Where have the lovely warm days gone?
Are you noticing the darker mornings and finding it difficult to climb out of bed! Well the chooks have too! The moult is underway with feathers everywhere. Egg production is dropping off as birds prepare themselves for the usual end of season rituals. On the other hand our young heritage pullets hatched out at the start of the season are looking mighty fine in their new attire and laying lovely pullet sized eggs for us. These eggs will carry us over winter whilst the hens go thru the moult and replenish their reserves for the next season. Remember to keep feeding your girls well whilst production is low or possibly non-existent. Your laying hens will need to build up their calcium levels, replace their feather coats and be in top condition for when the season kicks off again in spring so keeping up a good quality complete feed to them is very important.
Autumn is a good time to spring clean and sanitise your hen house so the new season can start free of any nasty red mites and other potential ‘bugs’. We have a regular regime of good housekeeping using Poultry Shield in conjunction with Diatom ( we also now stock Appletons De-Mite Powder) and have found we have not had a big issue at all this season with dreaded mite. Good housekeeping is the key. Poultry Shield kills mites on contact so if used correctly will eliminate all that it comes into contact with when the house is sprayed. Not only does Poultry Shield kill the mites but it good to know it sanitizes and disinfects the hen house.
If sparrows have become an problem in your hen house with feed and perches becoming soiled then best to look at investing in an automatic feeder to reduce contamination plus your feed bill! Sparrows and other birds can be a real nuisance as they carry salmonella, lice, mites and other diseases so best kept out of the chook house. The same applies for mice and rats which love living in or under hen houses and visiting to feed out of open feeders. Rodent urine and faeces are a big contaminant especially when in the feeders. To reduce risk of disease and mites we recommend regular housekeeping using Poultry Shield and Diatom. Chook houses should always be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised annually and especially when replacing your layers. We have found the Diatom to be very effective in controlling and reducing mites between treatments of Poultry Shield. We sprinkle the Diatom on the perches and in the nest boxes with continued success.
This season we have had a lot of interest in people wanting to raise birds for meat.
Here at Appletons we raise our own heritage heavy breed cockerels as meat birds for the table. In fact we would never again purchase another frozen size 16 chook from the supermarket! The white, bland meat from these birds has little flavour and minimal nutritional value when compared to their free range home grown counterparts. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a great ambassador of the free range fowl and has shown on his TV shows that commercially reared chicken is nutritionally inferior to the free range version.
Broiler chickens have proven to be very low in omega threes and proteins and high in water and fat unlike the meat from the free range birds which is 3 times as high in omega threes and protein and has little fat and water. This is just the nutritional comparison! Not hard to comprehend when you picture free range birds scratching, sun bathing and running around in a green paddock in the sunshine enjoying the good life.
There are two ways of raising your meat birds.
The commercial way.
In the commercial industry meat chickens are generally kept in large sheds. They have access to food and water, and are able to move about inside the shed on wood shavings or paper litter. Each shed generally contains 25,000–45,000 chicks, depending on size and planned processing weight. The chickens are raised until they reach the ideal processing weight at 5 to 6 weeks. (Scary!) About 1.4% of meat chickens in New Zealand are raised in free-range production systems where chickens have access to an outdoor area or range. These are the chickens that we find fresh or frozen in our supermarkets. If you would like to raise your own commercial meat birds then buying in specially bred meat chicks, called broilers in the poultry industry, is possible all year round. These are fast growing, white feathered birds (best for plucking as they leave no coloured pin feathers on plucking) either called Cobb meat or a Ross meat hybrids depending from which hatchery they come from in NZ. Here at Appletons we have Cobb meat chicks available for sale. Please let us know if you wish to place an order and we are only too happy to help. These chicks are designed to eat lots of high protein feed and grow super-fast and reach processing weights in 9 to 12 weeks. For optimum results keep your chicks warm, well fed and confined. Birds are designed to grow so fast that sometimes leg weakness, obesity and heart attacks take their toll. A bit scary to think that man has manipulated nature to produce a quick meal in app. 6 to 9 short weeks.
If you plan to give your meat chicks access to free range then we recommend restricting their food intact so they grow slower but eventually bigger and can be processed around 12 weeks. If opting for free range then best to feed adlib up to 2 weeks then limit feed rations to twice daily. This will grow a bigger bird with a flesh that has a bit more flavour and colour and the birds will enjoy it more too! When raising meat birds the goal is get maximum meat for minimum feed. The commercial industry has it down to a fine art using a quality, balanced diet for a purpose bred bird in the shortest possible time. In our backyards we will need to feed out between 2 to 3kg per bird per 1 kg of dressed carcase in double the time. Feeding out wheat and scraps is not going to fatten birds especially the dual purpose heavy breeds that need to mature first before they fatten out. Best to use a high protein crumble adlib so the birds pack on protein and muscle rather than lay down fat. Growing commercial meat birds will always produce a quicker result but for some of us it is not always the best result or the way nature intended.
The way nature intended ‘the natural way’.
Breeding your own heritage breed poultry to eat is a great way to ensure you know what is in your food plus no good bird goes to waste!
In the ‘good old days’ when chooks were raised on the farm the young pullets were mostly kept as layers, the ‘boy’ with the most potential was kept for breeding and the other cockerels hatched over the season would be plumped up for the table. This was a very productive approach from a time when there was little waste and value of food was appreciated.
‘Now days’ there seems to be little value placed on the cockerel. For approximately every pullet hatched there is usually a cockerel so what is happening to all these wasted birds? It seems to a shame to just cull them. We need to change our thinking and look on these cockerels as table birds. Why waste a good meal!
If you are going to grow on your cockerels for the table it is a good idea to choose the right breeds for the best result. The heavy breeds are the best choice – Light Sussex, Plymouth rock, Dorking, Rhode island red, Orpington to name a few.
Whether you have hatched chicks from eggs or purchased day old chicks it is best to look on both sexes as having value: the females as future layers and the males as table birds. We raise both sexes together till app. 16 weeks then we separate the boys from the girls. We continue to run the cockerels on together as they know each other. A good sized house and run with enough perch space and room to get away from one another is important. The cockerels are best fed on a high protein crumble all the way through to processing. We feed out adlib with plenty of access to fresh water. We also feed out maize as a scratch treat in the afternoon. Please remember with the heritage dual purpose breeds that they need to grow to full size before they fill out for fattening.
We find a good age to process the heritage breed boys is between 34 to 44 weeks (8 to 10 months). The decision to process is made once the bird has reached a good body weight, decent size and well plumped out. No good processing skinny cockerels with a razor sharp front! Make sure you frrd yout birds well! The best way to check is to pick up the cockerel and feel for yourself. We have found milk (surplus milk from your milking cow or goat or liquid buttermilk, skim milk, yogurt etc.) to be a great fattening feed. We have also found animal proteins better than vegetable proteins in packing on the bulk. So look on the feed label on the feed you buy to ensure the proteins are made up of ruminant proteins and not just soya bean meal. Chooks are not vegetarians!
So if you enjoy chicken give some thought to where your next chicken meal comes from. The chicken in the supermarket is always going to be cheaper but at least you know what has gone into your home grown table bird, the great life it has had and how it was killed and processed.
Time for dinner!
All the best
Fionna and Gordon Appleton
Appletons Hen Houses and Poultry Supplies
This newsletter was published 25th March 2012