Generally, the meaties are well-behaved as they run to the feeder each morning.
From time to time, there will be a little squawking at one another if they can’t quite figure out there’s an entire area available and choose to try to muscle in on an existing arc of the circle there.
Sometimes, their laziness is so pronounced, they may choose to sit and just eat what the others are knocking out of the trough, like the meatie at seven o’clock here:
In the end, though, they all get to eat, and boy, do they eat.
The layers seem to be settling into a routine of an afternoon nap. For three days straight when I’ve headed out in the afternoon to check them, they’re all under the front of the coop near the ramp.
I can’t fault them for that – i deem naps a Very Good Thing.
At some point this coming week, I will get some hay into the nesting boxes at the back of the coop so they can start getting used to being in them. I’d prefer not to have to chase eggs everywhere when they begin to lay.
For both sets of birds, starting tomorrow, they will diverge from their feed type. The meaties will get a feed specifically for meat birds, and the layers one specifically for them, although I expect, now that they are out and foraging that they will eat less feed.
Another no-rain day here at the ranch. I guess Mother Nature is giving it some time to try to shrink some of the puddles that are still around so she can refill them.
The meaties went out on pasture after their second week in the brooder, for a couple of reasons. First, they are eating machines, and often crowded out the layers for awhile at each refresh time. Second, by that time, they were already twice the size of the layers, who are not bred to pack on so much weight in a short period of time. Third (and these items are in no particular order), to be frank about it, their poop really, really stinks. I suppose this is a byproduct of an animal specifically bred to gorge itself. But they are gaining size nicely, and will be ready for processing the first week of October, if we stay on track.
In any case, I moved the layers out to the chickshaw last week, and kept them locked up in the coop for a few days so they would understand this was now their home. Monday, I set up the poultry fence – kind of misnamed, really, as it’s designed to keep predators out, not chickens in, given that they can fly and sometimes even remember this fact – closing in their chickshaw and an area around it, and let them out on the grass.
One of the black ones that has been my pal since they were in the brooder was, of course, the first one to take those first steps down the ramp and into the great outdoors. Once they all got out, they acted just like chickens do: they roamed around (not far from the chickshaw, though) ate some grass and whatever else was there, tried to do a little dirt bathing without a lot of success.
We’ve simply had too much rain for that, so I’m going to get them a tub for inside the chickshaw, with sand (and DE mixed in) so they’ll have somewhere for a dirt bath.
I popped out there about half a dozen times today, to make sure they were all still alive and inside the fenced off area. At one point today, I let the dogs come out, too. While Mickey, my big, goofy border collie didn’t really care all that much about them, Einstein, my other dog, did. He’s a terrier mix, and assumed the hunter pose, one leg raised, body taut, when he realized those things smaller than him were something he wanted. Although I warned him away, he stuck his nose on the energized fence and got a quick lesson that these birds were not for him.
In a few months, these girls should start laying. For now, they need to get used to being out in the day and in the coop at night, safe from the critters that roam in the darkness.
It’s official: I’m calling it a season in the gardens.
For the fourth year in a row.
This does not make me happy. On the other hand, in previous years I was going through yet another bout of pneumonia. This year, it was just a sinus infection – but recovering from it took a month and a half. That month and a half is arguably the most important time for the gardens, as it took over May-June. If you get behind right there at the beginning of the real season, it’s likely you will never catch up, and indeed I did not. The plants I’d managed to transplant suffered, the plants I had yet to set out remained in their flats far too long, and the weeds absolutely strangled everything.
So as I looked at the gardens as I mowed today, despite that little voice telling me that yes, I could in fact get that next round of tomatoes planted and have them bear fruit as the calendar season closed out, I realized it simply was not going to happen.
Instead, what I’m going to do is just put the rest of the plants out of their misery and pull them for the compost heap (which, I might add, has a very thick layer of pine shavings and chicken poop on it now). And then: pull the weeds. Go to battle once more with the wisteria, which is well on its way to taking over the entirety of the east to northeastern corner of the front gardens. Take the metal sides off the rows and just have them as regular raised beds. Scoop all the rubber mulch out of the walkways in the gardens (and figure out what the hell to do with it all afterward). Lay down the commercial weedbarrier in the walkways, the same weedbarrier that covers the frames as they are right now, which is effective, although inevitably there will be weeds wherever there are holes in it, like where holes have been cut to do plantings or where the landscape staples puncture it. Get the cover crop seed in place so it can establish before we go into “winter” (I have half a row already germinated and really thick; the buckwheat came up first and has delightful little flowers on its tops.) Check all the grow light fixtures and toss the dead ones, order new ones.
