Friday, September 28, 2012

Cornish Cross Meat Chickens - Week 4

It was hard to believe when the little yellow balls of fluff arrived, that they would be ready to butcher at seven weeks old, but these wide legged white monsters are growing daily.  Looking straight on, they are stocky like a cross between a pit bull and an offensive lineman in the NFL.

Although this post is a bit late, these pictures were taken last weekend, just a day or two over their four week point of being with us.  Most of them are growing rapidly, although not totally feathering out, leaving pink bald patches here and there, with more up front and less in the back.  It is assumed that is another characteristic these are bred for, having fewer feathers, especially the little fluffy downy feathers underneath, making plucking easier.  We will know in three weeks.

They are very broad breasted and you can see that they are getting meaty.  These do sit around a lot more than the Red Rangers we had last time.  We do have about four or five that are medium size, and don't seem to be growing very fast.  These may not have gotten the genetic traits of their brothers, or they may be hens.  These will turn out to be "Cornish Game Hens", which are Cornish Cross chickens processed at about three weeks.  There is one that is tiny, and seems to be growing about at the same rate as a normal chicken.

Although 'Tiny' does have large feet.  For some reason, as soon as we go into the coop or let them out, the smallest ones run to hide out between our legs, maybe looking for cover not to be picked on by the bigger chickens.  All that fast growing and testosterone is starting to show as the chickens face of with each other in their pecking stare downs.  'Tiny' may get a reprieve on October 13th if he doesn't start bulking up.

So far so good overall.  We did have a hot day yesterday, and we ran out of water in one of the coops by the time I got home from work.  Several were panting heavily and we got water to them right away. One seemed lethargic, and I am assuming that was the one that was found "belly up" this morning in the middle of the coop.  

Having to feed and water them isn't too bad in the morning, although it doesn't get light until about 6:45am, so chores can't start too early.  But having to dig a hole in the woods to bury one before work, isn't my idea of a good time.  Youngest Son and Middle Son came to watch, and apparently found it amusing.

We added an extra waterer and feeder, so total we have two waterers, 3.5 or 5 gallons each, and three feeders in each coop with approximately 60+ chickens in each.  It isn't as tight as the 95 Red Rangers in one coop, but these sit around a lot more, which makes it look tighter.  We try to let them out as much as possible when we are home, which helps move them around a bit more.

It is supposed to cool down this weekend, so I will try to get my week 5 post up as on time as possible. Until then, thick nuggets!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fall Meat Chickens

Summer has come and gone, and with the cooler temperatures, comes a new batch of meat chickens.  As all great planners know, the ability to change plans and adapt on short notice is crucial.  That is true in all facets of life, not just chicken farming.  But it became relevant at the end of this summer.

The same crew that ventured out this spring on a meat chicken journey, decided that the journey was worthwhile, and worth doing again.  Everything had gone well, so the plan was to follow our template on the first go around, with the small change of expanding our numbers.

The Red Rangers were ordered and all we could do was sit and wait for them to arrive at the end of July.  This would give us approximately 10 weeks until Columbus Day weekend, the first weekend in October, to get them to weight for butchering.

The day came in July, and no calls that our chicks had shipped.  Checking online, there was only a notice that the supplier had run into a "predator problem" and that starting the week we were supposed to get our chicks, they would be shipping no more chicks the rest of the year!  Oh no!  Now what?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Queens, Queens, Queens. It's All About the Queens.

Earlier this year my hives had some queen issues, such as queens missing which resulted in hives with laying workers.  Combining the laying worker hives with queen-right hives removed the laying workers, and gave the hives another attempt to make their own queens once they were separated again after a few weeks.

Making a split from the hive at Possum's garden into a single hive body and a nuc, one of them made a queen and she was able to get mated and return to make the hive a strong hive.  The other one not so much.  So I bought a couple queens from a breeder here in Virginia, figuring that if it was close to this area, the queen would be used to our weather and environmental conditions and have a better chance of being a "good queen".  

