Thank God. 🙂

This was a big year for us and chickens. For the first time, we “took orders” from some friends and family… The deal was, with some “labor” (coming out for a few hours to help build a shelter, or a fence, or whatever was most needed) in addition to helping process them, they could have pastured, partly organic chickens for their freezer at cost.

Dead Chicken

It became somewhat complicated; waiting for the final count put me a little behind when it came to ordering from the hatchery. My local store would sell the chickens at the sale price (75¢) only on the specific sale day(s) and the first one was was too close to order. So I staked out the place for 2 hours on sale day, waiting for the hatchery truck and jumped on 50 when the store put them out (these were ordered for general purchase). I went back a week later for 50 more special order Red Rangers, which our hatchery was offering for the first time ever – for $2.50 apiece (price breaks at quantities of 25 and 50, so mine were $2 each – better, but ouch!). Another 2 weeks later and my sale-priced order was ready (this order was 60).

Three batches of chicks acquired within 3 weeks put a major logistical strain. Usually we do 2 batches of birds at most, and by the time the 2nd batch is arriving, the first batch has graduated to large feeders and their heat lamps are no longer necessary. This time I had to have 3 separate brooding spaces for chicks, 3 sets of feeders/waterers/heat lamps and 3 places to feed/water/care for. We got behind on building shelters, so the Red Rangers (both other batches were Cornish Cross [CX] Mutants) spent quite a while in the garden cart, parked in a shelter with some other CX chicks.

After last year’s losses which were finally determined to be ascites, we tried to offset the risk factors we could control. Unfortunately, ascites can be caused by respiratory irritation from ammonia buildup and lack of ventilation OR getting too cold or damp early in life. We looked at last year’s setup and decided to increase ventilation. Bad plan. We ended up with major losses (most but not all due to ascites). Why the local hatchery starts selling chicks in early March around here is a mystery, and while I did the best with what I knew, it was not sufficient. Our first batch of 50 CX chicks (hatched around March 13) only resulted in 13 in the freezer. Total heartbreak and discouragement, as there were long stretches of time where I was burying a chicken (or two or three) every. single. morning.

The second batch of CX were 3 weeks younger and brooded similarly. We lost more than we should have (the losses were much more occasional and rare – not sure if it was ascites or not.) but still ended up with 51 at butchering time. A couple of these were lost after a windstorm moved their house about 4 feet – and the frame landed on a couple of them. 😦 We did manage to nurse one handicapped fellow all the way to processing, though he was smaller than the rest, and didn’t walk well. :]

The Red Rangers were a new experience. We were really hopeful about these, having read that they are better suited to pastured operations. I’ll post more on them later, but overall it was a good experience. We put 48 of the 50 into the freezer (one was lost within a few days of hatching, and I have no idea what happened to the other! I thought certainly we had 49 left – perhaps the hatchery or store only gave us 49, though I usually double-check the number when we bring them home.).

We ended up with a couple families canceling orders – some from a change in income, others because they didn’t want me to have to order more chicks to fill *our* freezer (despite my vehement protestations) after suffering such losses from the first batch. Everyone is satisfied with things, as far as I know. 🙂 I gave everyone a high estimate of $2/lb, though I hoped it would be considerably less.

Would I do it again? I might, but NOT this way. Not with so many separate-but-near-in-age groups to look after. I also don’t feel completely at ease with the labor/processing part of the deal; I’m not organized well enough to have the same amount/kind of work for each family on each ‘workday,’ and I really would feel better if I could be more certain of equitability (for instance, one family that cancelled put in some hours working early on. I can sell them a few chickens, or even give them some, but I still don’t like that.). Also, “help with processing” is very vague (I don’t think I even thought deeply enough about it), and while I *totally* understand that some people just cannot “get into” that part of things (one Mama was quite pregnant even!), I’m not sure I want to be the main eviscerator of 100+ chickens. That was a lot of work. There are other poultry processors popping up, so perhaps having people outsource that job to someone other than myself, or even allowing them to use our place and equipment might be options. Things to consider, anyway. 🙂

Soon, the cost breakdown, and the details on the Red Rangers. 🙂