Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chicken, Pasture to Table

What is involved

This year I decided to raise 700 Pasture Raised Cornish Cross chickens. Yikes.   Really, that is not a lot in comparison to other poultry farmers.    I have raised meat chickens on and off for over twenty years, for our family.   This year I raised 300 for my friend to sell in her Roadside Farm Market.   Additionally, I had several people inquire about purchasing pasture raised poultry from me, so........ I decided to raise more.  What was I thinking?!!     

We only raised 300 at a time in various stages of growth.   As chicks they were in one building and fed chick starter until they reached  two weeks old.   Then we moved them to another building to feather out and switched their feed to chick grower.    At four weeks they were moved to the pasture and fed finisher.    At eight-nine weeks they are harvested.  We continued to rotate chickens throughout the summer from area to area. 

What is required?
  • Water- lots and lots of water
  • Feed- lots and lots of feed
  • Heat
  • Fans
  • Equipment- shelters, electric net fencing, feeders, waterers.
  • Money, money, money
  • Time.....
Water, lots of water:    It is absolutely unbelievable how much water poultry require.   As chicks not so much, but as they grow and develop they consume more and more water.   For example,  at four weeks of age and weighing less than a pound each, 100 chicks will drink over 25 gallons of water in one day.  During hot weather they will consume far more.    Once we put our chickens out to pasture they get their water from an automatic system.    I really have absolutely no idea how much water they consume daily from then on.   (I would guess over 50 gallons a day)

Feed, lots of feed:   The amount of food a Cornish Cross chicken will eat is amazing. As with their water consumption, as they grow and develop they require more and more food.   Cornish Cross are eating machines!    I believe they are the piranhas of the chicken world.  At four weeks of age 100 chicks will eat 40 pounds of food a day.  By the time those same chickens are ready for harvest they will eat over 50 pounds a day.  We limit them to 50 pounds of feed a day to encourage them to search for pasture food, instead of sitting around the feeder all day. 

Heat:  As a chick, heat is vital for survival.   Heat lamps, and many of them, are very important to keep chicks from piling on top of each other to keep warm.   As chickens feather out, grow, and develop heat quickly becomes a foe.

Fans:  Even in a pasture with housing to provide shade was not enough to keep chickens cool.   When the chickens are 4 weeks and older they can not tolerate heat.   We have to provide them with fans on each pasture structure to keep them cool. 
Money, Money:  Not only does it require a lot of equipment, and time, it requires a lot of
money. The cost of 100 chicks is 1.20 each with shipping x 100 = $120.00. The cost of feeding 100 chickens for eight weeks cost $908.  The cost to have the chicken processed at a USDA inspected facility is $5.00 per bird X 100 = $500.00.  This does not include electricity required to keep the chicken warm or cool during inclement weather.   Since our water is supplied through a well we do not have  to pay for our water up front.  However, there is cost involved in keeping the well pump maintained.  There is also the cost of gas to haul the chickens 120 miles for harvesting.
Time:  Raising poultry does not seem like it would be a time consuming operation, however, there are always pens to clean, and pasture fences and structures to move. The chickens are moved to new pens, and feed and watered are hauled.  A lot of feed and water.  We have our chickens harvested two hours from the farm in Colorado.   This requires a day away from the farm. 

I know a lot of people are surprised by the cost of pasture raised chicken.   I am sure they wonder why it is more expensive than commercially raised chicken.  For us to raise 100  pasture chicken it cost us a little over $15 dollars per bird.   The weight of the birds raised are between 4-6 pounds.  We charge $4 a pound with 5 pounds being an average weight per chicken.  This leaves us with an average of $5 per chicken to cover food, electricity, water, fuel and our time.  We look at our poultry business as more of a community service.  It is nice to offer a healthy alternative to the commercially raised poultry that is available.  All of our poultry customers have been very excited about the flavor and quality of our chickens.   At the end of the day having satisfied customers is all the payment we need. 

Please visit our ranch website for more information about commercially raised poultry vs. pasture raised poultry.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Social Media Puppy

So the story begins..........................  I love my friends dog Loki, an Akbash/ Bernese  Mtn. Dog cross.   They got him as a guardian for the livestock on their ranch.    We were discussing how they have not had any chicken losses (except the one he killed, oops) or goats losses since he's been on patrol.   Well, that got me to thinking...............

