Those little chicks I mentioned a while back are now between six and seven weeks old. For the last two weeks, most of them have been living in the Chicken Tractor.
I’m still ambivalent about using this thing, feeling as I do that confinement is confinement and a perfect world would have them safe in their own enclosed pen, where they could scratch and dustbathe and in general do anything their chicken-y hearts desire. This, however, is not a perfect world. In my perfect world of the future, this is the last (knock wood) year I will be ordering chicks, ever, as I will now be handing the chick-rearing reins over to Chicken Patty, a husband, and a sister-wife. Roosters likewise will be culled from our new egg-layers, as we have a rooster of the egg bird persuasion now too.
Hi! You have treats for us?
But back to the tractor. My concern for these birds makes me check up on them multiple times of the day. I move it, then, three times a day to ensure they get their fill of fresh grass and clover. I also verify that the tarp cover gives them at least 3/4 of their space in the shade: it doesn’t get super hot here (highs at most in the low 80s) but I don’t want them to be uncomfortable. They get fed two times a day, with a two to three hour gap between feedings. Unlike the first batch of meat blobbos that used the tractor last year, these slow-growing CornishX (the white ones) and some slower-growing red broilers move more, they perch, their poop is a lot more “processed” and they HATE lying in their own poo. There are 35 birds in this tractor, for now. Once they get to be about 12 weeks, half of them will be housed elsewhere (including the freezer) as I think they’d be too cramped in there when they’re all that big. Full-grown birds should all be ready to go, then, at 16 weeks, though last year I waited longer than that.
Four of Patty’s babies in the grapevines
As a point of contrast, Chicken Patty’s adopted chicks are a lot smaller. I attribute this to two things: one, when the other meat birds had 24/7 feeding under the light of the heat lamp, the babies under Mama Patty got used to the idea of circadian rhythms. And two, Chicken Patty’s six babies are running everywhere, all day long. Patty did a wonderful job raising them until she didn’t, incidentally. When they were just over a month old, her egg-laying cycle kicked back in, so she started roosting in the coop with the other egg girls, leaving her babies behind. I am not sure if this is just nature or if Patty is just a flaky young teenaged mother, or what. The babies sure can fend for themselves, though, doing a fine job foraging and dust-bathing and keeping themselves together. There are three roos and three girls. One of the boys will be Patty’s future husband…though not a blood relation, is this, uh, Oedipal?
It is my understanding that at a certain point Mama Hen decides she’s done with these kids and abandons them for her own selfish pursuits. My Mama Hen did it within the first 4 weeks. But the babies have done fine. They know when to run and hide it seems.
I feel your desire to have the chickens out doing “chickeny things”. We’ve kept chickens for 5 years and have consciously decided, with much fretting and moralizing, to allow our birds free rein over our 3 acres. We’ve lost a lot of chickens. This spring I was digging in the garden and looked up to see a hawk flying just overhead with one of our small hens in her claws. I ran up to check, sure enough the speckled hen was gone…only a flurry of feathers remained. The coyotes are the main predator of our chickens, though.
I am much better able to deal with the sadness I feel when a chicken is taken now. I can’t help but feel that they would rather live free even though it may mean a shorter life. I’ve had some experience with mental health patients who must live in a locked facility….and I can’t believe that safety trumps freedom. I also console myself that nature in it’s wisdom must also provide for hawks and coyotes. And since I love the sound of coyotes yipping after dark…and since red-tailed hawks are beautiful soaring in the sky, I just try to go with the flow.
The chickens we currently have seem to have gotten smarter….knock on wood! None have gone to the coyotes this spring….the population is holding steady at 21, including two roosters.
Oedipal, edible… Whatever.
Mim! Thanks so much; I figured someone with experience would show me the light on her behavior. It was funny, she went from being wild-eyed defender mama to coming up to me to be petted, so I figured something was up, and indeed, the next day she was in the nesting box, then making her usual egg-laying war whoop (that girl is loud!). But what you say seems to be right: she’s just had enough, they’re fine on their own…
Petunia, yeah, it’s something I struggle with too. My answer is Happy Hour: at 5 or so, they get let out of their pen. Now, their pen is really big enough and has enough activity places to keep them occupied, including a gigantic dirt bath area, places to perch, places to hide. But they CAN tell time and I hear about it if we don’t let them out in time! So, they’re out for a couple of hours every evening. They don’t go far, they actually stick to their routines, and (crossing fingers) they’re pretty safe because we, and the dog, are usually outside then too. But I do understand what you mean, as we went through that too, and the big pen was the compromise. Two roosters should help with safety. Guineas help with ours.
CC, yep! What you said. Both, actually.
These chickens do seem much more alert and smart than your description of the meat blobbos – they look like a lot more fun to have around.
I’d hate lying in my own poo too! It sounds like you have it worked out pretty well, though, and have made a strong compromise between their safety, protecting your investment, and keeping them happy, especially for these meat birds who won’t be around the farm long enough to become savvy about predators.