Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hatching eggs and pinching pennies

We use the black plastic garden trays to transport chicks when they hatch. Here's cuckoo marans and barred rocks that hatched today, ready to go to the brooder tub. I've been setting eggs in groups of 20-30, and usually get the newly hatched chicks out morning and evening. When they first come out of the egg they're damp, and the hatcher dries them out and keeps them warm so they're comfortable when they go into the brooder.

The chickens are mostly an incubator test, to make sure that everything is set right. My primary goal with my incubators this year is Turkeys. After spending so much on poults last year, I decided that I'd carry over a breeding flock of each breed of turkey that I liked. So I kept my eye on craigslist, but didn't see any more incubators come up, so eventually had to buy a new one.

I chose to start hatching and raising turkey poults because they're so darned expensive to buy. Narragansett poults are $9.80 each, including shipping. It's pretty easy to spend $2,000 on poults in a year, particularly if you'd like to have a decent quantity to sell. The trouble with poults however is that the mortality is terrible. My first two years, I averaged 50% mortality from delivered poult to sold bird. i lost them at every stage; right out of the box, a week or two in, three months old, and so on. The darned cows stepped on turkeys feet all last year until I started kicking the turkeys out of the cow pasture for their own safety.

So right now I've got three incubators full of turkey eggs and I'm hoping for a good hatch. I've hatched turkeys before, so I have reason to be hopeful. The economics seem to be good; for the price of a ton of feed I'll get 800 turkey poults, some of which I'll sell, some I'll raise.

The goal here is to cut the costs of producing heritage turkeys down so that I can offer them at a lower price this year. I enjoy growing hard-to-get foods, but it sucks to have most people be unable to afford them. So by keeping my eye on the bottom line if I can produce it for a little less, I can sell it for a little less, and widen the market a little.

I watch the hatcheries to see how much backlog they've got. The hatcheries with better websites are sold out for at least a month in advance for most varieties of chickens.

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