Fall Chick Hatching

Why hatch chicks in the fall? 

This year I want to raise my own replacement egg layers. Laying hens usually start laying eggs when they are about 6 months old. We anticipate that the fall hatched chicks will reach maturity in the lengthening days of spring. Chicks hatched in March, mature in the September; shorter day length results in hormonal changes which limits egg production. Even though I extend the egg laying season with artificial lighting in the coop, I would rather have a whole summer season to select my best layers for overwintering.

Until now I have purchased hybrid layer pullets (a young hen, ready to lay) from a nearby supplier. The hybrid pullets arrive with trimmed beaks; this keeps the birds from pecking each other in crowded conditions. Although hybrids have managed well, our hens have plenty of space so beak trimming is unnecessary. The hybrid pullets also have larger combs and are subject to frostbite in the winter, which can limit the hen’s vigor. The Dominique chicks we are hatching have smaller combs, more suitable for a Pennsylvania winter.

Another reason to raise my own replacement hens is more “observational”. The livestock that thrives here is livestock that I have raised or is from farms utilizing similar management practices. High quality feed, plenty of space to move and the company of the flock, selected for calm temperament, builds a foundation for productivity and thriftiness.

 

Grit

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Birds do not have teeth or rumens to break down grain or greens for digestion.

A gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, made of thick muscular walls. With the help of previously swallowed stones, the gizzard grinds food.

 

This year I added Gran-i-grit to all our birds' diets to make sure they can utilize all the nutritional value from their grains and pasture.

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Cream Legbars

Pullet

 Rooster

Rooster

 3 week old Cream Legbars

3 week old Cream Legbars

 Into the coop brooder under heat lamps.

Into the coop brooder under heat lamps.

Last year a neighbor told me of his new-to-his-coop breed of auto-sexing chickens. These birds are not sex-linked, a first generation hybrid of two separate chicken breeds, but a breed of chickens that produced visually sexable birds. 

An auto sexing breed of chickens is a practical addition to a small farm that wants to breed their own flock replacements. 

  • After they are fully feathered roosters can be separated from the pullets and fed a grower feed for earlier processing. 
  • Juvenile roosters are easier to manage as a group, away from the pullets and mature roosters. When I select the next generation of roosters from the juvenile group, it won't be the more aggressive, could-stand-up-to-the-mature-rooster-in-the-flock boy that makes the cut.

Recently imported from the UK, we will be breeding our Jill Rees Cream Legbars for productivity, hardiness and mothering ability. That the Cream Legbars lay pastel eggs and have a wild pompadour sprouting from the top of their heads is just a bonus.

 



American Pastured Poultry Producers Association

Membership in APPPA is a valuable tool for managing poultry on this farm.

Our flocks are small, but the topics shared on the Yahoo group site, weekly podcast and bi-monthly magazine supply solid information to support planning. APPPA members share their feed costs per bird, seed mixes for side by side pasture trials, and techniques for handling predators and weather variables.

 Let's face it, if you buy chicken or duck from me, you pay a premium for the certified organic grain and the labor of keeping the birds clean and healthy on pasture.Until my customer base increases and I have a more efficiently sized flock, it will be hard to drop prices. That said, I feel an obligation to my customers to make flock management choices that keep my operating costs as low as possible while optimizing poultry health and welfare. Last season, when I decided to try a non-Cornish Cross hybrid, I went to my APPPA Grit magazine to compare the data on the different meat bird breeds when selecting a hatchery. 

The discussions about all those labels (organic, certified organic, transitional organic, soy-free, GMO-free, conventional, humanely-raised, locally raised, heritage breeds, Cornish Cross, Red Rangers, to name only some topics customers are interested in) is open and respectful. The conversations about choosing breed, feed and management style is balanced with realistic business planning.

If you are considering buying your poultry from a smaller producer, now is a good time to contact a farmer since many farms are finalizing their production and pricing schedules. Most small farmers that I know are interested in what you are hoping to buy.

