hopping around on the pasture, eating a variety of fresh grasses that change three times per day, and selecting what grasses they eat themselves.  So hopefully this system will work out.  If anyone reading this knows of advantages rabbit hutches have over the scooters (other than reduced labor for the keeper), please contribute a comment and let us know!

Other news from the poultry department (the USDA considers rabbit as “poultry” for regulatory purposes) is that the turkeys are starting to really act like turkeys.  They range far more widely than the chickens or the guinea fowl and eat lots of grass, seed heads, and insects of all kinds.  Watching them try to catch grasshoppers is extremely entertaining.  They are gobbling a lot more often now, and are losing most of the feathers on their heads and necks.

The turkeys are growing quickly and spend the day free-ranging. They explore the farm and "gobble" up lots of grass and insects.

The laying hens are doing a great job making compost for us underneath the rabbit hutches that are still occupied.  They are great labor-savers.  All I do is throw down some wood chips or straw on top of the rabbit manure and the chickens go to town on it, scratching through it looking for grubs, worms, and fly larvae.  In a couple days, I throw down some more carbon and they repeat.  Once it builds up in volume, I’ll haul it off to the gardens.

The broilers are in their last week on pasture. Next week is taste testing!

The broilers are almost ready for processing.  They go on Monday morning at 7:30.  Shhh – they don’t know this.  They are pretty large.  I got a little scale yesterday, so once it quits raining and the birds and rabbits dry off I’m going to go weigh some so we have an idea of how much chicken and rabbit we have in terms of poundage so that we can price things accurately.  I want to make sure we set a price that covers our expenses and pays us a decent wage per hour from the start so that we don’t have to have a price hike too soon and chase away our hard-earned customers.

Have a good day!

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News from the Chicken Dept

Several developments have happened so far this week in the poultry department.

First, the Black Australorp laying hens have discovered the wonderful world of rabbit manure!  We put the chickens near the rabbits deliberately so that we could add carbon (wood chips, straw, whatever) to the rabbit manure and the chicken could scratch through it looking for fly larvae and such, thus making compost for us and eliminating the flies from the rabbit area while getting cheap protein for the laying hens.  Sounds great in theory, right?  What we’ve been lacking so far is chicken cooperation.  All of the poultry has been free-ranging for the last week or so, and the chickens have steadfastly refused to venture underneath the rabbit pens.

Until today!

The laying hens finally discovered all of the goodies hiding in the rabbit manure.

Here the ladies are scratching through the manure and grabbing up all of the fly larvae.

Over in the Meat Chicken Division, we built Chicken Scooter 2.0 and moved the broilers into it to test out the new design and so I could modify Chicken Scooter 1.0 and add the new features.  In the second generation, I made a feeder out of PVC pipe and attached it to the frame.  No more taking the feed trough out in order to move the pen every day!  The major design changes were to the ends of the scooter.  Each end is now fully formed by plywood.  At other farms that use this type of method, the weather tends to come from only one direction.  We’re in a valley with hills on the eastern, western, and northern sides.  That makes our winds swirl around and the wind and rain can come from either east or west, hence the plywood on both sides.  The most convenient new feature though is the door is now right above the feeder on the covered end of the scooter.  For Chicken Scooter 1.0, I wasn’t thinking about efficiency as much as I should have and made a design where I had to crawl into the scooter to grab the food trough on the far end, where I had to put it so it wouldn’t get wet.  While I was doing that, some of the chickens invariably escaped and I would have to round them up and return them to the scooter.  All this work because my brain wasn’t on the first time.  Hopefully, lesson learned.  Here’s some pictures of the newest chicken scooter.  As you can see, the design is still the same size and almost everything is the same, save the ends and the door!

As you can see, the designs are identical except for the ends.

Here is the major change. A door on the same end as the feed trough, and the feed trough screwed to the frame.

Finally, the broilers now have a date with the processor.  Eventually we want to do this step here at the ranch for many reasons (less stress on the birds, no gas used driving them to Bowling Green, $2.85 less expense per bird), but until we figure out all of the legal mumbo jumbo surrounding turning animals into food we are going to have to allow someone else to process our birds.  We chose SS Enterprises (http://aboutssenterprises.com) because they are relatively close to us, are family-owned and operated, and certified organic.  So on August 23rd at 7:30 am, the broilers and I will be pulling into Bowling Green.  Sometime after that, I will be leaving Bowling Green will several ice chests.  Any readers in the area, we will have chicken for sale!

