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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Backyard Farming Disaster - Broiler Apocalypse


This is the first in a series of backyard farming disasters that I will share with you over the next few weeks so that you can learn from our mistakes. The second year on our small farm we decided to get into pastured broiler production. We would raise 100 chickens, put 25 in our freezer, and sell the rest to neighbors and friends. In late March we ordered the chicks and brooded them in our garage. In the meantime we built three pasture pens. They were 8’x8’x2’ half covered with plywood and half covered in chicken wire. They each had a 5 gallon bucket attached to a waterer and a bin for supplemental feeding. When the chicks were old enough, we put them in the pens. Each morning the kids moved the pens to fresh pasture, replenished the feed bins and filled the water buckets. The chickens grew fast and in early June they were up to market weight. A couple of days before slaughter, I was working at my office in the afternoon. A coworker came in from outside with sweat on his forehead. “Wow! It got hot all of the sudden out there!” he commented. I didn’t think much about it. A while later my phone rang and when I picked it up, a sobbing voice cried, “DAD! THE CHICKENS ARE DEAD! THEY’RE ALL DEAD!” I jumped in my car and raced home. Under the shade trees on the lawn, my kids were trying to revive some of the heat stroked chickens by forcing water down them with eye droppers. I went out to the pens to survey the extent of the disaster. Broilers are dumber than _ _ _ _ and when it got hot they panicked and started piling up and smothering each other at the back of the pens where the temperature was the hottest. The death toll – about 70 dead and 30 survivors. My oldest son and I formed a burial detail. It takes a big hole to bury 70 full grown chickens. When we were down about 2 feet and both in the hole, we started hitting each other accidentally with our elbows and shovels. Finally I turned to Allen and said, “Allen, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who dig holes and those who fetch dead chickens. I will dig while you fetch.” For you youngsters, this is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s lines to Eli Wallach in the cemetery at the end of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. Allen brought down wheel barrow loads overflowing with the dead chickens. He offered his own comic relief from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!” I was hoping one chicken would perk up and say “But I’m not dead yet!” The whole experience was painful. We felt so bad for the chickens and the kids lost $1,120 for their 2 months of hard work (70 broilers x 8 lbs. avg. dressed weight x $2/lb.) We learned our lesson and since then we have raised several flocks without incident.

~Dale

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

What did you do differently in later flocks to prevent that from happening again?

Dale said...

I think the problem was that the temperature increased so high and fast that they panicked. To prevent the problem we get them out of the pens so they can't pile up in the hot area of the pen and suffocate each other. Just sitting in the hot sun won't kill them if they have water. I think another particular problem we have is that we raise our broilers to very heavy weights - 8-10 lbs dressed weight to feed our big family. The bigger they get, the dumber and more vulnerable to heat. So we really watch our chickens close the last couple of weeks before slaughter. I have never had the opportunity to ask a commercial producer that uses a similar type of pen if they have this problem. I suspect not if they don't grow them out to such heavy weights. If they do have the problem, I don't know how they handle 20-40 pens worth of broilers.

Chris The Gardener said...

Broilerpocalypse. If it weren't so tragic, your telling would be quite funny. What temperature do the chickens do best in?

Dale said...

Heat is usually not a big a problem for chickens. But these were big broilers, and the temperature increase very quickly to over 100 degrees.

David Price said...

Dale,
I know the feeling. We lost our entire flock (18) to a raccoon in one evening. The only thing worse the dead chickens are chicken parts spread all over the yard.

David

marisa said...

Yuck!!!

Dale said...

David,

I agree with you. Racoons are devistating.

Dale

Anonymous said...

If they were already up to market weight when they died, why didn't you process them right then instead of burying them? I don't understand.

Zanil Hyder said...

Disasters do happen but how to manage to go ahead determines our success. Thank you for posting this as i am aware of such problems.

if time permits have a look at my website www.backyardfarming.in

turningwheelfarm said...

Ugh that's so awful! My Cornish Cross are not smart by any means but I have them free ranging in the backyard and they go sit under a tree in the shade. It also doesn't get that hot here so I haven't had to really worry about it. Good thing to keep in mind and sorry for your loss.