Meat chickens

In addition to using eggs, we decided to try our hand at processing our chickens for meat.  In 2011, we processed 42 chickens for our family in the late summer and early fall.  At the time, we rented a plucker to remove the feathers.  Since then, we have built our own plucker.  It takes us about 10 minutes on average to go from a live bird to a shrink-wrapped product for the freezer. 

This year, we will offer meat chickens for sale to others.  We raise excess dual purpose breed roosters for meat.  While there are a number of meat specific breeds available, most notably the cornish cross, we choose to stick with heritage, natural breeds that can be reproduced on our farm.  There are no risks of broken legs from excessive growth, heart attack from overeating, etc.  It takes 4-5 months to raise a rooster for harvest, and that will result in a 3lb average weight bird.  We sell live birds and offer custom slaughter. 

See the Sale Page for pricing and ordering.

Chick hatching on the farm – our homemade hatcher in use

Since we decided to get a little more serious about hatching chicks this year, we needed to increase our capacity.  Chicks require a 21 day incubation period.  We prefer to use an automatic turner in the incubator to eliminate the need to manually turn eggs 3-4 times a day. On day 18, you put the eggs on “lockdown” which means removing the turner and letting the eggs sit still until they hatch.  While a basic still air incubator is made of styrofoam and doesn’t have a fan works fine for the entire cycle, it is actually limited to about 25 days.  That’s because the nominal 21 day incubation results in some hatches out to about day 23.  Then you have to clean it out, reload, etc.

For the initial part of the incubation period, the humidity is kept around 40%.  From lockdown on, it needs to be around 75%.  A limitation of the still air incubator is they don’t do well at trying to raise the humidity.

Our solution was to move the eggs to a different location to hatch.  That means the incubator with automatic turner stays in operation.  Now at day 18, eggs go into the hatcher and the incubator gets new eggs.  Since we are running 2 incubators with turners, we have 41 eggs going to hatch every 9 days (once the cycle is in progress).

Here is our homemade chick hatcher.  It has undergone a few different modifications, but I think the design has stabilized for a while.

The hatcher is made from an old beer fridge I got from a bar (for free).  The compressor was no good, so I removed the compressor and cooling coils.

I reversed the polarity of the fan so it draws air up through the unit instead of blowing on the top shelf.  I also added a rheostat to make it a variable speed fan.

I kept the fluorescent light so we can see the chicks hatching.  Since the bar planned to reuse the shelves in a new unit, I made shelves out of 2x2s and wire mesh.  Since I took these pictures, we did change to a basket setup instead of the cat litter boxes so the air circulates better.

I installed a floor air conditioning register in the side to allow for fresh air to enter the unit as the chicks hatch.  The cables you see going in are for the digital thermostat and humidistat.  You can see the small controller on the side in the first picture (it is blue).  The digital controller was $70, but absolutely worth the improvement.

The heat source is a 125 Watt heat lamp that I wired into the bottom.  We are using a humidifier in the bottom to keep the humidity in the appropriate range.  The digital controller regulates the temperature within about 1 degree and the humidity within about 5%.

The total cost of materials was about $100 and the end result is a hatcher that gives up plenty of room to increase production in the future and we got an 80% hatch rate out of our last batch of eggs.  Using a still air incubator, our best ever was about 60%.

Officially Farming!

How do you know farming has a new role in life?  2 words – tax exempt.  That’s right, today in the mail we received our tax exempt approval from the State of CT.  And it was just in time, because I had a 10% off coupon for Tractor Supply that expired tomorrow.  Well I grabbed that new money-saving sheet and the coupon and an hour later I was home with a truck full of fencing supplies and about 700lbs of feed.  Now if only I had the time to put the fencing up…

Every weekend should be 4 days

2 day weekends are junk.  There is hardly enough time to really get started on anything, let alone complete a project.  If we always had Friday to get ready for the projects, and Monday to wrap them up, we would get a lot more accomplished around here.  Instead, Friday I was at work (all day) and then loaded the barn with hay after I got home.

Anna did some running around on Saturday morning, so I was basically inside watching kids.  I did help with some cleaning in the house.

Saturday night was date night at the Dolphin Scholarship Auction.  It was a lot of fun and we even bought a couple of things for ourselves (including a wine tasting at Jonathon Edwards Winery just around the corner from our house).

We had chicks hatching this weekend, unfortunately, the results were quite poor.  I recently completed build a new hatcher for the chick operations.  This was the first batch to hatch inside, and we discovered some design flaws.  Monday night is overhaul for the hatcher because the next batch will move in for hatching on Tuesday.

2 rabbits had litters on Saturday and we have 9 new additions to the rabbitry.  That’s actually low because 1 doe had 11, but only 2 survived.  We are not sure what the issue was, so we will be monitoring her performance carefully on the next litter.  You know what they say about meat rabbits: you can always eat the mistakes.

