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We have been producing and selling eggs for the last five years.  Our flock is made up of a mix of old fashion and cross bred production hens.  We have maintained a flock of 25 birds of various ages.  We have also collected some data on productivity and cost using different feeding strategies. 

The charts below are based on our 25 hen flock, locally produced conventional chicken feed ($12.00 for 50 lbs.), and three different feeding strategies. 

First we tried full feed for a year.  We fed 1/4 lb of chicken feed, half layer mash and half scratch grain.  The hens had access to the pasture, but didn’t need to forage for any of their food.  This method produced the most eggs.  It was also the most expensive.  Eggs sell for $2.00 per dozen in our community (you can find them for less if you are willing to drive a bit.)  Using full feed we were able to produce eggs for less than $2.00 per dozen about half of the weeks in the year.  We probably broke even, but certainly didn’t make any money.  (We use recycled egg cartons.  People are happy to donate them.  Buying new egg cartons is rather expensive.  Even if you buy them by the  thousand they end up being around $0.25 each.  That adds a big cost to egg production.)

Our second experiment was 1/2 feed for a year.  We fed 1/8 lb of chicken feed and expected the hens to forage out in the pasture for the rest.  We rotated them behind the goats and cows.  They ate lots of greens, bugs, and did a good job cleaning up the pasture.  Egg production fell of quite a bit when the weather got cold, but they kept producing at at least 50%.  Using this method our production costs stayed well below the selling price.  We made a profit of at least $0.50 per dozen on all the eggs we sold.  In the peak production time it was closer to $1.00 per dozen profit. 

Our last test was to feed them nothing.  We ran this test for a year too.  (we did give them kitchen scraps, but we have done that with the other two tests, so it didn’t change anything.  This was the least productive and the lowest cause.  I was supprised how productive they were in the warm season.  Very close to what we got on half feed.  When it got cold and dark they really dropped off.  We let them have complete access to the animal pastures, the gardens, and the yard.  The only other negative I noticed from this method was the mess.  They can take apart a flower garden or a lawn in pretty short order, and they will as they look for food.  Even though this method had the best production cost, we will not do it again.  Having a third of the year where there are very few eggs is a good way to lose customers.  It was also pretty hard on the gardens, the lawn, and my nerves.

 

 

We will be continuing our production flock this year.  We’ll use our half feed/rotational grazing method.  It is a lot of work, but we got the most out of it, both financially and in pasture improvements.  We will be experimenting with adding light into the coop this next winter (not easy when you move the coop every few days and it can be as far as 600 fee to the nearest electrical outlet.)  That should help keep our winter production up a bit.  We will also be trying some grain production to see if we can economically grow our own feed.

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Recently we built and started testing an incubator made from an old refrigerator we got for free. I have always wanted an incubator but truly they are expensive for the small Styrofoam box style when purchased on line or in a feed store. Over the next two, maybe three weeks, I am going to document with pictures the process of building our almost free incubator. And though in the end we are out maybe $30 to $50 higher than the small table top Styrofoam jobs….ours is much nicer (though it does take up more room). If you, or your spouse are even moderately handy, willing to tinker with a job like this, and have the space for a larger incubator—-just read on to see how we did ours. And even though we are documenting this process, that’s not to say a smarter person than my spouse and I might not come up with some better ideas. Or maybe you have better things to scrounge than we found. However it may be…we’ll get you started with at least the idea and you all can take it from there.

First…we acquired a free refrigerator. It was in good overall condition ie: doors still work, shelves are still in it etc. but it needed a thorough cleaning. It was a tad stinky—if you know what I mean.
Then we removed all of the compressor and cooling apparatus from the back. You can see it in the first picture with the external cooling “wires” that were on the back removed and the compressor (at floor level) being taken out. This is one reason why you should be able to get a free one: you don’t need it to cool. It can be a “broken” fridge. Though you do want doors that close of course.
Next we needed a way to let fresh air into the unit. There was a spot, taped over by the manufacturer where the ice maker should have gone through the back wall. We poked a hole in that tape and pushed out the foam plug that was keeping it shut. You could drill a hole if that does not exist in your salvaged fridge with a small hole saw though. However it is you need a small hole to allow fresh air in and it should come into the heating portion of your unit —in this case the freezer section where we will eventually install the lights to heat the air with. A small disc to screw back on to use as a flap to reduce or expand the amount of air moving in the hole is good. If you use a hole saw—you will have your disc. We already had a hole so we control air with a piece of tape until we find a small “something” to attach to the back.

