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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's Not a Tumor!

Two years ago, we had moved the laying hens out to pasture and I went to check them before nightfall, after Hubby and done evening chores and fed them.  When a sat down on the grass to watch them forage I noticed that one of them had a large lump on her right side.  (Like the chicken on the left)  
I thought, "Oh no, this one must have an abscess or a tumor!"  And I watched the other hens.  And they ALL had abscesses or tumors!  Before I went running to Hubby about the plague that had struck our flock, I decided to sit and watch a bit longer.  How strange that all the hens would have large growths on the exact same spot!

Then it came to me.  Those weren't tumors!  They were crops filled with grass and bug and grain!  Good grief.  After butchering a couple hundred chickens the year before, you'd think I'd remember my chicken anatomy!  The crop is a thin sack where the chickens store their foodstuffs before it enters the gizzard (stomach) where it it ground and then passed through their digestive tract.

Now we joke, "Look a tumor!"

We moved 250 Cornish Cross broilers out to the pasture.  Two pens of 65 and two pens of 60 chicks.  Each pen is 12 feet x 10 feet and 2 feet high.  

This is where they will spend the remaining 5 weeks of their lives.  They move every day to fresh ground, away from their droppings and onto new green growing plants.

Why move the chickens in these portable pens?  Why not just let them free range?

Two reasons:
First, we have a lot of predators:  coyote, raccoon, skunk, mink, weasel, stray cats and dogs, and even our own dog.  We have fended off attacks from raccoons, but we have lost chicks to coyotes (when a raccoon pulled off the netting) and a weasel killed a whole pen in one night (they kill for sport).  Thankfully there were only 25 chicks in that pen!  
The new pens (with netting reinforcement) have so-far been predator proof.  If we just let them free range, they'd all be gone before our customers would get any of them!

Second, Cornish Cross broilers are notoriously lazy.  If they could lay between the feeder and the waterer (see below) all day, they would.  
Moving them to fresh ground every day makes them exercise and walk.  It also reduces disease because they are never living on their poop.  And they get fresh green growing plants, bugs, and the occasional frog!


  1. I had the exact same heart stopping moment with our meat birds - the second year we did them, because I somehow didn't notice the first year. But they were all fine, of course. Your pens look good - do you have any issues with the bracing across the bottom of the pen catching feet when you move it? I always wondered about that with the wire bracing in the Salatin pens in the book Pastured Poultry Profits.

    1. Every once in a while, a chicken will get caught. But they squawk and we immediately reverse and they hop right up. They learn quickly how the pen moves! Often, they will "ride" the rail.


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