Saturday, January 11, 2014

Meat Bird Tractor Update

I had another member of BYC ask a few good questions about my tractor, so I figured I should add that information here as well.

He wanted to know about coyotes, coons and the cost to build.  Here is my reply:

Opossums, hawks and dogs are the only predators I've had to deal with at my location in the past 7 years I've lived and raised chickens here, so those are what I planned for.

A coyote couldn't lift this tractor.  It's too heavy.  It's only movable by skidding it along with the pull rope.  I can move it by myself on dry days, but in mud it takes DH and I both to do it.  It did flip in 70 mph storm winds on Halloween, but that was because a freak storm blew through the N.E. unannounced and I didn't have time to hammer in the storm anchors (rebar) and I unfortunately had it turned facing into the wind.

Coons... I have the bottom half of the tractor outside of the cattle panels (and underneath the tarp) also covered with 2x4 welded wire fencing.  Front and back arch of the tractor are completely covered with it, top to bottom.  If you have a lot of trouble with coons in your area, you could cover the rest of the top and door with it too.  Or maybe even go with something smaller like 1x2 cage wire.

I can't say exactly what the total cost would be since I used mostly salvaged/leftover materials.  Two cattle panels would probably run you $40-$50.  The tarp I paid about $20 for.  Eight 2x4s...about $2.50 each.  32 foot of 3' high 2x4 welded wire, maybe $30.  The door was salvaged off of my old coop and made with scrap lumber to begin with.  Small galvanized staples, a box of wood screws, door hinges/latch and some zip ties...about $15.  It comes to around $135.  After having two of my layer flocks wiped out by stray dogs, it was a necessary investment for me.  I've had no invaders or losses after that.
All good questions, thanks for your interest.

Some of you probably recall the storm I am talking about from Halloween night.  A cold front moved in quickly after a couple of 70 degree days and caused quite a stir.  I had the stomach flu that day and awoke at 4:30am burning up after my fever broke and when I went to open the window to let in some cool air, I spied my 31 meaties all out in front by the road, huddled in a ditch.  So out into the rainy, dark night I went to fetch them, two by two.  They spent a day in my chainlink fenced front yard until I could construct another enclosure.  The tractor took some damage and needs repaired.  They were roughly two weeks from processing day, so they finished out in a stationary fenced area over one of my garden plots.  I did lose one when the tractor flipped, but the rest were fine.  I am just glad I found them before my neighbors had to come knocking on my door!

A note on how my meaties turned out overall this year:  The tractor system was a wonderful success and very ideal for their health and my chicken-keeping pleasure...ha.  I am not sure that the hatchery sent me Cornish Cross though.  They may have been Cornish Roasters instead, which are nearly identical in appearance, but are from a different, slower growing strain.  These birds were very active and ate bugs and grass, scratched, roosted and dirt-bathed in addition to eating their feed.  I've NEVER had CX do that before.  They had no leg problems or unexplained, sudden deaths.  I usually lose 1-3 out of about 40 chicks in the first two weeks.  These grew out about 2 weeks slower as well.

I also tried a new, locally sourced feed mix this year formulated by a pastured CX producer in my area.  It contained cracked corn and whole grains of wheat in addition to soybean meal and some other things.  It was much more cost effective for me since I could buy it in bulk.  I can get it at $26 for 100 lbs., whereas the Dumor 24% chick feed would have cost me around $20 per 50 lb. bag.  She said hers still grew out at 7-8 weeks on it, but mine did not.  There were too many variables for my flock this year...the storm, the feed, possibly not I did not bother to extrapolate my feed conversion rate or costs.  It wouldn't tell me much of anything useful for comparison anyway.

Most of my birds averaged around 5 pounds dressed weight (I did not weigh them all though.)  I kept a couple a little longer and they were huge.  I have one 9 pound (dressed) bird in the freezer that I will look forward to cooking in the turkey fryer for a special occasion or summer barbeque.  :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Rockin' New Chicken Tractor

I apologize that my posts are so rare and sporadic anymore. That is the nature of my life these days. I am super busy!

But anyhow, I wanted to show you my new chicken tractor...the chicken tractor I have dreamed about for the past year or so and only now had time or reason to build.

My next batch of Cornish X meat birds will come in August, but for now I have some 8 week old Easter Eggers hanging out in there until I can finish building my new coop.

I tried to put this up as a slideshow from my Photobucket account, but it won't embed for some reason. But if you click through on the picture below, you can go through each picture one-by-one and all the specs are given in the description below the pic.

Two things I learned on this project:  1) Wood screws with star drive bit heads rock!  And 2) Holding onto fence staples with a pair of needle nose pliers is much kinder to your thumbs.

This new tractor is going to make my life so much easier! Raising those CX might even become fun. I love the self-enclosed automatic watering bucket with chicken drinker nipples because the water will never get poopy. That means healthier birds--a substantially lowered risk for E-coli or cocci. And everything moves along WITH the tractor. No stepping into poo to take out the feeder and waterer prior to moving it.

Despite its size, this tractor is very easy for me to move by myself. Note though, it is necessary to pound on the far side of the tractor with your hand prior to pulling it along so that the birds will move out of the way and not get their feet squashed under the frame.

I took my time and really thought this one through. I think this design will serve me well for years to come.

