How to keep up with chicken…

We started this year with a different plan:) I’m guessing that many other folks have a similar feeling. Nevertheless, we feel very lucky to be in a position to adapt and continue to bring our food to the tables of our customers. The plan had been to step away from retail and focus on courting some bigger wholesale buyers since our little farm store was not bringing in enough traction to merit the effort.

Enter Global Pandemic, stage left…I happened onto a webinar about shipping and eCommerce sales for meat producers (from the folks at GrazeCart, who now help us run our website and online store) and we started down a new path, which continues to keep us learning:) In years past we would stock pile our chickens in the freezer, producing many more chickens than we could sell in the farm store, and then most of those chickens would be sold during our fall deliveries. This year, however, we have nearly tripled our production (240 birds every 3 weeks) and we can barely keep up with demand!

Early in the spring I spent many hours with my spreadsheets and calendars to try to figure out how to squeeze in some more birds to try to build up some inventory for this winter. I called our hatchery (Freedom Ranger Hatchery), where we get our day old chicks, to check on availibility, and I had to pull every card I had to get them to agree to send us some more chicks, they were sold out already! We were able to schedule a few extra batches to arrive in September.

This week, Chad and I got to work on one of our favorite activities: building things! Here’s what we’re up to:

The role of our chicken coops, or “pasture shelters” is to make life on pasture as comfortable as possible for the chickens. This mostly involves tempering the weather with wind and rain protection, shade cloth and roll up sides for ventilation on hot days, and roll-down-the-sides for those chilly mornings and tender young chicks. The other role the coop plays is determining our “batch” size. Which is to say how many chickens can happily fit in one of these coops?

Most chicken you can buy in the supermarket is raised in a barn, where the density of birds can range between 4-8 birds per square foot. That is a lot of chicken crammed together! We like to look at this equation the other way around, how many square feet per bird:) We operate with 1.6 sq ft, per bird. Our new coops measure 15 ft x 24 ft so they can comfortably house 225 birds until they reach slaughter weight at 9 weeks.

15 ft x 24 ft looks pretty big when it’s inside the barn! Our first step is to cut and weld together the frame of the base. Then we’ll bend some pipe to make the hoops, cover it, add the bells and whistles and we’re off!

Stay tuned for more updates on our chicken coop project!

Here’s the prototype in action, with a very attentive operator at the helm…

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