We’ve got 114 birds out on pasture right now, and I’m really, really happy with the amount of food they’re consuming and their rate of growth. We’re feeding them a combination of grains and scratch feed (which is primarily corn, but also contains various seeds) along with about a half gallon of naturally occurring yogurt each day. (More about that yogurt tomorrow!) The yogurt has noticeably improved the health of the flock, so I’m really glad we have that surplus milk supply. They’re also doing a great job consuming the weeds which are choking out our forage grasses. I think the pasture should be much improved for having had chickens on it.
We plan to harvest the first of the birds in July, and I’m hoping that they’ll dress out to around 4 pounds each, but I think it’s more likely they’ll be between 3 and 3 1/2. Because we’re aiming for a sustainable farm, we need to be able to produce our own birds year after year, so our biggest, bestest birds at slaughter time will be held as breeding stock for next spring. Another hope: After a few years of breeding, we’ll have a homogenous hybrid flock of faster growing, well-fleshed, heritage birds.
The photo above is Pen #3 with the youngest birds, mostly Wyandotte-Brahma or Wyandotte-Faverolle crosses, with a few New Hampshire roosters thrown in for good luck. In the background, you can see Pens #1 and #2. The birds in #1 are nearly ready to harvest. I’d hoped to process all 114 birds in one day, but there is such a difference in their sizes (though only about a month in ages) that I think it’s more likely we’ll have two. We can currently process them at the rate of about two birds every six minutes, which isn’t too bad, actually. However, with this volume of birds, that’ll take us too long on processing day, resulting in reduced morale and possible mutiny of our work force. Which is why I plan to train two more children in the art of chicken gutting. With four at the gutting station, we can double the speed of our line. The kids are excited.