Monday, May 31, 2010

Chicks are in the mail

Phoenix

Our chicks (advertised as "Day old," which means they are actually born in the mail) will be shipped tonight, from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. They should arrive tomorrow or Wednesday, the post office will hold the package so we don't come home to a box full of sun fried chicken. The general wisdom is to purchase chicks from a hatchery that is nearby, so that the animals spend less time in the mail where they can be subjected to all types of stresses. Shipping stress is mostly related to cold temperatures, so if we were trying to get chickens on the ground 2-3 months ago we'd want to use a geographically closer hatchery, but this is not a worry now that it's June. Hatcheries have minimum orders of birds so they can stay warm during travel by huddling up, we will end up with 27 birds (minimum order is 25 for chicks.) McMurray seems to be a rather large outfit, so we were able to get a variety of breeds, which is part of the reason I chose to go with them.

Blue Andalusians

These birds are intended to be egg layers, as well as eye candy. A good laying hen will plop out an egg a day, and even with voracious eaters like Johnson around we will not be able to eat that many eggs (although at least 7 will be roosters). What will we do with all the excess? Well, we can sell the eggs, obviously. We can also sell the laying, known as pullets. The chicks cost an average of $3.37 shipped and the market for laying hens ($15 or so) is kicking butt right now, everyone wants a backyard flock. We can butcher them for eating, although many are single breasted/razor breasted so they won't look like/cook like the double breasted chicken you're used to. I imagine an ideal laying flock for us would be 6 hens. We could have bought a small quantity like that from Agway or Tractor Supply Co. but I figured if we couldn't sell 20 chickens then we're doomed as farmers.

Red Modern Game

Once these chickens vacate their brooder (4-8 weeks) we will be getting a Barnyard Mix, which will include ducklings, goslings and turkey poults. One of these turkeys will be part of the Big Meal, and the rest of the birds will be kept either for eggs, meat, or eye candy, we're pretty flexible.

Single Crested Leghorn

I didn't purchase any meat birds, when the time comes we will probably buy Cornish Crosses, an often maligned but efficiently designed bird. I've worked with these birds before and while they are quite ugly and quite dumb, they are able to convert feed to meat like no other. We will raise them on pasture, but these birds are too large and lazy to free range on their own. If given the choice they would just lay down next to their feeder and only ever eat and sleep. Sustainable farmers usually use chicken tractors to manage these birds, a 10'x10' pen that you move daily. Many people will say that they do this to give the chickens fresh grass, but in actuality you're forcing the chickens to eat the newer grass, otherwise people would have perfected a free ranging system for the Cornish X. This system also helps to spread out their manure, a valuable soil amendment. In order to do this we'd need a stretch of flat land with short grass to move the chicken tractor along, if the grass is too long or the land too lumpy the chickens can sneak out of their enclosure. While we could mow up a nice patch of grass for this purpose, that'd be work we can delegate. Once we fence in our first pasture we can buy some goats, and those goats will do the mowing for us. Long story short, if all goes well we'll raise a batch late summer/early fall, worst case we'll wait until next year.

Silver Spangled Hamburg

Their brooder is all ready, it's pretty simple. A large plastic cow trough with a chicken wire lid, a waterer and feeder and heat lamp. Since the water trough was free the total outlay was pretty minimal, about $15. A picture will come in due time, I figured it'd be more interesting full of chicks.

Silver Polish

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