6 Week Chicken Update: RIP Jimmy Legs

Three weeks ago I wrote about how one of my chickens was having problems with his legs.  While it looked like Jimmy Legs, as I referred to him, was going to be a goner, he made a miraculous recovery when I separated him into his own little box.  After a few days, I moved all of the chickens outside into their new home – the Chicken Tractor (more on that later) – and Jimmy Legs again reverted to lying on his side and sitting on his butt with his legs out like a fat dude reclining on the beach.   Additionally, the other chickens were bullying him.

So I set up a private Chicken Condo for him in some old rabbit hutches that we have next to our barn which we’ve never used.   This time, Jimmy Legs didn’t improve, and after a few days I made the decision to “take care of him.”   My neighbor who raises meat birds and who is my go-to for chicken opinions said “you should put him out of his misery.”   I lobbied that Jimmy Legs didn’t look like he was suffering, but my chicken guru noted that he couldn’t stand and it was a matter of time until he starved to death.   Although I’m normally a “living is better than dead” kind of guy in terms of logic for deciding to kill a creature that doesn’t appear to be suffering, I think that my neighbor was correct here.

I pulled Jimmy Legs out of the hutch and my neighbor could see that I was having trouble pulling the trigger – although there was no gun, of course.  Jimmy Legs was small enough that I didn’t want to try to use the hatchet – small target – so I hemmed and hawed, getting up the courage to wring his neck.  Although I’d helped my neighbor slaughter and butcher his chickens, I felt some sort of loyalty to Jimmy Legs, who I’d spent the previous 10 days trying to nurse back to health.

My neighbor, after watching me avoid making the kill for 10 minutes, said “ok, I’m gonna take off,” and with that, I grabbed Jimmy Legs by the head and swung him around like you might if you were whipping a towel around trying to fire up a crowd.   I felt his neck break and his body go limp, and I placed him on the ground.

Now, the tough thing with chicken slaughtering – in my experience – is that it never feels like there’s a “clean” kill.   What I mean is that we’ve all heard the expression “running around like a chicken with his head cut off” – that’s because the chickens WILL do that:  they flap crazily even after you cut off their heads, which makes it feel like you’ve done something wrong and made the bird suffer even though that’s not the case.   Here, Jimmy legs also did this – flapping wings, kicking legs – for about 45 seconds, even though he was clearly dead.

We chose not to make him into “Cornish Game Hen” – instead disposing of him in the woods.

Anyway, the remaining 14 chickens (plus the special mystery breed bird that Murray McMurray hatchery includes for free) are doing fine with their transition to the outdoors.   They finished 100lbs of food in 5 weeks, and are enjoying the grass and bugs that come with it.   Here are some pics of the 4ft wide x 3ft tall by 10ft deep Chicken Tractor I made for them.

chicken tractor wide view

chicken tractor wide view

 

I used the Kreg Jig HD to join the 2x4s, and then stapled 3 foot wide chicken wire over the frame.  The bottom is open (which is a potential issue, as voracious predators can indeed dig under it), although I have some cross-supports.   There are wheels on the back end which I can lower to lift the back of the tractor (I raise the lever to lower the wheels).

chicken tractor wheels. raise the lever to lower the wheel

chicken tractor wheels. raise the lever to lower the wheel

 

I then move the tractor one length onto fresh grass.   Several of the chickens like to sit on the cross supports like it’s an amusement park ride when I move the tractor.  Currently, I’m moving it every other day, although moving it every day probably wouldn’t hurt.  You can see that I have some 1/4 inch plywood over the top, and a tarp too to keep them dry and out of direct sun if they want some shade.

For feeding and watering, I modified standard 5 gallon buckets: for the food I cut rectangular openings in the sides near the bottom, using a multi-tool, and then bolted a round plastic oil-pan to the bottom of the bucket.  I can fill it with roughly 20 lbs of food, which will last the chickens for about 4 days, and the food is spilling out into the oil pan to auto-refill as designed.  It hangs from a hook in the tractor.  The waterer makes use of chicken nipples screwed into a 5 gallon bucket, and is awesome:  I can bring another bucket of water to easily refill it as needed, and the water stays clean this way (without the chickens kicking crap into it).

water and food

water and food

In the picture above you can see how I had to hack the water bucket:  I was planning on hanging it from its handle, but when I did that, the bucket was too low for the chickens to reach the nipples on the bottom, so I added a piece of re-bar that I had lying around, and attached a carabiner (which is attached to a plastic chain) to that, getting it higher up.  There is a hinged door on the front/top of the tractor, for easy refilling of food/water.

hinged top

hinged top

Here you can see the front of the tractor, which has handles for moving it:

front view

front view

 

and finally, some chicken pics (click to enlarge):

DSC01176DSC01180DSC01191DSC01181

As you can probably tell, I have two different breeds: Red Rangers (the red ones) and Pioneers (the lighter ones).  They’re all very flighty – freaking out when I get near them: they run to the other side of the tractor, but then after 10 seconds they come to investigate.  After one chicken – usually one of the Pioneers –  comes to see what I’m up to, the others stampede over to my general direction.  If I move, though, they stampede away.

 

-KD

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