Broilers, dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Poultry Building

We used to heat our home and water with a Hardy boiler furnace.  This is essentially a giant outdoor wood burning stove surrounded by a tank of water and it kept our house and water toasty in cold weather.  We usually fired it up the first of November and kept it burning until the first of April. Keeping it burning meant stuffing it with firewood twice a day.  When the weather was cold, I’d burn a full-sized truckload of wood every week.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get a heat pump.  And the money I saved burning firewood all those years?  It MIGHT pay for the surgery I am going to need one day to replace the saddle joints in my thumbs where I wore the cartilage out picking up large sticks of firewood.  Anyhow, I built a large shed over the stove to keep the wood supply dry (and me when it was raining).  This shed is 16′ x 20′ and we are thinking of repurposing it for our poultry operations.  It has electricity and water, and it is located conveniently close to the house.  In the picture below, you can see it on the left side and slightly behind our house.

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Below are a couple of pics of the inside, looking up at the ceiling.  I think I will take the old metal roofing off and put down boards all the way across the tops of the rafters, from the ridge down to the bottom.  I’ll cover the top of the boards with tar paper, then add slats to screw the new metal roof onto, and I’ll put foam insulation between the slats.  This will insulate the roof and keep it from sweating and it will also let me keep the inside ceiling area open (which will just look nicer).  All of the interior beams and boards will be painted white and all of the metal brackets will be painted a glossy black.

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I want to build a covered patio off the back of this building and add a door leading out onto the patio.  This will be the area we will use when we process our own broilers.  This will be where we have the kill cones, the scalder, the plucker, a table for gutting the birds, a hose to wash them, a vat of cold water with vinegar to soak them for about 10 minutes, and a vat of ice water to cool them down before taking them inside to part up and package.  Inside the main building, we will have several freezers and refrigerators.  We’ll probably start out with two freezers (for broilers) and one refrigerator (for eggs).  This building will be air-conditioned too.  There will be a stainless steel table for cutting the birds, a sink for washing them, and an electric burner to boil water so that we can heat-shrink the poultry bags onto the birds before putting them into the freezers.  Off the side of the main building, I’d like to have a small storage room.  This will be where we keep the poultry transport cages, the scalder, the plucker, tables, hoses and any other outdoor processing equipment.  Below is the layout of how I envision this.

Poultry Barn

I plan to put black metal roofing on the top of the building and board and batten siding on the sides.  I will paint the siding white and paint a picture of our logo in black on the long side facing the drive coming up to the house.

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I’d also like to paint this on the gable over the door.

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And have an old farm lamp hanging over it to illuminate the sign (and the entrance) at night time.

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Here’s what the white board and batten siding will look like.  Actually, the front of this building is very much what I envision the front of my poultry building to look like, except where there is a window in the gable of this particular building, mine would have the fresh egg sign and the farm lamp would be mounted higher, over the sign.

siding

This project is not on the list for this year, but definitely on the to-do-list next spring.  Once we complete this project, our poultry operations (layers, broilers, stew hens) should be in full swing.

[Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.  ~Henry Ford]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

The Numbers Are In

I ran the numbers on our broilers today.  The first bag of feed (when they were tiny little chicks) lasted 3 weeks.  During weeks 4, 5, and 6 we fed one bag per week.  Finally, through weeks 7 and 8 we fed 2 bags per week.  That’s a total of 8 bags of feed and at $22 per bag, that brings our total feed bill to $176.  Since we processed 22 birds, our average cost per bird was $8 per bird or $1 per week per bird.  Not bad.

I did not weigh every bird, but half were roosters and half were hens and I weighed enough of them to know that most of the hens were a little over 5lbs and most of the roosters were a little over 6lbs.  There were a few hens just under 5lbs and conversely there were a few roosters just over 7 pounds.  Anyhow, I did weigh almost half of them after processing them and the average weight was 5.68lbs.  Multiplying that number by 22 birds brings the total weight to 124.96lbs (we’ll say 125lbs).

Since we could only fit the hens that were under 5lbs into the poultry bags, we had to part out the majority of the birds.  We bagged legs, thighs, wings, and (boneless) breasts on most of the birds and threw the carcass out.  I did weigh every bag that went into our freezer and the total weight of the “bagged” meat was 88.42lbs.

Using the average weight of 5.68lbs and a cost of $8 per bird for feed, our cost per pound for the whole bird was $1.40, but since we aren’t selling these and we put up 88.42lbs of meat our actual cost per pound came to $1.99.  Still, a very good price for pastured broilers fed certified organic and certified non-GMO feed.

We’re not ready to retail broilers yet.  There are several things we need to have in place before we do…

  • We want to build a couple of Joel Salatin style tractors that will house 50 birds each (we’d like to test the waters with 100 birds).
  • We have a building that we are going to convert to a processing and storage facility for our broilers and eggs.  We will only process our own broilers, but we will need two or three chest freezers to store our “retail” birds when we get them back from the USDA certified processor.  As our egg business grows, we will add refrigerators for storing eggs until they are delivered to market.
  • We have a trailer to haul the chickens, but we will need to purchase enough poultry crates to safely and comfortably deliver 100 birds.
  • When the birds are ready to pick up, we will need multiple large coolers to ice them down for the trip back to the farm.
  •  Lastly, we will need a feed storage building so that we may buy our feed in bulk to cut expense.

