We’ve shared lots of pictures of our chickens – we are endlessly entertained by them (as is Resi, as I’m sure we’ve shared). Y’all have been subjected to photos of their diet, frosty chicken yards, their fancy coop digs, just about every little thing we could think to share. We are hatching out new little farm-bred Orpington and OrpingtonX chicks every month. We count our eggs as they hatch – and have standing requests for as many eggs as we can collect from customers in Maldonado and Punta del Este.
Those same customers who want more eggs than we can deliver? Keep asking for chicken. To eat. Which, eventually, we will produce as a by-product of growing the layer flock. After all, at least half of all chicks hatched should be cockerels. But Orpington type chickens are a dual-purpose chicken – eggs and meat. Which means they lay a fair number of eggs from a fairly hardy, good foraging hen that, over time, grows large enough to make a decent stewing chicken. The roosters, at full size, are downright large. But it takes a while to get the unwanted cockerels up to slaughter weight. In fact, the only time we’ve slaughtered roosters was when we bought the flock – with 13 extra, already adult, roosters. So we aren’t really sure how fast the rooster chicks will grow out.
The solution we’re trying out? Cornish-corss meat chicks. They have been bred to be double-breasted meat chickens that reach slaughter weight at 8 weeks. They’re ugly. Lazy (or energy conservators if you’re being charitable) – they eat, drink, sleep, and produce copious amount of excrement. But they produce a heavy carcass in a very short period of time. As much as we don’t really like them, we’re giving them a shot.
I picked up 40 chicks from the feet store at the end of November. We put them in brooders in the chicken coop and just this past week, with their 1-month birthday, we moved them outside to our newly-built chicken tractor.
It’s built on the same general premise as most chicken tractors – the chicken will get moved to new pasture every morning but not be allowed to free-range. And in four more weeks they would be off to freezer camp (or, as one blogger I read calls it, Iceland).
All of our grand plans have hit a very large speed-bump in the form of the local fox. The fox ate 28 of the 38 chicks in one night. (2 died previously from the typically hard to diagnose issues chicks often suffer from).
We knew there were fox in the region. After all, we’ve lost geese and ducks (and more geese) to the fluffy-tailed menaces. But we made sure the tractor had no holes under the edges, was build with strong wood, heavy lids, and wire.
And the fox ripped right through the wire.
So, after some consideration, the chicken tractor now sports a double row of electric fence wire mounted around the based, attached with isolators, and a very heavy connection to the charging wire. Three nights so far and the remaining chicks are still safe. We are still considering further modifications. But so far we appear to have salvaged 1/4 of the first batch of chicks. We pick up our second batch of meat chicks next week. And will have two more weeks after that to build a better chicken tractor. In four weeks we hope to send the remaining ten of this batch off to freezer camp as plump, heavy chickens. We’ll let you know how that goes.