(Read about how my 2013 batch of CX turned out in my tractor update here.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wild Bird Identification

We've noted four new species at our feeder in the past week.  We are now seeing House Finches, American Goldfinches, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Downy Woodpecker.

We needed to make some positive IDs of our new visitors prior to doing The Great Backyard Birdcount which begins this Friday.  When you see a bird that you do not know, it is best to stay put and make some observations.  Don't go running off to find your field guide!  The bird will probably be gone before you get back.  In short, some things to take note of are its size, shape, field markings (colors and patterns) and behavior.

We've been having fun making little sketches of the birds we've seen.

An excellent tool for identifying your birds is the Printable Tally Sheets available through The Great Backyard Birdcount.  You simply put in your zip code to get a comprehensive list of all birds that live in your area, grouped by type.

For those species that are underlined, you can right click to open in a new tab a page that details their identification, life history and facts, range map, several pictures of that bird including male and female versions, several audio clips of their particular songs and calls (we loved this feature best, instantly recognizing calls we had heard before) and short videos of each species doing what they do.

Here is the bird guide for the Eastern Bluebird, for example.  So many fun things, all in one place!

(Oddly enough, I haven't seen the first male bluebird in my backyard yet this year.  They return ahead of the females to stake out their territory and nesting sites.  I have it marked on my calendar that they usually appear around January 18th.  Most years I have a dozen or more that gather in my corkscrew willow.)

Spend a couple of hours on this very well constructed site and you will know certainly get to know your backyard feathered friends better.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count

I have never had a bird feeder before. I remember my father-in-law telling me that they draw rodents to your home. That is probably true. I live in an old farm house, so I certainly don't need any more rodents.

However, after watching the birds through the window at the dentist's office last month, I decided that I HAD to get one. It was so relaxing! So I stopped in Tractor Supply after my appointment and spent $45 on stuff to feed the birds.

Ava and I do our school work at the kitchen table. No matter the weather, I always have the curtain open to enjoy the country view out of my back patio doors. It was the perfect place to hang my feeder.

Our rotten little cat, Biscuit, also thinks it is a great place to watch stalk the birds. I worried about this initially, but have realized that the birds are aware of her presence and keep an eye out for her. Besides, any attempt to pounce them would result in Biscuit taking a flying leap off the back porch and falling about 15 feet below. Which would serve her right!

At least Biscuit takes care of the rodents!

As the birds discovered my new feeder, I was able to recognize most of them. One little black bird with a white belly was a new one to me and after a little searching online I found out that he is a Junco. I also came across the Great Backyard Bird Count project on the Audubon website and it is preparing to start at 7:00am EST on February 15, 2013. It is held annually.

The information they collect through a multitude of participants will be studied at Cornell University to put together a snap-shot of the health of bird species populations in the U.S. and elsewhere.

If you want to participate, the instructions can be found here. You'll need to set up a free account with them. It only takes 15 minutes of observation (or longer if you wish). Count and ID all the birds you see at your location during that time period and submit your list online at The event last 4 days, February 15 through February 18. They also have a photo contest with prizes.

Ava and I are going to use this opportunity as a fun science project. We've already identified all the birds we've been seeing daily. The same little birds come by to visit us each day, but lately I have noticed a few more have found us.

Ava's Nana recently brought her a copy of The Little Big Book of Birds by Natasha Tabori Fried which is beautifully illustrated and contains several short stories and poems about birds as well as interesting tidbits of information and history. Ava's favorite part was a list of bird calls represented as sayings. For example, robins say "cheer-up, cheer-up, cheerily". Using this method, we have been able to recognize several of our little feathered friends as they call back and forth to each other. We will be using this book for part of our studies, especially the poems.

I am a big fan of the tiny chickadees. I found and purchased two children's books for us to read: Chickadee Winter by Dawn L. Watkins and Emily the Chickadee

We also have on order Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book and Audubon's Birds of America Coloring Book, both from Dover Publications. We love their coloring books...all very educational and affordable.

We're also going to do a little art project making paper birds to paste onto a hand-drawn poster of a tree, make sketches of our birds in our observation notebook and learn about charting data after we have recorded our birds for the GBBC.

And just for fun, we are going to make bird's nest treats. I made these once for our Creation Club kids and they were a big hit.  This recipe is from the Creation Club Idea Book by Constance H. Crossman. I've had this book for a very long time, long before I even had children of my own. It is chock full of ideas for games, activities, crafts and projects for exploring science, topic by topic.

Edible Bird Nests

(modified by me)

  • 3 cups dry cereal
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Jelly beans or bird egg candies

Combine the cereal and coconut in a large bowl. In a sauce pan, bring to a boil the brown sugar and light corn syrup. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour over the cereal mixture, tossing to combine. Allow to cool enough to handle, then shape into little bird nests. Fill each nest with the candy "eggs".

I guess you could call this a Unit Study. I am not exactly sure it fits that definition, being that I am new to homeschooling! ;)

There is still plenty of time to join the Great Backyard Bird Count. Everyone from beginners to serious bird watchers is invited to take part. Leave me a comment and let me know if you decide to participate. I think we will do it every year.

(FYI -- This is not a paid advertisement. All links and books cited are resources I found useful for my own purposes.)