Cornish-cross broilers are selling on the Clemson Area Food Exchange (CAFE) for just over $28.  That’s for a bird that weighs between 5lbs and 6lbs.  I don’t know how much of a markup is put on the bird, but I’m guessing the grower is asking for $25 and the markup is $3.  If I can maintain a feed cost of $10 per bird (I know my cost for this batch was $8, but feed prices fluctuate) and assuming a processing fee of $5 per bird, my expenses (excluding gas and labor) will be $15 per bird.  That leaves us with a $10 profit per bird and with a batch of 100 birds that comes to $1000 or $125 per week income.

I know $125 per week income does not sound like much, but you have to consider that the amount of time spent caring for these birds each day would probably be 20 minutes or 140 minutes per week.  That comes to around $53.57 per hour.  Not bad when you look at it in that light.  The key for this to become a successful operation is to have a quality product, a reasonable price, and a great marketing plan.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

[Farming is a profession of hope.] 

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Processing Day

With all the rainy weather, we were not sure we’d be able to process today.  We waited until after lunch and when the sun began to occasionally peak out from behind the clouds we decided to put up a canopy and get started.  The canopy was a life saver because when the sun did come out it became very hot and humid.

We didn’t have any kill-cones, so I picked up a couple of traffic cones at The Tractor Supply Company.  I think they were around $11 each.  We cut the ends off and screwed them to the top of a post and they worked great.  My youngest son, Isaac, worked as a vet tech while going to college so he volunteered to do the killing.  I guess when you have to euthanize someone’s beloved pet you become somewhat immune to putting an animal down.  However, I’m glad he was there to help because even though these birds are bred for this purpose, it is still somewhat sad to see them die.

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We kept the temperature in the scalder at around 158 to 160 degrees.  Dip the birds a few seconds at a time and pull them out.  When the wing feathers pull out easily, the bird is ready to drop in the plucker.  Be sure not to hold it under for too long or it will begin to cook the bird.  When this happens, the skin will develop a splotchy, yellowish tint.  The skin should be a light pink color if scaled properly.

This was really a team effort.  My wife, Melody, both of my sons, Kyle and Isaac, and Isaac’s girlfriend, Aniston, all pitched in to help.  Once the bird came out of the plucker it went onto the processing table where we removed the head, the feet, and the insides.  I won’t go into the details on how to do that because there are tons of YouTube instructional videos out there that teach this.

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After the birds were processed, we hosed them down and washed them with clean, cold water.  After washing them, we soaked them in a cold water bath with a little vinegar for around 10 minutes and then transferred them to a vat of iced water to cool.

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Once we had several birds in the cooling container, I went into the house and began to set up the kitchen.  I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil, spread parchment paper on the table, got out the chopping boards and some sharp knives and laid out the heat-shrink freezer bags.  I also put a scale on the table so that I could weigh every bird.

It turns out that our birds grew so much that they were too large for the poultry bags and had to be parted out.  We processed 22 birds, half were roosters and half were hens.  All of the roosters were close to 7 pounds or slightly over.  Most of the hens were over 5 pounds, close to 6.  The few that were slightly below 5 pounds were the ones we were able to get into the freezer bags whole.

We parted the birds into bags of legs, thighs, and wings and into bags of breasts.  We did about half of the breasts with skin on and about half with skin off.  After trimming the breast meat off the carcass, we’d trim any meat that we missed and put that into separate bags for stir-frys.  Lastly, we put up two bags of livers and one bag of hearts.  We did not put up the gizzards, because no one eats them except me and they are not my favorite (too tough).

FinishedProduct

I haven’t added it up yet, but I’m pretty sure we put up over 100 pounds of chicken.  Next thing I want to do is see how much we spent on chicken feed so I can see where my feed-to-meat conversion ratio lands.  We are doing this for health reasons, but we want to do it as cheaply as possible.  Also, when we are ready to sell these to the public the birds will have to be processed by a USDA certified processing facility.  That could add as much as $5 per bird to our costs, so we need to trim expenses everywhere we can and the biggest place to trim the expense is with the feed.

[What came first, the chicken or the egg?  I don’t care.  I eat both!]   

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Processing Time This Weekend

Weather permitting, we are going to process these birds this weekend.  They have had a good life with plenty of fresh water, green grass, and sunshine.  They have been fed nothing but certified organic and certified non-GMO feed since birth.

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I’m going to switch to the Joel Salatin style chicken tractor for our next batch of birds and I’ll use this one to grow out a couple of turkeys for Thanksgiving.  Any suggestions on a good breed?  A neighbor down the road has some Bourbon Red chicks for $11.

