The Cornish Cross broilers went out on pasture yesterday after I got home from work. This is about a week later than I wanted to do it, but various circumstances made me delay the event – not least being (sorry Midwest folk) the storm and rain we had on the weekend. I don’t mind them being out there in rain, but I don’t want them to spend their first night all miserable in the damp. Work was another factor – I’ve been working extra hours lately, which hasn’t left a lot of time or energy for things like prepping the shelter, finding the big waterer, etc. They’ll still get about 3 weeks on grass – good for them, good for the soil.
We use a field shelter modelled off the ones Joel Salatin uses at Polyface. I say that like it was no big deal to throw one together, but it was in fact a huge undertaking to us – being pretty much construction neophytes. There are lots of pictures of this type of shelter all over the web, and in Salatin’s books, but so far I have found building plans only in one place, and even those made some assumptions about our abilities. However, we did get it done last year, and it is pretty darn good if I do say so myself. If you’re thinking it’s a bit “House Beautiful” to have painted it, you’d be on my side, but my husband is from Newfoundland, and in Atlantic Canada, painting everything wooden that lives outside is part of the religion. There is a reason – wood became hard to come by (expensive) in some areas like PEI, so people painted stuff to preserve it in the very bad winters they get there. My husband paints everything wooden faithfully every year, even though he’s lived out here more than 30 years. A modification that didn’t get done before I filled it with birds yesterday though, was to take off the chicken wire and use wire mesh instead, as it’s stronger and might inhibit a predator a bit better.
Sadly, not doing that may have been the cause for some injuries sustained by one of the birds when I checked them today after work. I warn you, the picture below is not for you if you’re squeamish.
It looks to me like she got a good puncture in the head (near the eye). She also has a loose flap of skin on her left wing. I’ve cleaned her up and put her in with a couple of runt birds that I kept back from being tromped by the monster birds, to see if she can recover, but her head is swelling, so I don’t know if she’ll make it.
I’m not really sure what happened. I checked the pen carefully – all the wire is fine. All but one of the other birds are fine too (there is one other I discovered later with a peck or puncture wound above his eye). The top has two removable panels, but one is covered in metal and too heavy for a critter, the other is covered in wire and is light, but both are weighted down with bricks, which were all in place when I went to check on them. There are no feathers anywhere.
I would expect more bloodshed and feathers from a racoon, and dead carcasses from a mink. A cat could reach through the holes in the wire, but I wouldn’t have thought this to be the result of those kind of claws. I suspect it was a bird of some sort – perhaps a raven – as there are plenty about with the haying going on all around. There’s also a bald eagle nest about 500 metres away, but again, they’ve been more interested in the rabbits and mice than chickens lately. Especially chickens in a shelter. Another possibility is that this was a bad result from pecking order battle, but these birds have been together for 4 weeks and have sparred plenty without bloodshed, and the wing damage seems excessive for something like that.
I also don’t know if it happened in the night or during the day. I topped up water and feed before I left for work in the morning, did a quick scan of the birds and thought they all looked ok, but it would have been easy to miss if she’d been hiding in a corner. Other members of the family checked their water in mid afternoon, but didn’t notice any birds looking other than normal. So it’s a bit of a mystery.
In the meantime, the rest of the birds are very happy to be out on grass, in the sunshine and fresh air. They get to enjoy it for about 3 more weeks before heading up to the processor.
If you have any ideas about what could have happened, feel free to comment. There’s a lot of collective experience out there.