Broiler Lessons Learned-#4

Bedding in the brooder.

Again, I think this is one of those lessons I’ve been trying to master for more than a few years, and this year was the first time I feel like it went as it should.  I try to practice deep bedding, but whether it’s my brooder set up, or the wood shavings I use (about all that’s available here, at least through the feed stores), or my management techniques, I am usually in a desperate and losing battle to keep the bedding in the brooder from feeling soggy.  These little birds excrete a LOT of moisture and it takes a lot of wood shavings to absorb it all.  Others around the world are using different beddings, and some sound like they work much better.  I’d really like to source a finer grade of wood shavings, as I believe it might absorb better, but I’m not sure how to go about that, so it may not happen soon.  Ideas, anyone?

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In the past I’ve tried removing half and replacing (a lot of work and it panicked the birds) it with new shavings.  I’ve tried adding shavings daily and stirring them in.  I’ve tried adding shavings twice a day.  This year, I was adding bedding in the mornings, quite a bit of it each time, over the whole floor space –  a few centimetres deep.  Didn’t stir it, just let it sit on top.  I also made sure the place was always ventilated (even at night), thinking that perhaps the moisture was building up overnight because the shed is insulated.  And I think that may have done the trick, because for the first time since I’ve been using that building, the bedding got damp, but not soggy, I didn’t get any respiratory issues with the birds (a problem in the past),  Having that window open 24/7 (it’s away from the brooder, so no draft, and it has mesh, no rats) did rely on the hot dry weather of August, so this is another point in favour of starting chicks end of July.

Another factor of course was that this was the shortest time I’ve ever kept the broilers in the brooder – 12 days for most of them (I kept a few inside for a couple more days), and I know in the past the weather has compelled me to keep them inside the brooder for a week or so longer.  They start getting big after week two, and their size has a big impact on my ability to keep up with the bedding.

Key take aways on brooding.  Be religious about adding a good thick layer of fresh bedding at least daily.  Try and source a more absorbent non-dusty bedding material.  Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation.  Get the birds outside as soon as possible.

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As a sort of postcript to all this, I let a broody hen from the layers set a batch of eggs this summer – 9 of the 12 hatched, and she raised all 9 successfully.  Her own body temperature was all the heat they got, and even when the ground got damp from rain, the chicks always thrived – her own body heat and the thick pad of hay they had for a nest seem to have sufficed.  She had them venturing out of the brooder within a week, and by the end of week three, they were going through tall grass, and under brambles, scrambling over and under and around to keep up with her.  Watching those chicks while I was providing all my careful TLC to the broilers across the yard in their brooder, I am aware as never before of just how fragile we have bred them to be.

 

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Crescendo e decrescendo

I knew it was coming, the busy part of my farming season. I remembered the rhythm of it from last year, and knew what to expect, but it still hit hard, I think because of the heat we had this summer.

We started quietly enough, just the layers we have had for more than a year. In May, the two piglets arrived, and chores increased slightly. Things were still pretty easy though – the piglets were small and easily contained for a month, eating enthusiastically, but nothing like what they would consume in just a few months. In early July, the 75  new layer chicks arrived and we were tending the brooder as well as the pigs and layers. We butchered a few layers over the course of a couple of weeks, in preparation for giving the hen house and runs a rest before the new flock was to occupy it in the fall (that would be now) fully intending to get the rest of them a couple of weeks later, which never happened. By now, the pigs had been out on pasture for a bit, and daily fence checks were required. They were eating a lot more, growing fast.

At the end of July, just as the really hot part of the summer hit us, 150 broiler chicks arrived and we were hopping. We had 225 chicks in the brooder, in different pens, and it was a nightmare trying to keep the temperature right in there, keep on top of bedding, etc. Chores were now four or five times a day. We left for our anniversary jaunt to Pt Townsend for a couple of days, and the girls were exhausted managing everything on their own in the heat. Once we were back, the broilers went out on pasture and I thought things would settle down, but the heat meant the birds were drinking far more than they usually do out there, necessitating 3 visits daily to keep the 5 gallon water jugs topped up.

The fortissimo moment…One of the pigs had an allergic reaction in early September, causing a lot of anxiety and a vet visit, though by the time the vet saw her, the pig was her normal happy, assertive self. “Something she ate”, the vet suggested. Probably. The broilers went to the processor in late September, and the pullets immediately left the brooder (yes, they were still in there – and not happy about it) and took over the field pens. Things got calmer, even though I was still moving pens daily. The pullets handle the heat better, and in addition, the nights were cooler. The pigs got loaded up last Saturday night, and left Sunday morning for the abattoir – I was too sick to go, and felt very forlorn as hubby and Bryce departed up the driveway, one of the pigs gazing at me in puzzlement through the lattice on the back of the trailer. To suit my mood, the rain began that day and continued for about 4 days.

