Iowa and Back Again. A Chick Tale.

Iowa. Miles, Iowa.

11 hours. 520 miles. 5 degrees with strong winds. Nail in my tire.

It is cold. So cold we asked the hatchery not to ship our chicks to us. There is no way any of them would survive sitting outside on a post office dock in these temperatures. Not only did the hatchery agree, they ended up cancelling all of this week’s shipments.

So we drove. Miles, Iowa.

We left the house at 8:30 and dropped off three of the kids with Julie’s mom. Then we headed North. We had 6 inches of snow over the weekend and another inch overnight. The wind kicked up and made a mess of everything.

DrivingTo

On we drove. Semis were weaving in the road as gusts of wind pushed them to the side. I brought a stack of books to read but Julie asked me to drive the whole way.

Mile after endless mile of wind, snow, weaving trucks, limited visibility and a tire pressure warning light…losing 5 pounds of pressure each hour.

StillDrivingTo

Things got better as we continued North.

Four lanes turned to two. Two gravely lanes in rolling hills, unexpected stop signs. But the Iowa roads were well maintained and clear of snow. We meandered through. It felt like we drove to Kansas then to Nebraska then back across Iowa when, suddenly, we saw it. Schlecht Hatchery! The localest hatchery I can find.

Arrival

What a sight! Wow! A real building dedicated to hatching chicks, not just some crazy lady hatching birds in her living room! WHEW!

Our chicks were started on feed and water in a battery brooder. They were clean and warm and happy. In fact, that sentence describes the whole place. Schlecht hatchery was a clean and warm and happy place. She has capacity to hatch nearly 10,000 birds each week! And she nearly does!

I would have loved to spend more time visiting with Etta. We have spoken to her on the phone for years and never met. She is every bit as nice as she seems on the phone. But we have to get home and that tire isn’t going to air itself back up.

Speaking of air, the car was soon filled with that wonderful new chick smell. If you don’t know what that is, get some little chicks and you soon will.

Slightly different route on the way back, rather than take the interstate we just stuck with 67 the whole way…which turned out to be a 4-lane road most of the way, meandering through small towns. Some gas stations have free air available. Some charge $0.75. That’s better than walking home and $1.25 later we were in our driveway.

WesternIllinois

We were surprised to find one of the brooder tanks was still a little cold. I’m not entirely sure what was going on. Julie and I decided to put four lamps in one brooder and put half of the chicks in there. We took the other half of the chicks home with us in their shipping crates. This way we didn’t have all of our eggs in one basket. The chicks we delivered were doing well when we left them at 7:30. They were doing well when I checked them again at 9. We give them sugar water when they first arrive to get them off to a flying start and make sure feed is at floor level in several places.

Chicks

We will have to spread these chicks out in a week or two, adding a third and maybe a fourth tank to our brooder capacity. I really should just cover the floor with plywood and brood there but…well, this is where we are.

We will surely lose a few chicks. That’s just part of the deal. The long drive was awful but receiving a box of dead birds would be worse. We take a risk getting chicks this early in the year. But in normal years, they are well feathered out and ready to thrive on pasture just as things are greening up. Then they are in the freezer well before buffalo gnats emerge.

There is a little more I want to add in though. I could have stopped at an auto parts store and plugged my own tire. I had my coveralls and boots and tools with me just in case. But the wind chill was something like -30. So we tried option #2: Find a repair shop. Even armed with Google this proved impossible. On a Wednesday even. So we drove our slow leak home. I have concerns for a world that can’t maintain small, privately-owned garages in every town…or in any town.

At some point in our trip someone mistakenly said “Ohio” instead of “Iowa”. Well, I can’t let that go. We celebrated the error by listening to this song which was then stuck in my head all day. Kind of the theme song for the trip if you will. (Really just the chorus.)

One last addition. 6:52 the next morning, all chicks in the brooder are fine. By fine I mean alive, scattered about pecking and scratching, not barely hanging on, huddled under heat lamps. Now off to unpack the rest!

