Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chicken Update: One-Chicken Run

A couple weeks ago, we noted that one of our chickens was having balance problems, but appeared otherwise healthy.  We posted our solution at the time, which was to house the chick in a padded flower pot where it could still reach food and water, but wasn't in danger of being trampled by the other chicks when it fell and couldn't get up.  The chick quickly outgrew the flower pot, but was still having balance problems, so we had to come up with a new solution.  Enter the one-chicken run.  The chick can stay upright, as long as it has supports on either side to keep it from falling over.  So we build a little rig to house the chick.  It's just like bumper bowling, but with a chicken-flavored bowling ball.

Here it is!  Ta-daa!  It's just a few pallet boards screwed together with one over the top to hold food and water dishes.  Hopefully they won't tip over as easily as they did in the previous iteration.  The boards are about 6" tall.  The brown sheet on the bottom is a piece of textured rubber stuff that's normally used to pad table tops from lamp bottoms and prevent scratches and sliding lamps and stuff.  The plastic bottom is too slippery for chicken feet to grip.
Here it is with shavings and the food and water dishes in place.  Now it just needs a chicken!
Looks like he figured it out.  We were seriously considering culling this one since it hasn't gotten better over the last three weeks, but it's still eating as much as it can and is still growing, albeit slower than the other rangers.  So, we've decided to keep it going until we notice a significant change in its digestive habits.  It might not be as big at butcher time as the others, but will probably still be worth the effort.  Part of the reason for the slow growth might be that it frequently tips over its food and water.  Whenever we check on it and set it back up, it seems hungry and thirsty.  Hopefully this new chicken-and-victuals-balancing device will help keep the bowls steadier.
We built it to fit in the skybox tote, but it also works to have it free-standing, as long as the chick still has access to the food and water.  The end with the bowl holder can maybe provide a little shade if it's positioned strategically.  It seems to be enjoying the buffet.
Actually, we could probably do away with the skybox if we set it up like this in the regular brooder box, but we've run into a couple issues that might make that problematic.  One issue is that the chick can still escape if it really wants to, so we have to check on it a lot to keep the other chickens from picking on it.  The other is that, as shown in this picture, the other chickens seem to enjoy hopping up on top of it and hanging out.  Sometimes they step on the chick inside, and if they were to sit up there for an extended period of time, there's a good chance they could end up dropping a load of fertilizer on the chick inside.  So, this works if we can keep an eye on things, but for overnight, the skybox is probably still a better option.
The chickens will be five weeks old tomorrow, which is halfway through their expected life span this fall.  Some of them have pretty good heft already, and they feel pretty meaty when we pick them up to move them outside and back.  We estimate that the biggest one is probably around two pounds, and the smallest one (other than Gimpy or the gray one) is probably about a pound.  We've gone through almost two fifty-pound bags of feed to this point, so if the chickens have an average weight of 1.5 pounds and there's 15 of them, that makes 22.5 pounds of chicken for about 90 pounds of feed.  That's a conversion ratio of 4:1, which is in the range we're expecting.  Cornish cross broilers are often quoted as 2:1, other rangers can vary between 2.5:1 and 5:1 or so.  It's been fairly cold at night, and they're still filling in their adult feathers; hopefully they'll fill out a little more in the next five weeks!

Do you have experience with the red ranger broilers and their feed conversion ratio?  How have you helped a chicken with balance problems get back on its feet?  Let us know in the comments section below!

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