raising meat birds – part 1

today I wanna write out all the things we did to prepare for our meat birds!

TO RAISE OR NOT TO RAISE:

first, we decided – is this what we want to do? we have several local farms that sell whole chickens for a good, fair price. some of the farms stick to only non-gmo feed, with free ranging within a chicken tractor, others feed organic non-gmo with wide-open free range in grass, while others feed regular feed and little to no free range.

so with plenty of options to choose from, we knew this decision would be purely off wanting to be self-sufficient in the long run. we wanted to learn the skill of raising these birds along with harvesting them on our property. so we moved forward with these values in our hearts.

although we did not crunch extreme numbers before jumping into this endeavor, I do believe we kept costs pretty low and in the end, you’ll see we definitely hit our goal of coming in UNDER what those local farms charge per pound.

RESOURCES:

so where to begin? I’m going to *try* and remember the resources we used to get this process rolling because we are straight up amautuers. neither of us have even owned chickens, so we were starting from scratch — chicken scratch to be technical. ūüėČ

the youtube channel we gleaned the most expertise and information from was Living Traditions Homestead. They had an amazing week by week series of raising their meat birds from shipment from the hatchery to processing day. We watched those videos way too many times. First, before we even ordered the chicks to see what it really entailed, and then once we had the chicks, we would constantly reference back to see what we should be doing etc. I would say this channel was our main source of info. We also designed our chicken tractor off their videos too. We would definitely do a different design in the future, but I’ll explain that in a later part!

ORDERING FROM HATCHERY:

so, now we have some knowledge, let’s order the birds! We ordered 25 Jumbo Cornish X Rock Females from McMurray Hatchery. I’ll discuss more about this breed, but they are the sweetest, most docile birds. We ordered them August 14 and they were set to arrive around September 16. Side note: Cornish X are not able to be bred at home. Hatchery’s have the key to breeding this breed, just FYI.¬†

BROODER:

Ok, so now the chickens are on the way! It’s time to get the brooder ready. This seemed to be one of our biggest hurdles. If you’ve ever jumped on the chicken train, you know there are a million ways to design and set up a brooder. So after a ton of back and forth and procrastination, here’s what we did:

We used our garage as the home base for the brooder. We used an old door we found on our basement for one wall. We used another old door from our basement and cut it in half to make the side walls. For the fourth wall, we used the existing garage wall. For flooring we used a laminate type flooring that was already in our garage when we bought the house. For bedding, we went with pine chips from tractor supply. For heat and light, we have two heat lamps with red lights installed over the brooder. There was a plug right there and we have an existing pulley system above the brooder that we could easily raise or lower the lights depending on the weather, time of day, etc.

We did have a thermometer that we used for the first few days to check temp, but after a while it’s pretty obvious how the chickens are feeling, and it usually gets covered by bedding or poop. We also had it sectioned off because we had laying hens chicks arriving in the same order so we wanted to separate them. Overall, this large brooder was the perfect size — but I’d always go with more room for meat birds – they will thrive better and less clean up.¬†

WATERERS AND FEEDERS:

The waterers and feeders, well, I’ll call everything we tried a fail lol. These birds may be sweet, but they are MESSY. and they poop non-stop because they eat non-stop. We tried every type of waterer and every type of feeder, and they’d either get poop in both within hours, or they’d kicked up the pine chips into them. It was 3 weeks of constant cleaning it felt like. So before we do this next time, we will really have to brainstorm a better way to keep their food and water clean and fresh. I know many people have amazing ways to do it, and I promise, we’ve bought and tried it all. There’s a solution out there, and we will find it!!

So these chickens stayed in the brooder for 3 weeks. I’d say about 2 weeks they started jumping and trying to fly about. We built a cover for the brooder out of 1×2 boards and hardware cloth. We would physically have to lift it off every time we needed to clean etc. Did I mention they grow FAST?! here they are at week 2!

this is right before week 3!

CHICKEN TRACTOR BUILD:

During those 3 weeks, Grant worked hard building the chicken tractor which would be their new home come week 3. Like I said, we used a design from Living Traditions Homestead and we would do it completely different looking back. We will use the tractor again, but make many adjustments to increase productivity and ease of use. 

FOOD:

As far as feed, we were adamant about letting these birdies free range as much as possible and giving them what we deemed the highest quality feed. I searched high and low and found a feed store in VA that would miraculously deliver to our home! Praise Yah! So we ordered enough feed to give these chicks for the entirety of their lives (8-10 weeks). We went with New Country Organics Corn-Free Grower/Broiler Feed Р50 LBS РQuantity: 9 bags. And we also started them on starter feed for the first two weeks: New Country Organics Corn-Free Starter Feed Р50 LBS. We also gave them treats of meal worms, grit, and some compost scraps which they really were never interested in.

WORTH NOTING:

  • We ordered birds in August, they arrived in September. Looking back, we would have absolutely started raising these birds a month earlier – starting in August so harvest would be in October. I’ll talk more about weather challenges etc., but that was our biggest learning lesson!¬†
  • We did check the birds for pastey butt that first week. No issues, and when we did have some poop to deal with, it was easily removed.
  • We lost one baby about 2-3 days after arrival. It was so sad. We don’t know what happened, but I was home with the kids and didn’t have help so I picked her up and placed her in the woods. I wish I had checked her butt for pastey butt, but I just wasn’t in the right state of mind. So, after that, we thought we went from 25 birds, to 24.
  • However, on harvest day, we processed 26 birds. It thoroughly confused us as we had counted these angels multiple times haha no clue how that happened other than we miscounted from the start. So with that math, it would seem we were sent 27 birds and one passed.¬†

I think I’ll end part one here. Let me know if you have any questions. Part two I’ll talk about getting the birds outside and all the fun of raising them from 3 weeks until harvest day!