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By Katie Thear
A mobile house is undoubtedly the best option for rearing table birds. It can be placed in the best area for natural woodland or hedgerow shade, while at the same time providing access to pasture.
When the birds have been culled, it can then be given a thorough clean and moved to a new, clean area for the next batch.
Depending on the number of birds and the site, moving the house may take place more frequently: every two or three weeks, for example.
Until the chicks are feathered they will need indoor protection with a suspended lamp to provide artificial heat. Dull emitter lamps are best because they provide warmth rather than glaring light. The height can be adjusted according to their needs.
If they are all huddled in a tight ball in the middle, they are too cold and the lamp should be lowered. If they are in a wide circle at the periphery, they are too hot and the lamp should be raised.
As the chicks grow, the lamp is gradually raised until, when they are completely feathered, it can be dispensed with. The protected area obviously needs to be quite secure from rodents.
Depending on individual circumstances, the chicks may be reared in a protected shed or barn and then transferred to their ranging house later, or they may go directly into the house at day-old. Dry wood shavings or clean chopped straw is used as litter flooring for them, while chick crumbs and water are supplied in easily accessible feeders and drinkers. The area immediately around the suspended lamp can be confined with hardboard walls that are gradually extended as required.
When the young birds are off heat (usually after about three weeks) they can be allowed outside into an area where foxes cannot gain access. Electric poultry netting is effective. Shade, access to a dust-bathing area and shelter from the wind is all-important if the young birds are to avoid a setback in their development. Similarly, any change in diet should be gradual, taking place over several days
The question is often asked – should table birds be given perches? Such a question is academic where intensive production is concerned, because the birds are floor-reared inside from start to finish. Some producers claim that perches adversely affect the breast meat, but in my experience, there is no basis for this assertion, and I can’t help feeling that it is a justification for an intensive practice.
Table birds are happy to perch like their laying sisters, and if the perches are clean, not too crowded and reasonably close to the floor, they are fine. Some producers provide straw bales as an alternative.
Commercial mobile houses are available from a number of suppliers. They are light, easily moved on skids and have good insulation. Plasticised or galvanised steel sheeting with an inner, sandwich layer of insulation is effective, and the smooth walls allow no hiding places for red mites. The wide pop-hole ensures ease of exit and entrance for the chickens, while ventilation is provided by roof and side vents.
Most existing poultry houses, sheds, barns or out-houses can also be adapted for table chickens. They won’t need nest boxes. If static houses are used, it will be necessary to have different grazing areas made available in sequence so that no area of ground is over-used.
To achieve this, you may need to make an exit in each of the four walls of a building, using one door at a time to allow access, while the others are closed until required. If only one entrance is available, you may need to make a fencing ‘race’ so that the birds are channelled to a specific area of grazing.
Feeders and drinkers are also needed. They can be placed inside the house or outside. Inside they are safe from the depredations of wild birds. If placed outside, they should be sheltered from the weather. There are feeders that are specially adapted for outside use so that only the chickens have access to the food. They learn to displace a bar at the base so that grain or feed pellets emerge and fall to the ground.
Copyright © Katie Thear 2005