One of the things we’ve learned on the farm is that animals die. Of course we knew that going in. Heck, with the exception of our egg layers, we’re raising chickens and pigs to sell for meat. But, it’s somehow different when you walk out to the garage and find a dead chick, or sometimes 4 or 5.
Up until a batch we received in late December, we had been having great luck with our chicks. At most we would have 1 or 2 die early on and the rest would do great. That changed when we received an order of 75 chicks. Due to the weather, the chicks didn’t arrive until 3 days after they hatched. As a result, one whole box (25 chicks) arrived dead and there were 8 dead in the other box. Needless to say, it was a blow. While we were reimbursed for the dead chicks, we still had to throw out over 30 dead baby chicks and our production schedule was thrown off by several weeks.
After that rough initial weekend, we regrouped and planned on raising the remaining 40 or so chicks. Unfortunately this just was not a healthy batch of chicks. For whatever reason, they were not thriving and growing as chicks normally do. Over the next 4 weeks, we lost over half the remaining chicks and were down to 18.
At this point we had to make a call. The remaining chicks were still not doing well and we needed their brooder for another batch of chicks coming in. We could either put the rest out of their misery, or we could move them outside and let nature take it’s course. We opted for the latter and sure enough we lost another 6 pretty quickly.
However, this is where the story gets good. The remaining 12 survived and started growing during some really cold weather. The cold temps didn’t seem to bother them and they started acting more like normal chicks. Then, about a week ago we noticed one of them walking funny. Upon closer examination we discovered she had lost all the toes on one of her feet and she was hopping around on one foot. That’s when Lynn announced her name was going to be “Stumpy”!
Again we had a choice to make. Put her down, or let her go and see what happens. As you might expect from the title of this post, we decided to take a wait and see approach. So far she’s proving to be a real survivor. Hopefully she and her surviving sisters will be joining our egg laying flock in the not too distant future. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.
As we launched Hill Family Farm, the primary focus was on creating an all-natural, sustainable farm. Since we are committed to not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, it’s critical we take advantage of all nature as to offer in order to continually improve the quality of our land. Everything we do, we do with this focus on sustainability.
We knew early on a key component of our sustainability efforts would be the use of something called a chicken tractor. Joel Salatin is the king of the chicken tractor and the pic to the left is based on his design. Basically it’s a 10’x10′, 2′ tall box and will hold up to 75-80 meat chickens. The beauty of the design is that it’s mobile and can be moved around the pasture daily.
This accomplishes 2 key things. First, it allows for the chickens to be safe from predators, while having access to fresh grass and bugs. Secondly, it improves the quality of the pasture. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and they have no problem spreading it around!
Initially my plan was to build a Salatin-style tractor for our farm. However after spending some time last fall helping “process” 80-90 chickens at Peacefield Farm in KY, I discovered I was way too old to be climbing inside a 2′ high box and chasing chickens. I had to come up with a more “age-friendly” design.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to present to you the Hill-style chicken tractor! It’s also a 10’x10′ design, but instead of only 2′ tall, it’s over 6′ tall. This means I don’t have to get on my hands and knees to move around inside it. The trade-off is it’s not as easy to move around, but hey, that’s what a tractor’s for!
We moved our meat birds into it this past weekend and they seem to be enjoying the great outdoors. As a result, we’ll be enjoying some great tasting, pasture-raised chicken in just a few weeks! Hopefully you’ll buy one and try it out for yourself. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Oh, just in case you’d like to know the difference between our chicken and chicken you buy in the store…check out this picture of a typical commercial meat bird operation and compare it to our chicken tractor. Which chicken would you rather eat?
Currently we have 36 egg-laying (or soon to be) hens on the farm. The “girls” are able to safely free-range for 2 primary reasons. First, we have electric net fencing surrounding their pasture. While it doesn’t do much to keep them in (they can easily fly over if the choose to), it does an excellent job of keeping other critters out.
Secondly, they are watched over by the “boys”. Three good looking roosters whose job it is to watch over the flock and sound the alarm if danger comes knocking. While Lynn hasn’t named the hens, she has named the roosters so I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce them to you.
Top roo is Daniel. He’s a beautiful Speckled Sussex rooster who’s almost 7 months old. As you might expect, this breed was developed in Sussex County, England over 100 years ago. Daniel is the largest roo, but so far he’s been gentle with the hens and he’s the one they tend to follow when he goes outside.
Next up is Denzel. Denzel is the same age as Daniel and is a Dark Cornish. This breed also originates from England and is a little unique because they have thick, compact bodies. As a result, they are definitely heavier than they look. Denzel is shaping up to be the protector in the flock. He’s the one that tends to keep an eye on the girls and gets agitated when they get outside the fence.
Finally, there’s Frampton (yes, as in Peter). He’s an “oops” rooster. Sexing chicks at a day old is not an exact science. As a result, it’s not unusual to discover weeks later one of your hens is really a roo. We had our suspicions and they were confirmed a couple weeks ago when he started crowing. Since he’s a couple months younger than Daniel and Denzel, he tends to hang back and stay out of their way. Plus, he’s still getting run off by the hens more than he chases after them. Talk about being hen-pecked!
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to stop by the farm and see the boys in person. They are beautiful birds and a pic really doesn’t do them justice. Also, if you have any questions about the roosters and their roles, please don’t hesitate to ask. Use the comment area below, or drop us a note on our Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you!