Cd Anderson wrote:We're in the process of buying 26 acres. We intend to have a few cows and bunch of chicken. I'm still in the research phase but we're hoping to have everything set up this winter so we can start in early spring. We feel the management intensive grazing method will work for us with the cows and it makes sense to do the poultry on pasture as well, but I have many questions.
1. Meat birds/Laying birds/Dual purpose.... We are a large family, currently going through about 80 eggs a week and we're estimating 100 meat chickens a year. I do not want to deal with a constant rotation of chicks needing my attention. But my understanding is that meat birds are not good layers or good mothers. I'm also wondering if we do have separate meat and egg birds do we need to keep them separated? How would we best do that and still keep them on a pasture rotation? I'm wanting chickens that will reproduce sufficiently that once we've established the initial flock we will not need to continue to buy and raise chicks, is this a pipe dream?
No, it is not. You can do this quite successfully with a good dual purpose breed such as White Rocks~they have all the traits you desire in a bird..hardy to the max, thrifty on feed, forage well, excellent lay, broodiness but not TOO broody, heavy meat bird, quality feathering, lay for years on end. I would try to get them from breeder stock instead of from hatchery, as your success at getting genetics that will still sit and brood their own chicks goes way up when dealing with a breeder that is breeding to SOP for the breed. Here is a website of a fellow who can give you information on reputable breeders in your area for this breed and other good heritage stock. Rob Blosl is one of the more respected breeders in the US and is very helpful. Rob Blosl's website
You might also consider heritage line bred Buckeyes for a dual purpose breed that still lays respectably. From the better breeders, you will find birds that are heavy, lay very well, go broody enough to reproduce and are excellent on forage.
For your basic meat needs, you might do one large batch of CX per year and treat them much like your layers....free range in a paddock, feed layer or flock ration once a day(in their own feeders)..but provide them a lightweight range shelter separate from the coop as they will sleep on the ground. Some make these from cattle panels and tarp...in your area these will need to be anchored to the ground to keep them from blowing over. If not fed continuous feeds and given good forage, these birds will forage far better than standard chickens out of sheer hunger and high metabolism. Fermented feeds would be something to study up on for all flocks, but particularly for the meat birds...it will keep their feed costs down, keep them very healthy and less dehydrated, and improve the flavor of the meat by allowing them to be raised to a greater age...this deepens the flavor of the meat considerably.
2.Coop... What size are the mini coops for how many birds? I've read 2sqft per bird in a coop, but that seems to be referring to birds that are mostly cooped/penned. Is it different for pastured chickens? How would you coop 200 birds?
Large tunnel style coops are best for that number of birds and these can be made from PVC, cattle panels, green house construction, etc. They are cheap, easy to construct and open air enough to provide good ventilation for your type of weather. Even with free ranged birds, there may be times when they have to stay in the coop for one reason or another, so always build for more space than they actually require for healthy living environments.
3. What size are your paddocks? I imagine it'll be quite different down here in OK with our regular drought conditions but we're trying to figure out if we can set up permanent paddocks that will work for both the cows and the chickens. We'll have about 10acres we'll be using for pasture, with 3-5 cows, ideally moving the chickens about 3 days behind the cows to give the dung beetles and fly larvae a little grow time before the chickens come in.
For rotational grazing situations of large flocks of birds, one usually uses coops that are built onto hay wagon bases and can be moved with a tractor or truck, combined with electric poultry netting for the best effect. Salatin uses such a setup with his pastured layers and places a LGD right in the fence to keep hawks at bay.
4. Watering. How do you water your chickens? We do not have a natural water source and I keep reading that chickens will drowned themselves in cattle troughs. We're thinking quick connect hoses and PVC pipe with nipples that attaches to the side of the coop. This will require running hose for quite some distance but seems like the most doable option. I certainly don' t want to be trucking water out to them 5x's a day (did I mention it easily gets to 100* during the summer months here?)
If using the range coop on the trailer, you can have a water tank slung under the wagon that can be filled from a tank on a truck, with the PVC and nipple delivery system. If using a static coop situation, rain collection and water reservoirs to the same kind of system of delivery would be best for large flocks.
5. Heat... Like I said 010* is a very realistic number for June, July and Aug. 90 being common for most of May, Sept and Oct. We will be planting fruit trees and berry bushes that will offer some shade, but I'm not sure how much shade will be available in every paddock, and it's going to take a bit to get the trees to maturity before they actually provide any real shade. I'm wondering if the coop is enough or if we should build the coops with an over hang to provide additional shade
If using the range coop, the wagon provides the shade and it would be fairly simple to arrange tarps as side flaps that could be extended from the base of the wagon for additional shade.
6. Disease/illness... Do you have to deal with disease/illness much? I'm imagining not so much with good conditions. But when you do have a sick chicken how do you deal with it? We are not a family that generally uses antibiotics and the like, I tend to focus on keeping us healthy to start with and when sickness does crop up we use herbs and nutrition to get us back on track. I'd like to take the same philosophy with my livestock but am unsure where to find information on common ailments and how to treat them. Or do you just cull a sick chicken right away?
Clean soils, fresh feed, sunlight...and judicious culling each year of any unthrifty or nonproductive birds will usually also eliminate those who would form illness or might carry heavy parasite loads. Starting with quality stock is also a good idea, so getting from a breeder will help with this. Start chicks off right with developing a good immune system...no medication in their feeds...give them a shovel full of the native soil in their brooder so they can form immunities to the cocci levels existing in the soils.
7. LGD... and my final question (for the moment) is if you have any resources you recommend for training a dog to guard the chickens?
Obedience training to establish pack order is key, then additional training to show the dog what is desirable behavior around the birds...no overt excitement, no barking or lunging, immediate redirection from attention on the flock if the dog shows excitement in their presence. Exposing him to all the things that chickens do(running, squawking, flapping, flying, dusting, fighting), while in a controlled setting and correcting behaviors that arise in reaction to the bird's actions, will help your dog get off on the right foot with the flocks.
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