Friday, August 16, 2013

Out with the Old Genetics - CX

So we started this year off relying on the standard Cornish Cross (CX) for our farm. This was a year of a pretty big scale up for us - moving from 3,000 broilers to somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 by this December when we finish on up.
Just us and 9930 of our closest friends

We noticed last year that the chick quality seemed to really be hit or miss. Some batches would be great, some would be not so great - and by not so great I mean lots of runts, leg problems, etc. When it comes to blame, I've come to realize that the first place I need to start is me and my farming/lack of farming skills. But there are advantages to scale, and one of them is almost daily feed back. When you run birds weekly, or bi-weekly as we did last year, and they're all on the same feed, running through the same system, if one batch has triple the rate of problems as the one following and preceding, well, essentially your holding production constant and the only variable to blame has been the flock.

So this year we switched hatcheries. We went with a Cobb 500 variety of the Cornish Cross. A couple of years back, you could get the Cobb 300s (or Ross 308s), which were tough as nails. These are the birds that you'd seeing driving around in the REALLY OLD chicken houses, before the ice storms wiped them out. Tough as nails, not nearly as sensitive to the environment and food changes, this is the bird of choice in developing countries still. There's some sacrifice of performance, but for us pasture folks, the hardiness of the 300s really made sense. But I couldn't find them, they'd been "phased out" and the 500 was the best thing that I could do (compared to what I assume are the diva like 700s...)

Back in the day before the automatic water system in the brooder
Things started off great, then chick quality declined as we got into late spring and early summer - my guess is that the increased demand from the increasing popularity of folks growing their own food means that every egg gets hatched, as well as every chick getting sent...even the runts.

This year's been interesting, because we've been getting in several hundred broilers EVERY week. Which means if there's a problem in quality, then guess who sees it?! I noticed in mid-May that we started having leg problems...which I tracked down to viral arthritis...then a batch came in with the sniffles...then a batch got left out on a loading dock somewhere, and I had 200 dead chicks in my order...then a box of chicks went through Memphis in a heat wave 9 weeks ago, and nearly 300 were dead. This wasn't working, so we canceled our future orders.

And we switched to a new meat breed - I'd did a trial for researchers out on pasture earlier this year, and they performed nearly equal to the CX in both FCR and dress out, with the only difference being around a 10% reduction in breast yield (which at our prices is significant, but not a deal breaker). They're local, (advantage to living in heart of CAFO chicken country), and picking them up is less than an hour drive - no more shipping chicks in the mail, no more post office disasters.

Here's a picture of the boys unloading the first batch of the new breed 8 wks ago, with a little help from one of our Army guys, Baker.

 I'm pretty happy with them (the new birds) overall, but we'll process next week, and the proofs in the dress out. They better work out, because I've got 3600 of them on the farm!

No comments:

Post a Comment