Monday, March 31, 2014

Welcome FrankenChickens!

Sorry it has been a while with no updates!  With winter still hanging on, we've been having a rough start to spring.  Sid Vicious is really stepping up and although the girls still boss him around, he's a horn dog and spends much of his free time dancing among his henny's and forcably throwing himself on their backs like an awkward rapist!  hahaha  About 3 weeks ago, I succombed to temptation of the Tractor Supply and came home with some chicks.  Now, you know the broodies have been banned after last year's statistics, so this seemed like the next logical choice.  This year's experiment:  FRANKENCHICKENS!  I purchased 2 'TINTED TETRA' pullets, to add to our flock.  They are a production hybrid exclusively sold by Tractor Supply.  They were cross bred by scientists to be full proof layers, efficient on feed, and an all around bird for cranking out eggs. 

Tetra Tints are defined as:  A light weight bird which is mostly white with at times some brown or even black highlights. The Tretra Tint is a cross between a Rhode Island Red male and a White leghorn female, producing cream colored or "tinted" eggs. She is an excellent producer and adapts well to backyards environments.

By my calculation, we should be seeing our first lovely white tinted egg sometime in July!  Thought it would add a nice contrast to our current egg basket.  The peeps were adorable as well.....YELLOW!  None of our heritage breeds had yellow peeps, so this was a real treat.  They are finally (after 3 weeks) warming up to their humans.  They are very curious, love to eat worms and the little they have been out in the yard, seem to be interested in foraging.  They are all white, however, so they will be a target for predators.  My birds are usually locked up, but on weekends and evenings when we are home, they do roam the yard, so will have to keep an eye on them since they are not camoflauged like the other girls.  Hopefully they still have some good instincts in them!  Anyway, after 3 weeks, they are all but fully feathered.  Hopefully in another week or two, we can think about moving them outside, but they cannot go in the big coop until they are closer to full grown.  Phoenix was about 4 weeks old when Rosa the Murderer pecked him to death.....those old girls cannot be trusted! 

Next off.....we wanted to try some meat birds this summer.  I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do as far as breeds go.  I was thinking about trying a meat hybrid which is slightly slower growing than commercially grown birds that would allow them plenty of time to live a chicken life foraging in the yard before they end up in the freezer.  Well, the call of Tractor Supply was too good and I hit it on a day when there weren't many chicks left.  SO we ended up with 4 Cornish Cross chicks.

 Cornish Cross (X):  This is the most remarkable meat producing bird we have ever seen. Special matings produce chicks with broad breasts, big thighs, white plumage, and yellow skin. The rapid growth of these chicks is fantastic and the feed efficiency remarkable. Whether you get these Cornish X Rock chicks for your own pleasure or to raise and sell, you can’t do better. If you want to raise capons, buy males and have them caponized at 2 or 3 weeks of age. Females have a fine smooth finish when dressed and reach beautiful roasting size. Buying straight run chicks gives you some of each sex so that you can take advantage of the strong points both ways. We think our Cornish X Rock chicks are among the finest meat birds in America. We should know. We fill our family freezers with them every year! Males will dress from 3 to 4 pounds in six to eight weeks and females will take about one and one-half weeks longer to reach the same size. Please Note: These birds are not recommended for raising at altitudes above 5000 feet.

So as you can tell, there are many features of these birds that make them a health risk.  Keeping them much over the 6-10 week window will cause them to break legs, have heart attacks and die.  They tend to overeat and could blow out their crops too.  They are a liabilty for sure!  One look at these chicks, you just know somethings not normal.  Out the gate, they are twice as big as the layers and the first thing we noticed?  They pant.  Like an obese person.  They are labored all the time, just from moving.  They do not like to stand up and prefer laying on their bellies with their face stuffed in their food.  Even their little drum sticks are already formed.  You can just imaging taking a bite of their little legs!  It's very bizarre!  They are big oafs.  It didn't take long for the little girls to become agile around them.  (They shared a brooder for 2 weeks!)  I kept telling the little girls to run before they got crushed!  Ironically, they all bonded well!  When first separated, they called to each other.  We socialize them together outside and they all stick together well.  What do you think happens when you are bred to be a machine that produces alot of meat?  Well, your metabolism is on overdrive!  These big things radiate some serious heat!  Just to touch them you can feel it!  In order to fuel that metabolism, they eat ALL THE TIME.  The bodily response that results of all that eating?  SHIT.....ALOT OF IT.  Chicken shit STINKS!!!!!  I clean their brooder every day or 2.  I can't wait to move them outside and just tonight, put them downstairs in the basement to start 'hardening' to the colder weather.  The heat lamps have been off and now they can acclimate to probably 50 degrees downstairs.  The littles are still upstairs in the 68 degrees.  They can take a bit longer as there is only 2 of them and they are not so annoying and smelly! 

Out to play for the first time!

Diet.  Since I wasn't premeditating this purchase, I had not gotten any food from the Mennonite farmer I buy my feed from.  I bought a small bag of commercially produced chick starter at Tractor Supply and I made sure it was unmedicated, since the big gang will have less time to grow, figured it would be good to stay away from it.  It is about a 20% protein feed which is perfect for the littles, but the meat birds could be on 24% protein.  After 2 weeks, I made it to the farm and bought an 80lb bag of soy free organic broiler feed at about $33 currently.  Price fluctuates on feed due to the price of peas, corn, etc.  I am keeping the layers on the chick starter until it is finished and then getting everyone on the broiler mash.  The littles will stay on a 20% protein feed until July when they get ready to lay, then they can go on a lower protein, higher calcium layer mash with the big girls.  In the mean time, they need the protein for feather production and healthy growth.  Letting them out to graze is helping them learn to forage for bugs, eat dirt when they need some grit in their crops and gives them something to do.  They are enjoying it.  The big gang hasn't gotten the hang of foraging like the littles have, but they will get there.  The more the forage, the more nutritious they will be for us to eat! 

Sex?  I didn't pay attention to the sign at Tractor Supply on the meaties.  I'm not sure if they were straight run (luck of the draw) or sexed males.  So far, I'm certain 2 are males.  Their combs are getting larger and they are starten to redden around the combs and skin around the eyes and I see their waddles coming down and reddening.  The other 2 seem to remain light pink and not enlarging, which makes me suspect they are female.  I have not butchered any females, so that could be an experience!  Not sure what to do with girl parts!  Also, that means, we may want to do the 2 males at 6 -8 weeks, and the femalies 8-10 weeks, as they are slower to get to 'market weight'.  We are at 3 weeks now and let me tell you....seeing them next to our full grown dual purpose breeds....their bodies are almost the same size already!   They have grown so much in 3 weeks!  This is the breed you will find in the supermarket!  This is what you are buying!  Very facinating to see what we eat and watch them live their sad little lives!  It is very sad, by the way.  They aren't as smart as the littles.  Tonight the littles were sheltering themselves in a huge mound of brush that is ready to get burned while the meaties were huddled together out in the wide open grass.  The attack the food dish when I bring it.  Like they are starving.  It is insane.  Anyway, that is what is going on here and I will get some more updates posted as we go along.  We should have butchering in 3-5 weeks! 

The littles in the original brooder

                                                   The Meaties in their new larger brooder.

Keep on clucking!