Raising Chicken and Turkeys: Our Poultry Start Up
Raising chickens were the first farming operation we started on our farm. We had told ourselves that we would wait to have animals when we finally lived full time on the farm. I couldn’t wait and once we got our first flock Sabrina was sold too. We lived in a RV on site and in the mornings and afternoons would site and watch our new egg layer chicken TV channel. Last year we raised twenty Cornish Cross flock and ten each Double Breasted Bronze and Black Spanish Heritage turkeys.
We built a good sized poultry coop that could easily house our brooder, nesting boxes and enough roosting space for 20 – 40 birds. Our brewing space and nesting boxes were built out from the floor and had easy to open lids to harvest eggs and keep an eye on our new eroding flock. The brooder can easily accommodate 20 – 30 chicks or about 20 baby turkeys. The fence is electrified and the coop has its own GFI outlet for winter heating and for the ceramic heater in the brooding box.
Our first year also saw us improve our poultry harvesting operations and equipment. We built our own kill cones with different sizes for chickens and turkeys. We also built the Whizbang Chicken Plucker and still marvel at the 10 – 15 second de-feathering! Turkeys take a bit more work but is still done in less than 60 seconds. We learned safe harvesting techniques and work under the Tennessee Poultry Processing Exemptions Law.
New Year of Poultry Operations
Our first year of poultry production saw a decent harvest of meat chickens, holiday turkeys and a steady flow of eggs. We only ended up with four laying hens so can expect a dozen or so eggs a week, enough to live on but not enough to sell. Now that we were living on the farm full time we were ready to expand our poultry operations.
We found that free ranging 20 turkeys can get really messy eventually! Bigger bird- more poop, oh yeah they like to fly and roost where ever they want! If we do raise turkeys for holiday harvest (I have until June to decide) we’ll stick to the Double Breasted Bronze since they get to big to fly about and make trouble. Last year we saved our largest Black Spanish male and two smaller hens ( I wanted to be sure I had hens and not a small male). They started laying eggs in March and now one is brooding full time and the other is starting to brood. We bought an incubator but the eggs did not seem to be fertile and nothing happened. Someone said they’ll know if they are fertile and maybe that’s why they are starting to brood.
So for now we’ll see what we can naturally raise and decide on a larger flock by the end of next month. I do love having the Tom since he keeps everyone in line and keeps the dogs and cats at a respectful distance.
Easter Egg Layers
I started a new laying flock with the goals of increasing egg production, getting a rooster to fertilize my hens and to get colorful eggs that should help us increase the value of the potential eggs for sale. Since it takes six to eight months for hens to start laying, I have time to begin making marketing plans. My new flock includes Black Americana, Easter Egger, Assorted Waydottes and some Gold Rangers. I understand that if one of my blue or green egg males mates with a brown egger then I’ll have different colored eggs in the second generation! The chart on the left is credited from 104homestead.com. Of course this all takes time to get the result you want, but you have to plan ahead to get the results you expect.
This year we introduced something new to our flock a pair of Pekin ducks! They were too cute the first two weeks but now that they are losing their down to grow feathers they look a bit rough! I’m surprised at how much they weigh compared to the Cornish Cross meat birds that are in the brooder with them. The respond to talking to them and seem naturally curious compared to the chicks.
I understand that Pekin ducks are good meat producers and am considering buying more while they may still be available at our local Tractor Supply Store. I plan on expanding my flock area and will have space to add a separate area just for the ducks so that they have free access to a small watering space. I am also building a new farm pond and will make sure I place posts for several duck brooding/nesting boxes. So in the future we should have a good space for both free range ducks and let some loose in the pond area and see what happens.
We’ve raised Cornish Crosses for meat and plan on raising one or two flocks a year. For us 20 chickens in the freezer is a nice amount of meat that is naturally grown and tastes great. Once this group is out of the brooder I’ll consider getting another batch. Last year the average weight was 6.5 pounds and that makes for a great meal for 4-6 people. The breast portion is enormous and most of the other meat could be considered white meat too. Some say raising these types of chickens may be cruel but we consider this a sustainable option. If you consider the amount of feed necessary and the time to market they are a great value. Once we get our rooster at the right age we’ll look at raising chickens a different way with different breeds next year or whenever the chickens are the right age.
The Cornish Crosses are quick to get to weight and need to be raised with food, water and shade readily available. They waddle around and if you keep their necessary movement to a minimum they will do well. We free range them and most of them take to it but some will stay close to the trough! We expect to harvest them from eight to ten weeks of age and we’ll base that on the weather and what else we have scheduled. Last year I waited too long and lost a few, I was waiting to finish my plucker.
Poultry Lessons Learned
We learned how fun it was to raise poultry! Whenever you don’t get good TV reception you can always rely on Chicken TV. Both heritage breed of turkeys we raised tasted great, they were different in nature but delicious. Unless I plan on getting more help at harvest time I need to rethink getting more turkeys. Your birds will need space for the different seasons so that they won’t be too hot or too cold so plan ahead and think carefully about how you plan to raise your flock.
Another benefit we did not expect was the absence of ticks, fleas and other annoying pests, the flock seemed to take care of that naturally. We also were blown away by the response to our chickens by our Photography By Sabrina customers. Our older girls are very sociable and know when kids are near – treats are at hand!
In case you did not know- Lone Tree Farm is also the location for Photography By Sabrina’s new professional studio and farm sessions. Call her at (865) 531-7638 to book your session.