Pen Management - Graduate Level
Brian Klein - email@example.com
Pen Management is like continuing education. There is always something new to learn, a better way to do things and then there are unexpected events. During December of 2009 we experienced a brutal blizzard, causing major damage around the farm but we got through that, learning what worked and where we had flaws. This unusually cold spring has presented us with new challenges.
In February each year I draw up a plan, laying out where each of our hatches will be placed. This plan determines several events: the order in which I remove adult birds for shipments to finish the year in April, the order in which I remove equipment to be washed i.e. feeders, huts and water pans. This all leads to the decision of what type of cover goes into the pen.
Our first birds were hatched on February 28th; these birds were scheduled to go into the pens the end of April at 8 weeks of age. If I would have to rely on planting something in these pens for cover I would be hurting. Generally, pens that receive birds hatched before April 15th, do not get planted with anything. It is our hopes that Lambs Quarter grows; ragweed is the other type of natural cover that grows along with the Lambs Quarter. Both these weeds germinate early and provide good early cover. With the cold spring we are experiencing, cover is growing at a slow rate which will lead to extra work for us.
Considering our early move-out schedule it is typical that our first few hatches go into pens with little or no cover. You may ask, how in the world can we do this? There are precautions we take when we grow early birds, birds hatched before April 15th. Early birds get put out at half the density. Our roosters go out at 45 square feet and hens get 35 square feet. We straw each corner of each pen with a 10’ triangle of straw to provide a layer of protection between the cold ground and the birds. We place a 4’ x 6’ hut for each 100 birds going into the pen, with a minimum of one in each corner. Without huts growing early birds would be extremely difficult. Pans are placed in the corners opposite of the feeders/waters, which are filled daily the first few days the birds are in the pen, until the birds get acquainted with where everything is at. The cold spring is causing me to put several extra hatches out at half density. This means more pens are needed, more feeders need to be washed, more strawing needs to be done and once cover finally reaches knee height, and we consolidate two pens into one.
Our flight pens also receive 2nd hatches, the first hatches are placed early enough that we grow them to maturity, ship them out and reuse the pen. Putting more hatches out at half density, and using more pens early, leads to the risk of us losing our lower undergrowth, resulting in poor cover late season. These challenges are because Mother Nature thought it would be a good year to have a late spring, once again proving there is more to learn about pen management.