Chickens update

Austrolorps on fresh pasture

Austrolorps on fresh pasture

We have about fifty Austrolorp laying hens and one rooster, Hans.  We just moved them onto a fallow field near the goats today.  The rest of our fields are getting limed and cover-cropped for the winter, so we need to get all the fencing and trellising off them for right now.

They’ve been laying eggs for about two months now.  Austrolorps are classified as “dual-purpose” chickens, which means that they lay eggs at a good rate but also gain weight quickly enough to be used as meat birds.  Which means, basically, you can’t have enough Austrolorps.

On Oct. 15th, we took some of the eggs and, instead of eating them for breakfast, we put them into a $40 styrofoam incubator.  Some of us were skeptical, but then one day we started hearing “peep peep!  peep peep!” from inside the eggs, and pretty soon, they were pecking through.

Freshly hatched chicks next to their incubator

Freshly hatched chicks next to their incubator

Freshly hatched chicken egg

Freshly hatched chicken egg

Day-old Austolorp chicks

Day-old Austolorp chicks

Chicken Tractor

Joel Salatin is the self-proclaimed “lunatic farmer” who has been struggling against industrial farming methods and the government regulations which favor them to create a set of holistic agricultural practices.  Inspired by his pasture raised chicken system, we’ve been raising our broilers in so-called chicken tractors.  The basic idea is a bottomless moveable coop that gives the chickens access to fresh greens and bugs, while their waste returns nutrients to the soil. This is the second of this kind of tractor we have built, and we have improved on the design in several ways.

Here is the frame that we built.  The dimensions of the tractor are 8’ X 8’ X 2’. For materials we went with 2”X2” lumber, partly because we had a bunch lying around, but also because it will result in a very light frame that will be easy to pull around.

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IMAG0131  The triangly corner bits are made out of plywood, and serve to provide cross bracing, as well as  increased surface area to screw things together.

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“Triangly corner bits” is the technical term

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hatch doors were built in place to assure a good fit.  The pieces were cut and clamped in place with some shim material to leave a gap with the frame, then the cross bracing corner pieces were screwed on from underneath. We went with hatches on opposing corners to give us greater access when it comes time to get the chickens out of the tractor. With two hatches on the same side they have a tendency to hide in the back.IMAG0123

 

We also installed some support pieces in each quadrant to prevent pooling of water.IMAG0133

 

The feeder hangs from the hatch in such a way that opening it raises the feeder out of the tractor.  This allows us to move the tractor without removing the feeder. An additional benefit is that we can pour the feed in without having to contend with a chicken feeding frenzy.IMAG0134

 

The waterer is a bucket with 6 horizontal chicken nipples screwed into it.  We’ve found this setup to be vastly superior to any other watering system.  It’s simple, effective, and low maintenance.  The horizontal nipples do not have the leaking issues that the vertical ones are known for. The bucket rests on support beams and is attached to the side of the tractor with a bungee cord, again allowing us to move the tractor without needing to remove it. We also installed a piece that the hatch can be propped up with to allow one person to refill the water on their own.

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Instead of using a hand truck to move the tractor like some designs call for, we opted to install wheels on the back.  The frame lays flat on the ground when not in motion, but when the front is raised up to pull the tractor, the back also raises up several inches, to prevent slow chickens from getting their feet caught under it.IMAG0125

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the final result. We used EPDM (pond liner) instead of sheet metal for the covered sections because it is lighter, easier to work with, weather-proof, and again we had a bunch lying around. The back half is completely covered to provide shelter from wind, rain, and sun. The front half is mostly open to allow for good ventilation and access to the sun, and it is covered with chicken wire.

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And here are the chickens, checking out their new digs.IMAG0148

 

 

 

We Got Chickens!!!

Acorn just purchased 18 pullets of 4 varieties. We have Black Stars, Red Stars, Barred Rocks, and Rhode Island Reds. The Star breeds are Hybrids, and the other two are Heritage breeds. All of them are dual purpose breeds that will lay eggs, and also provide some meat. We purchased our pullets and supplies at Eden Farms, right down the road in Gum Springs. Our particular birds are 14 weeks old and should begin laying in about a month. Once they get going, each bird should provide about 5-7 eggs per week. We eat a lot of eggs here at Acorn, so 90-127 eggs is unlikely to supply our needs. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to provide for all of our own egg needs.
Fortunately for us, years ago Acorn had chickens and there was already a mobile chicken coup available. It was cleverly built on top of an old car frame in disuse. It had lots of aging problems, but Andy and I have done a rough refurbishment. It’s likely in the future we will build a new stationary coup, and maybe even build a new mobile one using this old car frame. Ideally, we would already have fenced in the area around the coup for the chickens to roam in, but all of the intense snow has prevented us from getting to that stage. As soon as the snow melts enough, we will get the fence up and start letting the chickens out during the day. Well, here are some pictures:

Chickens...

Chickens...

Inside the Coup

Inside the Coup

Outside the Coup

Outside the Coup

Andy Feeding the Chickens

Andy Feeding the Chickens

A Chicken and I

A Chicken and I

Chickens Eating

Chickens Eating

Andy

Andy

Oh yeah, this is Andy.  He is our newest provisional member.  Andy has been traveling through the FEC, other communities, and even to China.  He has been the main source of energy in starting up our new chicken system.  Thanks Andy!