Monday, July 29, 2013

Stuff About Chickens

In my previous blog I mentioned that I was something of an expert on how baby chicks look.  Not only that but stated it was a story for another day.  It's another day.

When my wife and I were very young, there were few good jobs in this area.  Broiler houses - buildings designed and built specifically to raise broiler chickens - became a popular way for people in rural areas to earn extra money.  When I say designed I'm not talking about some high falutin, engineered building.  It was simply a narrow, long building anywhere between 200 and 500 feet in length with a tin roof and tin on the each side about half way up.  The rest of the wall was covered with chicken wire and had "curtains" that rolled up and down.  You can imagine these curtains, which were winched up and down, were a pain.  They would sag, the cable would break, it was always something...

Because, of course you had to always worry about adjusting the curtains once the chicks began to grow.  Rain, heat, cold, too much ammonia buildup (yes, all that poop generated lots of ammonia), required an adjustment in curtain height.

We had two chicken houses and a batch of baby chicks was 28,000.  For the first few days, even in Summer you had to have the gas brooders (large heating disks) on.  It was a sight to see though.  Looking down a 400 foot long house, it looked like a sea of furry yellow mats undulating softly.

Unfortunately, there was not a lot of time to get all poetic and artsy.  There was work to be done.  Feeding and watering 28,000 chicks is a job!  Also you had the unpleasant task of picking up the dead, killing the ones with deformed beaks, extra legs, etc, (sorry if this is grossing some of you out - wasn't sure how much detail to include).

But soon the chicks were big enough to eat and drink from the automatic equipment and life got much easier.  At about 4 weeks you began seeing victims of heart attack which everyone said was a good sign.  I never made the correlation in pay but I'll have to tell the truth here and say I was no great shakes as a chicken farmer.  It was a hard truth to face but I've learned to cope with being a failure at some endeavors.

At various times the chicken doctor would show up and bitch.  I hadn't put enough saw dust down before the chicks were delivered.  Now he tells me!  The chickens were too hot or the chickens were too cold or they were sick.  Anything else Doc?  Should I move my bed out here?

At seven to eight weeks, the chicken doctor would notify us when the chickens were to be caught.  Thank God!  At least we had no part in this other than raising all of the equipment in the houses.  Big trucks and a fork lift and the chicken catchers would show up.

I have a cousin who grew up in town.  Whenever he visited my Grandmother's house, he would chase her chickens, much to Grandma's chagrin.   This went on for quite sometime and even though he got some spankings (I think) for it, he didn't stop until he was older.  But even he did not grow up to become a chicken catcher.  Study diligently children.  There are some hideous jobs in this world.

In a couple weeks we would get a check along with a list of 20 growers and our rating.  Number 13 - wow!  Not bad and at least we weren't in the last four.  That meant you were probably on the elimination list...

After a couple years I got a job that paid decent money and we got out of that fowl business.  There's a saying...what goes around comes around...I was never sure exactly what that meant but what the heck are those fowl doing downstairs?

14 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

Could you actually make decent money doing that? I mean, it seems like a lot more work than the payoff is worth, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

David Oliver said...

You are exactly right Andrew. There are very few broiler houses around here now. The payoff for the work was not much but when there is nothing else, you do what you have to do. At first all work was done manually, except for automatic water troughs. So there was not much expense and the houses were fairly small. People would normally build a new dwelling house and pay for it by growing chickens.

Eventually automatic watering and feeding equipment was introduced even for day old chicks. Of course that was expensive and called for ever larger houses. It got to point where it was just too much debt and too much trouble to be worth it.

Carol in Cairns said...

Mr Oliver, I hope you received those couple of Paul Kelly songs via email over the weekend, and all is well in Phil Campbell :)

Carol Kilgore said...

I've seen those chicken houses, and I'm thankful I've never had to tend one. I think I would a bad chicken farmer.

David Oliver said...

Oh! Thank you very much! I am a fan and that appreciation of his singing and music is growing all the time.

Everything is fine here as far as I know. We are having one of those rather rare cool, wet Summers. It is making me have to mow more than I like but otherwise, it is great.

David Oliver said...

Carol, I hope so! It is one ability a writer doesn't need.

ADRIAN said...

David I'd have thought an extra leg or two on a chicken was to be encouraged.
It sounds horrendous for both farmer and chicken.

David Oliver said...

It is. As I've said before I grew up on a farm and always hated it when we had to kill animals for food. But their lives prior to slaughter was pleasant, at least it appeared so. That is not the case with mass production. You chose the right word, it is horrendous. Whenever I think about it, I feel guilty eating any meat at all. It seems like for now there is no other solution. Maybe eventually we will be able to produce foods that are as good and cheap as meat and will not involve this mass production and slaughter of animals.

Phillip Oliver said...

I remember when you had the chicken houses. I always thought your house on the bluff there was so cool. So, you said that your rating was 13 out of 20? What does the rating tell you? The number of chickens you successfully raised? Or was it a combination of factors?

David Oliver said...

Basically it was something termed "feed conversion." A lot of factors entered into it but it was how much feed it took to produce x number of pounds of meat.

For example, if the temperature of the houses were colder than ideal, then it took more feed.

troutbirder said...

Talk about a factory and mass production. Maybe this is why so many young yuppyish urbanites are now into backyard chicken production. Another fad probably though....

David Oliver said...

I hope it is not just a fad. I would probably raise some chickens myself if I thought I could keep them alive. The guineas are kind of a test.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Your broiler chickens were dying of heart attacks at the age of 4 weeks? Is that because they weren't free range and didn't get enough exercise?

David Oliver said...

I assume that is the reason. They certainly got very little exercise because there were no bugs for them to chase. And there wasn't a whole lot of free space. Plus, there was always food available.

Truthfully you never wanted them to run anyway. There was such a thing, and you would occasionally hear of this, where a farmer would lose a lot of chickens because they smothered. If they ever got scared they would run to one end of the house and pile up on top of each other. And all chickens need to get scared is for one to get scared and start running.

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