There is more, of course. There is always more. There are still chickens to take care of (and one set to butcher around the first week of October) and bees to maintain. But when the list looks a bit overwhelming, I just take a deep breath and think: one step, then another. It can be done.
That’s right: the layer chicks! They’re getting larger – not as large as the Cornish meat birds, to be sure, but that’s ok. They’re not bred for meat.
In addition to getting their true tail feathers, they are also molting, which makes them look quite a bit like their dinosaur predecessors. The black one in the very center is my best pal. When I’m working on changing their water and feeder, she will fly right up and perch herself on my hand or forearm. I wonder if that will last when I evict them from their brooder and into the chickshaw?
Speaking of that sort of thing, I ordered some electrified poultry netting yesterday, and it will be here on Thursday. After I get a practice round of setting up the fence, then moving it, I’ll be setting these girls in the great outdoors. They’ll be in the chickshaw coop for a couple of days, to get used to that being the place they’ll go each night, and then I’ll let them out onto pasture, with the fence around the area. The poultry netting is not really to keep the birds in, but rather to keep other critters out. Raccoons especially seem to like chicken heads, and we lost a chicken due to a ripped off head the last time we had chickens – because chickens are not smart enough to not stick their head through a fence to look at a raccoon hanging out on the other side of it.
In a couple of months, we should be getting our first eggs from these girls. It’s going to be great!
After a pretty heavy storm back in July, we got a nifty double rainbow at the ranch: sharp, full colors, courtesy of Mother Nature.
I had been doing really well both with the daily blog posts and with the writing toward the novel, but got derailed because (as usual) I shift a ton of energy to all the things that are on the todo list – which of course never ends – for the business. By the end of the day, between the chickens, bees, and work on the property/in the gardens, and the work work added on top of that, I’m usually falling asleep at my desk.
So, I have to rein in the “everything has to be checked off every day!” portion of the brain and divert that energy into writing. I’ve recruited one of my sisters to act as an accountability person for me, just to ask me if I got my writing done each day around her bedtime hour.
I keep having specific scenes for books other than the one I’m working on primarily, and ideas for other books come zipping into my brain all the time. I suppose this is a good problem to have, Focus. Focus. Focus. Get the first one done. Then you’ll know you can do it, and the next one should be easier in reducing that gut-wrenching worry about finishing something. Anything.
For two days this week, we had no rain. That’s both good and bad, as we were working on a couple of projects: my brother on the chickshaw that will hold the layer birds, and me on the chicken tractor for the meat birds. His was a much more complicated build than mine (and the finished product looks awesome, thanks, bro!).
I had an issue with a couple of the joints on the tractor, and I thought I was going to have to break those joints and redo them. Now, naturally when you create a PVC joint with cement, you want them to be there forever (or as close as forever you can get). And, if you do a search on how to break a cemented PVC joint, there are tons of people telling you it cannot be done – they say resign yourself to your fate and hacksaw the joint out and redo it completely because cement is forever.
These people have never heard of chemistry, I expect. Of course joints can be broken, just like (say) cemented bricks can be broken. For the latter, it’s just a matter of brute force with a hammer and chisel or (in larger settings) a jackhammer. For PVC, brute force is unlikely to work – but really, you just need to heat the joint in order to break the bond the chemical reaction creates when cement is applied to the PVC. If you have lots of toys, you can superheat a piece of metal that fits inside the joint, leave that in place for a minute or two, and then remove the metal and pull apart the joint. Or, you could just use a heatgun and aim it at the joint. As it happened, I did not have to redo any joints.
And then, it rained. A ton: just over an inch and a half in about half an hour. At the peak of the downpour, it was falling at a rate of over four inches an hour.
I had put a temporary tarp on the tractor, just to see how it would look It lost its tiedowns.
Einstein kept watch over things.
This morning, I went out to take a look at it, and found that Mother Nature yesterday called out all those people who claimed joints couldn’t be broken.
The design obviously needs a bit more support on the crossbars. The original design uses metal roofing panels on the back end, which lends a tad more structural support, but I can’t use that here, as then we’d have our own personal solar powered chicken roaster. But as to the joints: I found these two broken joints..
These are where the door to the front of the pen lies and the second crossbar, respectively.
Do you know how hard it is to get a section of PVC back in when the two ends are not easy to completely get to and when the entire section would need to be disassembled? I managed to get it back in place with (new) cement, then added a brace at the joint where the door sits on the first crossbar.
