Largely Cornish Cross. Also referred to as: Chicks, Wee Beasties, Tossers, and Security
Kept inside an indoor pen for the first four weeks, my chickens graduate to an outdoor run until they are ready to go to Freezer Camp at 10 weeks or so. In 2015 I finally has enough of the surrounding pasture mowed down and restored (it had grown up terribly) that predators from the tall grass were not as big an issue. Ever since the chickens free range during the day and are safely tucked away in their mobile chicken pen at night. This allows them a good amount of exercise, supplements their diet with all the grass and bugs they can eat, and results in very calm,
tasty relaxed birds.
Chickens, especially any meat breed, are many things – cute when young, inquisitive at times, chatty, and above all – dumb as a post when it comes to impending doom. For that reason shelter is a key component of ensuring they survive until freezer camp – to protect them from the elements and predation.
This is where the day old chicks land and spend the first four weeks or so of their lives. Easy to heat and clean, it provides them with a safe, warm, dry environment while their plumage comes in and they build up the mass to allow them to comfortably shelter outside overnight.
The first Chicken playschool was simply a four sided box with a hinged roof and ample ventilation. It worked great from the chickens perspective but became a bit of an issue with all the tiny visitors I was receiving.
The improved version had removable panels as well as a lower front wall. This allowed toddlers and small children to easily (and safely!) peek inside and could be removed for older children to pick up the young chicks or help with feeding. The entire front un-bolts to allow for easy cleaning between classes.
After their feathers have come in and the former chicks lose their fluffiness, it’s time to give them the boot and set them outside to experience
the horror of a whole new world.
Open bottomed, the chicken tractor is moved every day to a fresh spot of grass. On nice days a hatch is left open so the chickens can roam about the lawn and generally run amok.
As I raise three or more small batches throughout the summer, I’ve found through trial and error that 20 chickens or less per batch allow the lawn to easily recover throughout the summer. Smaller batches are also easier to process in a single day by myself.
The day old chicks are immediately put on a crumble (just broken down pellets) that is easy for them to east with no risk of choking. After three weeks they are switched up to the pellets they’ll eat until they go to Freezer camp. The birds have access to food 24 hours a day along with a steady supply of fresh water.
Moving them outside at four weeks has two immediate benefits – fresh air and access to lots of grass and other forage. I generally leave a few fifteen by fifteen patches of lawn unmowed to give them somewhere to bunker down and explore.
Another benefit not always obvious at first is the exercise and quality of fresh bedding (grass) that the chickens have as they grow. I’ve found that chickens raised in this way tend to bulk up more without any of the problems typically encountered by meat birds as they put on weight.
In Nova Scotia it is no longer legal to sell chicken at the farm gate unless it has been processed at a government inspected facility. Therefore I do not raise any chickens to sell at this time. As there is a possibility that a local facility will be opening in 2018, that may change.
I have yet to have a chicken tastier, leaner, or juicier than one that is free-range. Weather allowing, I process the birds outside over two afternoons or a single day. Nothing goes to waste except the feet. Yeah, I don’t use those.
After allowing the processed birds to cool, I always cut them up and send them to freezer camp in reusable vacuum bags.
Let’s be honest – chickens are not the most intimidating of animals. Meat birds in particular are dim-witted, flight-not-fight orientated, and relatively calm. This makes them a perfect animal for small people to interact with under supervision.
It is a lot of fun watching the faces of tiny people light up when they hold their first baby chick or follow a chicken along as it hunts and scratches for bugs.
Chicken Manure is simply excellent. It has a high nitrogen content and contains quite a bit of phosphorus and potassium. As long as the manure is allowed to properly compost for six or more months (I simply leave it for a whole year) it can be safely used without the high nitrogen content burning plants. As the adult chickens free-range, I only gather the manure and shaving mix from the Preschool.
Here you can see manure from three different years, mixed with soil, goat manure, and hay.