Thursday 31 August 2017

Feeding Mistral Gris chicks - 2.5 weeks old.

Two and a half weeks ago we acquired our second group of Mistral Gris broiler chicks from True North Heritage Hatchery.

Technically this is our first batch of chicks as last year we got fertile eggs from True North and incubated them in our IncuView. While that was a lot of fun and we had great hatch rates, we were so impressed with their flavour and ease of processing the MGs that we wanted to raise a much bigger batch this year. We finished with 13 last year and after giving some to family and some farm gate sales to friends, we only had enough for a few months with rationing and restraint. Our 'bator only holds 24 eggs and we wanted more birds than that this time 'round so we decided to get chicks shipped.

We decided on 50 as a good number. We have the infrastructure for about that many, and family to help out when it comes time for slaughter and processing.

We are coming up on a significant time (for us) in the chicks' growth. Last year, right around 3 weeks of age, 2 of the biggest and seemingly healthiest birds died suddenly within a 24 hour period. I did a mini necrospy on them and found nothing obvious wrong. I vaguely remembered some of my poultry class teachings in vet school and with a little research came to the conclusion that they probably died of what is known as Sudden Death Syndrome of Broilers aka Flipover disease aka a couple other very descriptive names which match the syndrome. Here is a link from Merck but basically the birds grow so fast that their bodies outgrow the ability of the heart to keep up and they die of cardiac arrhythmias.

 Our Mistrals ate themselves to death. 

Although Mistral Gris are bred to grow more slowly so they are at far less risk for sudden death than the typical Franken-chicken broiler you find in your grocery store, we learned the hard way that this can still happen if you let them eat all they want.

I contacted Emily at True North who was extremely helpful. She helped me change their feeding plan and also sent me a growth chart so I could compare our birds to what they should be. I weighed our chicks and found that they were horrendously overweight, averaging 1.5 times the weight they should be at that age.

We dropped the percentage of protein they were on (from 18% to 16% and then 15%) and also started restricting the time they had access to food. We took it up at night and gave them access to it for 2 hours, 3 times a day, and then twice a day as they got older. After this we didn't have any more sudden deaths but since this seems to happen about the 3-4 week mark and not generally later, this may have been more coincidence rather than anything we changed at that point. Despite limit feeding they still stayed ahead of the growth curve; I couldn't slow them down enough to get them back on track.

The birds dressed out large but they did not have quite as nice body composition as I've seen other people get with Mistrals. Ours had less breast meat and were longer legged. I wonder if this was because of their abnormal growth in the first few weeks and then too much protein restriction in later weeks. Despite this, compared to Sassos that we raised the year before, the MGs were so much easier to process and dress, and so delicious and tender on the plate, that we knew we had to try another batch and see if we could correct our mistakes.

I spoke with another Emilie (find her at Combs and Hackles on Facebook) who also raised Mistrals and hadn't had any sudden death issues. She did not baby hers at all (took the heat lamp away at a week of age) and although she didn't limit feed them or drop their protein percent drastically, she let the feeder go empty and stay empty for a while before filling it up again. Her birds looked amazing dressed out, much meatier than ours, and were heavier at the same age.

So... given all this, what have we done so far? 
  • We moved the chicks into their coop almost immediately rather than having them in our warm basement for their first couple of weeks. No coddling!
  • We are housing them on the previous batch of chicks' sawdust which is supposed to reduce mortality by providing beneficial bacteria. (Deep litter method)
  • We wanted to take their heat lamp away after a week but we had to go away and our chicken sitter wasn't comfortable with that. We took it away at 2 weeks instead. This is mid summer so Im not sure they even needed it at all. 
  • I did a bunch of research into what caloric and nutrient requirements are for broilers and we are feeding them a set amount per day broken down into multiple feedings. We are letting them go several hours with the feeders empty before giving them their next portion. 

Feeding plan

  • We're not going to protein restrict them as drastically as last year. 
  • We are encouraging them to go outside and exercise much earlier than the last batch and they have had access to outside sooner than the last group. We wanted them out even sooner but again, since we were away, the sitter wasn't comfortable with that.
  • We will weigh 10 of them weekly to see where they compare to True North's growth chart and will adjust amounts fed based on how they compare. 
  • We have many feeders to allow all of them opportunity to eat immediately. 
  • If we have the room at the time we may separate the males and females at 6 weeks to reduce competition at the feeders.

