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The fowls of Big Bird farm.

Also: making a few bucks with synthetic oil

I really appreciate your publication and do share the experiences related by your many correspondents. We leaped over the sidewalks in September of '89 when we bought a 168 acre farm in the Ozarks. We formerly lived in Houston, Texas, on 1/2 acre in an old subdivision that allowed at least that much land. We left because of crime, high taxes, and the fact that no one knows anybody, nor cares.

Being originally from St. Louis County, I was a little prepared for what was going to happen to us. My life's partner, Ute, from rural Germany, was raised in hard times after the war, so being self-sufficient was not a very remote concept from her experiences, although neither of us really knew what awaited us.

Our first move was to get a box of mail order, heavy breed chicks. We chose the heavy breeds because they are not so temperature sensitive as the hybrids, and they lay brown eggs. They are also very user friendly and aren't so nervous like Leghorns, etc. My favorites are Light Brahmas (with feathers on their feet), although Buff Orpingtons, Black Astralorps, and White Rocks figure well into the farm plan for us.

The following year saw us with another box of mail order chicks. This time the rare and exotic assortment. With this came White Crested Black Polish, Araucana's, and many others. After these chicks attained the age of majority, (about five months in chicken time), the differences between each breed, both good and bad, really became apparent.

We became totally hooked on Araucanas (they lay Easter eggs). Light Brahmas make good setters and mothers, but they are not as insistent at this profession as the Araucana. Araucanas will not be regulated, and will sneak off into some recess of the barn, dog house, or wherever they are least observed and hatch a full complement of chicks. The last batch was 14, and despite freezing weather, brought all of them into the safe age of responsible chicken citizenship, a month or more, without mishap. All have muffs, beards, and are all sorts of colors, which is the mark of the Araucana. We started with one Araucana rooster, with such a procreative drive that we have named him Mr. "T", short for testosterone. After one and a half years we must have at least 100 Araucanas and the colored eggs abound. Araucanas are medium size and fly better than the heavy breed Light Brahmas. However, there is something very regal about a 12-pound Light Brahma rooster named simply Big Bird. No one challenges Big Bird. He is the king!

What started with one chicken house has now evolved into three. I originally held the theory that I would keep the various breeds from interacting, but nature has outsmarted me and now I see the need for twenty separate facilities. This is not going to happen though, as I have become pragmatic and realize when I am whipped. I have mellowed and the chickens have won round one - especially the Araucanas and Light Brahmas. Thanks to the natural integration of things, nature style, I have Araucanas with feathered feet and Light Brahmas with muffs and beards. The Araucana strain is so strong that colored eggs are always the result of this union. At first on a 50/50 Araucana chick, the eggs might be green, or olive drab, but their offspring may go back to blue, but will remain colored in all cases.

We are ecologically sound and resist using pesticides when a natural alternative is available. We dust the chicken laying nests with diatomaceous earth in place of Sevin powder. It kills the mites, and creepy crawlies as well, and is nontoxic. We also feed it to the chickens and emu's, as well as dogs to keep them worm free. D.E. is available from ARBICO, PO Box 4247 CRB, Tucson, AZ 85738. Their D.E. is EPA registered and can be used to dust plants also. It is different from swimming pool filter D.E.

Some other anomalies here would be turkens, (naked neck chicken) with feathers on its feet and/or with muffs and beard (still no feathers on its neck). Buff Orpingtons with gold feather feet. Astralorps with black feather feet. The really beautiful thing about natures' architecture is the fact that all the strange happenings are really color coordinated.

I have built a special room in one of the pre-civil War barns, still in good shape, for hatching chicks and every year, or sometimes twice a year, we run through batches of Cross X Rocks for the freezer. Thanks to the great quantity of "home grown" roosters, we have extra poundage to add to the freezer as the roosters attain freezer age.