Here's a few things you might want to ask your farmer:

  • what kind of feed to you use and why?
  • where do you source your feed and chicks?
  • if the poultry is raised pasture pens, what is the square footage per bird in the pen?
  • if the poultry is day ranged, how often are the paddocks moved?
  • what options do you the customer,have in the cutting order,packaging and pick up schedule

The time you invest in finding a small poultry producer will have a very delicious return.

 

   

 

 

WHy I don't sell eggs but keep hens

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I like barnyard hens.

I like the sounds they make as they scratch the ground in search of tasty tidbits; I appreciate how a couple of chickens in a pen can clear a garden bed and prepare the soil for seeds; and I like how they turn kitchen scraps and barn floor gleanings into friable compost for topdressing my plants. I love watching a broody hen set, protect and teach a clutch of chicks too.

We all like to eat eggs. Thanks to our kitchen waste and hoop house weedings our hens lay beautiful eggs with orange yolks, even in the winter.As much as I would like to share the bounty with customers, I don't regularly sell eggs. To produce eggs on our small scale is an expensive, labor intensive project. I do not want to raise enough hens to achieve an efficient economy of scale , nor do I want to subsidize egg sales by underpricing each dozen.

So why are eggs an expensive farmyard enterprise?

  • Farmyard hatched chicks don't usually produce eggs until they are about 6 months old-eating plenty of feed and requiring daily care before they produce one egg.
  • Ready-to-lay hybrid pullets are worth the $7  I spend annually for each, but concerns about disease brought onto the farm and their clipped beaks keep them in the relatively protected garden run and coop.
  • Feed is expensive. I could change to something cheaper but the feed I buy is grown and blended locally, certified organic and my birds thrive. I have not found a reasonable alternative to fix what is not broken.
  • Like eggs available in much of the world, my eggs are not refrigerated. Refrigerating and washing fresh eggs is customary in the USA. Managing two sets of eggs adds complexity to the pantry and refrigerator. That said, I do refrigerate eggs for sale when we have plenty on the home shelf.

This winter's flock, 10 hens and two roosters, seems to be the ideal overwintering flock; the size is a manageable balance of labor and eggs. The biggest challenge to this balance is that first statement in this post, "I like barnyard hens." The lure of breeding my own Australorps and Easter-eggers, not to mention the Cream Legbars peeking out of the hatchery catalog is fierce. 

Although I am not always able, I might have an extra dozen if you stop by.

 

 

 

Managing the Buckeye roosters

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Lilac Hill Farm is going into winter with 5 Buckeye roosters, plus a banty roo' that arrived with 3 banty hens. Over the course of the last year we raised two more Buckeye family groups to add to our Lilac Hill Buckeyes. With three breeding groups, I hope to improve our flock following the Livestock Breeds Conservancy guidelines.

That goal is lovely, the reality right now is that I have a larger flock than usual going into winter.  I added feeders and spread fresh bedding in the coop more often. All the birds eat greens harvested from the lightly frosted gardens.

My original, Lilac Hill rooster is in with the hens, he seems to help maintain order in the coop. Lots of hens means I can gather hatching eggs from the girls that get through winter best. I saved two roosters from each new breeding line (NC and hatchery) and will select the best fellows in the spring.

The NC and hatchery roosters reside in their own pens near the garden, tearing up the ground for next year's new vegetable beds. When the weather turns very cold, the roosters will move to the outhouse coop. I am sure the feathers will fly on moving day.

The banties? The hens are here to hatch and rear chicks in the spring. Besides being a pretty farm ornament, the rooster watches over the hans and adds an interesting soprano "cock-a-doodle-do" to the farmyard choir.

Six roosters , it is noisy out there.

