Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Park Day

We are taking our flocks of broiler chickens to "the Park" and they will be available for purchase as whole chickens.  We try to give everyone a quick 'look-see' into some of the processes we go through to raise these birds because we think it is important to be transparent with how we do things.  If some of this looks familiar, I will admit to using parts and pieces of our 2019 post on the same subject.  But, I have gone through and updated and edited/added as needed.

If you would like an idea as to what sort of chores we do on the farm each day, you can visit July's post titled Merry Go Round.

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. We opt for their GMO-free strain of birds.

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, they 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.

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.  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 expand their space in the brooder room as they grow.  Each flock has 125 chicks and we raise two flocks at one time. 

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.

mobile feed bin
Many Mouths Mean Much Munching
Since we raise 250 broilers at a time, there is a need for a significant amount of food.  We cannot expect broiler chickens to survive purely on forage.  For that matter, we do not expect our layers to survive only on forage.  But, 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 four or more 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.

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 process 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.

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 125 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 four to five moves.  

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. 

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 this Spring, 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.  

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.  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 2020, we have resorted to this a couple of times.

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.  

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 (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 and enjoy quality chicken dinners!

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