Making this place into a farm is more akin to starting a farm in the wilderness because of the predator pressure in the area. Except for the 30 or so acres of pasture here, this farm was used as a hunting property and is mostly surrounded by other hunting properties. This means that the protection provided by being in a more traditional farming area where the land is mostly flat and cleared and fenced is nonexistent. Coyotes, grey fox, raccoon, bobcats, feral cats, stray dogs, possum, snakes, hawks and eagles live here in large numbers.
Out of the first 100 chickens I raised, only 68 made it to harvest or laying. This seemed unacceptable to me but I would rather not have chickens than keep them confined. The only solution was a good fence and some Livestock Guardian Dogs. I did some research and chose to get Great Pyrenees because of their size, disposition and local availability.
We kept them in the electronet with the chickens and our predator problem immediately stopped. Even as puppies, nothing would come near. They would occasionally playfully chase the chickens but I have never seen them hurt one. Now that they are older they don't play with the chickens anymore but spend the day sleeping or patrolling. I will go more in depth about the dogs in a separate section.
When raising birds, you can keep them in one place and bring food to them and carry the poop away, or move them often to a clean area. I would rather move animals than clean up poop. I also want the birds to forage for as much of their own food as possible. This means that I need a portable chicken coop with a mesh bottom for the poop to fall through. I wanted one big enough to comfortably house 50 birds with a nest box for between 5-7 hens per box. I also wanted it to be light enough to be moved by 1 person. The above shows the coop before the metal skin went on.
Shown above is the finished coop. Notice the 2 levels of 7 perches and the removable nest box cover over the 8 nest boxes. The top sides can be open or closed depending on the weather. The 1" mesh floor allows the poop to fall onto the grass below the coop. The 10" pneumatic tires make it so it can be moved by 1 person.
I thought it would be less stressful for the birds to let them come out of the brooder on their own so I put up electronet fencing around the brooder and the coop and opened up the brooder. After about 2 hours, I ended up getting into the brooder and moving the birds out of it that didn't want to leave. I moved them around in the yard at first before moving them into the pasture.
I highly recommend not doing it this way. The birds got used to being near the house, and it has been somewhat inconvenient ever since. Even 2 years later we still have 4 birds which refuse to go to the coop at night and sleep on the back porch. I now take the chicks out of the brooder in a cardboard box and carry them to the coop which should be FAR from the house. I then feed and water them in the coop for a few days after which they happily go into the coop on their own at night and (mostly) stay away from the house.
Before getting our chicks, we needed a brooder where they could live until they were mature enough to survive outside. Our brooder shown above is 8'x8' which could theoretically fit 120 chicks at 1/2 a square foot per bird. We filled it to about 10" deep with sawdust from a local sawmill. The sawdust will absorb the bird droppings and hold the birds off of the cold ground.
This is what 10 bucks will get here locally after filling the brooder 8'x8'x10"deep. What a great resource!
Here is the brooder with the metal sides on ready for birds. The feeder is my own design made from 3" pvc and a 2x4. The tall white cylinder is a hover made from some plastic wall covering I found laying around. The heat lamp shines directly into it and it will be much warmer (90-100 degrees F) than the rest of the brooder. It has a hole cut in the side so the chicks can go to where the temp suits them best. The waterer was bought at the co-op and I eventually hung it off the ground to keep it cleaner.
We got our first 50 Black Jersey Giants from Mount Healthy Hatchery and brought them home from the post office. The cookie sheet above is full of creek sand covered in feed to get grit into the bird right away as this is how they "chew" their food. As you can see, they mill around from the food and water to the hover to warm up. They stayed in the brooder about 4 weeks until they were feathered out enough to handle the cool early spring night temps. The next post will get into the mobile coop construction and moving the birds into it.