An Interview with Joe Claborn, Part 2

JoeClabornBackground: Joe Claborn has worked with McMurray Hatchery for many years and currently raises started chicks and started pullets for McMurray. Joe is also involved with a project that Bud Wood, president of McMurray Hatchery, initiated to start backup flocks for many of McMurray’s rare breeds during the current Avian Flu outbreak.

This is part 2 of a three-part interview (see part 1 of the interview). We plan to publish part 3 of the interview in the next few weeks.

Q: In addition to caring for the chicks that Bud brought down from Iowa, I know that you also raise and supply started chicks for Murray McMurray Hatchery. Can you tell me more about that?

We raise both started chicks (available for purchase at 4 to 9 weeks of age) and several breeds of started pullets (available for purchase at approximately 15-22 weeks of age) for Murray McMurray Hatchery.

We start by getting an order of chicks from McMurray Hatchery once a month. We normally get somewhere between a thousand and fourteen hundred chicks at a time.

new chicks from McMurray Hatchery

New day old baby chicks received from Murray McMurray Hatchery

When we get the chicks, of course, we do the same things that an owner at home would do. We water each chick and feed them. We always give them some boiled eggs to start with because that’s a very good feed, and it’s what they’re used to. An egg is the last thing the chicks ate before they were shipped, so we start them off with another egg to eat. When the weather is cool, we use warm water in their waterers so the chicks won’t lose body temperature when they first drink. We also use a nutrient supplement in their water to help them get off to a good start.

introducing chickens into the brooders

Before turning chicks loose in the brooders, we dip their beaks one by one to teach them where to find water

After we set them up in our brooders, we watch them and take care of them. In four weeks we begin to ship them to customers. We ship them at four weeks, five weeks, six weeks and seven weeks of age. Normally we’ve sold out (or nearly so) by seven weeks, so we’ll do our brown egg layer special on the last week to sell any chicks that remain. Then on the eighth week we’ll have another batch of 1,000 to 1,400 chicks come in and we’ll start all over.

Of the chicks that we brood, we raise three breeds to adulthood: the Red Star, the Black Star and the Pearl White Leghorn. We buy extra of those to make sure we will have enough, since we also sell these same varieties at four, five, six and seven weeks of age. When they get old enough to take out of the brooders, we move them out into our field. There we keep them in ten foot by twenty foot hoop houses. We move these portable coops each week so that the chickens will get fresh grass and soil. We feed and water them and care for them just like somebody would at home — we just have a few more to take care of.

Hoop coops for raising started pullets

Hoop coops for raising started pullets

Q: How many different breeds do you raise?

Different times during the year, we carry about twenty-seven different breeds.

We don’t carry all of the breeds all the time, but there are a handful of breeds that have the most demand for, so we carry those nearly all of the time. We nearly always have Ameraucanas, Barred Rocks, Pearl White Leghorns, Black Australorps, Cuckoo Marans, Rhode Island Reds, Red Stars, Black Stars, Buff Orpingtons and Silver-Laced Wyandottes. Most of the time we also have Golden-Laced Wyandottes, and we usually have several varieties of Polish.

Four week old Ameraucana

Four week old Ameraucana

Q: How long have you been raising chickens for McMurray?

We’ve been doing it about three years now. And we’ve been raising birds for nearly twenty years, but not nearly as many birds as we’re raising and shipping now.

When we first started, we’d consider ten orders to be a huge week. It was challenging for us. The shipping boxes we were using at the time were one difficulty, so it was a big improvement when we worked with McMurray to design a shipping box that would be better for the birds and easier to work with. The box we came up with has more ventilation for better air flow. It has dividers so the birds can’t peck each other. And it has more room.

It’s also very easy to work with. We can pre-attach the lid halfway onto the box so that as soon as we put the bird in we can close the lid, and unless the bird is very vigorous and really wants to get out, there’s enough friction to keep it from opening. Then after we’ve put the bird in the box, one staple and the box is sealed. Since then, we’ve also developed a smaller box for shipping the four-week-olds.

Nowadays on a big shipping day we ship 100 to 140 orders. It’s nothing like what a large hatchery would ship, but for a small family operation, I feel like we’re doing pretty good.

Q: Can you tell me a little more about your shipping process?

