Mug Shot

Bird Bullies

I have a theory. Meat birds are jerks! I think that’s why they became meat birds. Early food eaters were probably perfectly happy just eating eggs. Then, one of the birds had to go and be a jerk. It didn’t take long to figure out that somebody had to go. Yeah. Meat birds.

People shake their heads and smile when they see how great our animals get along. No joke. They hang out. They share. They even play together. Alpacas, chickens and ducks, in perfect harmony. And then. Meat birds.

Harmony

My egg birds and ducks are peaceful and friendly. I love the calm, quiet quacking, and the friendly clucking. If you think I’m being overly sentimental, you haven’t spent time on a farm. They’re perfectly happy to swim and peck and lounge in the sun. I can actually feel my blood pressure lowering when I’m around them. (Relaxing sigh.)

Ducks   Hens

By the time the meat chickens were ready to be processed, I was ready to see them go. First, most of them were males. Lots of testosterone, and they all wanted to be Big Bird. My peaceful barnyard was turning into a feather-flying peckfest. At least they were about the same size as the other chickens, so it was a level playing field.

Now, we have these turkeys. I’ll admit it. I don’t like them. I thought I would like them. I wanted to like them. When they were little, I DID like them. Not anymore. They’re mean. When they first moved in, I had to stand guard because they were using their beaks to pick up the smaller birds and shake them. Not cool. At first, I thought they would settle down once they settled in.

Gang

They aren’t quite as aggressive as they first were, but the ducks and hens try to stay away from them. The turkeys peck and chase and squawk at anything that gets too close. If we had another enclosure, they would be put in segregation.

The turkeys were supposed to be for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at least a couple of them won’t make it that long. Next year, we’ll be doing things differently. There will be a separate enclosure, and all the meat birds will be in there. It will be like our own little juvenile hall. I nominate Charlie as Head Warden.

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Poultry Rotation

Last year, we had chicks in a brooder, then moved them to an enclosed run, then into the big yard. Boom, boom, boom, it was done. After the chickens were in the yard, we got ducks, and started over. This year, we’ve made it a little more complicated. The 3-4 month plan, which started in February, includes laying chickens, laying ducks, meat chickens, and turkeys. In order to get what we want from each of the birds, when we want it, it took a little planning, and quite of bit of rotation. The egg birds are well into their rotation, and we’ll be starting with meat birds this week or next.

The first step was getting pullets, which are female chicks that will be egg-layers. We start with egg-layers because they don’t start laying until about 6 months old. If we wait too long, we’ll be into the shorter winter days, and they’ll only just get started laying when it’s time to stop again. They’re first available in February, when temperatures still drop below freezing. Their first stop is the brooder – a metal tub with bedding and a heat lamp.

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When they’re big enough, the chicks get moved outside to the enclosed run. We keep the run close to the big yard so they get used to seeing the other animals. They stay in the run until they’re big enough to hold their own with the big girls.

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Once the chicks are moved out of the brooder, the ducklings move in.

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The chicks are 8 weeks old now, and big enough to be moved in with the big girls. The ducklings are 3 weeks old, and big enough to move into the run. Ducks grow faster than chickens, and the overnight temperatures also aren’t dropping as low.

When you move chicks, they need to go into lockdown. By closing them into their coop for 3 or 4 days, they learn that this is home and, if all goes well, they will automatically return to the coop each night. Friday, I made sure the coop was ready for them with lots of food and fresh water. I can add food and water while they’re in there, but the longer I can leave them alone the better. Saturday, Charlie and I caught them, and moved them to their new home. I checked on them each day to make sure they were doing OK, and waited until Tuesday to let them out.

I popped open the door and waited. I thought it would take them awhile to decide to come out, but they weren’t shy at all. Within just a few minutes the first chick was venturing out.

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The big girls came over immediately to see what was going on, and soon they were all scratching together. I was afraid there may be some pecking order issues, but nobody had any problems.

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Soon, Spike had to be part of the welcoming committee. He always has to be in the middle of everything! Tajo took advantage of Spike’s curiosity and got an extra helping of grain.

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The chicks made themselves at home in their new yard.

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While everyone was enjoying the beautiful day, I got to work cleaning out the coop. The common advice is to not do a real good cleaning during the winter. The bedding, food and poop which drop on the floor help to insulate the coop and keep it warmer. That’s a WHOLE LOT of crap to clean up off the floor, but with help from the girls I got it done pretty quickly.

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The ducks are now moved to the run, complete with their own private swimming pool.

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I also decided Criss Cross needs some roommates in her condo, so two little bantam chicks have joined the ranks. Raymond and Reta Jean picked them out and named them. The dark one is Cheekle, and the light one is Fif.

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Turkeys take 6 months to mature, so they’ll be next into the brooder. That way, they’ll be ready to go in time for the holidays. When the ducks move into the big yard, the turkeys will move into the run, and it will be time to get meat chickens. Meat chickens only take 4 months to mature, so they’ll be ready to process around September.

Simple, right? It’s a good thing Charlie can keep the timing straight.