Ghostwood Farm


Chickens

Our chickens have so far come from Murray McMurray hatchery, one of the (if not THE) biggest mail-order hatcheries. We get an assortment of heavy breed, brown egg layers. So far, we’ve had:

Black giants, black australorps, partridge rocks, barred rocks, Ameracaunas, white rocks, silver-laced wyandottes, black stars, Rhode Island reds, buff orpingtons, and maybe a few others!

They are raised in two coops, which have a door between them so that they can be separated. For the first week or so, they are kept in a baby pool on a table in a coop that is 16’x10′. I put sheet metal on the legs of the table to prevent ratsnakes from climbing up and eating them.

After a week or so, they can hop right out of the pool, and they are moved to the floor. Since 100 is the most I’ve ever raised at once, the coop they’re in is HUGE for them. They are fed a commercial chicken feed. When they are about half-grown (about 5 weeks old), they are allowed outside. I use electrified poultry netting to keep them in and bad guys (weasels, raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes) out. Their yard is planted to winter wheat and clover, and there are abundant insects in the summer and fall.

Once they are nearly full-sized, I take down the fence. Chickens are creatures of habit and always “kennel up” in the coop just before dark every night. They range far and wide, eating seeds and bugs, even in winter (as long as there is no snow–they do NOT like snow). This varied diet makes their eggs amazingly rich and flavorful, with deep orange yolks.

At this time, I also open up the door between the coops, so they have the run of two coops, each of which is 16’x10′. Feed is on one side, and their perches and nest boxes are on the other. When I don’t have plants in it, they also have access to the greenhouse, which is connected to the coops. This helps add warmth to the coops.

We do raise chickens for meat. The few that we sell, we sell alive but butcher on site. We sell them on a sort of cooperative basis, with purchasers ordering birds ahead of time and paying for a portion up front to help me cover feed costs, etc. The chickens are killed very quickly by cutting off their heads with a sharp, heavy machete. The buyer helps to process their own birds (plucking, cleaning and packaging them). It’s a messy process, but the buyer then knows exactly what goes into their meat, which I think is incredibly important.

We keep about 1 rooster per 8 hens, which ensures that 1) most of the eggs we get are fertile, which is important when we start raising our own replacement stock, and 2) someone is watching for predators. The roosters are aggressive, but very attentive to the hens and they are also very vigilant in watching their surroundings. So far, we have not lost any chickens to predators (with the exception of a weasel that got into the coop last fall and ate some chicks, but there were no roosters guarding!).

We also sell eggs. This past fall we acquired an additional 35 hen chicks, which should begin laying any day now. We also overwintered the 7 hens from last summer, which produced an amazing 108 dozen that we sold (185 eggs each), plus all the eggs we could use ourselves (about 2 dozen every three weeks or so).  So this year, we anticipate being able to sell far more eggs than last year.

Changes that are coming? In the short-term, I plan to switch feed suppliers so that they receive a custom-ground, whole grain diet from a local provider. I think I can save some money AND get them feed that is more nutritious with fewer additives. In the medium term, I plan to acquire an incubator and start raising my own replacement stock, rather than mail ordering. In the long-term, I would like to plant several grains and mix my own feed, augmenting it with high-protein food plots (clover, alfalfa, etc.).

If you have any questions about our chickens, how they are raised, please e-mail me (eudyptes@ghostwoodfarm.com). I’d be happy to discuss them with you.

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