In the mean time, one of the original hives seemed to lose the queen.  There had been some queen cells and no signs of a laying worker, but no queen, no eggs and no brood.  But patience was needed.  Maybe she was there but not mated yet.  Maybe she was out doing her mating hive.  Something I'm not the best at with the bees.  A bit of the ADD in me wants to see results and wants time to pass quickly to see things unfold.  

In one final attempt to get all my hives "queen-right", I bought two more queens from a breeder in Tennessee.  Not being too scientific in my queen purchases, I found someone that had queens available and could ship quickly, so that I wouldn't fall into another laying worker situation.

These queens came in a UPSP envelope, not a box, which was a bit of a surprise.  They were also in the JZBZ cages, not the wooden cages that the first ones came in, which made me do some searching on the internet to find out how to best introduce the queens in these new cages.

One of the things I had read from several sources said that the queens tend to have a better acceptance rate if the attendants are removed from the cage.  Hmmmm.  That sounds like an interesting challenge.  

The queens were shipped on Monday and I received them on Wednesday.  The post office called letting me know they had come in so I could pick them up.  (I love our small town Post Office.  They are so friendly and call right away when bees and chicks come in.)  The weather wasn't being cooperative though, so it took a few days before I could get the time to get the queens into the hives.  

The boys had some friends over when the re-queening was going to take place.  As I headed up to the boys bathroom (because that is the only bathroom with an outside window that opens up) they wanted to join me.  OK, the more the merrier.  I went in and had them close the door behind us and opened up the blinds.  The small cap was opened up and a few of the attendants came out and flew to the window.    With a slight shake and shuffle, a few more came out.  But I couldn't seem to get the rest out.  I opened up the main cap and they all came out, including the queen!  No problem.  The window was open but the screen was still in place.  Quickly the queen went up the window and all the attendants huddled around.  Of course, she headed up into the top portion of the screen where I couldn't reach her.  Using a butter knife, I was able to herd the queen down to the open cage and quickly closed the lid.  One down.  

I decided to get that queen into the hive before attempting to separate the second queen from the attendants.  Running, or walking fast, out to the hive, the new queen cage fit right between two frames, so the removal of a frame wasn't necessary.  They frames were separated with the hive tool and the queen cage lowered in, and then the frames pushed back together.  The lid put back on and some syrup given to the hive to keep them distracted.

Checking on the original hive that appeared to have lost a queen the week before, and hadn't had a queen or eggs or anything for a couple weeks, a pleasant surprise was waiting for me.  As I got to the fourth frame, lifting it up to see if I had any signs of a laying worker, there she was, right before me.  Right in the middle of the frame, a big fat queen.  And looking closer, plenty of eggs and larvae in the frame.  The hive was "queen right" and things were good.  Close it up and let them be.  

But now what to do with the other queen?  I did have another nuc that I had made and had a laying worker the week before.  Only capped drone, and several cells with more than one egg.  Typical laying worker signs.  This nuc had been written off, and I was planning to use their good frames to fill out a few of the other hives that had a few frames not drawn.  I had the extra queen and all my other hives were queen-right or had a new queen just installed.  Time to roll the dice.

Pulling a frame full of brood from one of my strong hives, I shook all the bees off the frame.  To replace that frame, I pulled a frame of drones and double eggs from the nuc and put it into the strong hive, figuring they will clean up that frame and put it to good use.  First I put the frame full of brood into the nuc and then placed in the new queen.  However, I didn't pull the candy cap on the queen cage off.  They needed a bit more time to get acquainted before letting the queen loose.  Closed up the hive and added a jar of syrup on top.

Coming back five days later, the bees in the hives were feeding the queens and being very calm around the queens.  They weren't trying to attack her or kill her, so I pulled the cap off the candy and put the queen cage back into the hives.  Time for the locals to release the queens.