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July 16 – August 6, 2010

In this post I will attempt to fill you in pictorially on everything that’s happened on the ranch since the Great Isolated Internet Earthquake of 2010.  There’s too much to relate in an extensive post, so please read the captions on the pictures. Enjoy!

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Chicken Scooter

The completed chicken scooter along with the previously completed doggie, Scooter.

Not too bad for a few hours work, huh?

This chicken tractor – or “chicken scooter” as we’ll be calling it – will be the home for our first batch of broiler chickens to move across the pasture.  It’s 12’ x 6’, so that’s 72 square feet of green pasture for our group of 25 White Rock broilers.  It stands a little over 3’ high in the middle of the arch.  Each day this pen (and soon, others like it) will be moved one length onto fresh green grass and away from yesterday’s excrement.  That means cleaner chicken for eating and a controlled amount of fertilizer put down on our pastures.

Here’s the recipe for one chicken scooter, most of which we found lying around:

Ingredients

2 12-foot lengths of 2 x 4

1 6-foot length of 2 x 4

4 6-foot lengths of 2 x 2

4 2-foot lengths of 2 x 2

4 scraps of plywood

1 50’ roll of 48” tall chicken wire

2 5’ x 10’ sections of remesh (concrete reinforcing wire)

1 scrap of corrugated metal

short length of rope

zip ties

wood screws

1 old license plate

carabiners

Tools I used

drill

hammer

screwdriver

staple gun

pliers

jigsaw

circular saw

Process

1.  Lay the 12-foot 2 x 4’s parallel to each other on the ground.  One foot in from each end, attach a 6-foot 2 x 2 to perpendicular to each 2 x 4.  Then place the other 6-foot 2 x 2’s equidistant inside the first two to make a frame like shown below.  I used an extra scrap 2 x 4 to help solidify the front where we’d be dragging it.

Braces attached to the skids.

Braces attached to the skids along with the front plate for attaching the door later.

2.  Lay one of your remesh sheets over the frame perpendicular to the wood.  Note where the tag ends on the remesh are and drill holes with an appropriately-sized drill bit so that these ends of remesh can be inserted into the holes in the wood.  Then repeat on the other side of the frame.  Put the tag ends of the remesh into the drilled holes on one side of the frame and tap them down with your hammer, then go over to the other side and repeat the process.  Use zip ties to secure the remesh to the wood.  When you’re done you should have a short tunnel of remesh that covers one half of your wooden frame.  See below.

Ends of the remesh inserted into holes drilled in the skids.

The remesh is bent and each end of it is placed into holes drilled in each skid.

Then zip ties secure the remesh to the wooden frame.

3.  Repeat step 2 using another sheet of remesh on the other end of the frame.  Then zip tie the two tunnels of remesh together at the bottom and at several other points to help hold the whole thing together.

Both sheets of remesh bent into the supporting hoop shapes.

Zip ties hold the 2 sheets of remesh together in several places.

4.  Use a jigsaw to cut some plywood scraps to fit all 4 corners of the chicken scooter.  Attach them to the wooden frame with screws and the remesh with zip ties.

Scrap plywood frames the front end for the door.

More scrap plywood frames the solid back end of the scooter.

5.  Now roll out your chicken wire and cut 3 10-foot lengths.  Put them over the remesh on one end and staple it to the wooden frame.  Then do the other end.  Save the middle part for last.  The chicken wire will overlap some in the middle, which is fine.  You want to get the ends perfect, though, so do those first.  Secure with staples to the wood frame and with zip ties to the remesh.

Chicken wire covering the front end of the scooter's remesh.

3 4-foot sheets of chicken wire are enough to cover the entire length of the remesh on the chicken scooter.

6.  Using the 4 2-foot sections of 2 x 2, put in your corner braces.  I recommend doing this WAY earlier, like between steps 1 and 2, but I forgot.  Almost as easy to do it now, but just requires crawling into the chicken scooter structure.  I found out it’s quite roomy and comfortable, FYI.  Angle cut the ends of the 2 x 2’s and screw them into the wood frame as shown below.