Well, today we shipped out forty-nine orders, which was almost 300 birds. In our cycle of raising chicks, this was our second shipping week, so these birds were five weeks old. We also shipped about 120 started pullets (of the three breeds I mentioned previously). We ship on Tuesdays, and we start preparing the shipping boxes the Friday before to save time on the day of shipping.

Monday night, a group of us — my nephew’s working here now, as are my sons, daughter and daughter-in-law — will look at each order and figure out, based on how many birds are in the order and their ages, how many boxes we’ll need. We put bedding in the boxes and attach the invoice and a bar code that later tells us which order each box is for. By the end of the evening, we have a mountain of boxes that are all ready to go.

Shipping boxes

Boxes that have been prepared prior to shipping

The day we ship, we’ll get an early start. Today, I went out to my office at 5AM to begin downloading the shipping information from McMurray into our shipping software. Around 6AM, one of my sons starts cutting cucumbers and cantaloupe to put into the shipping boxes to give the birds the hydration that they’ll need.

Next, I start selecting the birds that we’re going to ship and transferring them from the brooders into small cages that we’ve made, so we can easily transport them to our shipping room.

Started chicks

Started chicks that will be soon be loaded into shipping boxes

Once we’ve gathered all of the young birds, we go out into the field and select the started pullets. By this time, it’s about 7AM, and the temperature’s about 80 degrees (F), so once we get the pullets back to the shipping room, we turn on a fan to keep them cool.

We work together to fill each order. We put strapping on the boxes to secure them. We weigh the boxes and print and attach shipping labels. My daughter-in-law inspects each order to make sure it meets our quality standards.

Filling orders

Filling the orders

Once we’ve packaged all the orders, we load our van and drive the birds two hours north to the postal service distribution center in Coppell, just past the Dallas-Fort-Worth airport.

We load the boxes of chicks in our air-conditioned van and drive them to the postal center by the airport.

We load the boxes of chicks in our air-conditioned van and drive them to the postal center by the airport.

We drop them off inside the distribution center there because if we just took them to the local postal center, they’d sit on a hot loading dock waiting to be loaded onto the truck, get transported in a truck without air-conditioning and then sit on another hot loading dock in Coppell. By transporting them ourselves in our air-conditioned van, I figure that we save the birds from five hours of unnecessary heat stress.

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Moving Chickens to Texas

chickens-in-truckAs Avian Influenza (AI) has continued to spread in the United States and Iowa, in particular, we began making arrangements in May of this year for how we could start some backup flocks.

Although the strains of AI found in the U.S. have not affected or posed any direct risks to humans, AI has caused the loss of millions of birds — both chickens and turkeys — since December 2014. Many of the breeds that we raise are somewhat rare, and if we were to lose a breeding flock of one of those rare breeds, it would take a long time to find good breeding stock again and then build our flocks back up to the size needed to maintain the breed’s genetics and to provide adequate numbers of chicks for our customers.

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An Interview with Joe Claborn, Part 1

JoeClabornBackground: Joe Claborn has worked with McMurray Hatchery for many years and currently raises started chicks and started pullets for McMurray. Joe is also involved with a project that Bud Wood, president of McMurray Hatchery, initiated to start backup flocks for many of McMurray’s rare breeds during the current Avian Flu outbreak.

This is part 1 of a three-part interview. We plan to publish part 2 and 3 of the interview in the next few weeks.

Interviewer: What kind of preparations did you make to receive the chicks that Bud brought down from Iowa?

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My hen is broody. Now what?

Hen with chicks

Photo by Jean Kirkhope

It’s normal for hens to go broody. Some breeds — such as Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, or Silkies, and many breeds of bantams — are more prone to go broody than others, but even production breeds can, on occasion, go broody.  Black Stars are a production breed that rarely goes broody, but this spring, one of the Black Stars in my home flock went broody, and she already appears to be going broody a second time.

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Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs?

Chicken eggs

Photo by Steve Taysom

Sometimes you may be getting fewer eggs than you expect, even when your hens are laying well. This can happen if they develop the bad habit of eating their own eggs.

Egg eating can start by accident, sort of. Maybe a hen stepped on an egg and punctured the shell. Or maybe once when you were gathering eggs, an egg slipped from your hand, fell to the floor of the coop and broke.

