Chicks of 2016

About three weeks ago we had a clutch of chicks hatch!

We no longer use the incubators as back around the time of 50 Cent, we borrowed a bantam rooster off a customer to introduce new blood into our flock (the rooster was crazy and could practically fly) and therefore introduced a line of bantam Australorp.

The average person would probably think this wasn’t a smart move as not only are their eggs smaller however they aren’t really great as meat birds because, well they are smaller! However it is well known that bantams make great mothers.

Anyway we’ve moved our hens around a bit to have a good mix for the breeders and a good mix for the layers. Plus Kel’s parents have a small flock of their own for eggs. Our first clutch of “naturally raised” chicks came from their flock. It’s so great to not have to use the incubators or the brooders anymore and just let the mothers sit on their eggs and then raise the chicks. It is definitely the best way to do it and we’re glad that we’ve managed to get there so quickly (and without even trying really!).

My favourite part about it is that from day dot they are free range and scratching around the yard with their mother.


RIP 50 Cent

This post follows on from Escape To The Bush.

As “The Pig And Poultry Plan” was no longer working and our chickens were vulnerable to attack, we temporarily moved all of them into our backyard while Kel figured out what to do.

As we already had a flock of hens and a rooster (50 cent) at our place, our backyard was severely overcrowded. However they were safe from attack. Or so we thought.

Without going in to too much detail because it involves our neighbours (who we are on good terms with still however I don’t feel right talking about them on the Internet!), basically their new rescue dog kept escaping and it took a liking to our chooks. Consequently 50 Cent was badly injured, and we hoped he might survive and make it through however alas he did not. We were pretty devastated and I witnessed the whole thing (which brings back a whole bunch of bad memories and it’s a bit hard writing this post to be honest).

50 Cent Vs. Martha
50 Cent and Martha

On a positive note, Martha was attacked and she survived, the tough little chook that she was.

Anyway this meant we had to get the chooks out of our backyard and somewhere safer.

We decided the best option was to use electric netting (which we bought from here) and Kel’s parents let us set it up on their acreage (we have the use of one of their paddocks to move the chooks around).

Source: The Farmers Mailbox

Although they aren’t cooped up by any means, we were sad that they aren’t true free range anymore, being able to roam anywhere they liked. However they still have the grass under their feet and the sky above their heads and a good space to roam and most importantly they are safe.


Escape To The Bush

This post follows on from The Next Chapter In Our Chicken Saga.

One day Kel went to attend to the chickens and the pigs as he usually did however when he arrived there was not a chicken in sight. Although they wandered outside the electric fencing, he could usually see them pecking about. As he got closer, he saw the ground covered in feathers.

Whether it was a fox or a dog, it had obviously taken the opportunity to strike when it realised that the pigs couldn’t get out of the electric fencing and protect the wandering chooks.

Kel searched around for any carcasses or chooks that might have survived and he found the bodies of both the rooster with the bad legs that had survived the first cull and a hen. Where were the rest of the flock?

Kel searched and called, banging on their food bucket as he went. As he trudged deeper and deeper into the bush, he came across Arnie, the rooster he couldn’t bring himself to cull. When he approached Arnie, Arnie started to call and soon hens started slowly appearing, having previously been hidden in the surrounding bush. They gathered to Arnie and Kel was amazed. Arnie the rooster had gathered his flock and fled deep into the bush and hidden them. He trusted Kel enough that it was now safe so Kel started to lead the way out of the bush, Arnie following with his hens close around him.

Arnie had definitely earned his right to not be our dinner!

As epic as this tale is, the truth was that the chickens were vulnerable roaming the way they were so as much as we thought “The Pig And Poultry Plan” was perfect, alas it was only so when the chickens remained in the paddock with the pigs!!!

The End Of The End

On Monday the mobile butcher came to cull the last of the piglets. As you may remember from Death: The Reality of a Farm Life, Miss Piggy and the rest of the piglets, bar two who were being used on a friend’s property to clear some ground for them, were culled. Those two after awhile were moved onto Kel’s parents new property to clear the space for the polytunnel that will be going up there. They did their job so it too, became their turn.

Two PigletsObviously they aren’t little piglets anymore!

The cull went as well as could be, however the butcher declared that they were the hairiest pigs he’d done all year so he wasn’t too impressed by that (it took him a lot longer to to dehair them and even then there are remnants).

This then is the end of the end. We’re sad to have had to say goodbye to raising pigs for now, especially Kel, as he’s really the one who looked after them. It may be a long time before we breed pigs again, if ever, however hopefully it won’t be too long before we raise just a couple for when we’ve run out of pork in our freezer (although at the moment with the amount we have, that feels like a LONG time away).