Sunday morning was spent working on some chores/cleanup around the farm until Alex and I went to the Blue and Gold Banquet for Cub Scouts where Alex received his Bear rank.  We also had 2 customers over today for buying chicks.  I love having other people who are interested in the self-sustaining movement out to our farm, and while they might show up to buy chicks, we end up talking about goats, rabbits, vegetables, and everything else.

Tonight was project time on the whizbang chicken plucker.  It should be complete in another day or so and then we will give it a test run.  I plan to have video of the first use.

See what I mean? 2 days didn’t hardly get anything done.

Amanda loves her goat milk

It’s a dreary Saturday morning.  Since the morning chores are done and Anna is gone with Vicki for some shopping, I am inside with Alex and Amanda.  I was working on researching some plans on the computer when Amanda came and grabbed my arm, repeating “goat milk Betty.”  Betty is our only doe in milk right now, and at dinner the other night I was talking with Alex and Vicki about how they should appreciate what Betty provides for us.  Apparently Amanda has been listening too.  Well, earlier I had actually already poured Amanda a cup of milk, but she wanted it in a different cup.  In addition, when I simply transferred her milk from one cup to another, she got very upset. She refused to take the cup from me until I actually added some milk out of the container in the fridge so she could see it was “goat milk Betty”.   As soon as I did that, she grabbed the cup and started drinking.  Spoiled kid.

Half marathon PR

This morning I ran my 3rd half marathon in Colchester, CT. The weather was nice in the low 40s, but there were winds of 25-30mph. On the first half of the course, the winds were not too bad. However, the last 2.5 miles was completely exposed, uphill, with a head wind the whole way. Did I mention the hills? Despite the challenge, I finished in 1:43:12 for an average 7:52 min/mile (my previous best was 1:49).
Along the way I burned about 1800 calories and my average heart rate was 188. I think the HR was a little skewed because of a poor connection (not enough sweat) for the first few miles.
Regardless, I’m extremely pleased with the result since I was hoping to run a half marathon in under 1:45 by the end of 2012.

Facing reality

Over the past week, Anna and I have been working hard on the farm and making lots of improvements.  Not investing a lot of money, just tweaking things to make the operations more efficient.  Along the way, we added 11 more hens and 2 more roosters (one is still arriving Tues or Wed), bringing our main flocks up to 47 layers and 6 roosters.  The rabbits are now at 12, but we have some excess bucks that will be dinner shortly, taking us back down to 10.

As I have been working on all the projects, it is difficult to stop and ride my bike, go on long runs, or even ride the horses.  I am definitely still getting plenty of exercise, because I lost 2lbs last week.  I know I can’t do it all, but I want to.  However, I think the time has come to be a little more realistic in some of my personal goals.  I think the half-iron distance triathlon is coming off the schedule for 2012.  I will still race some shorter sprint and olympic races, but I don’t have the 14hrs a week my training plan recommends and I don’t want to just complete the race, I want to race it.  So for now, I think I will continue to focus on horse riding and the farm, and keep the longer triathlons as a bucket list item.


How time flys

This afternoon, I finally carved out a little time to relax.  I decided to ride Cinder.  I was actually test riding a new saddle, but it didn’t fit well.  So, I took the saddle off and rode Cinder bareback for a little while.  He was feeling quite frisky from the increased grain ration lately and lack of work, so the bucking and misbehavior was a little more challenging without a saddle.  I only came off once, and it was a controlled dismount (that means I landed on my feet).

Anna and I have decided to take Cinder off the sale market for a while.  I am going to work on riding him more and show him some this summer.  We still might sell him eventually, but not right now.

Earlier this week, I promised to get some more pictures updated on the changes to the rabbitry.  Well, what I expected to be a 4-6hr project became more like a 4 day project.  I ended up working until dark every night and still haven’t taken the pictures.  We only have 1 more cage to relocate and then the rabbits will be settled into their new area.  I also started clearing the area that will become a buck pen for the new goats in May.

I did manage to get a little more than a cord of wood cut into log lengths from the tree I took down in the front yard and 2 other trees I cut at the gun club property.  When you don’t do it every day, it’s amazing how much swinging a chainsaw will wear you out (and carrying 16+” oak logs around).

Our second incubator is now in operation.  We have begun incremental loads in the incubators to have weekly hatches.  Right now we have about 53 chicks growing out in various brooders in the garage and basement.  Since the weather is nice, we are hoping sales will start soon…

Tomorrow morning I am picking up 11 more hens, including Americanas!  We will now have easter eggers and will distribute colored eggs in the sale cartons.  This will bring our active layer flock to 47 hens.  We are also getting another rooster on Monday or Tuesday to ensure we keep the eggs fertile for hatching.

Now it’s time for Anna and I to relax and enjoy a short movie.  Tomorrow is another busy day on the farm.

The story of our lives with horses