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.
Space nuts, unite! The Perseid meteor shower will peak on August 12. Get out and do some sky watching. If it’s mosquito season, as it is here, and you have lots of standing water from constant rains, as we do here, put on something to repel them. I was out taking some pictures of Mars this evening, and they were horrific.
Speaking of Mars….
Taken with the Canon.
Taken with the Nikon. Mars is just below and left of center. Hit the image to see the fuller version. This was taken with an extended shutter time, because of course it’s dark as hell out here at the ranch, and I wanted to capture more as we have a rare clear evening here in the summer tonight. It’s gorgeous and rather humbling to gaze up at the night sky.
Back here on the mothership, though, we still have things to do, people and animals to take care of, and on and on. I spent several hours at the NOC today, redoing a server for someone who wants a testing server in addition to their production server, and crawling around, tracing lines. It’s time for our location audit, and at least one part is done: the physical locations of every piece of gear. Tracing power cables and ethernet cables, though, is tedious, dirty, sweaty work (because you’re on the heat side of the row, with all those servers blowing hot air on you) and takes more than one trip (unless it’s a completely epic trip where you get to ignore everything else in your life for eight hours).
I had stepped outside last night to look off to the east where a storm was passing, to see it was viable to set up a camera to try to capture some lightning. It was not, but I did find this fat bumpy guy hanging out on the porch.
He didn’t budge, even when Einstein was sniffing him.
And because I have 21 chicks hanging out in my garage, here’s a pic of a bunch of them piled up in the corner after I had changed out the pads in the brooder. You’ll notice there’s already poop on the new pads. Apparently they cannot go more than two seconds without pooping. But, they are all still alive, happily peeping away when they’re not sleeping.
After the NOC work, I popped by Tractor Supply to get some pine shavings for their bedding. They’ve had enough time to understand what their food is and where, so they should not be trying to eat giant volumes of the bedding. At first, they didn’t want to walk on it. But as I spread it out all around them and then into the corner they all ran to, they got themselves together and went back to their pooping, cheeping ways.
The Cornish X bird – the yellow ones – are growing much more quickly than the layers. You can tell already. They are going to be good eating when their brief, but happy, lives comes to an end.
True story about the arrival of the chicks (ten layer chickens, plus an additional free layer thanks to the hatchery, and ten for meat, if you have forgotten or are new – and if you’re new, hi!).
It’s kind of the same story about the bees and UPS, really, except the USPS tracking updates really, really suck sometimes.
I ordered the birds on the 30th. They hatched that very day, and McMurray Hatchery (see them for all your baby chicken needs!) packed the chicks and sent them out via the USPS priority mail. They kindly sent a tracking number, and on the 31st, the tracking indicated the package of peepers was at St Paul (McMurray is in Iowa), and “pending acceptance”. I have no idea what the hell that means, USPS. So, I checked throughout the day on the 31st, waiting for some kind of change to the status – like they’d been sent on to the next fulfillment center, for instance. Nope, nothing beyond the package being in St Paul.
Now, chicks can survive for several days, as they absorb the yolk from the egg and that sustains them. But if they get lost in the byzantine maze of the USPS centers, they’ll probably die.
On the 1st, I got up, did the usual morning things, and at about 9 AM I checked the tracking again. The status said: out for delivery, with a time on that status of 8:34 AM.
Believe me, gentle reader, when I say such statuses are complete and utter bullshit.
If you are getting livestock through the mail or via UPS, it’s highly likely that you will have to go to your local post office or the UPS facility to pick them up. It’s been true for the bees I’ve ordered over the years, and I was certain it would be true this time as well. I told several people I thought it was a lie.
At about 10:30 AM, we got a call from our tiny, rural post office, saying they had our chicks and please come get them. I hate to be the one who says “I told you so” but….
I made my way to the PO – which, by the way, closes for lunch for an hour at 11:30 AM most days – and got stuck at a train crossing as a freight train rumbled and clanked its way to wherever it was going. By the time I reached that point, it was a bit after 11 AM. As much as I love trains (I do love almost everything transportation-wise except cars) I was hoping it would get itself finished so I could get across the tracks to the main road to the PO – which is the second right after the tracks.
They got themselves moved along and I made it to the PO with time to spare. I checked in the box to make everyone was alive (they were), then secured them and headed back to the ranch. My sister and her kids had arrived at the ranch to do a little work before I made it back, so while it was not a surprise I was bringing back chicks, it was a surprise for my niece, who was not even born the last time we had chickens at the ranch. And this is how she reacted.
I don’t think there’s much in this world cuter than a kid meeting baby animals for the first time.
Also, for the record, the chick she put back in the box was just fine. It went into the brooder with the rest and they are all doing well.
Chick prep day whatever: today I braved Tractor Supply to lay in some stores for the chicks, due to arrive (probably) Tuesday. I’m sure the USPS will be much happier with a box of peeping chicks than packages of humming bees.
Anyhow, the local place was hopping today: I counted over a dozen other people there, including the stereotypical grizzled old cowboy, boots, hat, and a belt buckle that was rather impressive. He had a head full of white that nicely set off his deep tan – what could be seen of it, since he was also decked out in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. People may wonder about working outdoors, in Florida, in summer, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, but if you’re doing certain types of work (especially during mosquito season) it’s better to have more cover than less. He was not, alas, there to buy a new hay corral or have Big Jim (in my mind, there is always a “Big Jim” at a feed store or Tractor Supply) load up some heavy ass posts and giant rolls of cattle fencing because he was finally closing in that big piece of pasture, you know the one, on down past that new pond, right?
