Sunday, September 8, 2019

Broiler Chickens at the Genuine Faux Farm

Many of the posts on our blog are simply a combination of pictures we happen to have taken combined with whatever is on Rob's mind.  But, nearly half of the posts you read here have been planned out at some level and often are created over a period of time.  This is especially true of posts that are a bit more ambitious, such as this 2015 post that discusses how you can cut up a whole chicken (thank you again for the help Elizabeth).

This is one such post because it has more than one purpose and we'll start by getting the 'business part' out of the way!

The Business Part - A Special Purchase Price September 9 and October 7
Flock number three is due to go to the "Park" Sept 8 and will be processed... er.. prepared for "Freezer Camp..." Sep 9.  Flock number four will go on the 6th of October and be available October 7.  We still have a significant number of birds in our freezers that are looking to be dinner guests as well.  Is your home looking to host a chicken as the main course... um... "Guest of Honor at the Dinner Table?"

Cost is $3.50/ pound.  Weights typically range from 4 to 6 pounds, so prices are typically from $14 to $21.  We have had birds process as big as seven pounds and as small as three.

We will have a special pick up on Monday, September 9 and October 7 in Waverly from 6pm to 6:30 pm at St Andrew's Church (in the parking lot).  We will add a pick up location in Waterloo/Cedar Falls on October 7 if we get at last 30 birds ordered for that trip.

Why should you particpate?
1. We will bring UNFROZEN chickens for pick up.  If we don't have to freeze them, we will reduce the price per bird by 40 cents (our cost to freeze them at the locker).
2. If you purchase 10 or more birds, frozen or unfrozen, we will reduce the price per bird by 25 cents per pound.  ($3.25 per pound price).
3. You help the farmers convert one asset (processed birds) into another (cash) so they can convert that asset into more feed for the remaining turkey, hen and broiler flocks on the farm.  Quite a cycle, that!

Can you buy birds at other times?
Of course!  But, we're only offering these special prices tomorrow.

What do you need to do?
Contact us by commenting on this blog post, sending us a message in email or in Facebook prior to 3 pm on September 9.  It is important that you tell us how many chickens you want because we will NOT be bringing all of the birds with us.  We will bring some additional broilers with us in case someone shows up that we were not aware of, but we anticipate bringing more than five or so additional birds.

And now for the next part!  Please read and learn how we raise poultry for you and allow us to give you some reasons to consider picking up some broilers tomorrow or in the near future.

the Brooder Room
How the Genuine Faux Farm Raises Broilers

It Starts With Day Old Chicks
We do not hatch our own chicks, we are a 'finishing' operation only at this point. Chicks have been purchased through the JM Hatchery and we raise the Red Ranger chickens for meat. While they do not grow as quickly, nor quite as large as the standard Cornish X meat bird, we are pleased with their willingness to roam within their pasture. We believe that these birds taste better and have more consistent meat quality from the whole bird. In general, these birds appear to stay healthy and thrive in our system of growing.

The chicks are packaged into specially designed cardboard crates that are mailed from the hatchery to our post office in Tripoli via the United States Postal Service.  Typically, we will receive an early morning phone call telling us our chicks have arrived and we then drive ourselves into town to pick them up and relieve the poor postal employees of the continuous chirping of the baby birds in their boxes.  We take the chicks to the Poultry Pavilion (an old machine shed on the farm) and put them in one of the sections of the brooder room we built inside the building in 2017/2018.

The process of prepping an area for the chicks includes putting wood chip bedding down and covering that with newspaper.  We get a feeder and a waterer prepared and filled.  And, we connect one or two heat lamps to bring the temperature up to the chicks' comfort zone.  Each chick is removed from the shipping box and its beak is dipped in the water to show them that they have a source of hydration.  Especially in the earlier months, we put a top over their divided area to eliminate drafts and keep the temperature high enough during cool nights.

Get the Birds Old Enough to Regulate Their Own Temperatures
Once the birds start growing in their feathers, we can consider putting them out on pasture.  In the meantime, we have to expand their space in the brooder room.  Each flock has 150 chicks and it is important that we give them enough space to keep them healthy, while still keeping the space small enough to keep them as warm as they need it to be.

The newspaper is removed after a day or two and we add straw as necessary to their bedding to keep it all reasonably clean.  They need food and water daily and we change the height of the heat lamps as they grow and need the temperature support less.  By the time we are ready to put them out on pasture (typically around 3 weeks), they should be getting through the night without any light or supplemental heat.

Of course, once the birds are out of the brooder, we have to clean the brooder out and return the walls to the smaller layout for the next batch of chicks.  We'd like to tell you that we do this right away, but life on the farm rarely allows you to get 'ahead.'  Let's just be honest and tell you it gets done in time for the next batch to move in.  Good enough.