At first, butchering chickens was sort of a gory situation, but at the recommendation of chicken butchers, farm peers of vast experience, I attached a heavy steel wire, securely, to the top of several fence posts for about twenty feet. I tie the roosters by their legs to the wire allowing about two or three feet between roosters. After they hang for about five minutes they get a little dazed, and with a sharp-very sharp-butcher knife, I cut their heads off. I have to sharpen the knife every other chicken to ensure a good cut. They bleed until you are ready to dress them out ... 5 to 10 minutes is adequate. We remove the skin and feathers together, eliminating the extra calories and fat, plus the need to have boiling water on the job site. I do this and Ute cuts up the chicken into boneless breasts, etc, and finishes the job in the kitchen. Every part of the Cross X Rocks is tender, legs included. With the range roosters, mentioned above, those legs are tough, so they become chicken soup and they convey a very special taste, due to their range heritage, but their breasts are wonderful!!

From August to January the chickens molt and egg production is at an all-time low. I guess the choice for the chicken is feathers or eggs, and they choose feathers. The way to beat the lessened egg production in late summer, is to hatch egg layers in the winter that will start laying by late summer. Also, if the chickens are not pets, they should be culled, sold off, etc., every year. Many of my chickens have names, like Buffina, Lorpina, Henny, Big Feather, so as it is sometimes difficult to part with a friend, they stay around under our old age pension program.

We have allowed the problems to be solved in the order that they presented themselves to us. We had several fish ponds dug to catch the water from the hillside spring, but they still leak. I have put large quantities of bentonite in them and it seems to help. I have stocked them with fish, but with the non-stable water level, it is too much to expect the fish to do well until the water remains stable in depth. Maybe next year ...

We started raising emu's, the real big bird of our farm. They are doing well, and we don't yet know how this venture will turn out as it takes several years for them to lay eggs and hope for baby emu's. They are fun to be around and are extremely curious and nosey. Males are friendlier than the females, and are more stable. Females seem to be bigger, but then they all seem big at almost six feet tall! More on the emu saga as it unfolds. Needless to say, they needed special fencing and a house with incubators, etc., for the day they decide to embark on a career of parenthood. Besides thriving on the manufactured feed I give them, emu's like chickens, rodents, and snakes. They can dissect a rabbit in a few seconds, especially with the group effort in full force!

We also built a greenhouse. We got it from Stuppy's in Kansas City, Missouri. They provided the entire kit, with fans etc. The "kit" gives new meaning to the expression "some assembly required! - It took two of us, working full days, more than three weeks to complete it. It is large enough to really get serious about winter production - 50 x 30 - and so far we have tomatoes, egg plant, beans, zucchini and peppers. The chicken houses provided the instant growing yum yum for the greenhouse soil. The Troy Bilt tiller blended it so well that within two months the soil was good for planting.

Making a few dollars

by selling synthetic oil

I have noticed how people share the various ways that they make a few dollars in Countryside, so I too will mention how I do it.

Everybody has to drive more here and the expense of car maintenance, and fuel, really adds up. I have been using a synthetic oil, made from an ester (derived from farm produce) and it has increased my fuel mileage close to 20%, given me a 25,000 mile drain interval, and makes my cars and tractor run much quieter and better. Other rural folk, dependent on their vehicle, are very interested in what these products can do for them, and after using the oil, gear lubes, automatic transmission fluid, etc., are very willing to tell their friends. The products are marketed multi-level (the only way such a superior, non-oil company product can be marketed), and I have found it an excellent way to make friends, allow them to help themselves, and you, besides saving and making money and enjoying a better rural way of life. These lubricants are more biodegradable, as is their 2-cycle oil. If you want to ask me any questions about chickens, emus, or synthetic lubricants, please feel free to do so.

The hospital pen

What can you do with a sick chicken?

In most cases, not much, and it doesn't pay to try. Large commercial flocks can't afford to risk major disease outbreaks, and any sickly birds are destroyed as soon as they're found.

Small, hobby flocks are different. Fanciers might have expensive show birds, or those with considerable breeding value, and some birds in such flocks are pets.

If you decide to try to doctor a chicken that isn't acting quite right, one of the first requirements is a hospital pen. Any sick birds should be isolated from the rest of the flock. This not only reduces the possibility of other birds getting sick, but being in a clean, quiet place, away from the normal flock activity, increases the chances for recovery.

In addition, isolating he sick bird for several days enables you to observe its symptoms and the progression of the illness, or recovery. This can help diagnose the particular problem so it can be treated.

The use of a hospital pen also allows you to treat individual birds rather than the whole flock, as with medications added to drinking water.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:chickens
Author:Keeton, Terry
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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