Just a single item, maybe two, that I couldn’t even see from where I was in the line with my 50 pound bag of chick starter feed, some chick grit, and a new trough at the other register they finally opened to relieve Elaine (that was her name, actually), who originally had us about ten deep waiting to check out.
I also had to hit up Target today, looking for a couple of adapters. It wasn’t a horrible experience, completely, but that is one soulless, non-interactive place to be. I imagine it’s only a half step up from Wal-Mart, which I have not visited in well over 15 years at this point, thankfully. Not a single person talked to me – which is fine, I don’t exactly crave human contact – and as I went toward the checkout, the air smelled curdled somehow, as if someone had dropped a jug of milk that splattered everywhere but didn’t it get cleaned up all the way. Five days ago. Or it could have been the guy in line in front of me. Either way.
To top off my day, I had to go to Best Buy, which is now a riot of sound and gigantic active tv screens. They really, really, would like you to buy various appliances. At least the people are friendly enough, but the checkout takes forever because they want to see if you are in their system already. Whatever happened to the days of just buying the crap you need and getting out?
Also, I have to say that moving all the electronic detritus you’ve accumulated from one machine to another has to rank up there with the most tedious, annoying things you have to do. Even more annoying is when you realize you copied some of the outlook-related files, but not the actual PST file that you need to go on the new system. Argh.
Funny stuff from the folks who made the hanging waterers I bought (instead of making them myself because my time is money and I’ve got enough capital tied up in other things at this moment): they would like you to know they also sell nesting boxes – for the non-chicken initiated, these are where the chickens will lay their eggs, typically, although they will also lay them on the floor or, even more fun, under bushes/plants, where you won’t find them until much, much later, and one wrong move translates into a very big mistake involving the sulfuric aroma of rotten eggs. Anyhow, their illustrations just made me laugh, and perhaps you’ll get a chuckle, too.
It is true that chickens, once they start eating their own eggs, will often continue to do so unless they are physically prevented from doing it. There are solutions for that, but the best thing is to prevent them from doing it in the first place. Giving them good nesting boxes and collecting the eggs on a regular basis tends to do the trick. More importantly: no poop on the eggs! (In reality, with good nesting boxes of any sort, the eggs will generally be poop-free.)
Today was going to be the buying all the chicken tractor things and building the chicken tractor for the meat birds. Off to the big box store we go:
Said big box store did not have two of the fittings necessary to build the frame. They claimed to have one of the parts at a “nearby” store, 90 miles away. Somehow, I think their definition of “nearby” is a tad different than my own. Fortunately, you can buy pretty much anything online these days, so I ordered those fittings plus a double wye connector to make my vertical feeder. The layers will have the vertical feeder. The meat birds will get fed in a trough. The reason I came up with a vertical feeder is simple: chickens are messy eaters, and will scratch food out of their feeders to the ground – where they will rarely touch it. It’s a space- and food-saving design.
All the birds, however, will have a nipple-accessible water supply, rather than an open one. There are a handful of reasons for this, but the most important one for the waterer AND the food can be boiled down to one word: poop.
Chickens will happily sit or stand on top of their waterers or feeders and just as happily poop all over them and their contents. Two of the waterers will be hanging, without enough room for them to sit on top. The third will be set on cinder blocks to keep it off the ground, and will have a cone-shaped top to make things uncomfortable for chicken butts.
I have some giant boxes (thanks, amazon!) to use as brooders for the chicks. While the meat birds will grow quickly enough to be kicked out into their tractor after just a couple of weeks, the layers will need a bit more time before being put out to pasture. It is necessary to clean out the brood boxes pretty frequently, unless one enjoys the smell of chicken poop (nope!). For that, I’ll line the bottom of the box with non-skid shelf liner, and then have some puppy pads on top of that. That way, when it’s cleaning time, the puppy pads can just be rolled up and tossed.
The flaps of the boxes I’ll stand upright and duct tape together, so the sides will be high enough they can’t fly out when they realize they have winds. On the top, some 1/8th inch hardware cloth for ventilation and to keep out snakes – as the chicks will likely be out back on the patio, this is necessary to keep the snakes from eating the tasty wee chicks – and then a heat lamp for each brooder, so the chicks can warm themselves if they get chilled.
The chicks are due next week, and I still have quite a bit to do to finish prepping for them. My brother is very handy, and he’s going to be building me a mobile coop when the guy who created it releases his plans for the 2.0 version, which is lighter and better balanced than his prototype. Half the layers will go into the mobile coop, and I’ll take them around the areas of the property that still need work. They’ll scratch, peck, and (most importantly) poop in these areas, which will help the building of the soil in those places. The other half will go into the chickenyard we used for the OG chickens. All the meat birds will go into the chicken tractor to live out their short but happy lives. They’ll get fresh grass and bugs and such, but they will not be ranging – they get large very quickly and they’re unable to run into a coop if a predator circles around. They also do not scratch and peck while foraging as the layers do. But – as always, the most important thing – they will be pooping, wherever they are, and that will be good for my soil.
At the end of the gardening season, I plan to design a way to let the mobile layers into the gardens themselves, to clean up whatever is in the rows – and, of course, poop everywhere – as we head into winter. They can’t be trusted in a production garden, as they will peck at pretty much anything, including fruit still on the plants and stomp all over the plants themselves. This plan is still a work in progress.