This is going to be one of those posts that contains notes particular to this flock. I’ll add a few details because I think there’s some value for those who are raising meat chickens or dual-purpose chickens.
The Delaware flock was sixteen weeks old the last week of July. We weighed the biggest roosters on the 28th, in preparation for an inspection and education. We’re members of The Sustainable Poultry Network. Part of the membership includes flock inspection and making sure we’re doing things right.
(note from the future–we ended up leaving SPN. Here’s a post that talks about why)
Jim Adkins from SPN came out and looked at our birds. Just so you understand, the Sustainable Poultry Network is about raising chickens in a healthy environment. This means that they’re in pasture, not locked up in a building. Further, SPN only supports birds that can breed. Most, if not all, of the poultry that you get from the store are bird varieties that cannot naturally procreate. This includes your Thanksgiving Turkey. So, SPN is all about heritage breeds and improving their genetics.
The big thing that the inspection turned up was that our birds were too light for their age. We weren’t a little bit off either. The birds were almost two lbs light. Their size was right but there wasn’t much meat on their breasts.
It’s not that the birds were unhealthy. In fact, they weighed more than our free-range birds, so I didn’t know there was a problem until Jim inspected. I’m very thankful for him!
I was flabbergasted. I had crunched the numbers earlier and calculated that I had been overfeeding them. This was the last thing that I inspected. Jim had some suggestions for adjusting the feed. I figured a call to my feed guy was in order.
The feed guy is great and was happy to tweak the feed recipe. I’ve also left even more feed for the birds. They’re getting twice the feed they were getting previously.
I think I’ve figured out what the issue is. I was pretty unhappy with myself once realization set in.
We have the Delawares in a chicken tractor. We’re using them as intensive grazers to improve the quality of our soil. Not much grows well in our soil because of the lack of nutrients.
Because things are so dry at the farm, almost all of the plant matter the chickens have been eating since June is lignified. This is a fancy word for dried up and wood-like.
Now, chickens can eat lignified plants. But it’s kind of like you and I eating celery and lettuce. It takes a lot of energy to break all that cellulose down. It’s apparent that the Delawares weren’t getting enough feed to both digest the plants and grow big at the same time. I assumed that the plant matter was a bonus–extra protein, etc. in addition to the feed I was giving them. I was wrong.
So, we’ve changed the recipe and increased the amount of feed given.
By the way, I didn’t have a good way to hold the chickens for weighing. I cut off a pant leg from some surplus digis that I have. There are drawstrings on a lot of military utility pants. The drawstring end is good for an adjustable opening for the bird’s head. I asked the wife to sew a loop on the other end for the scale’s hook. (I’m not a chauvinist–it’s her sewing machine)
Here are the numbers for the heaviest roosters on July 28th, with the cone weight (.22 lbs) subtracted:
- 3.16 lbs
- 2.82 lbs
- 2.74 lbs
- 2.52 lbs
- 2.46 lbs
- 2.44 lbs
Here are the numbers from today, August 9th, twelve days later:
- 4.30 lbs
- 3.74 lbs
- 3.52 lbs
- 3.52 lbs
- 3.32 lbs
- 3.20 lbs
So, it looks like we’re heading in the right direction.
You might be asking what the big deal is about getting the chickens to butcher weight on time. It costs money, time and other resources to raise these birds. For each extra day, I lose $6 or $7 feeding them.
The good news is that I don’t expect a meat profit from this flock. Their purpose is to provide chicks next spring. Well, the birds that aren’t culls anyway. The rest will go into our freezer. But I need to be as efficient and cost effective as possible. This means that I’ll learn from this and do better next year.
August 16th Numbers
Looks like the heaviest bird (I’m guessing #1 is the same bird for all weights) is done putting on quick weight. All of the other roosters have put on around 1/4 lb. in a week. All of the birds should still be 1 lb. heavier at almost 19 weeks. I still have my work cut out for me.
It’s amazing how scientific and strategic you have to be!
Hi. I am a chicken breeder from New Zealand. We dont have the Delaware chicken here so I set about trying to breed something similar, using a combination of indian game, langshan and barred rock breeds. This year I have achieved what I set out to do (in two years) and am rather happy with the results. My best cockeral at 12 weeks was 1950 g (4.3 pounds) live and I just weighed him yesterday at one day off 24 weeks old. He was 4290 g (9.23 pounds) and his largest sister who is just about to lay was 2950g.The sire for these two weighed 4.6 kg when I killed him (He had ripped open and maimed 2 of my hens during mating so he had to go. He really needed about 20 hens to run with rather than 7, as he was extreemely vigorous. The funny thing is the father of the 4.6kg cock that was the sire for this enterprise was only 2.8 kg (he was langshan / indian game, and indian games in NZ are very small), lighter than all of the hens he was treading. The key to my fast growth rates is feeding compost or rather the worms etc in it, right from day one, organic food and good free ranging on pasture and amongst trees. My Barred Indian Game (that’s what I’m calling them) cockeral is very meaty but he can roost and do all the things a regular chicken can. Hope some of this info helps and I really cant say enough just how good compost feeding is. Any bagged feed is second rate to insects and is also rather unsustainable.
Dave, thanks for the tips!
We’ve culled our Delawares heavily and hopefully we’ll do better with them this season.