Wednesday is delivery day for 30 day olds of a meat hybrid variety. I'm quite looking forward to doing some intensive (well... relatively intensive) raising with once more an emphasis on non medicated feed.
However I'm aware that meat hybrids eat a lot and therefore put out a lot of droppings. This means their capacity to ingest floor litter and their own droppings is probably higher than with layer chicks. Secondly raising 30 chicks in the tractor means far more frequent moves than usual to avoid the risk of coccidiosis (normally I raise 10-15 at a time). Not only do I not want the chicks to suffer, I also don't want to seed the soil with high levels of parasite oocysts. Intensive chicken raising almost certainly does this, and it's quite possible that regular outbreaks of coccidiosis are going to be inevitable if I keep more than a handful of chickens on my not-very-big block. (On the other hand resistance to ionophores is also inevitable, bringing the same situation as above... Take your pick.)
Incidentally, coccidiosis seems to have entirely bypassed my sussex, with one exception: one of the 10 week olds is smaller and weaker than the others. He was the one looking especially peaky the other day. If any of the others were off feed or had pale combs I'd be inclined to say my system had let them down, and the move to the backyard pen (as opposed to the tractor) was too hastily done — I should have increased exposure more gradually. But with the others unaffected and this little one quite noticeably failing to thrive, I'm inclined to say he has something else wrong. I'll give him a couple of doses of sulphaquin, but if he's no better after a couple of days or a week, I'm afraid I'll be putting him down.
I'm sorry if that distresses anyone — like everyone who's 'into' chickens I don't like having a bird get sick or die. The best sight in the world is healthy chickens. But I have a small area, limited rooster housing, neighbours I don't wish to keep awake, and a fairly clear purpose in mind, being the raising and breeding of strong healthy birds to provide backyard entertainment, pleasure and food. A pet with a weakness, or an unthrifty show bird, has no place here.
Back to the incoming chicks. I've been against meat hybrids since the last failure to breed, and even now I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing in trying to get a couple to breeding age while putting the rest in the freezer. But this time I'm working partly for myself and partly for a friend who wants to buy 10 home grown and naturally reared meat birds at slaughter age. She doesn't have time to do the raising and diet-mixing (though will do the processing), but like me she sees this as a valuable project given what's available on supermarket shelves (and more importantly how it lived, died and got there).
You know, if supermarkets stopping plumping chicken meat with saline solution, and if producers stopped feeding meat birds artificial amino acids and synthetic vitamins in favour of natural ones, and if humane practices were incorporated into breeding as well as housing, and if food could be just food with no extenders, preservatives, emulsifiers, colourants, fake flavours, irradiation, pesticide residues and myriad other additives, I'd keep chickens as pets and not have the slightest interest in dispatching them, or growing my own vegetables for that matter. But we live in a world where food has become massively different from all the foods our ancestors and recent relatives ate, while mystery syndromes abound. For me at least, there's no question but that I should produce whatever I can at home.
I guess that's enough soap boxing for one evening... I just wanted to spell out the next part of my miniature farming venture. However I should add that the thing that excites me right now isn't the prospect of healthy meat later on, but the arrival of 30 newly hatched chicks to look after. No matter what colour, shape, breed or purpose, I do love looking after chicks!