Planning 2014, part 2

   During this winter planning time we evaluated the pros and cons of all farm ventures, especially poultry with its high labor and feed demands.      Buckeye chickens      Beyond their eggs and meat, our heritage breed Buckeyes earn their keep by voraciously seeking out pests, avidly tossing around the compostables and efficiently setting eggs and rearing the next generation of birds.      In an effort to increase the size of our Buckeyes for the table, we purchased another breeding line this year (ordered chicks to start another for 2015) and will follow the protocols of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s,    Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity,      . Heritage breeds grow slower, do not need higher protein, more expensive feed and raise their own replacements. Buckeyes work year round, allow me to control more of the input costs and if correctly managed, I can add breeding stock to the list of products we can sell. My biggest challenge will be in finding a market for non-broad breasted heritage breed chicken meat.      So, the Buckeyes stay on the farm with a plan to improve the quality of our flock and add breeding stock to the products we produce.     

During this winter planning time we evaluated the pros and cons of all farm ventures, especially poultry with its high labor and feed demands.

Buckeye chickens

Beyond their eggs and meat, our heritage breed Buckeyes earn their keep by voraciously seeking out pests, avidly tossing around the compostables and efficiently setting eggs and rearing the next generation of birds.

In an effort to increase the size of our Buckeyes for the table, we purchased another breeding line this year (ordered chicks to start another for 2015) and will follow the protocols of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s, Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity, . Heritage breeds grow slower, do not need higher protein, more expensive feed and raise their own replacements. Buckeyes work year round, allow me to control more of the input costs and if correctly managed, I can add breeding stock to the list of products we can sell. My biggest challenge will be in finding a market for non-broad breasted heritage breed chicken meat.

So, the Buckeyes stay on the farm with a plan to improve the quality of our flock and add breeding stock to the products we produce.

 

   Cornish Cross meat birds      The Cornish Cross meat chickens I raised last year were delicious and added to the fertility of our fields but  after 8-9 weeks of daily moves of the open bottomed pens and organic feed, they were not large. Cornish Cross birds are very efficient at converting grain to meat, but with the slower weight gain, possibly due to their consumption of lower calorie grass and exercise in the uncrowded pen, and the fixed costs of purchase and processing, they did not pay for themselves. I am on the fence about raising Cornish Cross chickens again. The meat was tasty and the bones produced beautiful stock, but there are plenty of local farms raising broad breasted hybrid chickens more efficiently than Lilac Hill. If I have enough customer interest, I will raise one batch of meat birds but will  commit to raising them for 10 weeks to attain a larger size rather than crowding them in a pen or restricting their access to pasture.     

Cornish Cross meat birds

The Cornish Cross meat chickens I raised last year were delicious and added to the fertility of our fields but  after 8-9 weeks of daily moves of the open bottomed pens and organic feed, they were not large. Cornish Cross birds are very efficient at converting grain to meat, but with the slower weight gain, possibly due to their consumption of lower calorie grass and exercise in the uncrowded pen, and the fixed costs of purchase and processing, they did not pay for themselves. I am on the fence about raising Cornish Cross chickens again. The meat was tasty and the bones produced beautiful stock, but there are plenty of local farms raising broad breasted hybrid chickens more efficiently than Lilac Hill. If I have enough customer interest, I will raise one batch of meat birds but will  commit to raising them for 10 weeks to attain a larger size rather than crowding them in a pen or restricting their access to pasture.

 

   Ducks      We like ducks. They are comical additions to the farmyard and with less feed than chickens, produce meat and eggs that  are tremendous.       As a saleable product, duck has drawbacks. With their 28 day incubation period (chicks incubate for 21 days) and sometimes seasonal laying period, hatchery purchased ducklings cost at least $2 more than chicks. Processing a duck costs $3.50  more than a chicken and if the timing is not correct and the bird is starting to molt, the product is not as pretty.      Beyond cost, many cooks do not have experience with preparing duck meat so finding a market for pasture raised duck is harder than for chicken or turkey. My kitchen has been my lab as I search out approachable recipes for cooking duck that is tender, crisp skinned and not greasy. Thanks to my latest recipe book purchase,    Duck, Duck, Goose   , my cooking  results have become more foolproof.      Locally sourced, pasture raised, organic grain fed duck meat is limited, so if  I can find cooks interested in trying duck, ramping up our duck flock may be a good venture for Lilac Hill.      As much as we appreciate our rare Saxony ducks, they may not fit  our future production needs. As much as I would like to continue in conservation efforts for Saxony ducks, I am not sure if I can afford to keep a purebred flock.  I do have a new Saxony drake who should give us a few years of service, which combined this year’s best Pekin drake, selected from the meatbird ducklings I ordered for this season, I may be able to breed a “farm duck” that lays reliably and hatch out our own Pekin x Saxony duck eggs in an effort to control costs.     

