The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Watching chickens grow

Comparison of chickens week one to week four

If it looks like our broiler chickens are doubling in size every week, that’s because they are. We received the box of chickens in the mail just one short month ago.  Already they’re the size of rotisserie chickens you’d see near the checkout lanes of the grocery store.

We had a few vacations this month with different family clans and had neighbors helping care for the rapidly growing chicks. Upon returning from each trip we couldn’t believe how big the chicks were getting. So far the thirty birds have gobbled up over 150 lbs of feed and they’re only half-grown.

Growing chicks in the pen

Growing chicks running

Closeup of our growing broiler chickens

The harvest begins

Really really spicy pepper

With the exception of cucumbers and sweet peas which started ripening in late June, we’ve been waiting patiently for most of our garden to get to the harvest stage. It looks like harvest is now upon us. In the past week I have harvested:

  • 65 lbs of potatoes (about 1/4 our crop)
  • 7.5 lbs of beets
  • 9 lbs of tomatoes (with many more coming)

Tomatoes ripening

Tomato harvest

Digging potatoes out of the ground

Potato harvest

We’ve also plucked salad greens, cabbage, swiss chard, beans, carrots, eggplant and late-season strawberries.

Plenty of peppers are ready to harvest too, like this one called Cherry Bomb, because it feels like a bomb went off in your mouth if you try to eat one:

Peppers ripening

The sweet corn is just about ready too, except we came home from a family vacation to find many of the best stalks shredded and ears of corn eaten. It was raccoons, of course.

Raccoons got into our sweet corn

It’s the risk I take, not having a fence. I would have been more upset except the anemic growth of our corn this year didn’t produce much. I either planted the corn too close together or the weed pressure was too high (or both). However, in my no-till experiment, the corn stalks are mammoth. Look for a post on that later.

My pumpkins are growing great but watermelon and cantaloupe are struggling. Again, I think the weeds won the day in my melon patch.

Rainbow in the distance

Building a mobile chicken coop, step-by-step

Finished chicken tracktor

Chickens do two things with stunning regularity: eat and poop. The idea of a mobile chicken coop, or “chicken tractor” as it is sometimes called, is to keep the chickens from overgrazing a single patch of yard while spreading the free fertilizer as thin as possible. This has olfactory benefits as well.

Many people with chicken tractors will rotate them into garden beds after harvesting vegetables. The chickens scratch up the soil, picking out all the unfavorable bugs and grubs and leave behind a high-nitrogen boost for next year’s planting.

Chicken tractors come in all shapes and sizes. But they all have wheels. I wanted something very simple to build, but also easy to clean. So I built mine in two parts.

On the bottom is the wheeled base, 8-feet long by 6-feet wide. It resembles a trailer without sides.

Base and wheel wells of the mobile chicken coop

On top of the base, I built an A-frame structure and covered it with plywood. This is a very easy design and went together quickly with the help of my friend and fellow chicken aficionado, Brenton.

Mobile chicken coop basic frame

Plywood sheathing on chicken tractor

A view inside the chicken tractor

After the frame was built and plywood attached, I cut out window and door flaps and installed hardware cloth inside the windows to prevent critters from getting in.

Installing hardware cloth over the window hatches on our mobile chicken coop

Nailgunning some trim onto the chicken tractor

After it was all assembled, I of course had to paint it our favorite combo of barn-red with white trim. Ivar helped me out.

Painting the mobile chicken coop

Baby chicks need very controlled temperatures the first week of life, so I hung a heat lamp inside before moving the chicks out.

Heatlamp hung inside the mobile chicken coop to keep the baby chicks warm

We kept the coop and baby chickens inside the garage for the first several days but finally, it was time to move the coop outside.

The final piece of this setup was a perimeter fence. This lets the chickens roam outside the coop but confines them to the space where I want them. It also keeps other animals, like our cats, out.

Our cats were particularly interested in the new coop

So far, it’s been a successful build. There’s plenty of space for our 30+ chicks. I have moved the fence and coop a few times and it works as it’s supposed to.

Baby chickens arrive

Baby chickens arrived by US Post

The newest additions to the Grovestead arrived in the mail two weeks ago. We ordered thirty “broiler” chickens, as they’re called, because we are raising them for meat rather than eggs.

They showed up just like any other package would, except the box had more holes and made a lot of noise when you shook it (kidding).

Baby chickens in box they were mailed in

I had to find temporary housing for them the first day because I wasn’t quite done with their new home, a mobile chicken coop I am building. They were affectionately looked after by the whole family.

Kids watching baby chicks

By the end of the first day I moved them into their real coop.

Baby chicks milling around in their new home

Baby chicks in their new abode

I tried to explain to our cats that these weren’t a dietary option for them. Not sure they got the message.

Velma the cat meets our chicks

They’re here!

The chickens arrive

Got a call at 6:00AM this morning from the local post office telling me they have a cheeping box for me to pick up. I wasn’t expecting them to arrive until tomorrow at the earliest, so I had to scramble to get a temporary home set up for them. Happy to report that all the chicks made the journey safely to the Grovestead.

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