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.  :)