Five Weeks!

The Freedom Rangers are five weeks old! Who's Godzirra now, huh?

The Freedom Rangers are five weeks old! Who’s Godzirra now, huh?

Back to loving my Freedom Rangers. The foot issues cleared up almost immediately with a multivitamin supplement and a bit of food rationing.  They are super active, love foraging, and are growing like crazy but still look healthy and happy. We weighed four of them last Thursday and they were ranging between just under 2 lbs to almost 3.  They are bigger now and I’m guessing they’re now ranging between 2 to 3+ lbs at least.  So far no more casualties, we’re holding at 25 birds. Just 5 more weeks to go!

My sister is helping me line up buyers in San Francisco for our extras and the demand is definitely there. And people are already signing up for Thanksgiving turkeys! I can’t imagine trying to make a living doing this, but if we break even on the project I will be thrilled.

We’re Expecting!

No, not me. The goat! The vet came out to do a sonogram today and confirmed that Peaches is pregnant, with definitely one, maybe two kids. Hooray!

Miss P (looking very fuzzy in her winter coat)

Miss P (looking very fuzzy in her winter coat)

Getting the sonogram.

It might seem extravagant to get a sonogram for a goat, but it actually wasn’t very expensive, and getting the pregnancy confirmed is totally worth it.

It didn't come through in this picture, but on the screen we could see a tiny goat fetus!

It didn’t come through in this picture, but on the screen we could see a tiny goat fetus!

Peaches, Hank and Diego.

Then Peaches went back to the pen to strut her important, pregnant self in front of her silly wethers.

One Month Old And Looking A Little Funky

4 Weeks

In this picture you can see one of our new feeders we made from 4″ PVC. You can also see that the bird on the left has toes that are starting to curl or bend ever-so-slightly to the side.

The Freedom Rangers are a month old, they are scruffy, and they are huge! So huge, in fact, I am getting a little concerned. I just now noticed some foot/leg issues with about half (!!) of them that I suspect is from too-rapid growth and perhaps some vitamin deficiency.  What I’m seeing is toes starting to curl to the side as they walk.  After some web-searching, I learned that free-feeding them might not be the best thing. That’s a shame because we built these awesome feeders that have made our lives so much easier.  We only have to refill them every couple of days and the birds can’t poop in them or knock them over.  As a result they are way less wasteful than the tray feeder we were using before.

As for the free-feeding: I had read before that Cornish X will actually eat themselves to death.  As in keel over from eating too much.  That’s not really what I’m seeing with the Freedom Rangers.  The birds aren’t overeating to the point of exploding.  There are always a handful at the feeders but the rest are running around or snoozing, and they seem to rotate in and out of the feeder area pretty freely. But it may be that by having food constantly available, they are putting on weight faster than their feet can handle.

I also read that organic feed often doesn’t have the vitamins that growing chicks need, and that adding some vitamin supplement in their water can clear up leg problems in just a few days. So we’ll be trying that for sure. I also wonder if the rain today has anything to do with the sudden foot problems – perhaps they are less active today than normal and putting on more weight because they’re not expending their usual amount of energy?

Anyway, things are okay, but I have to say the Rangers are seeming less miraculous to me than they were a week ago.

One Down

Well, this morning I went out to the tractor and found one of the Freedom Rangers had died. It looked like he’d been . . . well . . . squished. I’ve seen them pile up on top of each other for naps and fairly trample each other at the feeders from time to time, but this was one of the bigger birds, and I have a hard time visualizing how he could have gotten so buried he was unable to wiggle himself free. What a depressing way to go! And pretty weird too. Is this a mutant (ok, hybrid) chicken-ism? A thing heritage birds wouldn’t do? Maybe, but I couldn’t help noticing that two others were standing over him, chirping loudly like “Hey! Wake up!”  I feel like if they were total mutants they wouldn’t have even noticed one of their friends was acting funny.

Anyway, they better not do that again. They have loads of room in the tractor so there’s no excuse to squish each other like that.

p.s. Perhaps this is kind of morbid, but I took the opportunity to weigh the carcass and he came in at 1 lb 8.8 oz. Not bad for just under 4 weeks!

Three Weeks!

3 weeks 1

The Freedom Rangers are three weeks old! This past weekend we put the finishing touches on the chicken tractor (well, the Fella is constantly scheming more improvements, but it is now chicken-ready at least) and moved the brooder off the deck (YAY!) and into the tractor.

We added wheels (stolen off of a dead lawn mower), handles (2 x 4 scrap), a roosting bar (an old pipe), and a partial roof (old tarp and LOTS of staples). Pretty fancy!

We added wheels (stolen off a dead lawn mower), handles (2 x 4 scrap), a roosting bar (an old pipe), and a partial roof (old tarp and LOTS of staples). Pretty fancy!

We built little ladders for them to get in and out of the brooder so they could explore their new world. It was a little bit early for them to be out of the temperature controlled brooder, but they were getting too crowded, and the weather has been absolutely perfect, so we decided to go for it!