It’s amazing too the timing of it all – on Tuesday it was exactly one month until the baby was due! The end of one chapter sees the beginning of another.

The Next Chapter In Our Chicken Saga

This post follows on from From Chicks to Chickens (And Roosters).

After the hens and roosters had had time to grow out a bit more after we had moved them over to live with the pigs, it was time to cull the roosters and the hens with bad legs. Originally our plan was to keep all hens to produce eggs and cull all roosters for meat. However again, due to our poor feeding regime for the first batch of chicks (see Chicks and Their Food), our first lot of hens had bad legs, which in the long run would cause problems e.g. they couldn’t roost properly

Now you might be wondering how Kel knew how to cull a chicken, and if he did, whether he was doing it humanely.

Awhile ago you might remember us mention that we went to a field day in our local area as a part of Bega Valley Gourmet Meats, the small species abattoir in Bega (if you weren’t aware, they are the only hand processing facility left in NSW). We volunteered our time there for a bit over a year (Kel with processing and myself with administration) and that is where Kel learnt to cull chickens, and all by hand (unlike most abattoirs). If you’re interested in knowing the ins and outs, Kel’s hoping to one day do a video post on how it’s done so stay tuned for that!

There were two roosters that missed the original cull. One of them because somehow he just got lucky and Kel missed him, and the other because Kel couldn’t part with him. The one that he couldn’t part with was a cross between an Australorp and an ISA Brown, what we have now named an “ISAlorp”. He reminded us of Arnold Schwarzenegger because he was so big and also the way he puffed his chest out as he strutted around. We named him Arnie and he became head of the flock. As he was one of the younger roosters, his legs were fine. The other rooster on the other hand, would not be so lucky in the future as he did have bad legs.

Unfortunately we don’t have a picture of Arnie (can you believe it?) and he is no longer with us (that’s another story).

And how were the pigs and chickens going living together? They were going great! They were getting along well, even becoming friends. The chickens were scratching up the pig’s manure and eating the bugs, and the pigs were doing their job as protectors as we had no problems with predators for the chickens. However soon the chickens figured out how to go through the electric fence and started roaming a little further around in the bush. It was all fine for awhile however the pigs could only protect the chickens when they were in the paddock with them and the predators soon realised this…

Stay tuned for what happened next.

From Chicks To Chickens (And Roosters)

This post follows on from Chick Recap: Take 4.

When the chicks in the Chicken Tractor were almost fully grown and it was getting a bit squashy in there, Kel felt it was time to move them all over to live with the pigs – the last stage in our rearing system. Originally we were only going to move the hens over and cull the roosters however due to our poor feeding regime for the first batch of chicks (see previous post) the roosters needed a bit more time to grow.

If you read back to our post, The Pig And Poultry Plan, you can read and look at the plan we had for the chickens to live in harmony with the pigs. In a nutshell they would live together in an electrified paddock, the chickens scratching up the pigs’ manure and eating any bugs and the pigs providing protection for the chickens against predators.

So Kel moved the chicken caravan AKA Château de Chicken across from his parents to our agistment property (where the pigs were) and then instead of setting up the next paddock for the pigs as he had been doing, he set it up according to the diagram he designed for when the chickens and pigs would be living together (again see The Pig And Poultry Plan). He then moved all of the hens and roosters across from his parents property into the newly set up paddock.

It all went off brilliantly and although the pigs were curious about the new structure and its inhabitants in their paddock, they were friendly and sociable with the chickens. The chickens were a bit scared at first however soon got used to the pigs and even started eating out of their troughs even though they had their own food in the safety of their caravan! The only hitch was that because some of the chickens had bad legs again due to our poor feeding regime, they found it hard to walk up and down the ramp into the caravan. At night when Kel would go to lock them up, he would often find a bunch of them roosting or nesting under the caravan (even the ones without bad legs!).

Obviously you’re wondering what happened next as we ended up saying goodbye to the pigs earlier this year (see post)…keep reading the recaps and you will find out! (We’re slowly getting there! One day we will be up to date!)

Chicks and Their Food

What do we feed our chicks?

Well when we first decided to breed chickens for meat and eggs, we did our research (although it’s always never enough and there’s only so much you can research, a lot is learned through experience). I formulated a feed plan of assorted grains loosely based on a feeding guide provided by our state department of agriculture. You can find the guide here. We made a mix up of wheat, barley, corn, sunflower seeds, and shell grit. Kel then blended it all until it was ground and small enough for the chicks to eat. We then added a dried molasses and Diatomaceous Earth mix for natural worming and vitamins. We were also hoping they would be on pasture fairly quickly so would gain necessary nutrients from being able to free range.