While we were taking it apart and removing everything we salvaged the circulation fan that is in the freezer to use to move heated air from the freezer compartment down into the fridge and around the eggs. (More on the fan in part two)
Next my husband used a hole saw attachment for his drill. I believe it is the 4″ but it could be the 5″ (we couldn’t remember what size we own since we originally bought it for ceiling light installation in the house). He drilled a hole through the back at the highest portion of the freezer compartment and another at the lowest spot he could drill through in the fridge compartment.
We then installed pvc plumbing pipe — 4″—-with street elbows and toilet flanges at both ends to allow air to be drawn and circulated from the very bottom of the fridge back up into the freezer for reheating. You can see the entire length in the picture I took of the back and you can see the toilet flange attachment that we used inside the freezer and fridge part to keep the pipe from pulling back out the hole. Since our hole was a bit large we then used spray in foam (in the red can at the hardware store) to fill and re insulate the area. The foam also helps stabilize the pvc pipe. You could wire it in or attach it in some way to the back of the unit if you want. Ours seems pretty sturdy so we have left it as is. Total for foam and pvc is under $20.
Next, the divider between the fridge and the freezer compartment was removed by my husband. This entailed taking of the doors and working a bit to get it all apart. He then sketched out the idea of the hole he would need for the fan to fit within on the divider. Actually the divider split into three pieces—-one aluminum piece, one lower plastic piece and a sandwich layer of Styrofoam. He taped them all together so the hole would line up correctly upon re installation. To start the hole he used the same hole saw as he did for the pvc installation. Then he used a roto zip (basically a larger dremel tool —you could use a jig saw also) to finesse the hole into the correct shape to screw the fan to. The fan had its own little brackets to use for attaching it. He did end up accidentally getting the hole a tad too big but we will fix that. I will explain how as I move into writing part two and have pictures to show to help explain. You can kind of see in one of the pictures how you can see around the fan and up into the freezer. You can also in the other see me holding the wires of the fan—not yet connected— and see where my husband is bringing in the power. Actually he put the box in there but that is where the original power came in and he stayed with that. Why change when it’s already there right?
It took us a while to decide on the thermostat since we have never done this and were unsure about which one to choose. I finally settled on the DuroStat Electronic Therostat #102720 . Recommended by another person who built a refrigerator incubator. I would link you in to it but I printed it off and I don’t know the exact location to point where it came from. You may stumble on it yourself.
I paid about $60 including the shipping for a new DuroStat—search a bit and you will find them less than $75 or more plus shipping. It is a bit pricey but in the end it should make a fine incubator thermostat. Originally we thought we would buy a wafer thermostat for the back up but have not yet — maybe in the future. We also wanted a wet bulb thermometer for checking humidity with but I ended up purchasing two digital unit from Walmart (yes…Walmart—-don’t kill me please!). More on those next week. Purchasing both of the humidity units added about another $15.

Another way we could have gone (for temperature control) was to use just one wafer thermometer (or two…one main and one back up) and it would have been much cheaper but we didn’t. If you decide to try it I would love to hear how it works out for you—so would others I am sure.

So here are the pictures and I will get to part two next week.

Since word press can be difficult for picture placement let me explain: picture one and two show “gut” removal. Picture three and four show the fan from both freezer perspective —with my hand and notice the toilet flange air connect above it—and from below looking up. Picture 5 is the back and shows how the PVC connects the top and bottom for air flow. In picture 5 if you look almost to the right upper corner you can see our fresh air intake hole poked into the square sticker/label. I know these are pretty basic pictures but next week will have much more to look at—promise 🙂

fridgepic1fridgepic2fridgepic3fridgepic4fridgepic5

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