Well with all this nice June weather we’ve been having, and the chicken coop and chicken tractor sitting there waiting to be put into operation, we decided to turn our attention to finding Paca Pride a Paca Flock. If you recall from last year, we used the chicken tractor for a round of 25 meat birds that ended up living mostly in the garden space. That was due to the chicken tractor being especially difficult to move around. The main reason it is called a chicken “Tractor” is because it has no floor and you move it around from grassy space to grassy space where the chickens do the work of a tractor to essentially rake, till, and fertilize, of course, the soil. But that’s the clinch pin: you have to be able to move it easily from spot to spot. Since I had used 2×4 pressure treated wood as the base frame, the weight of the entire tractor ended up enough to make it a burden. So, we stripped off the wood components, replaced them with some old car port metal poles as skids that would be able to slide over the grass when pulled along. Initial tests look like Chicken Tractor V 2.0 will do the job and I’ll be able to take it out to the pasture areas and slide it over the llama poop piles so the fowl can do the foul job of scratching through the poop to eat bugs and weed seeds and basically help to organically control our fly population (because flies love to lay their eggs in poop, if you don’t already know this).
In addition to the chicken tractor, which raises the birds destined for the freezer, we needed to figure out our solution for farm fresh eggs. That’s where our new coop comes into play. Built out of scrap lumber from the construction of our log home, it matches the rustic setting perfectly! The lucky birds that live here will be getting nice little nest boxes and roosting poles with a lovely view of the ranch. The coop itself was designed around the most frequently overlooked aspect of having chickens: cleaning up their poop. Low maintenance is key for how we design everything at the ranch for operation. If it can’t be automated, it better be equipped to go for some good period of time before needing attention. After all, we want our time to be spent giving our attention to our guests and not our chickens. Looking around the ranch at my burgeoning recycle pile stash I found an old cargo container used for luggage on top of cars and basically took it apart to act as catch trays for the entire coop. That defined the coop’s footprint. In the wintertime we’ll be able to add our wood ash from the wood stove in those trays to help keep their poop neutralized and not smelly. In the summer when they start filling up, we’ll drag the trays over to the compost bin to empty them… Recently one of my more popular sayings has been “It’s all a grand experiment until you have to clean up the mess.” We’ll see how the chicken poop solution works!
Thus, the only remaining tidbit to this equation was introducing the chickens! Last year we ordered a round of 25 meat birds from a hatchery online. They were a specific breed that grew quite rapidly and were ready for butchering within 10 weeks. We came to realize what it meant when you read the label on the whole chicken at the store that says “Young chicken”. Those birds were white and were a Rock Cornish cross. This year, in order to save money and leap ahead a bit with the brooding aspect of early chicken raising, we found a more local source for chickens via a chicken aficionado who was advertising on good ol’ Craigslist! After a visit with him on Sunday, we came back with some really colorful birds for both the chicken tractor and the coop.
The coop will feature birds that are already slightly older than those in the tractor and need no brooding. At 3 months old already, they got popped right into their new home with some feed and water and stray in the nest boxes. They will begin to lay at around 6 months of age. Well, at least six of the seven in there will be laying eggs as one of them is a Barred Rock rooster. A Barred Rock is basically a black stripped white chicken that looks like, well, a jail bird! The other six hens are Rhode Island Reds and Black Sexlinks. The rooster will allow us to try and become a bit self sustaining with new chicks for next year’s chicken tractor. But, if he gets to be too loud, it’s into the stew pot! Rhode Island Reds and Black Sexlinks will lay nice big brown eggs.
The 20 birds in the chicken tractor are a mix of several breeds of chickens. Most of them would become roosters since it’s the boys who get bigger, and meatier, than the girls. These guys are only one month old and still need a heat lamp for another couple of weeks until they can keep themselves warm. However, since that aren’t day-old chicks any longer, it meant we had to reconfigure the brooding space to be in the main portion of the tractor rather than the smaller nesting/roosting cage that makes up the back part of the tractor. Instead, I simply used the larger feeder and waterer that they would be getting and set them up right on to the grass with some straw to keep them dry. They were all happy chickens when we last checked in on them for the night.
We You Tube Video clipped the release of the younger chicks into the chicken tractor. As you watch the video, listen for the rain hitting the outside of the chicken tractor. Also, as we take each chick out, we dip there beaks in the water source to show them where the water is. Enjoy the video!