Outdoor Chickens

When I got a fever two weeks ago I fig­ured that my num­ber had final­ly come up and I had got­ten the flu. After a painful, sweaty and bor­ing three days in bed I felt much bet­ter and got back to work. Five days lat­er a huge rash broke out on my neck. Unlucky again, I thought, I’ve swiped my neck with a work glove cov­ered in poi­son ivy. Easy enough to believe, con­sid­er­ing I’d spent the last month brush clear­ing and burn­ing. How­ev­er, this last Sun­day when I col­lapsed into bed with anoth­er fever, the rash still itch­ing and burn­ing on my neck, I start­ed to put two and two togeth­er and real­ized that maybe this was more than just a string of bad luck. Sure enough, a vis­it to the emer­gency room lat­er, it was con­firmed, I have Lyme dis­ease. Lyme dis­ease is a pret­ty nasty tick-borne ill­ness, and even though the antibi­otics I’m on have got­ten rid of my fever and most of my rash, they’ve left me pret­ty weak and tired.

Need­less to say, this news has made the last cou­ple of days pret­ty stress­ful for Dave, who has been forced to do all the heavy lift­ing on the farm (instead of just most of it). Luck­i­ly my mom’s here every­day to help. She’s been han­dling the green­house, the kitchen gar­den and the lay­ing hens while Dav­e’s been work­ing on get­ting the meat birds out­side and ready­ing our tem­po­rary pen for the piglets. In the last week we’ve lost a hand­ful of chicks, which has been pret­ty heart­break­ing. We are in charge of all of these frag­ile lit­tle lives, and although we know that it’s inevitable that we’re going to lose some, it does­n’t make it any eas­i­er. A major­i­ty of the chicks that died appeared to have been smoth­ered by the rest of the flock. This can hap­pen when they get too hot or too cold and all clump togeth­er, but we were pret­ty sure that it was also because they were get­ting way too big for their brood­er. We felt as if we real­ly need­ed to get them out­side and into some fresh air and sun­shine. As always, the weath­er was­n’t mak­ing it easy for us. Dav­e’s new chick­en bible, Joel Salat­in’s book Pas­tured Poul­try Prof­its, had instruct­ed him that it was best to put the chicks out on a dry, sun­ny day. If the chicks are exposed to heavy rains too quick­ly they can get wet and cold, or drown, and die. With fore­casts of rain for Wednes­day and today, we knew that we had to get the chicks out fast, or risk los­ing more in the brood­er this week.

The frame was all set, but the trac­tor still need­ed chick­en wire sides and cor­ru­gat­ed roof­ing. Luck­i­ly, a local farmer gave us the roof­ing for free (the only cost was Dav­e’s time pry­ing it off the roof of an old shed with a crow­bar) and so all day Mon­day and Tues­day morn­ing, while I lay in bed recov­er­ing, Dave fin­ished up the trac­tor. Tues­day at around 10:30 AM we moved the chicks in (I watched). We decid­ed to only move out half at first, just to see how they would do and open up some much need­ed room in the brooder.

Mov­ing the chicks in
Our Chick­en Trac­tor. 10′ x 12′ x 2′
Home sweet home

If you look at the trac­tor from the angle above, the back half is cov­ered on all sides by cor­ru­gat­ed steel roof­ing while the front half has chick­en wire sides. Both the roof pan­els on the front half are remov­able. The left-hand side con­tains the water­er and the right hand side con­tains the feed­er trough. It is nec­es­sary to have 3/4 of the trac­tor cov­ered by roof­ing because the chick­ens need a lot of escape from the sun, as they can eas­i­ly over­heat. We copied the trac­tor from Joel Salat­in’s design. You can watch a great video about it here:

We moved the trac­tor for the first time this morn­ing to a new for­ag­ing spot. It went well, aside from the fact that it’s heav­ier than we would have liked. Salatin specif­i­cal­ly rec­om­mends that you don’t use cor­ru­gat­ed steel for the roof (it’s much heav­ier than alu­minum), but since we got it for free we could­n’t real­ly be picky. Luck­i­ly, we only have to move it 12′ a day, just enough to give the chicks fresh grass. Even though there was still a lot for them to eat in the first spot, it’s nec­es­sary to move the trac­tor at least every two days as their feces will start to grow bacteria.

The rest of the chicks are going to go out tomor­row morn­ing, after the threat of rain and cold has past. Until then, they’ll have to con­tent them­selves with their new feed­er. They’ve got­ten MUCH too big for the old one.

This feed­er is just a piece of 4″ PVC pipe cut in half with ply­wood stands on either side. We’re get­ting bet­ter at cut­ting costs everyday.

Some Oth­er Things We’ve Been Doing:
* Turn­ing over any sod clumps that the plow did­n’t catch out in the field. It’s impor­tant that the grass is under­ground so it rots and does­n’t con­tin­ue to grow. We’re plan­ning on har­row­ing the field on Sun­day. We’ve also been try­ing to pick out any rocks.
* Trans­plant­i­ng TONS of toma­toes, pep­pers and egg­plants in the green­house, and plant­i­ng brus­sel sprouts and late sea­son cabbage.
* Seed­ing the kitchen gar­den with greens so we’ll have some­thing for the first farm­ers market.
* Get­ting ready for the piglets. We decid­ed to wait until Mon­day to go pick them up, so hope­ful­ly I’ll feel bet­ter by then.


One Response to “Outdoor Chickens”

  1. Meg says:

    >Hel­lo! I sub­scribed to your blog a month or so back because my hus­band and I use blogs about farm­ing and the coun­try to get through the cor­po­rate grind, I hope you feel bet­ter and the chicks do well!

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