The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Tag: broilers

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

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

FSA: Family Supported Agriculture

Family chickens

Our recent conversations about what to do next have centered on livestock. Goats, pigs, cows, sheep. We haven’t talked about llamas yet, but nothing has been ruled out. Livestock is simply the next obvious step in our journey towards self-sufficiency.

There are pros and cons to every animal, and to every breed of every animal. We are reluctant to bite off too much, especially heading into high summer. So we settled on what we already know: chickens.

We currently have six laying hens for eggs, but haven’t tried broilers yet (meat chickens). These birds are bred for rapid growth and only take about 8 weeks from hatching to grow to maturity. We thought we’d take a stab at raising some for ourselves, maybe stock that freezer in the garage that’s been sitting mostly empty. While discussing this at a family function, my sister-in-law overheard and threw her hat in the ring: “We’d buy a couple!” Then another sister chimed in, “us too!” I wasn’t expecting it, but of course.. why not? After all, these would be well cared for, free range chickens–healthy and humane. And they’re close enough to drop by and visit (but don’t get too friendly).

So what has developed here lately, instead of community-supported agriculture (CSA), is family-supported agriculture, FSA. Or I could call it FFSA, friends-and-family-supported agriculture because one of my buddies is getting in on it too. We’ve got 30 chickens on order, and I’m drafting up plans for a mobile chicken coop so we can move them around the property as needed. We’ve even got some of the names picked out: Nuggets, Noodle Soup, Kiev, Cordon Bleu, Pot Pie, Tenders, Enchilada.

And get this: the baby chicks get sent by US mail! We’re literally going to pick up 30 chirping chicks at the local post office in a couple of weeks. Should make a great blog post.

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