So how are we doing so far?

  • They have been on 20% starter since day 1.
  • We weighed them at 2 weeks but True North's chart starts at 3 weeks so Im not exactly sure how we are doing. However; they are well under what they should be at 3 weeks so we are happy about that! Their 2 week weight average is 213g.
  • They are much more active than the last group. They are out in their yard much of the day foraging, zooming and flapping, sparring and dustbathing.
  • We're ignoring their desperate cries that "we starving to death" and "we need more food", and sticking with the plan.

Stay tuned, we'll continue to let you know how they do on the restricted feeding plan. Crossing fingers we've got more right than wrong this time around!

Anyone else raising slower growing broilers? Any issues? How do you feed them?

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Cider Adventures Part Three - Juicing a Ton of Apples in One Day


1. We had 10 totes of apples to juice
2. They needed to be done soon
3. Home juicers weren't the answer
4. We didn't have enough jugs to store the juice

Solution: Coffee.

Ok so coffee didn't specifically solve the problem but coffee is always good and definitely helped while we searched the internets for solutions. Wine. Wine would have also been good but it was morning. Oh well. Back to the net. And lo, solutions appeared.

Christine found an apple press for rent on Kijiji (Not on UsedVictoria, what?). It was in high demand but we managed to get it on a cancellation for the weekend. The cost was $25.00 plus 2 liters of juice per day of rental. Seemed reasonable.

We called some package and container places on the island but their juice jug cost seemed too high. I was heading back to Vancouver for the week so we checked into Vancouver companies. We found some reasonably priced juice jugs from Richards Packaging which were 1/5th the price of the ones in Victoria, yay!

On the big day, the family brought over all their juicers and (after coffee) we went to work washing, sanitizing, chopping, slicing, scratting (love that word), pressing, straining juice and filling jugs. Below is the press in action. The apple slices were fed into the scratter and the pulp/pomace came out the bottom into a clean and sanitized tote. The pomace was scooped into the press and the juice was slowly squeezed out into another clean and sanitized tote. Wet pomace from the juicers (they didn't do as good of a job as the Omega) was also added to this tote to recover the maximum amount of juice.

Pressing pomace for juice

Slowly being the operative word. The scratter worked like a dream but pressing the pulp to get the juice was the rate limiting step. It couldn't be rushed or the pomace just escaped around the pressing plate. Also, the juice yield was far less than what could we got from the juicers. Still it was far faster than juicers alone and we didn't have to worry about burning out the motors.

                Check out this awesome little video that Marcus made showing us all at work.

Even with all of us working together we didn't quite finish in the better part of a day. I finished the last totes of cider apples over the next couple of days with the Omega. It got a much higher proportion of juice out than the apple press or any of the other juicers. Fantastic little machine.

We ended up with about 160 liters of apple juice about 40 of which I set aside for cider.

We froze all the juice so I could take a break and research how to make cider and get the equipment.

However, we are still wondering about next year. Would an investment in a small commercial grade juicer be worth it? There were obviously many other people in need of a press who would be willing to rent it (as we did) so it would potentially pay for itself over time. But good ones are not insignificant amount of money. Hmmm. Luckily we have a year to think about it.

For now, I'm just going to have fun learning about how to make the best cider ever! If it turns out well it will be one more reason to invest in our own super-awesome press.

Next up, cider making!

Thursday 26 January 2017

Cider Adventures Part Two - One Person Juicing a Freakload of Apples at Home

We stared at the 12 totes full of apples and debated what to do. How to get the juice out of the apples? We considered whether this would be an ongoing problem for us or whether it was a one-time thing. We thought about the other person who had come by the juicing place with her car full of apples at the same time we were there. She also left disappointed and wondering what to do. Was there a market for juicing here? Should we invest in a commercial scale juicer? Time for research!

I read through some cidermaking websites to see what kind of juicers they recommended. Marcus scrolled through UsedVictoria (Victoria's version of craigslist - Victoria has never gotten into craigslist, don't ask me why) for juicers. We found one convergence: this little beauty. The Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer. What a name!

