I’m very very aware that raising meat birds is either second nature to some or foreign territory for most, there’s really no in between! so if you landed on this blog post, welcome. I hope you’ll stick around!
this is part two of raising meat birds. you can read part one here.
MOVING FROM BROODER TO GRASS:
so let’s fast forward 3 weeks; it’s time to get these birdies out on pasture!
and by pasture, I mean our front yard lawn. yes, that’s right. we decided to raise these monsters on our beautiful front yard. when you decide to do this, grass is definitely optimal. we chose the front yard because it was the most luscious real estate, and with the chicken tractor moving once a day and a perimeter fence as a boundary, the chickens could have fresh grass for the 6-7 weeks they would be raised outside.
Grant finished the tractor in just the perfect time, and we moved the chicks from the brooder to the tractor. after about a week of them in the tractor, we added a perimeter Premier One fence around the tractor to extend their boundary. we kept easy access to food and water and shelter within the tractor while allowing free range within the fence. the birdies LOVED being out and about and in the sunshine with prime access to grass and bugs and grasshoppers!
what the grass looks like after we move the tractor after 24 hours.
highly recommend this method. however, some note worthy things to consider:
we didn’t know what our predator threat would be, but we do live in an area with LOTS of backyard chicken families. so we assumed things were pretty safe.
what we discovered as our biggest threat were red-tailed hawks and ospreys. but thank Yah for His beautiful design, we have a multitude of crows, natures bouncers! the crows would daily caution our meat birds of those flying predators, and the chickens would book it under the tractor to safety. it was scary and beautiful to watch! all that to say, we were able to go 8 weeks with zero predator issues (just two or three scares – seeing those large shadows cross our window always made my heart RACE!)
one thing we did run into was fence escape! the Premier One fence is great for full-grown birds, but these 3-4 week old chickens were small enough to escape. that was frustrating. 26 birds escaping with two toddlers on the loose too makes for an exhausting afternoon.
eventually they gained enough meat on them that they were too big to escape. I can’t remember exactly what week we no longer needed to worry, but it wasn’t too long.
in part one I talked about bumping this whole operation up a month. I highly recommend this if you are in maryland. so, order your birds in July, have them delivered in August, and harvest by October. our chickens were out on pasture during the first frost (October 26) and some very cold, rainy nights. it was quite miserable some days. on the dry, cold nights we were able to put a heat lamp outside in the tractor which was perfect, but on the rainy, cold nights, there was no cure or solution.
we would set up large tents over the tractor to help shield the wind and rain. we bought two tents, both broke in some fashion lol and poor grant was constantly having to do some crazy set up to keep the birds warm and dry.
if it had been a warm, summer rain, I don’t think it would have been so annoying and worrisome.
so just remember, meat birds typically don’t have coops to escape to like laying hens. these birds are usually raised in bulk and need to roam on lots of grass, so that’s where the chicken tractor comes in. if you read part one, you know we want to redesign our tractor, and here are the updates on that…
UPDATING OUR CHICKEN TRACTOR:
WHEELS. holy moly this tractor weighed 549524905 tons. and the goal was that I was to move it in the morning. HA! I couldn’t budge it. so, we had to improvise and move the tractor in the afternoons when Grant was home. we will absolutely be adding wheels to this monstrosity.
after a few weeks in the game, we added a small door to the side to have the chickens enter and exit. otherwise, the tractor has to be lifted up and something resting under it to keep it lifted. SUPER dangerous with the kids running around, chasing the chickens etc. I hated this method. I actually hated everything about this tractor. Once we fixed that danger zone and added a small door, we couldn’t forget the other danger zone: the LID to the tractor also had to be lifted and something resting under it to keep it in place. with the kids peeking inside, my anxiety was through the roof that someone would bump it and the roof would come crashing down on someone’s head. solution for this? we will be adding a permanent folding strut or arm to the roof that would secure I the lid completely while open.
remember all that rain we would get? well only 2/3 of the lid to this tractor was covered with roofing. the other 3rd was open with hardware cloth. originally, this design is for people raising the chickens 24/7 in the tractor and who aren’t planning to free range. this tractor design gives shelter and sunshine. however we realized earlier on, we don’t need that type of dual purpose lid because we let our chickens out during the day to free range. so our update will be adding covered roofing to the entire lid for way more rain coverage.
we started weighing the chickens every Monday to keep track of when harvesting day would be. this will be different for everyone and every season. I’m sure in the spring and summer months they will grow faster because the free range opportunity.
3 weeks – still putting on feathers
most people harvest between 8-10 weeks. if you haven’t heard of Cornish X birds, they are specifically bred to grow fast. They are not able to live a long life – after 10 weeks they will outgrow their bodies, resulting in organ failure, legs breaking, etc. It’s a sad fact, but it’s a very real fact. and one of the reasons the chicken community may whisper that Cornish X are the Frankenstein birds of the world. however, you have to decide that for yourself. the verdict is out, and I could talk about it for hours!
We harvested at 9 weeks. This was mostly based off our schedule. We could have gone longer, but we took the nice weather and the helping hands and our schedule into account and harvested when we did. Beautifully, we were blessed with an average of 5.8 pounds of chicken in the end – way bigger than the chickens we got locally from a few farms earlier in the season.
these birds eat a ton. but I did a pretty good job calculating how much they would eat and ordering enough feed for their lives. we struggled in the beginning of moving them to pasture on whether we should take their food in at night or not. During the cold nights, we left the food out. But around 4-5 weeks, we would take their food out of the tractor around 7pm and put it back in at 7am. like with our brooder, we had a harder time figuring out the best waterer and feeder that would keep things stocked and cleaned for as long as possible. we still have lots of time to adjust what we do in the future, but just know, it could also take you a few tries before you find the system that works best for you.
these birds were AMAZING with the kids. they would let them pet them and chase them. So sweet. they are poop machines so we always had the kids covered head to toe, but they never cared. Stone would have stayed in the fence for hours if we let him.
part three will be about harvest day! stay tuned and thanks for reading!