The whole 'brooder room' and raising chicks indoors during cooler months has some risk.  Heat lamps, if they get knocked down into the straw, can certainly start a fire.  We have only had that happen once and we (thankfully) caught that well before there was a major problem).  On the other hand, there can also be a thing with faulty wiring.  In this case, the circuit breaker took care of us and we were able to identify the situation and remove the plug.  For the time being, we bypassed the plug and we'll re-install it this Fall.

mobile feed bin
Many Mouths Mean Much Munching
Since we raise 150 broilers per flock (and we raised/are raising four flocks in 2019), there is a need for a significant amount of food (at least from our perspective).  We cannot expect broiler chickens to survive purely on forage.  For that matter, we do not expect our layers to survive only on forage.  Even if we do provide foraging opportunities and we encourage them to explore their pasture areas.

We have been pleased to support the Canfield Family Farm and their endeavor to grow diverse crops that they then mix into feed on their farm.  We appreciate their approach to farming and we find that we have received top quality feed from them over the past few years of patronage.  Add to it the fact that they are also a local farm (Dunkerton area) and you can now double your effectiveness with respect to supporting local business when you buy our broilers.

some nice clover in that pasture!
The chicks require a different feed mix that is more finely ground than they will receive as they get bigger.  Additionally, broilers require a different mix (more protein) than our hens (added calcium).  This means we find ourselves buying different mixes from the Canfield's and having to find ways to store that feed on our farm as we use it.  The mobile feed bin is taken down to the Canfield farm to be filled with 3000 pounds of whatever feed type we will be needing the most of for the next several weeks.  Other feed is provided either in 50 pound bags or in a bulk bag (usually 600-800 pounds at a time).  To keep rodents from getting into the feed, we transfer the bulk bag into other containers using the tractor.

rain hat over a feeder
Every morning, we let each flock out of their protective building and we provide them with feed and clean water.  By the time the broilers reach full-size (at about week 10 or 11) they will consume three five-gallon buckets of feed a day.  Like other living creatures, they have 'hungry days' and 'not so hungry' days.  We may adjust their feed amounts downward if it is clear they did not get through the previous day's feed. We supplement the broilers' feed with forage opportunities in their pasture and we will occasionally give them cucumbers or other vegetables (though the hens and turkeys get more of that).

By virtue of their stocky bodies and thick legs, broilers tend to be less able to hop up onto things than hens are.  That means we need to be sure water and food is at their level.  Of course, our broilers have surprised us by showing us they like to hop up onto roosts in the evening (about 18 inches above the ground).  But, this is by no means ALL of the broilers and we need them ALL to access food and water.  They get the CHANCE to hop up onto a roost if they want it.

Since the broilers are out on pasture, their feeders are also out on pasture.  That means they get rained on!  Many of our feeders have plastic 'hats' that we can place on the feeder to keep the feed dry, though it does look a bit silly when you see a black hat with a bunch of chicken rumps sticking out in all directions.... and that's ALL you see.

Older portable building and electric netting
Day Ranging Poultry
We do not keep our birds in a 'chicken tractor' during the day, instead we use a 'day range' system. They are out in a pasture with fenced borders to keep them out of our gardens and to slow down potential predators. At night, we make sure birds go into one of our portable shelters to protect them from owls and other predators. We move the birds to a new pasture area periodically to maintain the quality of the grass/clover crop for their benefit.

We have maintained the principle of letting our broiler flocks out on pasture since the beginning, but the processed has been refined each year.

One of the earlier discoveries was the quality electric netting sold by Premiere One (another Iowa business!).  We have acquired a number of sections of netting over the years and have six or seven solar chargers so we can maintain multiple pastures for our various flocks (and to protect some of our veggies from varmints).  The combination of portable solar chargers and movable netting allows us to move the area being used as pasture for our broilers.

Jeff and Rob working on unloading a building.
In prior years, we have not been quite as consistent with moving the building (and thus the fencing) as we have this season.  If you look at the last photo at the right, you can see what passed as a 'portable' building for us.  Tammy and I could lift one of these and move it, but it was far easier with four people (one at each corner).  We didn't always have four people to move it.  And, when it rains, things can get slippery...  Let's just say that the time had come to change how we moved buildings, so we did so with the help of the Bandsaw Man, Mr. Jeff Sage himself!

Jeff had created a couple of buildings (much bigger than our buildings) that were on skids.  They are intended to be moved using a tractor, whereas our old buildings would not have withstood the stress of being moved that way for long.  Jeff is not likely to be using the buildings anymore, so we made an offer to purchase them for our farm.  What a great move that was!

If you look at the picture on the right, you will see why we move these buildings every other day.  It only takes two days with 150 birds for the footprint of the building to look pretty rough.  We are not in the business of destroying pasture with our chickens.  After all, we want future flocks to use these areas as well.  That means we need to keep the buildings moving.

