My chicks are now four weeks old. They outgrew their brooder box long ago and I moved them to my small 4′ x 8′ chicken house.
As you can see, though they were almost indistinguishable as day-olds, the white Cornish Cross meat chicks are already more than twice the size and heft of the five golden Buff Orpington layer pullets. And you can also see why. The meat chicks have two goals in life: eating and drinking. After that they are content to sit. This is ideal for weight gain but is rather sad to see in any animal.
The elderly mother of a farmer I know called Cornish Crosses “dodes,” short for dodos. It is true that the brains seem to have been bred out of them. Thick-witted and slow, they lumber from feeder to waterer on tree-trunk legs that barely support their bodies and often sit down abruptly to rest. In comparison the Buff Orpington chicks seem bright and quick, veritable Rhode Scholars of chickendom, scampering nimbly through the shavings, scratching and investigating in curiosity.
I am very gentle with the poor little dodes.
In a commercial set-up they would have only three weeks more to live. After that, not only does the feed-to-meat conversion equation begin to tip in the wrong direction, but the birds begin to die of heart attacks. Their legs also give out. Poor little Frankenbirds.
I don’t think my Cornish Crosses will grow quite as quickly as commercial birds raised in warehouses, because I hope to put mine out on grass in a portable pen, a.k.a. chicken tractor, to give them a taste of life with sunshine and grass and bugs. The pens are moved every day so the birds are always on clean ground with fresh grass. The farmer Joel Salatin made these movable pens famous.
Here’s a typical Salatin-type chicken tractor. It is a flat enclosure about 18″ high and roughly 8′ x 12′ in dimension. Half is covered with metal roofing and half with wire. The bottom is open to the grass.
Salatin, however, is in southern Virginia, not in the cold, wet, and windy Adirondacks. I have been pondering what modifications of the basic concept — enclosed, movable, open-bottomed shelter — I will need to make for my birds’ comfort and safety. We have had so many torrential rain storms recently that sandbags are common on local sidewalks and houses are being lost in mudslides. Meanwhile I’m picturing the whole thing carried away in our ferocious winds.
Whatever I come up with, I will be building entirely out of scrounged materials so those factors too come in to play. As I go about my chores I find myself staring at the various oddments of wire, roofing, and lumber I have stashed in corners, thinking furiously.
The chicken tractor will be next week’s project.