Ducks

We like ducks. They are comical additions to the farmyard and with less feed than chickens, produce meat and eggs that  are tremendous.

As a saleable product, duck has drawbacks. With their 28 day incubation period (chicks incubate for 21 days) and sometimes seasonal laying period, hatchery purchased ducklings cost at least $2 more than chicks. Processing a duck costs $3.50  more than a chicken and if the timing is not correct and the bird is starting to molt, the product is not as pretty.

Beyond cost, many cooks do not have experience with preparing duck meat so finding a market for pasture raised duck is harder than for chicken or turkey. My kitchen has been my lab as I search out approachable recipes for cooking duck that is tender, crisp skinned and not greasy. Thanks to my latest recipe book purchase, Duck, Duck, Goose, my cooking  results have become more foolproof.

Locally sourced, pasture raised, organic grain fed duck meat is limited, so if  I can find cooks interested in trying duck, ramping up our duck flock may be a good venture for Lilac Hill.

As much as we appreciate our rare Saxony ducks, they may not fit  our future production needs. As much as I would like to continue in conservation efforts for Saxony ducks, I am not sure if I can afford to keep a purebred flock.  I do have a new Saxony drake who should give us a few years of service, which combined this year’s best Pekin drake, selected from the meatbird ducklings I ordered for this season, I may be able to breed a “farm duck” that lays reliably and hatch out our own Pekin x Saxony duck eggs in an effort to control costs.

 

 

White Pekin Ducks

In spite of the greater costs of raising duck, I have ordered Pekin ducklings with the hope of finding interested customers. With daily moves in opened bottomed pens, the ducks will fertilize the pastures as they feast on bugs and greens. I’ll feed the ducks organic feed. I assume that  like the meat chickens I raised last year, our grow out time will be longer than advertised due to our ducks’ exercise and varied diet. Unlike the Cornish Cross hybrid chicken whose quick growth limits its longevity, a Pekin duck is a sustainable breed that can be kept as part of a home flock. As the ducklings grow I will select the best Pekins to add to the Saxony flock. If all goes well we can experiment next year with crossing the faster-growing-Pekin with the more-egg-laying Saxony.

 

 

If you have any interest in poultry from Lilac HIll Farm, please contact me.


 

2013 Buckeye review and planning for next year

I like Buckeyes. 

Even though our gentle Buckeyes are not prolific egg layers they have proved their usefulness to the farm.

 

 

 

This summer Buckeye hens set and hatched out 19 ducklings and a handful of chicks. Filling our freezer with delicious duck and developing a market for duck meat is a  goal of the farm. Using broody hens to set the eggs and brood the immature birds before they feather out  frees me from attending to the incubator and brooder. Rather than managing the young poultry’s manured bedding, the ducklings move over the field in open-bottomed pens under the guidance of the protective hens

This winter the hens will turn compostables from the barn, kitchen and gardens. Within  a makeshift enclosure of odd pieces of fencing, on a steep section of the barnyard, the Buckeyes will turn the waste into compost for the vegetable garden beds.

 

In an effort to improve the carcass quality of the flock and hopefully add slow-raised, heritage birds to our products list, I bought a breeding trio of Buckeyes from East of Eden farm in Huntersville, NC. These NC birds’ genetics are from the Buckeye Recovery Project of the  Livestock Breeds Conservancy. 

