Wednesday, March 30, 2011

All They Do Eat, Drink and Poo.

The next couple of weeks will find me intensely involved in making sure these Cornish X chickens have a clean bedding and that the feeders don't run out during the day.  It's like a sprint to the finish line.

It can be a hassle and a drain.  I can't lie.  But the whole reason I will put up with these freakish beasties over the next month is for the mouth-watering, healthy, wholesome meat they will provide for my family's table.

It really is unbelievable how fast they grow.

Here is their current progress at four and a half weeks of age.  Note how little ol' Mystery Rooster chick is still hanging in there with the big guys, bless his heart.  I'm kind of glad now that I have him, because it does help to comparatively demonstrate the Cornish X rate of growth.

I am studiously keeping notes on their feed consumption and my other costs involved with their care.  On the last batch we did, I kept track of what I spent on feed and weighed each processed bird.  I used those calculations to discover that with a little bit of elbow-grease on my part, I can put hormone-free, preservative-free, superior tasting chicken on the table for nearly the same cost of buying factory produced chicken at the grocery store at the average going price (not sale priced).

The difference in flavor and texture really stands out.  I put mine in a chicken tractor for grow-out and they do consume some greens and weeds which improves the flavor.  I also can't stand the texture of brined poultry. 

Did you know that part of the price you pay for chicken at the grocery store is for a significant volume of salt-water that is infused into the meat?  Brining equals mushy meat, in my opinion.  A well-raised and humanely processed bird will never require brining to "tenderize" the meat.  Store bought chicken nowadays is also Cornish X birds and they are so young at process time, they can't help but be tender anyways.  I believe they mainly brine them to increase water-weight in the meat. my soapbox.  What I wanted to show you is my new watering set up.

An endless supply of water! 
A reprieve for me from the constant chore of filling the water bottles!

I can now leave the house for more than 4 hours at a time and trust that my birds won't be suffering from dehydration when I get back.

This is a $10 stock tank float valve that I mounted to a little piece of 2x4.  I took a square bucket (left over from my horse's supplements) and cut it off at just the right height to allow the float valve to drop, which still leaves the edge of the bucket low enough for the birds to drink from it.  I slid the valve/2x4 assembly over the edge of the bucket and it holds with a snug fit, but it still allows me to easily remove the bucket for a thorough cleaning.  I hooked it up to the garden hose and put it inside the pen.  It sits up squarely on it's own.

I am so happy with this set up now.  (You figure out something new every year, it seems.)  They were beginning to consume 5-6 gallons of water a day.  That will increase as they continue to grow.

The recycled juice bottles I was using work great while they are small chicks.  Forty birds will only drink 1 or 2 gallons of water a day at that time. 

But once they start to grow...the frantic rate of cellular division requires a lot of water to support the energy expended for growth.  Basically, as much as they eat, they will drink. 

Then they poo.

But that's a whole other post...

While I'm at it, I'll go ahead and show you my nearly FREE feeder system.  No $30 plastic feeders from Tractor Supply for me - it cuts into my profits!

I politely beg free food-grade plastic buckets from my local deli or bakery.  They will throw these out otherwise (I would hope they at least recycle them).  As long as the folks behind the counter are not too busy at the time, they usually don't mind to get the buckets for you, as long as you ask nicely.  Make sure you get the lids too.

Then I hop over to the auto parts store or the automotive department of Walmart and purchase a plastic oil change pan.  These will only run you about $2.50 each.

Take your buckets home and wash them out well.  Then cut a series of one and a half inch diameter holes around the bottom of the bucket every two inches apart.  I use a large drill bit to penetrate the plastic at the center of the intended hole, then carefully cut it out with a jig-saw.  You can also use a razor knife, but I've found that to be too dangerous for my fingers.

Set the bucket inside the oil change pan, fill with feed, put the lid on and there you go.

As soon as the weather improves, I will be putting the meat birds out to pasture in my PVC chicken tractor.  I'll show you that too when the time comes.  I had hoped they would be outside by now, but we are having an unusually cold and damp spring.  For now they are stuck in my garage and they are beginning to stink!

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