Checking back 2 days later, the queen in the nuc had been released and was no longer in the cage.  The queen cage was removed and the hive closed up so the queen could do her thing.  I didn't want to stress them out any more by looking around for her.  This hive is still a question if everything is still good.  

The single deep hive body with the new queen still hadn't released the queen.  Running back to the garage, I grabbed a small nail and put a hole through the candy that was still in the cage.  There was only about an eighth of an inch left and it was very soft.  The queen in the cage was put back in the hive to be released.  The status of this queen is also unknown.  

There should be time Saturday morning to get back into the hives to see if the queens are both there and laying eggs.  It is still a roll of the dice on those two, but I can only hope for the best.  Fall is quickly approaching and the hives need to get right.  Luckily they have a lot of honey in all the hives, so that shouldn't be a problem if they can just get a couple rounds of brood raised before winter.  The good news is the other four hives are queen-right and strong, with lots of brood, lots of honey and ready to for fall and winter. 

On a separate topic, in an attempt to get them some pollen, a friend from work, who was pulled into beekeeping this year by my stories every morning, and I decided to try open feeding a dry pollen substitute.  Taking an old bucket from a bakery, the center of the lid was cut in half and removed.  A brick was put into the bucket to keep it in place along with a tin foil bread pan filled with the pollen.  The bucket was put outside in the garden.


It only took a day or two for the bees to find the bucket.  The Good Wife asked me to remove the bucket because of all the activity around the bucket.  It was moved to the old garden and the mint and basil, which are both good for the bees.  They have taken over two bread pans full of pollen substitute, but I don't think it is just my bees.


Watching the bucket, lots of them head in different directions after loading up.  I'm thinking that some feral bees may have found my bucket.  That's OK.  Maybe one day I will capture a swarm from a feral hive and they can thank me then with some good genetics and some tasty honey.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Turning a Rooster into a Meal

This past spring, we fell for the trick at the local feed supply store, where if you buy a bag of chicken feed, you get six chicks free.  We split them with a friend, and they were supposed to be pullets, or female chickens.  Apparently someone at the hatchery isn't very good at their job, or the feed store got a deal on chicks and didn't care what they were.  Either way, the three chicks we raised and nurtured, hoping that one day they would repay the favor with fresh eggs for our family, turned out to all be roosters!  All of them!  Roosters!

With a flock of only 15 hens, having three roosters is at least two too many.  Once we figured out that at least one was a rooster, he ended up on Craigslist.  The rooster was posted just before I left for work on a Friday evening.  Before I could get half way home, I already received a call.  The post was very clear that I didn't care if it was for breeding or for their pot.  The rooster had to go.  One down.

The Oldest Son got somewhat attached to the other roosters, and was trying to convince the Good Wife and I that we should keep them, at least one.  Since it was warm this summer, the windows were closed, and the chickens in their coop at 5:30 in the morning when the roosters would start to crow.  Their crowing could be faintly heard if already awake, but it wasn't too strong to wake you up early.  Kind of a novelty around the place, having a rooster that actually crows.

This happy, "Let's keep the roosters!" attitude all changed a couple weeks ago when they started getting aggressive and attacking the boys.  One chased the Oldest Son all the way from the coop to the house.  When Youngest Son went to get the eggs in the afternoon, he also go chased away from the coop.  These "stories" were brushed aside.  Until one chased the Good Wife.  At that point, everyone else in the house was abandoning their chicken chores, and I was getting stuck having to feed them, water them and collect the eggs.  The roosters had to go!

The family and the Good Wife's sister headed to Virginia Beach for Labor Day weekend so the Good Wife could run in a half marathon.  I stayed home since the usual dog sitter was not available.  No time like the present to "turn the roosters into a meal."

**WARNING - From this point on it is more of a pseudo tutorial on processing a chicken.  Some photos may be graphic to some people.  However, if you eat chicken, it is a fact of life.  **