I hung up the waterer at the front of the pen, and the food at the rear, for two reasons: one, so the feed wouldn’t get wet – the feeder has an open top. Two, it’s to force them to get some exercise, versus just plopping down and spending the rest of their days parked in front of the food and water, were they together.
Then, it was time to separate the meats birds from the layers and toss them out into their new home. Mother Nature decided to join the party.
I had to hustle to beat the gigantic storm that was showing up on the radar, so I went to the brooder and captured the meaties, putting them into a bin for transport. For all their squawking when I was catching them, they calmed right down and settled nicely.
I put the birds, bin and all, into the tractor, then slowly tipped the bin to its side to give them access to the open ground. They were hesitant to leave the bin initially, but finally made their way out.
The storm was advancing, so I left the birds to figure things out (and hopefully, one of those things to figure out was to get out of the rain, since they are generally not terribly bright).
I went out after the first round of rain and only found a small pool of water on the tarp, so that’s promising. I also found them all piled into the bin, which I’d left in place on its side, and which I will leave there throughout their growth. I had to crawl into the back end of the tractor and toss some food into a trail to lead to the feeder. They hadn’t quite made it before the storm forced me back inside.
This is their first night out in the tractor on the grass. I’m restraining myself from popping out there with the flashlight to see how they are. Either the tractor is secure and they will be fine, or it is not, and something will get them (and I will learn a lesson from that). I’m hoping they’ll find the waterer. I’ve had the same type of waterer in the brooder (sitting on a brick versus hanging) since the end of their first week, and if they can’t keep that in their tiny brains, I’ll have to crawl in once more.
Think of it as a mobile chicken coop without a floor, sometimes with wheels, sometimes not, sometimes holding just a few chickens, sometimes holding a bunch of them. The chickens can be free ranging when let out of their tractor, or they can be kept just in the tractor, being moved to fresh grass when they’ve worked over the ground they’ve been on.
Most of the time, the penned birds are the meat chickens. They are just too big and too slow to be able to run for cover when a predator shows up. That’s how my meat birds will be. The layer hens will be allowed to come and go as they please, with nesting boxes available for them to do their thing.
Why is it called a tractor? Mainly because the chickens mimic the use of a tractor, pecking and scratching at the ground, and leaving manure on the ground they cover.
For people with backyard chickens, the tractor is often a light A-frame type structure, housing a few chickens. For more chickens, the designs vary widely.
Ours is a rectangular tractor, built using pvc and chicken wire. Once the base is in place, the rest of the assembly flies right by.
Top level completed except for the crossbar I’ll attach a tarp to, in order to shed rain. With a flat design, you have to do something about the water that will collect on the tarp when it rains, and it rains quite a bit here.
With the frame finished, I moved on to making the doors. There are two in this build, one in the front and one in the rear. I want to have their feed under cover, since they’ll be receiving it in a trough versus the no-spill, no-waste feeder I made for the layers. Their water will hang from the crossbar that holds the tarp.
This was the beginning of the front door.
Both the doors will be covered in chicken wire, just as the rest of the coop is. I put together all of the upper part of the tractor, plus built both doors, plus skinned the frame in chicken wire. This while I was also handling business stuff, and helping people out of their jams.
The completed shell, wrapped in chicken wire, with the frames of both doors lying on it, zip ties holding them in place so I can get their hinges on and put chicken wire on without having to squat down if it were on the ground, because my knees were yelling at me pretty loudly by the end of the day..
This tractor is about 12′ long and 6′ across, so will hold lots of birds. This time, it will only be holding ten birds.
I plan on finishing it tomorrow, and my brother is working on the chickshaw, a mobile coop based on the design of rickshaws. That one will hold layers hens, and I’ll be able to move them around the property – they will peck and scratch far more than the meat birds, who only want to eat, sleep, and poop. I have a PT appointment tomorrow right in the middle of the day, and I’m a little bummed out that I won’t be able to film the whole chickshaw build. I might be able to rope my mom or my bro into running the camera.
The meat birds weigh just under a pound. Keep in mind that these birds were just as tiny as the layers when I picked them up from the post office on August 1. That’s 12 days to a pound. If they keep that up, they will likely be ready in about nine weeks. If their weight starts to accelerate, they’ll be ready sooner. Most of the time, they’re ready in eight weeks, and that’s what I’m basing things on.
You can see how large they’ve gotten in about a week and a half. The bird on the perch I added to their brooder is a layer.