My plan is to add one more unrelated trio of Buckeyes and to improve the size our PA Buckeye flock.

 

Summer hens on pasture

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In the summer the hens have access to pasture grasses and bugs.  Kitchen scraps are also tossed into the net fence enclosure. When I head out to the flock, the Buckeyes run to the fence in anticipation of whatever treat I have for them. Now that it is August and the temperatures are unexpectedly cool, I have turned the open side of the eggmobile to catch more sunlight.

Ducklings are hatching

Yesterday three Saxony ducklings hatched under the Buckeye hen. The hen makes cooing noises as she sets on the emerging babies. By tomorrow she should finish her setting.

Starting a strawberry bed/Putting the poultry to work

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I want a small strawberry bed, as I wait for the soil to be improved in my planned strawberry patch. Two weeks ago I placed the pens holding the chicks and ducklings between the hoophouse and Barn Pasture fence.  The spot gets full sun, is well drained and has had the benefit of open bottomed poultry pens before. After the birds scratched up the grass, I layered weeds, wood shavings and old hay to keep the fowl clean and add the " carbon diaper," as Joel Salatin says, to catch the nitrogen and other nutrients from their waste. It is almost time to move the chicks out to join the flock, move the ducklings into the next pen, without their Buckeye mother. and plant the strawberry runners that a good friend shared.

Settling another hen

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I gave another Buckeye hen a clutch of 10 duck eggs on 6/14. I placed the hen and eggs in the triangle coop under a lilac shrub with morning sun and shade the rest of the day.

Hens setting-May edition

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I have two hens setting, one nest of Saxony duck eggs and the other of Buckeye chicken eggs.

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I like to have a hen raise ducklings in an open bottomed pen, keeping the babies warm and tended until they feather out.  An open bottomed pen on grass is so much cleaner than the raised mesh floor in the barn pen and the  mess of duckling splash enriches our thin soil. As long as the hens stay broody this summer, I will continue to set nests of duck eggs. Come July I will evaluate the success of my hen-raising-duck scheme and decide if an incubator full of duck eggs is necessary to fill the freezer.

The nest of Buckeyes is also necessary to hatch replacement layers, roosters and chicks for sale. Broody hens do not lay eggs so chicken eggs are scarce but the ducks keep the egg bowl full for breakfast and baking.

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Perhaps I should keep a larger flock of layers next year with an eye towards naturally hatching ducks for our freezer.

Layering farm jobs

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As spring moves forward and the the gardens move into production, it was time to rein in the tidbit searching, dirt scratching hens. Twice a day we move this pen across the lawn. The hens do the spring fertilizing as they eat their way around the yard. The egg box at the wheel end and the feed hopper at the handle end  makes their upkeep very convenient. (In this picture the access door is open against the roof of the hen tractor). Although unwieldly, the long handle gives us greater mechanical advantage so one person can move the pen loaded with a hanging waterer and a full feed hopper.

Hen setting chicken eggs

Yesterday I set a broody hen on Buckeye eggs, in 21 days I hope to have chicks for a customer. To make sure the hen was solidly broody I set her on two "trial" eggs on Saturday. She stayed on the eggs in her trance-like state, feathers spread out like a blanket. With a dozen fresh eggs available, I moved her off the trial nest and set her on the dozen eggs in the corner of the coop. With all but the hen and winter chicks overnighting in the coop for company, she should have a good chance of hatching her clutch.

Buckeye hens setting Duck eggs

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The two broody Buckeye hens have nests of their own.This pen in the chicken coop was originally designed for brooding chicks, and it has worked very well,with rafters above for hanging heat lamps, solid walls to ward off cold drafts and a welded wire top for protection. It is also an ideal location for setting eggs.  The hens are secure from predation and undisturbed by other Buckeyes. Thier proximity to the barnyard is convenient since duck eggs should be misted daily when under chickens to maintain the higher humidity needs of developing ducklings.