A scrap 2x2 length with angle cuts on the ends makes a serviceable corner brace for added stability when dragging the chicken scooter around the pasture.

7.  Put a section of tarp over the chicken wire on one half of the chicken scooter to provide some shade for the chickens.  Secure the tarp with zip ties.

The tarp provides shade and shelter from the rain for the broilers.

8.  I used pliers to cut the remesh for this next step, but if you have a linesaw it will probably make your day go faster and your hands be less sore.  The cutting of the remesh with pliers took more time than the rest of this project put together.  Anyway, cut the remesh to fit your openings on each end of the chicken scooter.  Cover the remesh with chicken wire using zip ties.  Attach the chicken-wire-covered remesh to each end with staples and zip ties on the back end (the end you won’t use for a door).  I then covered this with a scrap sheet of corrugated metal so that the chickens had one end of their scooter fully enclosed for protection from the weather and predators.  We hooked one of my old license plates to the back end just for fun, but obviously that’s optional.

The solid back end provides shelter for the broilers as well as a place where predators have difficulty getting to them.

9.  Do the same thing as in the previous step, just instead of attaching all of the metal to the remesh and chicken wire and tightening it down this side will become a door.  We tied the bottom of the door to the wood frame using zip ties.  Then we used carabiners to secure the top so that we could just unhook them and ease the whole front down to allow us access to change water, add feed, or gather chickens up for processing.

The poor-boy hinges made of zip ties allow the door to swing down. They are also cheap and fast to replace.

10.  Drill two holes in the 12-foot 2 x 4’s in the front and put a loop of rope through it to help you pull the scooter around.  It’s actually really lightweight.

11.  Pull the rope until you get your chicken scooter to the pasture you want your chickens to use.

12.  Add waterer, feed trough, and chickens.  Move daily.

Well, there’s your 12-step program for building a chicken scooter!

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Gifts and a finished poultry house

Our wonderful housewarming gift from my parents!

Isn’t that a fantastic mailbox?

That’s one of the presents my parents got us as a housewarming/farmwarming gift.  Lindsey and I think it’s really beautiful, and it was up on the post within hours of arriving via UPS.  It’s a vast improvement over the old mailbox, but I’ll let you be the judge:

Before

After

The postal worker should be delighted to put mail in that box!  My parents also got us a purple (Lindsey’s favorite color) bluebird nesting box – we have a lot of bluebirds that hang around, and we’d like to encourage them to stay.  The final gifts were 4 car magnets with our logo that we can put on the vehicles to drum up customers:

Now we look legit!

Don’t the magnets and the mailbox look great?  Next task:  find a good location for the bluebird box.

Yesterday Lindsey and I finally finished the poultry house / brood house.  I think it will be used to brood batches of poultry in the late spring and summer and then be used for turkey breeding during the late winter and early spring.  One bay of it will also be the guinea fowls permanent home.  Here are the front and side shots:

The front of the poultry house, viewed from the loft of the barn.

A 3/4 view of the new poultry house.

It looks crooked because the whole building is crooked.  It’s from the 1920’s and still standing, so I won’t gripe about it until I’m still standing at 90.  It has chicken wire across the top for sunlight and ventilation, separations inside to divide the birds into manageable groupings, and several tree branch perches of different diameters in each bay.  The bay on the left also has 5 milk crates attached to the back wall in which we hope our laying hens will make their daily deposits.

This took a lot longer than I thought it would because we had to measure everything so many ways and basically experiment to see what would fit where to make this coop as predator-proof as possible while still being comfy for the flocks.  Total cost to us = $219.37.  We did buy a lot of extra wood on accident.  The girl said the boards we bought for the front of the building were 6 feet long.  She meant to say that they were sixTEEN  feet long.  I was very confused when we pulled around to the side of the lumber yard to load the wood up and I saw the 16 foot boards.  I saw a lot of sawing in our future.

Well, it’s done!  Just add bedding, waterers, feeders, and birds!  Next project….. chicken tractor.

Putting up the board walls.

Still putting up boards.

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