Happily, the fences do not have to be moved every time the building is moved, but they do need to be moved every so often as well.  If one section of fence is being used, it needs moving every week or so.  If it is two sections, we move it every other week.  This might sound like a great deal of work to just pasture raise a few chickens.  And, in fact, there is real work involved.  It isn't magical, it takes some effort.  On the other hand, it is a reasonable amount of effort for the results.

If a fence does not need to be moved, Rob can take Rosie, the tractor, out to a pasture and move a building in fifteen minutes or less (if all goes as planned).  A section of fence has to be taken down to allow the tractor in.  The birds need to be encouraged out of the building and then excluded by closing the door.  A rope is attached to the skids on one end of the building then to the bucket of the tractor and then Rob backs the tractor up to get the building over a fresh patch of pasture.  Unhook the tractor, open the building back up, hang up the rope and put the fence back up.  Not a big deal.


The birds don't want to leave the building or you have to move the fence or you have to do some fancy maneuvering other than a straight back move.  Each of these things are bound to happen a couple times for each flock at some point during their time on pasture.  Even so, these things don't usually take that much time in a day.  It's more the fact that we often have a looooong list of things to do, so we might get a little grumpy if this one task takes longer than we want.  Sometimes, delays working with poultry can make Rob say silly things.
I guess wind can move our buildings too.

Other considerations
Like anything else on the farm, things do not always go completely according to plan.  There are weather events that can impact the flocks.  A recent wind storm moved one end of a broiler building.  Happily, the birds had selected the OTHER end to congregate at the time of the storm, so we observed no injuries the next morning.  It has been mentioned to us that we could consider putting anchors on the buildings.  But, I remind you of the process to move these buildings every other day.  Adding an anchoring process begins to make our approach less attractive.  If we can only have one instance of buildings moving every few years, I think we can manage.

On the other hand, we have had to pay more attention to where the buildings are being moved so we can keep birds OUT of water.  This was especially true last Fall, but it has been a consideration most years.  Setting a building in a spot that is known to puddle is just a bad idea if you know there is heavy rain possible.  The real problem last Fall was finding ANY spot that wasn't a puddle.

Remember, broilers don't tend to leave the ground much, though some will get on those roosts.  Birds sleeping/sitting in water will get hypothermic which, at the least, is going to affect how well they grow.  Our solution for prolonged periods of wet has been to leave buildings in place and just keep adding straw to keep the birds dry.  Clearly, that doesn't allow us to move them to new pasture - but we are talking about a response to extreme conditions.  Thus far, in 2019, we have not had to resort to this - though we have had to re-route where a building goes a couple of times.

Emma and Sophie can use other approaches to deal with gnats
Another issue that has gotten increasingly difficult is the increased buffalo gnat population from late May into early July each of the last several years.  Once again, 2018 was exceptionally bad.  This year wasn't particularly good, but after last year, it seemed like a picnic to us.  Either way, the gnats can cause problems for poultry, so providing shelter with good air circulation is critical.  It is also important to pay attention to how the birds are doing in each location because the gnats can be more populace in some areas than others.  Once we notice the birds struggling, we move the building in hopes of reducing the stress from the gnats.

In addition to gnats, we have had losses to hawks, skunks and raccoons.  This might make it sound like it is a terrible situation, but we typically start with 150 - 152 chicks and we process 142-147 birds at the end.  We consider this a reasonable success rate, especially given the health of our birds and quality of the meat they provide.

Processing - A Day at the Park
This post from 2009 gives you an idea of what a trip to "the Park" is like for us.  We still take our poultry to Martzahn Farm in Greene, Iowa (another local Iowa business!) and they do a fine job of cleaning and prepared the birds for sale.  A state inspector is present, which allows us more freedom in selling our poultry.  Rather than run through that entire process here, we'll let you take the link.  The biggest differences are that we typically take our birds the night before (and we find they are less stressed by this) and we only do 150 birds per flock now.  Oh... and the birds are, on average, bigger than they used to be.  This does mean we often have a late night followed by a long day, but that's just the way it works.

The day after we bring the birds in, we have to clean the truck and the cages they rode in.  Once the birds are ready in the afternoon, we go pick them up from Martzahn's.  If we know some people want unfrozen birds, we can arrange to deliver them.  The rest go to Frederika Locker to be frozen (and another local business).  After they are frozen, we move them to our farm and our freezers (assuming we have space).

so... Why Buy Our Chickens?
  1. We raise our birds in a way that is humane and supports their natural processes.
  2. We work to maintain our pastures and reduce stress the flock's presence might place on that system.
  3. Our birds are healthy and have some character.
  4. The quality of the meat throughout the bird is consistent.  You'll like the dark meat and the white meat.
  5. The quality of the processing is top-notch, you will not find pin feathers on these birds.
  6. You support a local farm business that, in turn, supports several other local/state businesses to raise these birds.
Let's empty the Genuine Faux Farm freezers so they can have space for flock number four in six weeks!

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