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Why Do You Raise Chickens?

Why do you raise chickens?

Most of us reading this article have probably already made the decision to raise chickens and have raised them for at least a few years, but occasionally, questions like this come up, perhaps in the form:

Raise chickens? Why would I ever want to do that?

to which my immediate response, verbalized or not might be: “Well, why not?”

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Don’t Let Your Chickens Run Out of Water

Photo by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

Your chickens need to always have access to plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.  This is especially important in hot weather when their need for water increases significantly.

Problems Caused by Lack of Water

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Keep Your Chickens Cool in Hot Weather

Keeping chickens coolWith summer approaching, you’ll need to help your chickens stay cool, at least in the warmer parts of the country.

Unlike humans, chickens don’t sweat, but like humans they depend on evaporation to stay cool – by panting. As they pant, moisture within the chickens’ lungs evaporates and is moved out of their bodies. This is also why it’s harder for them, like us, to stay cool when it’s humid.

The best way to know if your chickens are getting too hot is to watch their behavior.

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4 Excellent Egg Recipes

In spring and summer, sometimes your chickens may lay so well that it’s hard to come up with ideas for what to do with all the eggs.  Here are a few tasty recipes that will help you out:

Chile Relleno Casserole – This makes a hearty dinner that’s simple to make and nice enough to serve for company. It can be served together with homemade Green Chile Sauce.
Spinach Yogurt QuicheSpinach Yogurt Quiche – For a special breakfast or lunch, try this great quiche. Even though quiche isn’t one of my personal favorites, this one is really quite good.
Jalapeño Cheese Snacks – These spicy little treats make a tasty afternoon snack or appetizer.  They’re also attractive enough enough to bring as “finger food” for parties, “showers,” or other “get-togethers”.
Easy Oven Pancake Oven Pancakes – Also known as German Pancakes, Dutch Babies, Finnish Pancakes, Kropsu, or Pannukakku. These are simple to make and make a great breakfast for special occasions, such as birthdays. They’re great with  home-canned fruit, such a peaches, along with yogurt and a little maple syrup.  They’re also good with fresh fruit or baked apples and a dab of whipped cream.

We know this barely scratches the surface. If you have recipes that you’d like to share that use lots of eggs, please post as a reply below.

This post was originally published in 2011 and was updated on May 25, 2015.
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Murray McMurray Hatchery Chick Selector

Murray McMurray Chick SelectorWith so many breeds and varieties of chickens to choose from, sometimes determining exactly which breed you want can be difficult. The chick selector on our website is a tool we developed to make it a lot easier to decide, based on the breed characteristics that matter the most to you.

How to use the chick selector

McMurray Hatchery Chick Selector

First, click the link below, or click “Chick Selector” on our website:

Next, select the characteristics that you care the most about. By default, we show you a short list containing some of the most common characteristics, or you can click “show more characteristics” to see the complete list.

As you make your selections, to the right, you will be shown a list of the breeds that meet your requirements, and a small popup window will briefly show you how many breeds meet your criteria.

An Example

Let’s try an example. Suppose I want a backyard chicken that will produce eggs reasonably well and that’s a good meat producer. I don’t care about the color of the egg, and I’d like something that’s available to order right now as a straight run.

Good egg productionSo I select “good egg production”, “good meat production” and “st. run available”. The chick selector returns a list of 37 breeds (if you try the same selection, your results may vary because of changes in availability).

That’s still a large list to pick from, so I’d like to narrow it down further.

I decide that I really want large eggs, not medium or smaller, so I pick “large eggs”. Now I’m looking at 29 matching breeds.

Show more characteristicsNext, I click “show more characteristics”. This brings up more criteria so I can further narrow my choice. I decide that since my children will be helping with the chickens, I’d like something that has an “excellent disposition”. I make that selection, and now I have 8 matching breeds.

Since I live in a warm climate, I decide that I want a bird which is somewhat heat tolerant, or at least more so than average, so I select “better heat tolerance”.

Now there are only three matching varieties, making it much easier to choose one:

  • Blue Cochins
  • Delaware
  • Red Stars

The characteristics of each of these breeds is listed so I can easily compare them side by side and make my final selection.

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