Broilers Lesson Learned #3

Consider the local weather/climate conditions in relation to the stages of growth of the broiler chickens.

This is really a past lesson learned that I’m quite pleased to say I conquered this year, as I think it went better than it has done in some time.  Maybe I had a little luck, but let’s go with learned lessons.

deer and pastured poultry July 2012 012

old picture, but it looks much the same every year. This is from 2012.

I have finally learned to work with the seasonal temperatures instead of against them.  Instead of trying to brood chicks in the early spring, when I have to keep the heat lamps going for a couple of weeks, and delay putting birds out on pasture because it’s just too darned wet, I now brood them when it’s super hot out – I can turn the heat lamps off for chunks of time in the middle of the day and help the birds acclimate comfortably to living without that red glow.  When I do that, the ground is automatically drier, the hay has been taken off weeks before so that there is new grass growth, and the birds can go out on pasture when we’re still not getting much rain.  They are going out on pasture younger, so are quite happy in the heat still, and by the time they’re a few weeks older and liable to suffer from heat stress, we’re getting cooler nights, and they day temperature comes down a notch or two.

Believe me, this took a lot of hard lessons before I got it figured out.  We lost more than 50 birds one May due to a surprise cold snap – we had a sub 0 C night, and I had eased up on the temperature in the brooder as I started acclimating the birds in readiness for going to pasture later the next week.  Half the batch got chilled, developed pneumonia and died – a needless waste of life, and a costly way to learn.  Another time, we had such a wet spring, the hay couldn’t be cut – I had birds in the brooder that didn’t make it onto pasture until 8 days before processing – and my brooder was most definitely not big enough to hold them properly when they were mature sizes.  I’ve had years where brooding went fine, getting out on pasture went fine, but then as the birds got close to butchering weight, they started to keel over from heart attacks due to heat stress.

Recognizing that only raising birds at the end of the summer season limits production, there is possibly more lesson learning to be done here though.  There is also the factor that twice now, I’ve had difficulties with processing so late in the season, because the processor is switching over to turkeys – Canadian Thanksgiving is the second weekend in October, and they do turkeys for about 10 days before that, plus time to recalibrate the equipment.  I’m debating doing a small batch in June/July, and then doing my main batch as usual.  Or maybe doing 2 batches Aug/Sep, but staggered so that they don’t overlap on the field (I only have two shelters and I don’t want to be moving 4 at once every morning anyway).  That would require a degree of planning that I’m clearly not currently practicing, so we’ll see how we go next year on that front.

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14 thoughts on “Broilers Lesson Learned #3

  1. I’m sorry, my eyes glazed slightly and I swear my heart rate doubled as I read this post. This is no reflection on you but more the absolute proof that I am terrible at planning. Luckily there are some on the Homestead who adore plotting and scheming and “diarising”. Ick.
    I can only imagine the despair of all those lessons learnt and read with awe and also the certainty that those peasant genes of ours run true; subsistence farming is about all we can hope for 🙂

    • I think my second blog post ever was about procrastination – that is really my forte as opposed to planning, and that’s really what all these lessons learned highlight. I’m a great dreame, not such a great planner, and it’s taken me several years to figure out some of this stuff the hard way. Truth is, I’m still figuring out some of it – as Grasspunk pointed out, I should probably look at increasing production over the year instead of all at one time, but my eyes glaze over at the thought of figuring out how. I know it can be done, but it seems like work to get there – and I guess that’s a question of motivation.

      As for subsistence farming – or homesteading 🙂 – what I do is only a fraction larger than that. My original goal was to feed my own family with what we produce. We’ve been able to expand that to produce enough for other people to buy, thus paying for the production of our own meat. We’re not really much larger than that, though I’d like to be.

  2. grasspunk says:

    Good luck for next year. Wouldn’t you be better off figuring out how to produce more chicken throughout the year rather than just limiting supply? I don’t understand your market though, and that affects everything.

    • I could produce chicken year round by creating an environment where they could thrive despite whatever is going on with the weather and season, but it stops being pastured chicken when I do that. My ground is too wet for the chickens for about 6 months of the year. Within the remaining six months however, you’re right – there is room for production, and my slow brain is cranking it’s way around how to do that without running into previous issues. The market is definitely there – the limiting factor is my time, as I try to maintain balance between farm stuff and family, work and farm and home, etc.

  3. valbjerke says:

    Definitely the farmers lament – weather – and how to accommodate it when raising for production. For us in the north it’s a definite advantage to have a barn – the chickens can be in or out depending on the season. This year we backed everything up in the opposite direction. Our chicken were in the freezer in August (as opposed to November) and I have to say it didn’t hurt my feelings at all to not have to process in the cold with the wood stove going. We did the same with our pigs – the big disadvantage there was I had an awful lot of garden scraps and nothing to feed it too. Still, I liked going into the fall with only the garden to process. Somehow I felt more organized. 🙂

    • Wonderful not to be freezing your hands off with processing in the cold – my hands ache just thinking about it. I usually have my pigs gone by the end of September, and I’ve definitely felt added pressure with them still being here – a good portion of every weekend has been spent moving fence (and pigs), lugging feed, etc that would normally have gone to other projects like cleaning up the garden and putting away stuff – and it shows. Definitely feeling UN organized as a result. Next year….

  4. Excellent point about the temps, wet fields, etc… that we need to be sure to factor in when we plan out our pastured poultry operation.
    I would also like to figure out a way to stagger batches so we aren’t processing too many birds in one day. Most people we’ve come across process (on farm) about 100 birds in a day. That requires a lot of help and I’d like to not add the stress of hoping you can get enough help when you need it.

  5. Clearly you’re a planner more than a dreamer – yes, I agree, you want to have your batches set up so that help and processing coincide. It’s tricky isn’t it? Like a chess game, almost.

  6. Bill says:

    I’ve learned the importance of building some flexibility into my plans. If only I was smarter about practicing it. Your example of having only 8 days on pasture before time to process brings to mind what we’re experiencing right now. I planned to take our pigs to the processor yesterday and I calculated our feed needs based on that (our feed is delivered here from a long ways away–we can’t just go down to the store and buy more). I ordered a little more than we needed, figuring I could feed it to the chickens if we ended up with too much, just to be safe. Sure enough, the pigs refused to load yesterday and we had to push back our trip to the processor by a week. Hopefully we’ll manage to get it done next time. If not, we’ll be out of feed and facing a big inconvenient expense.

    • Aghh…I haven’t had that particular eventuality happen to me yet – with the pigs. I was two hours late for the up-Island processor once because I didn’t leave enough time to catch the broilers – they got done, but they got done last in the day because I missed my place in the queue of orders. We load the pigs the night before, because I am always worried that what happened to you will happen to me.

  7. Yes.. i am not much for stubble myself!! c

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