As for the rest of the Buckeyes, they are day ranging through the yard and fallow gardens. Once springtime yard clean up begins, the avid foragers (read, scratching, digging birds) will start their pasture rotations behind electronet or in the chicken tractor.

The four winter hatched chicks and their mother hen roam the yard as well.  They tend to stay away from the other Buckeyes, except at night in the coop, and patrol the garden and asparagus bed.

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Buckeyes are released to the winter barnyard

Once cold weather returned to Lilac Hill Farm I culled non-Buckeye chickens, cleaned out and stored moveable pens and moved the flock into the winter coop.I removed the Buckeye X mixed Brown Leghorn birds because of their skittish nature and because I wish to have a purebred flock at this time. The winter coop is a remodelled solar wood drying kiln, roofed and outfitted for chicken comfort. During the Buckeye's round the clock stay in the coop they ate a diet rich in protein to promote healthy feather regrowth after the fall moult. I also started turning on the lights so they had 13 hours of illumination to encourage winter laying.

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Yesterday I removed non-Buckeye roosters and selected two cockerels to stay with the flock.  Since the Buckeyes are listed as a threatened breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, I tried to select the best birds for breeding stock. Acquiring new breeding stock can be difficult so keeping two cockerels as well as last year's rooster improves the odds that I will have breeders for next year. I also hope that these younger birds will immitate the older rooster's gentle yet protective nature. The rooster spent much of his day out clucking near the coop,  serving as a beacon for the hens as they map out their ranging territory.As the sun set, I headed out to the barnyard to locate the stragglers that did not return to the coop.  Last night there were only two pullets wandering the barnyard to retrieve.. 

Update

on 2012-12-05 12:19 by Vivianne Lapp

After only three days of day ranging, all the Buckeyes tucked in for the night on their own.

Preparing for winter

Thanks to our long autumn season, readying the farmstead for winter is a gradual process. The frost killed the last of the tomato plants, hot peppers  and the colorful zinnias but there are a few pockets of green growth remaining. Kale, a bit tough and well suited to the appetites of the geese, still grows in the vegetable garden, calendula blooms with bright blossoms around the back and herbs grow in the protection of the fenced period garden. The fruit terraces, site of the paste tomatoes, have been grazed down by the cows, sheep and goats. The electronet fence that protected the comfrey and rasberries has been rolled up and stored.

With a butcher date next week the chickens have been sorted. The Buckeye rooster, hens and seven chicks hatched this summer are in the winter coop. The timered lights are set to trigger egg laying. It will be a few months before the chicks lay. I anticipate keeping one rooster from this summer's chicks to complement our breeding flock next year. 

Buckeye rooster

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"Domestic: 1.of or involving the home or family, 2.enjoying or accustomed to home or family life, 3.(of an animal ) bred or kept by man as a pet of for purposessuch as the supply of food." dictionary.com

Our Buckeye rooster is a living example of this definition.  Exchanging the terms coop for home and flock for family, he tends his bevy with care. When on fresh pasture or when grains are thrown into the chicken yard, he investigates and clucks, calling to his hens to share the treats. Because he is cautous with his hens I have not had to trim his sharp spurs. From a human perspective his hens are healthy, hatching chicks to add to the flock and laying eggs to supply our table.

The geese are released from the poultry pen

I have moved the geese from the poultry fenced in area. If they can stay out of the non-farm areas, in the pastures and under the apple trees of the orchard, they can graze to their hearts content. I will probably try to herd them into the poultry enclosure to keep them safe at night since they will probably not bed down within the protection of Murphy's braying.

The Buckeye's 5 chicks are hale and hearty. I have introduced a nipple waterer with the hopes that as they grow they will use it in the large coop later. I have had little luck in introducing it to the older Buckeyes in the eggmobile. The two broody Buckeyes are sharing a nest of large eggs, hopefully we will have chicks soon.