Every year we feed the coyote, fox and raccoon population a good many of our chickens.   If Loki is such a great guardian then I needed to look in to a livestock guardian of my own.   What is a farm without a guardian?    Yes, we have dogs,  a Dachshund and a Golden Retriever.   The coyotes just laugh at the Dachshund and as for the Golden Retriever, well,  he is a therapy dog and rather spoiled, so he lives indoors most of the time.

I decided to start researching guardian dogs and was looking on many of the guardian dog rescue sites.   Finally, I decided to check Facebook. There is always time for Facebook.   Low and behold, an acquaintance of mine posted she had puppies for sale. They were Great Pyrenees/ Border Collie crossed.   What a coincidence!  I thought it was certainly an answer to prayer.  This is just what we needed.   The guardian instincts of a Great Pyrenees  and the intelligence of a Border Collie.  SOLD!!  We will take one.

We met a couple weeks later and got our puppy, who was of course, very, very cute.    And very, very, itchy.  And very, very thin. This puppy scratched and scratched day and night.   I gave her a bath several times and put medicated ointment on all her little sore spots.    Poor little thing!   I took my little guardian to the vet, very concerned about her health.    Well, she had MANGE!    AWWWWWWWWWWWWW!   Home we went with a bag of medication. Four weeks and two additional appointments later, we'd spent  three hundred dollars and I had a much more complete understanding of  the term "Mangy Mutt"

In her life time she will have to save around 75 chickens in return for the cost of the veterinarian bill!!  Not to mention the cost of having her spayed .  I am so glad that I have a "do not ask do not tell policy".   My husband did not ask what the vet bill was and  I did not tell.  I am sure that if he knew,  the puppy and I would both be outside in the dog house protecting the chickens together. 

On the bright side she is a wonderful puppy!  She is very smart, at 12 weeks she already knows her commands, sit, lay, and stay.  The vet said that with out treatment she would have died. In the end I guess she needed us more than we needed her!

The moral of the story is to never buy a puppy off of a social media site.....................unless you are prepared to fall in love and possibly spend a lot of money.


The puppy, Shyanne, is now 10 months old.  She has definitely earned her keep.   We have not lost any livestock or poultry on her watch.   She is up all night barking and patrolling her territory.   She makes her presence well know to any potential intruders.   She has also become a great herd dog and is able to return the goat herd to their pen in no time flat.   Good job, Shyanne! 
She even guards the baby when she is outside.

Nebraska Prairie Girl

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Employee of the Month

Lazy W Diamond Ranch Awards Employee of the Month!

My sister Amy was just awarded employee of the month for October.   So it got me to thinking,  here on the ranch we should have an employee of the month.   What a great way to increase moral and productivity.  My sister gets to move into a fancy office for the month.  She gets her own personal refrigerator, fancy desk and keyboard, massaging office chair, Bose sound system, sunshine, and
a paid day off.  Look at this office who wouldn't be excited to be the employee of the month.  

This got me to thinking what can I offer my employee of the month?..........................
Here is what I came up with.   Their own personal office, that includes,  a stainless steal desk on wheels,  concrete flooring,  antique wood walls,  two separate work areas, and designer rubber mat. 

   A vintage sound system.

Now, not to make light of the Bose sound system my sister was awarded in her office. How can you compare it to this Panasonic sound system complete with 8 track player and antenna.  I mean seriously can you even find these anymore?

Designer  lighting. 
Due to the lack of a windows in the office awarded. I  have installed a wonderful heat lamp converted into a hanging light. 
Unlimited Pool Access
Not to out do my sister's employer,  okay well maybe.   I am offering my employee unlimited access to the ranch swimming pool. 
And their own personal assistant!
  I did not hear her mention this little perk.
                                                               And a paid day off!
Now that I had implemented  "The Employee of the Month" program, I needed to go out and find our employee.    I was so excited, I told my family about the new employee incentive program.  They all smiled, scratched their heads and said,  "mom you are our only ranch employee, you do not get paid"   WELL THERE GOES THE PAID DAY OFF!