3 weeks 2

Last night they spent their first night outside of the brooder, and were happily scratching and zooming around when I went out to feed them this morning.  They are starting to recognize me as Food Lady instead of Godzirra, so I got charged by peeps when I opened the door!

Peeps at the door!

Peeps at the door!

For those wondering, I am now a big fan of Freedom Rangers.  They are excellent foragers (one caught and ate a worm the first day we let them out!) and extremely healthy. In my research I came across a few people who complained that they didn’t forage well and had leg issues. I have not had that experience at all.  All 26 birds that were shipped to me are alive and doing great.  They are growing like gangbusters but also act like normal chickens, and quite frankly seem to be having a blast running around, flapping their wings, and exploring.  They did well in a cramped brooder, and although I did my level best to keep it clean and dry in there, it did get damp and dirty every day.  If these birds were frail or immune-depressed, I doubt they would have thrived as they did.   The final test will be in 7 weeks, but for now, they are getting straight A’s!

Two Weeks Old

Look at my crusty little stinkbutts now.

Chicks day 14

This picture was taken this morning before I left for work. I’m home now and I swear to god they’re even bigger and more homely lookin’. But it’s raining so I’m not going to attempt another photo session.  Egads I cannot wait for these little monsters to be out in the tractor. And I have no doubt that they’ll be ready to go in another week. They’re starting to peck at me when I reach in there and a few brave turkeys are trying to fly (but thankfully not succeeding) out the door when I open it. I can now confidently say to any of my squeamish friends who ask me “Aw, how can you eat them after raising them since they were little chicks?” that I will have no problem whatsoever.

As for the deep bedding method, it’s working okay.  We’ve done a total clean-out once since we got them, and we’ll do at least one more before they move into the tractor.  We have been adding new wood chips every day, because they manage to drain their water fonts into the litter several times a day, making a soggy smelly mess. They’ve gone through probably 15 lbs of feed at this point (rough estimate). I reaaaaaally hope we make it through week ten with the feed we’ve got. There are other places to get organic feed (for a million dollars) nearby, but no place that offers soy free organic feed, which is what we are feeding them now. Being able to say they were raised soy-free adds to their value, at least to those folks who are trying to avoid or cut down on their consumption of soy.  (For a little more information on why anyone might want to eat less soy, click here.) So it would be a real drag to end up feeding them soy-based feed right before slaughter.  We are currently looking into alternative feeds such as fodder and BSF (black soldier fly) to supplement their feed starting around week 7. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

Spring Stumbles In

I am sitting at my dining room table looking out the big windows into the yard and the tangled forest beyond, watching as spring stumbles into the world.  It’s an early, clumsy entrance that I welcome as I would the unannounced arrival of an old friend for dinner – I’m happy but unprepared.

The lilac sprouted its leaves on Saturday. From bare twigs to green leaves in a day!

The lilac sprouted its leaves on Saturday. From bare twigs to green leaves in a day!

We need a lot more rain before spring can really happen. There are more than a few buttercups blooming, but without a good soak the rest of the Ranch’s celebrated wildflowers have no chance.  The black oaks are sprouting leaves but the dry ground makes me fear that the trees will be too brittle by summer and we’ll lose a lot of them before the year is out.

Luckily rain is in the forecast. And other springtime things. For one, I will be getting new bees! I have determined that I lost last year’s bees to varroa mites. This is frustrating because I tested them several times and never saw any, and as I’d been advised that first year colonies rarely succumb to mites, I never treated them. But when I opened the hive I saw plenty of dead mites on the bottom board, and there were very few dead bees in the hive.  There was also a TON of honey (mostly from all the sugar syrup I fed them) which I was glad to see because I meant I hadn’t starved them.

There is an upside to the discovery of varroa as well: it means they didn’t die from American foulbrood. That is a huge relief, as I would have had to burn all my equipment and start over completely from scratch. There’s no way I would have been able to afford to do that this year.  Additionally, I moved the hive closer to the house, which will make the regular powdered-sugar treatments for varroa I plan to do much easier.

Also, the Freedom Ranger chicks are growing like monsters. I’ve never raised meat birds before so I’m not sure if they’re growing especially fast for the breed, but they’re definitely impressing me.

Feathers everywhere!

Feathers everywhere and fluff disappearing by the minute!

I just planted seeds for my tomato, tomatillo, fennel, and eggplant starts. I’m going to have to do some online shopping for my pepper seeds. For whatever reason, the stores around here are only the most boring kinds of peppers in their seed selections. Meanwhile I’m pondering how the veggie garden will be organized this year, and how I will fit everything in with the chard and kale and other things already planted that I don’t want to pull out. Hmmm….I need a bigger garden!

Peaches the goat is hopefully bred – we’ll be getting a sonogram (!!!) in a few weeks and then we’ll know for sure, and whether or not there are multiples in there. Nigies are known for having up to FOUR kids at a time.

Oh, and guess what? It just started to rain. Okay spring, come on in and make yourself at home.