I have to admit, I was skeptical. I didn't want to spend money on a juicer that was obviously not going to get us through this volume of apples. However, Marcus rightly argued that it would get us started while we figured out how to deal with the rest. One of the cider making websites mentioned that someone had done up to 3 US gallons (about 11 litres) of juice with this machine. Plus it was a hella deal. These babies run $300.00 - $400.00 new and we got it for $100.00. If you can't find one used, check them out on or (If you buy this juicer after clicking this link there is no additional charge to you but we get a teeny tiny amount of commission. Yay! Thanks for your support!)

The Omega did a fantastic job. If anyone is wondering about a home juicer, I'd highly recommend this one. Its a workhorse, powerful and well built. Its a low rotation, masticating one so the juice isn't heated from friction (no degradation of vitamins and the juice tastes super fresh) and the amount of juice this baby got from the apples was astounding. Downsides were that it worked best with small cubes of apple (so lots of chopping) and I had to stop and clean out the (extremely!) dry fiber fairly often. This wouldn't have been an issue if I wasn't juicing hundreds of pounds of apples in a  hurry :-/ .

However, after a week of chopping and juicing apples, I had sore wrists, sore feet, and was going to scream from tedium. I'd listened to who knows how many podcasts and playlists but only managed to work my way through 1 of the totes...  I was so done. Plus another problem had arisen - I'd filled almost all the empty jugs we had. If the juice harvest continued at the same rate we were going to need about 80 more jugs! As well, the apples were starting to soften so they needed attention soon.
20 liters of juice for the first batch of cider

On the upside, I had tons of juice for cider! 22 liters already and there were 2 more totes of cider apples to go.

So, the family got together and decided we were going to kill the remaining apples in one afternoon. Spoiler alert, we did it! Next post on how.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

The Great Cider Adventure

Cider making! Yay! This has turned into such a fun little project that I've decided to blog about it. Here's hoping that it will help other cider newbies avoid making the same mistakes that I have already made, and will inevitably still make, as the adventure goes on. Lets go back to late September... apple picking time.

Marcus' Dad has a great little bit of land on which five old apples trees grow. I'm talking really old, at least 60-70 years old. They are so old no one even knows what kind some of them are. Despite their age, every year they produce a shwackload (highly technical term for a lot) of apples. We eat some of them but the vast majority are usually sent to a local farm for juicing. The jugs of fresh juice are frozen and apple juice is enjoyed throughout the year. It was a great crop again this year and the family banded together and picked the apples in one afternoon.

Now as delicious (not to mention organic) as this juice is, apple juice of any kind doesn't really fit into my paleo/primal mindset and to me, it isn't good enough to be a cheat item. However, apple cider, now you're talking! Not the sickly sweet stuff in a can though; give me something crisp and dry, sparkling and refreshing on a summer day while sitting on the deck in the afternoon sun - I'll use that for a cheat anytime.

So when we drove up to the juicing place, truck loaded with bins of apples, only to find that he wasn't doing any more juicing for the season, it seemed fate was telling me I had to try making apple cider.

We have a wedding coming up and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn something new (I love having a project or three on the go), and potentially have something delicious in time for the wedding.

We have a few really good cideries in the area. My favourite is Sea Cider and their diversity in flavours is inspirational. If I can make anything close to what they make I'll be very excited. I decided to just go with the straightforward cider brewing recipe for this first batch. If that goes well then down the road I'll try experimenting with different flavours and techniques.

The picture below shows about 2/3 of the apples we picked. These are Golden Delicious apples and were destined for straight juice. I've tasted cider from Golden Delicious and its pretty unimpressive. Tastes like a whole lot of alcoholic nothing. But...we also picked 6 more bins from the trees in the back field and these are the ones that I hoarded for cider juice. Guesses are that they are Winesaps or Cox Pippins. Whatever they are, they have a whole lot more tartness and complex flavour than the Golden Delicious. I'm really hoping that their fuller body will translate into some delicious cider.

So now we've got the apples but how to get the juice out of them - all 15 totes full! Next up, how to juice hundreds of apples at home...