We forgot to ask the original 15 Mama Hens what they thought about a horde of chirping, chipping and chapping young chickens in the midst of their rebelious teenage youth being insufferably imposed upon their placid existence... and we must say, despite the impropriety of our actions, the 15 Mamas handled it with distinction and aplomb. For the first day we would often find the Mamas huddled together, clucking and cooing, and these farmers can only imagine what was said..seeing how our ears were burning feverishly!
The Meat of the Matter
We are raising a mixed flock of meat birds and laying hens, with the intent to pasture. Hence, the desired qualities in our flock were strong pasturing/foraging instinct, good egg-laying capabilities, a unique mix of egg colors, winter hardiness for the hens, and fast growth for the male birds. We decided on two breeds strictly for raising as meat birds (Red Rangers, Buff Orpington), two breeds strictly as layers (Amberlink, Americana), and three breeds we got as 'straight runs' (Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Brown Nugget, Jersey Giants). A 'straight run' is just a mixed gender group, which tend to be more male dominant in numbers. For pictures of most of these breeds, head to the slide show at the bottom of the blog.
Our goals around pasturing chickens are to increase the life experience for all the chickens (fresh air, sunshine, constantly shifting pasture for cleanliness, etc.), to help keep feed costs down by providing consistent access to a grass/clover pasture blend (it is estimated that a chicken can get up to 25% of their diet from pasturing), and improving the health of the pasture by the chickens built-in fertilizer maker (how's THAT for a polite way to speak of poop?!)
However, we have found they are incessant consumers of feed, and if there is even a short break in feed supply, they voraciously attack the food when it comes again. So while perhaps better than the Cornish Cross, they are a still a fast growing bird that has very high food/energy needs. Unfortunately, because we are raising them co-mingled with the young laying hens, we don't have a good understanding of exactly how much food they are consuming per growth rate.
(more professionally known as the feed conversion ratio)
((more personally known as.. HOW much did we pay to raise that bird??))
We are using an electrified fence similar to what was discussed in the pig blog post, though this netting is taller, with smaller openings, and delivers a much more mild shock. Though truth be told, we have found they basically ignore what is outside the fence when there is so much food, freedom and fun to be had inside the fence!
If any of you ever find yourself in the need of moving 100 chickens from one place to the next, let us give you this piece of advice; do it at night! Chickens are flighty creatures, who don't like to be chased, and especially not captured. After the chickens have set-up shop for the night and have gone into a snoozy doze, they rarely stir as you pick them up and bring them to their new home. This also helps them to adapt better to a new home as they wake up in a new space. We then kept them locked-in for the day so they got a strong sense of homey protection, especially as they were sung to sleep by Coyote's Song.