Wednesday, May 08, 2013

TBF 009 :: Becoming Our Own Hatchery, Snow in May, and Hard Lessons Learned

One thing that we have learned on our farm over the last five years is that animals that are born on our farm, from stock raised on our farm, do much better in our farming model than others that we purchase and bring to the farm. We have found even when we bring them from farms that have similar farming models or farms that we really respect, there are some animals that just aren't as hardy or don't grow quite as well on the pasture and in the woodlots. Over the last two seasons of raising meat chickens, we have found the same to be true. In the case of the chickens though, all of our meat birds come from off the farm ... and that is something that I would like to change.

Up until this point, it was something that I was interested in doing but not really in a hurry to do. That changed when our source for naked neck Poulet Rouge chicks (which come from a farming friend) was not able to provide chicks for us this year. If you have followed along with the blog for awhile you will remember my frantic call for help and our solutions (which included ordering chicks from the hatchery). But, the long-term solution is that we are going to begin hatching our own meat chickens and keeping a flock for breeding stock. This means that we need to research all sorts of things from incubators and incubation to various heritage breeds that we can raise!

At this time I am leaning towards the Mottled Java as a bird to try out, but I think I would like to have a few other options that we are working with at the same time so I'm open to suggestions! As far as incubators/hatchers go, we have been doing a lot of research and reading about the various styles and brands and prices ... it can be exhausting! If you would like to check out some of the models we have been looking at for cabinet incubators just take a look at these links:
The Beginning Farmer ShowAs always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn. If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five start rating and review (by clicking the link or the image on the right) or on the Stitcher App on your smartphone. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with The Beginning Farmer and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

(if you are interested in the music in this episode check out my brother's record label, Historic Records)


Anthony Cipolone said...

I'm not sure what your opinion is on mixed breeds for birds, but we're sort of experimenting with a "heritage broiler" -- the traditional mix of white Plymouth Rock (for fast growth) and dark Cornish (for double breast/meat quality) that used to be the broiler before it became industrialized.

We ordered a bunch (25) of white Rock pullets and five dark Cornish cockerels. They're still quite young, but I can see where the cross would be good: the white rocks are growing FAST, and the dark Cornishes are small but really, really meaty/heavy.

We're doing this on a small scale, and hoping the cross will give us a decent sized bird (hopefully 4 lbs dressed) in 12-14 weeks, rather than the 18 we've waited for some heritage breeds. The 7-9 that commercial broilers are ready is nice, but ... the genetics are just too gross for us.

We're some months away from the Rocks being of laying age, so it'll be late this year when we see what the results are. I had read about plenty of people suggesting this, but no one followed up with any data on their trials ...

If anything, I hear white Rocks make great meat birds on their own. I can imagine they may not have the heavy breast of a commercial broiler, but I can definitely see the size being comparable.

Tim said...

So when will the Beginning Farmer's Wife be guest hosting an episode???

Ethan Book said...


Thanks for the great response! That sounds like an awesome experiment and I hope that you keep me updated on your results.

So ... are you planning on keeping that cross going? If so would that mean you would need breeding flock of the Rocks and one of the Cornish? I agree that having a bird that finishes in 12-14 weeks is much more desirable than that 18-20 week range (which is something that does scare me a little).

I too have heard some okay things about the Plymouth Rocks ... or White Rocks ... something else to look into I guess :)

Ethan Book said...

Tim ... that time will come :) But, maybe The Beginning Farmers Son first ... he is a podcaster too :)

Donna OShaughnessy said...

We found the same thing especially in our hogs. We would buy a few confinement hogs early on and about half would die before we even got them outside of the barn! So used to their controlled environments with no real immune system of their own. This is our first year that we do not have a single hog that was not born here. Best group of pigs we've ever had but it took a long time to actually farrow enough to meet our customer needs.

Anthony Cipolone said...

I'll definitely keep you updated. The idea would be to keep a flock of Rock hens (and maybe a roo at some point so we can replace them) and just one or two Cornish roos. From what I had read, this was the original "Cornish Rock cross" mix -- I think it might take some trial and error to find some good hybrid vigor, but I figure anything is better than getting the commercial broilers. We also got some Bourbon Red turkeys. Hoping to eliminate the need for the broad-breasted poults ... maybe not in time for this year but next. I hate seeing animals suffer, even if their final destination is to be on a plate.

I haven't listened to this podcast yet (I'm on number 5!) so I'm not sure how much you go into the hatching stuff. We've been hatching ducks for a few years, and within the past year chicken, quail, turkey, and guineas, so if we can help at all let us know. The little farm we bought last year came with a rack brooder (which we're not fond of) and a big, old, GQF incubator. We've never had good luck with auto turners, so it's all hand turning for us. It's a big, loud monster that lives in the guest bedroom. Biggest hatch I did was a couple hundred eggs and it still had some room left. Have you hatched your own before, or is incubating new to you?

Love your podcast, by the way. I've been getting burned out listening to podcasts by new farmers who suddenly become "experts" after a couple of years. It's refreshing to hear someone humbly admit to still learning. We're a lot like you -- bought a house/land (although not as much land) and really dove in without any experience. Been a rough ride at times (especially with the sheep -- we also raise Katahdins) but we've learned a lot. Still got plenty to learn, though! We've found that attending "field days" and other free events that our ag extension offices offer have been really invaluable, not just for information but for networking, too. We only recently started taking advantage of them and I'm kicking myself for not doing it sooner!

Thanks for sharing your experiences!

dfr2010 said...

Both you and Anthony have gotten my (last two working) brain cells engaged here, as I watch the last two (of five) Cornish-Rocks start to pant in only low-80s afternoons down here in central Florida. The other three were tasty, but we had to butcher the first one earlier than we planned due to heat sensitivity. In fact, panting has been my main criteria for which birds to butcher which week.

My plan isn't quite hatched yet ... but I think it's pipping now.

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