Birds huddled up to nap. The difference in size is readily apparent.
Nifty watering bucket. It took them awhile to understand it when I put it in the brooder, but eventually, they got it. Some of the fat meat birds settled themselves right in front of the bucket where the nipples are. They also have a tendency to plop themselves in front of the feeder to eat, then sleep, then eat, then sleep. It’s like Mr. Creosote, except in chicken form (luckily, no vomiting, but plenty of pooping).
By the end of the week (and hopefully sooner) the meat birds will be taken out to their new tractor – their home for the duration until it’s time to end their happy, although brief, lives.
I’ve eaten now, and the day is getting to me, telling me to go to sleep. I may catch a nap.
A work in progress for the meat birds. They do not range or scratch and peck well as they get older and heavier, and they are generally not fast enough to take cover when a predator appears. So, they get to hang out in their own private space. But they’ll be on fresh grass, have clean air and water, and will be mighty tasty when the time comes to process them.
The bottom of the build, looking from what will be the front to the back. This was a dry fit.
Then, a look at the back toward the front. There’s one more cross pipe that will go through the center of it.
Once everything was double checked and arranged, I moved on to the cement phase of the build. The left side and the front and back are glued in this view from the front.
And a look from the back – the right side and front and back are glued.
I also managed to drop the can of cement thanks to the issues with my left hand (fuck you, cancer!). Half of it is on the driveway now. At least I have plenty left to get the rest of the build done.
A work in progress that needs to get done quickly, because the meat birds are getting huge. All of them were a little skittish about the watermelon rinds I put in.
I know chickens are bird brains and not terribly smart, but they peck pretty much anything – just not tonight, i guess. All they did was walk on those rinds, pooping on them.
Tomorrow: onward with more mowing (did the beeyard today) and more assembly of the chicken tractor. If we get it done in the next couple of days, I’m going to kick the meat birds out of the brooder and into their nice, spacious, outdoors condo.
Don’t forget, space nerds: the Pleiads are peaking on the 12th, so look to the skies.
There’s an old movie called The Lost Weekend. Ray Milland stars as Don, an alcoholic writer willing to pawn anything or steal from anyone to get a few bucks to buy whisky. (It’s an excellent movie and you should watch it – Milland rightfully won an Oscar for his part in the film, and Billy Wilder took home a Best Director statuette.)
I had a dream the other night where Robert Redford (of all people) for some reason asked me what I really, really wanted to do. I had no answer, which was odd, because I do know I want to write and run my business and have my dogs and my bees and my chickens, and that’s what I’m doing. I don’t recall the actual context around the question in the dream – was I someone else, or myself, doing something other than I am now? Maybe.
Anyhow, I missed yesterday’s blog appointment because I was dealing with a massive issue with work that I’m not going to go into except to say it sucked. Royally. Today, we’ve dealt with two majo spamming issues related to peoples’ contact forms on their web sites. For the love of whatever you hold holy, put a fucking captcha on your forms. And DO NOT enable any “send a copy of this to yourself, submitter” crap. It’s an invitation to arbitrarily insert anyone’s email address and spammers will find it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they will, eventually, unless you secure it.
There ends your tech lesson for the day.
The chicks continue to live by the tenets of their lives, which is to eat, drinks, poop, and sleep, in any order they feel like it. At least they know what they really, really want to do. The meat birds, bred to get big, very quickly, are certainly living up to it. After a mere week, they are twice the size of their layer bird companions. Some of them just sit in front of the feeder and eat, sleeping in the same spot. When they go out on pasture, I’ll only be feeding them once during the day. What they eat in the daylight hours will be it until the next day. Letting them eat freely 24/7 for all their time will be too hard on their bodies, and they’re not terribly good about reining in their eating habits.
Got a start today on dry fitting the pieces together for the chicken tractor the meat birds will call home. It’s probably too large for the ten of them, but it’s easier to get more chickens down the line and have the space available than it is to decide to get more in a batch and have to scramble to make a new, larger tractor for them.
We’ll also have the mobile layers to move around the place. At first, there will only be five in there, but we would be able to put more if needed, and if the whole meat bird thing works out, I’d really like to get some turkeys next year in addition to more meat birds, to have for the holidays. And they would be hanging out with the layer birds, so it would be nice to be able to move them with the layers and let them range alongside.
Tomorrow, I get to pour barium down my tube and go get my guts scanned. I can’t eat anything, either, which is why I’m about to have my last meal, as it were, just after I post this. It’s gonna be a thrill, I’m sure.