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News from the Farm: Spring Chicks!

Good morning Friends of North Mountain Pastures,

Wow things are getting crazy around here. It's really spring!

The news of the month is that we are fully into chick season. From now until Thanksgiving, we will be taking care of broiler chickens so that we can raise enough for you. 100% of our meat chickens get distributed through the CSA, and as we approach 300 members, each getting 1-3 chickens every month, that means we need to raise over 6000 chickens this year to get them to you for the two 5 month CSA membership periods.

The chicks are cute at first, but it is not always easy to take care of them; precise brooder conditions are required because the chicks are so fragile and need to be right around 98 degrees for their first few days of life. In the past, we have tried many different things (often unsuccessfully), working hard to come up with a system that:

  • Provides proper temperatures, whether it’s February or July weather outside.

  • Keeps all tiny chicks contained, they tend to pour out of openings like water.

  • Keeps unwanted predators out - rats and cats have been the main offenders in the brooder for us, causing up to 30% losses at times.

  • Is fairly “idiot proof” - if it can go wrong, it probably will!

  • Uses minimal and appropriate energy. We’ve tried heating with propane, wood, and electric heat, under different types of lights, hovers, underground heat, and insulated panels.

  • Allows ample space and varying conditions for the first 4 weeks of the chicken’s life. We’ve put them out at 2 weeks when it is very warm weather, but we’ve found that they really are stronger and thrive outdoors when they are “babied” for 4 weeks in the brooder

  • Provides ease of managing the different age chicks: To make this happen, we have four areas that increase in size, with larger feeders and waterers. Every week before new chicks come, the 4 week olds are taken outside to their pasture house. That allows space for the three-week-olds to move into their spot, and so on until the first week spot is empty again for the new chicks. We used to have to catch each chick individually in crates to move them. Now we have the different spots all in a row, with doors that can open, so they just need to be gently herded on to the next area.

So this is the current system. Chicks come in the mail, one day old, from Moyer's Hatchery.

They can survive without food and water for a surprisingly long time, up to 3 days, due to absorbing the egg yolk right before they hatch. Being packed close together for shipping keeps them warm. We unpack the chicks, carefully dipping their beaks in water to teach them where the water is.

They figure out where the heat and food are right away, and from then on they just eat and grow.

Brooks has recently engineered a dual pulley to lift up the brooder to make herding the chicks over to the next spot and cleaning out bedding easier (Here is a short video of our 8 year old son Kaj lifting the heater with the pulley!). The brooder building is a used shipping container, made of steel, which we cut windows and doors into for ventilation. The windows are covered with heavy duty wire mesh, so that nothing can get in and eat the chicks. We put a garage door on one end, to make moving chicks out to pasture and cleaning it out with the skidloader at the end of the season a piece of cake. Overall, this system is by far the best it’s ever been, with greater efficiency and healthier chickens.

Recipe: Simple crockpot lamb shanks

This is so easy, it could be a busy weeknight meal. I put the lamb shanks in the crockpot, and rubbed salt and pepper on all sides. I threw in a bunch of whole garlic cloves, some bay leaves, and a bit of rosemary, and added wine to cover about ½ way up. I used homemade pear wine because that’s all we had at the time, but red would be better :)

On low all day, it was definitely a winner- tender and flavorful with a ready made sauce over polenta and salad for supper. The cooking liquid and leftover lamb with vegetables and rice made a quick meal the next night.

Happy Spring!


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