It was time consuming however we thought it was a pretty good mix. It was missing some items from the guide but we didn’t think it would matter. However it did. We found our chicks were taking a long time to grow. They seemed fine, just small. However then around thirteen weeks, we noticed that the eldest chick had trouble walking. It managed to get around however not with ease. Also some of our other smaller chicks started randomly dying. And then as the surviving chicks started to get to around the thirteen week old mark, their legs went funny too. We knew then that something was seriously wrong. We researched it and found it was possibly a nutrient deficiency that was causing the leg problems however the chicks that were dying – well it could have been any number of reasons.

We knew then that some things had to change because our setup was obviously not working. We figured that the feed was the first thing as we knew now they weren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals.

Now why didn’t we just, from the very beginning, buy a premixed chick feed? The answer: Coccidiosis. Most chick feeds contain a Coccidiostat (chemical) to prevent Coccidiosis. However Coccidiosis is generally caused by unclean living conditions. We didn’t want to feed them a Coccidiostat because we want to be as organic as possible plus we felt that our conditions would be clean so would prevent it anyway. Also there is a withholding period of eating the meat and eggs of a bird that has eaten food containing the Coccidiostat. Usually you only feed chick feed to chicks (that’s a tongue twister) so by the time they are ready to eat and/or lay they will be onto a different feed that doesn’t generally contain a Coccidiostat so is therefore deemed safe to consume. However the fact remains that they had it in their system and we didn’t like that fact.

What to do? Well we prayed for an answer because we tend to pray about most things.

The next time we visited the stock feed store, we asked about chick feed and if they had any without a Coccidiostat. They said they didn’t, and that you can’t really get feed without it however they did have one brand that didn’t have the actual chemical but a herb that is a natural Coccidiostat. We were intrigued so we took down the details and i rang the company and spoke to them about it. They gave me all the information about it and that the herb was actually Regano or Oregano and that it is a natural Coccidiostat. Well we had no problem feeding our chicks oregano for goodness sake! The other thing was that because it was natural, there was no withholding period. Brilliant!

We immediately went and bought a bag of this chick feed and mixed it half half with their current feed (you mustn’t change feed over instantly, you need to introduce it over a couple of days at least). The chicks went nuts for it and as we transitioned over to it completely we found our chicks started growing a lot faster and the leg problems were no longer an issue. We also found that the number of deaths dropped as well (not completely however that was another issue with our setup that is for another post).

We were very happy with the answer God provided for us.

So what is this miracle chick feed? It’s from Vella Stock Feeds, a stock feed company based in Sydney, and it is their Meat Bird Starter crumble mix. They have a whole range of other products that we are interested in trying out as well. It is extremely reasonably priced and we would highly recommend it to anyone breeding chicks who have access to this product. They also have an information guide so you know exactly what’s going into the feed. And no we weren’t paid by them, this post is completely off our own bat. Like everything we post, we just wanted to share our experience and possibly help others from making the same mistakes we have.

Here is a picture of a 20kg bag of Meat Bird Starter from CRT Country Stores’ website, a distributor of Vella Stock Feeds:

Source: CRT Country Stores

There’s Always Hope

After our grim and depressing last post, there was one small joy that was to be had.

The previous post was written before Kel had had a chance to clean up the carnage of the last decimation, because when he did, look what he found:

Surviving Rooster

That’s right. A survivor.

We’ve brought him over to our property to look after the few remaining teenage chicks that weren’t taken (seven in total). Kel has reinforced the coop so that they are all safe and the rooster has bonded well with the chicks.

Surviving Rooster and Chicks

Although this doesn’t replace what was lost, it is a small blessing of hope not to give up.

Death: The Reality of a Farm Life

What a positive title, hey? Well it comes of not blogging for a month because almost every week the past month, there has been some kind of death – whether it has been planned or unplanned.

On Thursday 26th March, Miss Piggy and the rest of the piglets (bar two who are being used on a friend’s property to clear some ground for them) were visited by the mobile butcher. I wasn’t there to witness it this time as i had to work, however Kel said that it went as well as could be. None of them were stressed at all. In fact, it was almost like they didn’t understand stress or death because when each one was shot, the only thing that scared the remaining pigs was the noise of the gun. And they recovered immediately and ran back up to the butcher again to say hello. It was almost heartbreaking in a way.

Miss Piggy and Piglets 00Miss Piggy on the left

Miss Piggy and Piglets 01Munching on the abundant grass

Miss Piggy and Piglets 02Miss Piggy and her piglets all grown up now

Miss Piggy and Piglets 03The piglets having a drink

The next day, Friday, all was eerily quiet in our backyard. Solomon didn’t have to fight for his breakfast like he usually did. However neither Kel nor myself twigged. Until Kel saw feathers laying around. We’re not sure what happened, whether a fox or a dog came through however our rooster plus three hens were lying scattered, dead. Including good old Martha, who i truly thought would never die. She didn’t have a scratch or a mark on her. And she’s not the kind of chook to die of fright. We were extremely upset about all of them however Martha was our original chook. She and Betty were the first pets we got together as a married couple.