And suddenly, Autumn has arrived. A new season. I feel hope and optimism again, after months of feeling like I was just barely holding things together, rushing from water jug to bucket to hose, keeping gardens and animals hydrated. I’ve cooked two good meals in the past week after a season where I barely cooked a single meal – using the kitchen mainly to preserve fruit or throw my stuff down as I grabbed a cup of coffee. The pace is so different. My focus is on cleaning up and putting away, trying to think how I will want things in the spring. There’s paperwork sitting waiting for another rainy spell.  As I putter away at my quiet, mundane cleaning up tasks, I’m pondering next year – should I scale up?  Should I scale down?  What went well this year, what needs to change?  I’ve been reflecting all summer that my body had a tougher time physically than in years past – it’s only been the last month where I haven’t been falling into bed aching from head to toe.  Now that I finally feel physically adjusted, the need for all those adapted muscles has ceased, and it has occurred to me that maybe I should get into a strength training class or something so that I maintain some minimum level of strength for next season.

It’s not over precisely – those darn old layers are still hale and hearty, escaping all over the place and grudgingly producing 5 or so eggs a day (18 birds). I don’t have much longer before the serious wet weather begins, and I must have the pullets off the field by then. Garlic needs to go in the ground, and I’m still dithering about exactly where that spot is going to be this year. I picked my last bucket of tomatoes today so that I can dehydrate them, which will be an evenings work tomorrow night.  I have a few rows of potatoes left to dig up.   The pigs bedding needs to go out on the field, and I want Hay Guy to come and harrow the pig pasture a couple of times to level it a bit, so that I can throw some seed on it, and he can harrow it again. There’s some fence mending as well. And if the weather holds, I need to try and finish the eaves on the west side of the house. So it’s not over. But it has slowed down, and feels more peaceful. I’m ready for a bit of pianissimo.

Future Egg Layers

We got the call from Canada Post around 0715, in the middle of feeding pigs and letting out hens, so headed out right away. We got the chicks home by about 0745.  By 0815, they were all in the brooder, checking out their new surroundings and figuring out food and water.  We always dip their beaks in water when we’re transferring them from the shipping box to the brooder, and it’s also the last time I count them for quite a while.  You’re not supposed to count your chickens before they hatch, but let me tell you, they’re pretty hard to count once they’re running around.

We received a total of 78 chicks;  our eldest daughter wanted to start her own laying flock, so she ordered 25 random assortment (the hatchery chooses pullets from five different breeds – it’s probably a way to make use of odd numbers left over after large orders), and I ordered 50 Rhode Island Reds.  This hatchery usually includes a few extra in case of mortalities, and so that makes our 78.  Guessing from the colour of the chicks, my daughter thinks she got about 12 Red Rock Cross (the black chicks) and about 15 Columbian Rock (the big white chicks).  There are at least 2 we’re not sure about – one is a milk chocolate colour and one is kind of multi coloured.  I guess the chance of at least one rooster should be considered as well.

Looking at these little balls of fluff scooting around, it’s hard to believe they’ll be egg laying pullets in 5 months.  Christmas.  That’ll be interesting, seeing how they come into lay during the short daylight hours of winter, when hens usually lay very few eggs.  That’s something I didn’t really consider when I was ordering them, so we’ll just be back on the learning curve again.  Like we’re every really NOT on it.

It’s JS day!

That’s Joel Salatin Day…
But not for several hours yet, because there’s a lot to get done before I go catch the ferry.
The new layer chicks arrived at 6 am this morning – if you’ve been following, you might remember that I said they were coming Friday, which is definitely NOT today – I had marked it differently on the two calendars I use, and today turned out to be the day. I was fortunately more or less ready. I went with the wading pool for their brooder, but was a bit stuck on how to suspend the heat lamp safely – eventually I put a short stepladder in the wading pool, and hung the lamp down the middle of it. Poor boy, but it works. They seem happy enough.

Also to get done today before I leave: finish thistles, hang laundry, put dinner in the crockpot, get groceries, plus normal chick and chicken chores. My husband is still quite sick, really only mobile enough to get to the hospital for his antibiotic IV and home again, so everything has to be set up for the girls to handle while I’m gone. Good thing that’s going to be less than 24 hours or I wouldn’t go. I’m so grateful they’re capable enough to cope without me like this.

The ferry ride to Saltspring is beautiful and only 30 minutes, so it will be a nice transition from life at home to the workshop. Tonight Joel is talking for a couple of hours on his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. Tomorrow morning the full day workshop on pastured livestock begins after breakfast. Random photographer is clearing off the card in the camera so there’s lots of room for pictures, and she’s shown me the basics of how to use it, so I might even have pictures of the day, if we’re lucky, and I learned well.