Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Turkeys

Hello, blog!  I have missed you and am thinking I will try to get back into the habit of posting every so often if I have anything interesting going on around here.

These are my two Bourbon Red turkey poults and they are are 6 weeks old now. These are supposed to be DH's turkeys, my gift to him, but really they're more mine. I feed them and everything. He just mentioned in passing that he'd like to get turkeys someday, so that was all I needed to hear.  ;)

I found out the hard way that turkeys have a really steep learning curve! These are the only two survivors. We started with 6 poults and very mysteriously, every few days, one would just get sleepy and then I'd find it dead the next day. A couple days later, another, then another... After asking around www.backyardchickens.com, the best answer we could come up with was a failure to thrive. I think they were getting too comfortable under the heat lamp and not eating and drinking enough. It is advisable to put a chicken chick in with them to show them how to eat and drink, since they are slow to catch on themselves, so I'll definitely do that next time. They really don't eat and drink as voraciously as chicks, although most every other aspect of their care is the same. These guys are about the size of a banty chicken now.

They are very nervous and flighty little critters. I had to cage them within the brooder circle because they kept flying out and couldn't figure out how to get back in. I got 6 poults for $40 from a local breeder, which is a really good deal (they go for $10.50 each on Murray McMurray Hatcheries website, plus shipping.) But I think the time of year now going into fall and winter isn't really the best. I will have to keep them in the garage all winter or maybe in the barn since young turkeys are said to not tolerate drafts or dampness well and our winters are usually pretty cold and wet. They'll go out on pasture with the chickens in the spring.

I was hoping to have a couple of hens to keep for breeding and I was going to get a new tom off of another breeder about an hour from here. I don't know what I'll do with them now, depending on whether I have toms or hens there. If I have at least one tom, he will be grown out and ready for Easter dinner next spring. As much effort as it has taken to keep them alive, I'm afraid I'll be too attached to them at that point. That was the plan anyway.

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 CX...so 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.