Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raising Poultry

The first project is in the books here at the farm.  We raised our first batch of chickens over the past two months, culminating with their delivery for processing this evening.  Tomorrow, I'll go pick up plucked birds that have been cleaned inside and out.  15 will go in my freezer (and then some of those go to friends) and half go to my investor who purchased the chicks for us.

We started our adventure by picking up 33 cheeping yellow fuzz balls in a cardboard box at the post office.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for live chicks to traverse the local post office as the postal employees found this to be completely normal.  My investors total outlay for the birds was $68.

At the farm, which yet lacks a barn (in the planning stages), I prepared for the birds ahead of time by taking eight 8 ft long deck boards, cutting two in half, and putting 1 1/2 " notches 2 " from each end on both edges.  This created a jumbo set of crafting sticks from which I was able to assemble a rapidly deployable brooder box.  Straw lined the bottom and heat lamps provided the warmth for the chicks for the first three weeks until they had put on some weight and feathers began to grow.

For starters, the birds only needed one water dispenser and one feed dispenser.  This quickly doubled by the end of week 2.  By week 4, I needed a third waterer and feeder to keep up with their demand for daily feeding and by week 5 they were being fed and watered morning and night.  The last two weeks we had the birds, weeks 6 and 7, they went through 100 lbs of feed each week, and the last week could have easily been 150 lbs if we hadn't taken them off their feed yesterday in preparation for slaughter.

Our cost per bag of feed was $18 for "chicken grower" quasi organic crumbles.  The feed and water dispensers ran about $20 each, and the heat lamps were around $10 each (we had two in use).  So our project costs were somewhere around $400 to raise 30 meat birds to slaughtering weight.  As these were technically free range (weather permitting) and definitely not cage raised, I could compare them to organic free range birds at about $25 for a 5-6 lbs. bird.  Our theoretical profit is somewhere shy of double our costs, so we feel this was a good investment.  Additionally, it was a learning experience for the kids and we got exercise from hiking up and down the hill to the chicken coop.


Chicks in the brooder box.

Chickens at 6 weeks

Off to the processor! Everybody buckle up!

As you can see in the last picture, the brooder box came back into play for getting the birds transported.  I put down a tarp in the back of my wunder wagun and we all went for a stinky ride about 20 minutes away from here.  Our processing costs will be $2.00 per bird at a very kindly Amish farm.

Next spring, we intend to bring in some layers and start producing our own eggs.  After that, we are considering sheep or goats, but will wait until the barn is built to settle on that decision.  I like the idea of having milk goats, but you have to keep your milk goats breeding to keep them lactating, unlike cows.  So I will also need to develop a taste for goat meat.