[Keep your soul clean and your boots dirty.]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Chicken Tractor Modification

Getting inside the tractor to water and feed the chickens has become difficult and frustrating. The birds swarm me as if they are starving and there is just not enough room to move around comfortably now that they have matured to full size. To address part of this problem, I hung a 5-gallon bucket on the outside of the tractor. This bucket is mounted higher than the one on the inside and I installed a hose from the bottom of the outside bucket to the inside of the bucket from which the chickens drink.

The bracket, bucket, tail-pipe, pool hose, and tie straps were purchased at Ace Hardware. The contraption works great! I pour the water into the bucket on the outside and it drains into the bucket on the inside. I plan to make the following modifications before we do another run…

1. Add a lid to the inside bucket and run the pool hose through the lid. This will keep bugs and debris out of the water.

2. Affix feed troughs to each side of the cage and a means of adding food into the troughs from the outside.

With the above two modifications, I shouldn’t have to enter the tractor to water and feed the next batch of chickens.

I’m also thinking about building the Joel Salatin style tractor and giving that a trial run. If you’re not familiar with that style, just Google it and you’ll find tons of pictures.

[It isn’t the farm that makes a farmer, it’s the love, hard work, and character.]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Catch-up Post

Since we just started this website and we got our broilers back in March, I wanted to do a post to catch everyone up on our broilers.  First, we had to build a chicken tractor.  We used the design created by John Suscovich (look him up on YouTube).  There were three things we liked about the design…

  1.  It was simple and looked easy to build.
  2.  It seemed very mobile and easy to move.
  3.  It was large enough to get inside with the chickens.

You can order a book from John on how to build these.  The book has a material list, measurements, and step-by-step instructions.  Or, if you’re adventurous you can just look at the video like we did and take a stab at it without instructions.  Here’s a couple of pics during construction…

And here is the finished product, on March 20th, ready for chickens…

On March 21, the baby chicks arrived.  We ordered a straight-run of 25 Cornish-cross chicks.  A straight-run means that the chickens haven’t been sexed (sorted into males and females).  For meat birds, the roosters are preferred because they get larger than the hens, but when you order straight-runs, the birds are usually cheaper.  A Cornish-cross is a cross between a Cornish chicken and a Plymouth Barred Rock chicken.  It’s a breed that reaches processing size in as little as 8 weeks!  When they arrive at the post office they are 2 days old.  We keep them in a brooder with a heat lamp for the first two weeks then move them into the tractor.  Although we ordered 25, we had 26 in the box when we picked them up at the post office…

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By March 27th, we had lost one chick and had four others sick!  We determined it was coccidiosis so we separated them from the others and put Corid in their drinking water.  Although these are birds we plan to eat, not sell, Corid is not an antibiotic and will not affect their organic status.  Out of these four birds, one was too sick and did not pull through.  Although we only lost two chicks, it was two chicks out of 26.  That’s a 7.6% mortality rate, so not so great numbers.

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By March 30th, the weather was warm enough that we felt we could safely move them from the brooder into the tractor.  While they are still small, the tractor does not have to be moved daily.

in the tractor

In addition to the fresh green grass and insects, we feed our chickens a quick-starter grower that is USDA certified organic, non-GMO verified, and from a certified safe food/safe feed facility.  It’s an expensive feed, but we are attempting to raise the healthiest chickens possible…

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By April 10th, they are all thriving, but they are no longer cute little baby chicks…

ugly chicks

Fast forward to April 25th.  Look at how much they’ve grown in two weeks!  Also, notice that I’ve removed the baby chick feeder and water jar.  To water them, we ordered chicken watering nipples and installed them on the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket.  They learn real fast how to drink from this contraption.  To feed them, I made a trough out of a large PVC pipe and suspended it from the ceiling.  At this point, we are moving the tractor every day and the feeder and water bucket now move with it.  A tip – move the tractor to a fresh patch of grass before you enter to feed them and water them.  Otherwise, you will be walking in a lot of chicken poop.

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May 3rd, these birds are beginning to look like broilers…

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May 8th.  Two weeks until processing time…

We had one chicken that was not doing well.  The bird was not growing and acted sick.  We removed it from the flock and disposed of it.  Then, on the same day that the above pics were taken, we discovered another sick chicken in the tractor.  However, this one looked fat and healthy, it just could not walk.  Long story short, the bird had Enterococcal Spondylitis (or ES).  It’s a severe degenerative bone disease affecting broilers world-wide.  The fact that the bird was hock-sitting indicated the disease was advanced, so we put the chicken out of its misery.  To prevent this, you have to supplement their diets with vitamin D3 and reduce early growth rate.  It is treatable and you can find out all about it via Google.

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That brings us up to the present.  We are going to have to purchase a plucker in the next couple of weeks.  We will probably get the one offered at Tractor Supply for home use.  Anything we sell commercially will have to be processed by a USDA certified processing facility.  We are also going to purchase a couple of killing cones, a turkey fryer to scald the birds, and some heat-shrink bags to wrap them prior to freezing.

[Every day is a good day to be on the farm.]