Martha 00RIP Martha – The bravest, fiercest, cheekiest, cuddliest chicken I’ve ever known

Two weeks later Kel came out to find almost all of our second batch of teenage chicks dead and scattered. Not only had the predator got through one fence, however it had unpegged the bottom of the second fence to get into where the chicks are kept.

Was that enough though? No.

Only last night, our first batch of chicks for the season, who were all grown up and over at Kel’s parents property surrounded by electric fencing mesh, were completely wiped out. Around thirty in one night. Devastation. In a single night, all of our poultry meat for the next year was wiped out and killed.

Death is the reality of a farm life.

As Kel was the main carer for the animals, it has taken it’s toll on him the hardest. For most of the animals, bar a couple, he’s bred, hand raised, fed and cared for them their entire lives. Months and months of hard work, just obliterated. And so many lives lost. And for what? These predators, which we think are foxes, come and wipe them all out but do they take them all back to their den for food? Not at all! It’s disgusting. People bang on about how humans ruthlessly hunt and kill for pleasure, well what about animals like this? They do the same thing. The carcasses are left strewn all over the place for us to clean up.

As you can see, we’re pretty devastated at the amount of lives lost. It was hard enough having the piglets culled on purpose, let alone all of those chickens not on purpose. Resources and hard work, all down the drain. Planned food, gone. Yes, there are people in much worse off situations than us, we’re grateful for what we still have. It’s just hard to have this happen when you’re trying to live ethically and look after the environment.

The Beginning Of The End

At this time of year, new year’s resolutions abound, however the reality for us is that we are constantly reevaluating throughout the year.

The beginning of this year though brings the beginning of the end for one part of our farming journey.

We love our pigs however unfortunately we have come to the realisation that we’re in a little too much over our heads in breeding them.

A sow can give birth to on average two litters per year. If on average she has ten piglets per litter then that’s around twenty piglets a year. That’s a lot of pork! Plus because we have to supplement their feed, even though we could eat pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner the cost would be far beyond our budget. We also don’t feel comfortable eating that quantity of meat per day. Just because we have access to ethical meat, doesn’t mean we agree with the amount that is generally eaten in the Western world on a daily basis. Anyway that’s a whole other topic!

Obviously we can keep Kermit and Miss Piggy separate for most of the year however we don’t really want to do that to them because it’s not very nice for them to be alone just because we want to eat ethical meat that we’ve bred, raised and culled.

So that brings us to our decision to not breed pigs anymore. We hope to still grow out a couple of pigs a year that we would purchase from an ethical breeder however breeding them ourselves is something that maybe the future holds (we hope!) however not for now.

You might wonder why we don’t just sell the pigs as live animals or as meat. We don’t agree with the way the abattoirs in Australia cull their animals so we would never want to send any of our animals to one. We have been told that legally we cannot sell our meat if it has not been processed through a registered abattoir (though for the life of us, we cannot find this law! We aren’t going to risk it though) so that option is out. We also can’t guarantee the welfare of live pigs sold so we’d rather just not.

Obviously this decision was thought about carefully and it is with sad hearts that we have made it.

Yesterday the butcher came to cull Kermit, our boar. His meat will not be wasted, and neither will his life. The butcher also came for Chuck, the Dexter steer that we own half of (the other half being owned by Kel’s parents), plus our little disabled piglet. She was still doing well considering her disability however we didn’t want to grow her out too much in case her body became too big for her legs to be able to support her weight. Her quality of life would have only decreased the bigger she got so as the butcher was coming for the other two, we decided to just get her done too.

Really it’s such a sad topic to blog about however it is the reality of eating meat, which so many people have been able to separate themselves from in this day and age. Although innards make me sick and i get nightmares (i can never watch gorey movies), i made sure i was present for the actual slaughtering of each of our animals. The hardest was little pig because she wasn’t full grown and also because she was so vulnerable due to her disability. However, and we’re not sorry to say, if we want to eat meat, this is the only way we will do it. We struggle a lot with the mentality of a lot of people who eat meat. However that’s also another topic for another day.

Anyway that’s the beginning of the end of our pig breeding. The rest of the piglets will get culled when they’re around six months and up to size, we’ll most likely get them done in batches with Miss Piggy being in one of them.

KermitGoodbye Kermit

ChuckGoodbye Chuck

Little PigGoodbye little pig