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More Layer Pullets

Early in the Spring (or late in the Winter) I ordered 250 layer pullets.  Then I got cold feet and sold 175 of them at 8 weeks.  That worked out well in some ways.  It covered my expenses so the 75 or so I kept were basically free but in other ways it didn’t work out so well.  I still don’t have enough birds to meet the demand for my eggs.

So we ordered more pullets.  It took a couple of tries to find a break in the weather and a hatchery that could fill my order on short notice.  I was looking for 100 sex-link pullets, no Whammies.  At the last minute I called Cackle Hatchery to find out what they had left.  They could ship 35 Cinnamon Queen and 5 Red Sex-Link.  Sold.  Then I called Schlecht.  Schlecht closes at 4:30 on Friday.  Etta didn’t answer the phone.  I did get her by email.  She promised 25 Golden Comet pullets.  65 birds.  I can make do with 65 birds.

The Cackle order arrived Wednesday morning but was short by 10 birds.  We are expecting another shipment on Friday.  The Schlecht order arrived early Thursday morning.  They were a little sluggish but looked good and there were 5 extra birds!  A few minutes under the heat lamp and they were ready to go.

I have talked about this before but here’s the setup again.  They are in our 8×8 outdoor brooder.  It is easy to warm, easy to get into and comfortable for the birdies.  We use nipple waterers because they stay clean.  The chicks figure them out almost immediately.

We give them broiler mash in trays for the first few weeks.  I want to get them off to a good start.  After day two they get creek sand to get their gizzards off to a good start.  We try to give them constant access to fresh greens.  Today I dropped in two big handfuls of alfalfa chaff from the hay wagon.  Just like you, chicks need to eat their greens.

These birds will remain in the brooder for 2-3 weeks depending on the weather.  Then we’ll move them out to pasture where the older pullets are and pop them into chicken tractors.  That will give them a chance to grow out without being picked on by the bigger birds but will also give them a chance to socialize with the bigger birds a little bit.  By being on pasture they will get the best possible nutrition and will always leave their manure behind.  Raising them on pasture really makes a bird that can’t be beat in terms of health.  Our future flock, your future eggs.  Healthy birds.

The Turkeys Have Arrived

Last year we ran only Broad-breasted white turkeys.  They were very entertaining, easy to sell but hard for us to manage.  This year we are only raising a few…so if you want one you should speak up soon.

Turkeys are very fragile animals.  Give them any excuse…any excuse at all and they’ll die.  In spite of this we harvested 19 of the 20 birds Sunray hatchery shipped us (#20 broke a leg at about 3 weeks and I put him down).  This year we ordered 5 white and 5 bronze turkeys from our friends at Schlecht.  These ten arrived with our latest batch of 300 broilers.  Unfortunately, one chick and one bronze turkey didn’t survive the post office…further reinforcing our decision to drive to Iowa to pick up or next order in August.

We have moved out of the greenhouse into the outdoor brooders.  It can still be a bit chilly in the evenings so for the first few days we cover the ends with plastic (plastic we found out in the pasture that was used for round bales years ago).  All 300 are in one 8×8 for now.  Soon we’ll split them between the two brooders but early on they like to be close.

Can you spot the turkey?  Look for the one that has the start of a snood.

This one is easier:

Here are a few close-ups.

Broad Breasted Bronze

Broad Breasted White.  What is it saying?

Keep your fingers crossed.  We are still pretty nervous about raising turkeys.  They are so fragile.

If you have heard or read that turkeys should not be raised with chickens…well, we heard that too.  But it works and works well.  The chickens seem to show the turkeys what to do.  Joel Salatin talks about it at 5:00 in this video:

Don’t be afraid to get yourself a few turkeys to raise with your broilers.  Once they are out of the brooder they are pretty durable.  One turkey faught off a raccoon last year, removing the raccoon’s eye.  Be careful because they seem to go from 15 pounds to 25 pounds overnight.  We found it’s a little harder to market a 25 pound bird than it is a 18 pound bird.