Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Long Overdue Update!

Wow, I didn't realize it's been almost three weeks since I posted anything! But I have an excuse - I was on vacation from June 9 to 23 and didn't have access to anything beyond my iPhone.

I've been home for three days now and what a busy three days it's been. Apparently, Tina and I aren't exceptionally bright and we managed to organize things so that our birds hit the 8-week mark right in the middle of our holiday. We decided that instead of slaughtering them at 7 weeks, we'd wait until we got back and do them at 9 1/2 weeks. I was a little apprehensive that it would get too hot and they'd be dropping like flies but what a silly fear that was. It poured rain the whole time we were gone! In the end we did lose one bird, leaving us with 19 chickens to slaughter.

Back in the early days, Tina and I couldn't decide if we wanted to kill them ourselves or if we'd hire someone. With all the hustle and bustle surrounding our return home, there was no way we were going to have time to do it ourselves, so we ended up taking them to Trevor, the fellow who did my mom's birds back in the day.

It cost $2 per chicken and let me tell you, it was worth every penny! We caught and loaded the birds this morning and were on the road by 7:30. Trevor was just finishing all the preparations and began processing birds at 7:45. We were the first customers to arrive and our birds were killed, cleaned and ready to go by 8:10. It would have taken us hours to do on our own but Trevor has a great set up and was incredibly efficient.

I have to admit, I felt a bit bad as we bundled them into the crates for the short drive but this is the first batch of chickens I've raised and I imagine it will get easier. I wasn't sure if I would be able to watch him actually kill them but while I was debating whether or not I should turn my back, he lopped off the first birds head!

The worst part was watching the severed head blink its eyes and open and close its beak. Pretty gross. After the head came off, the body was stuck upside down in a cone to bleed out. It didn't take long and before I knew it, the first 8 birds were bled out and in the scalder. From the scalder, they go into a spinning drum that defeathers them and then they're cleaned out. I kept all the livers, hearts and lungs for my dog. He's going to be a happy guy! The whole process was very fast and in retrospect, I'm really glad I watched him kill them and saw that they didn't suffer at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any pictures of the birds at their final size but I'll make sure I take some photos of the next batch. We have 39 chicks in the brooder (1 died the day I got back from my trip) and they'll be ready to go out into the field pen soon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Chicks and More Wet Weather

My chicken flock has tripled in size in the last week! Last Thursday, Tina picked up 40 new chicks and got them settled in the brooder. For the first couple of days we mixed apple cider vinegar and honey in with their water, just to help them get off to a good start. I can't guarantee that it does anything but it certainly can't hurt. All 40 are doing well and growing like crazy. I have found that I'm much less paranoid about this batch. With the previous 20 I was out checking on them a million times throughout the day but with the new batch, I feed and water them in the morning and Tina does them in the evening and that's about it!

Things are still incredibly soggy around here and the long term forecast promises even more rain. Our 20 big birds out in the field appear to be healthy and happy but they're looking a bit grubby these days. The wet ground and the concentration of poop means that they always have some delightful brown smears on their feathers. It was so wet for a couple of days that we decided to make them a straw pad so they could escape the dampness. The first time we did it the dummies were afraid of the straw and avoided the little bed we'd made, so the second time around we spread it under the whole covered area and then put the food on top of it. Since they're willing to brave anything for a meal, the got over it pretty quick!

Although the straw mat was a good idea in theory, in practice it didn't really keep them much cleaner or drier. Because of the mat, we ended up only moving them once a day. That would be fine if they'd poop in the outside part but they just ended up pooping on the straw and then laying in it. *sigh* Unless the weather gets really nasty and the rain puddles on the ground, I think we're just going to let them live on the damp grass. They certainly don't seem any worse for wear. I hope the weather is better by the time the next batch is ready to head outside!

Shah "helping" Tina spread the straw for the chickens. He was determined to get at their grain, the little brat.

And now I'm off to give my dog a bath. He and Tina's dogs love all the poop scattered around the field but for whatever reason, Cairo and Briggs, Tina's chocolate Lab, have a special fondness for the chicken manure. Cairo especially loves to roll in it and today managed to grind a bunch into his coat before I could stop him. As a result, he's a wee bit pungent at the moment. Ah, farm life...