So I raise meat chickens. I say I raise a lot of meat chickens. I think it is more than most, but not more than all other hobby farmers. I raise about 1000 a year, and I don’t raise Cornish X chickens. I raise my chickens for the Asian market and they prefer “normal growth” brown feathered chickens. I mostly raise Freedom Rangers, but throughout the summer and spring I will buy hatchery overflows. These days that mostly mean Barred Rock and Buff Orpington cockerels.
Now, the purpose of this post isn’t to declare one method of brooding any better than the next. I just wanted t share my experiences. I preface this by noting that I raise 100% of all my meat birds in a completely free range scenario. My chickens have 3 acres of pasture and 3 acres of woods to roam about all day. I have 2 shelters set up inside of an electric net fence area (82’ x 164’). I do not use pasture tractors due to the fact that they are a bit more labor intensive. That being said, I do lose about 5% of the birds to predators (mostly hawks and owls).
I started brooding my chicks in batches of 100 in a 4×6 homemade brooder. However, I had to rotate a new batch in every month. I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I then started brooding 200 at a time in a shed. After 1 month I would move them to pasture. The problem with this method was that the chickens always wanted to come back to the shed, and I ended up with chickens all over the property. I finally decided that the best method would be to brood directly on pasture. So far this method has worked very well, and the chickens seem to stay together in the sheltered area of the pasture. Below is exactly how I do it. Again, not the only method, but it may work for you.
When the chicks arrive I place all 200 inside a cardboard brooder that is 4ft by 6 ft. They have access to 2 waterers and one large feeder. The brooder itself is located inside a 10ftx10ft area that is surrounded by 1”x1” poly netting. That area is inside a 10’x20’ chain link dog kennel which in turn in inside a 10×20’ shelterlogic portable shed. These shelterlogic sheds are what I prefer to use as shelter for the free ranging birds once they are grown. I currently have 2 of them in the pasture.
Once the chicks are about a week old I remove the cardboard brooder. Basically I remove it when the little chicks cant get through the 1”x1” poly fencing. I keep the 2 heat lamps (250watt red) hanging in their area for 3 weeks. In the summer I turn them off during the day since our temps get around 90 most days. I do raise the lamps about 3 or 4 inches each week. I have found that chicks are far more hardy then what most people think. Raising have 0 losses. I think the reason most people lose chicks it is due to respiratory issues. Rasing the chicks outdoors eliminates this.
As far as feed I do prefer medicated feed for the 1st week. After that I use a generic starter/grower that is made at our local granary. I do not let the chicks out of the dog kennel until they are fully feathered which is usually around 4 weeks. At this point they join the flock and settle in. I clean the dog kennel out, and get ready for the next batch. It is important to note that I DO NOT brood chicks over winter. I get my 1st batch around March 1st and my last batch around Oct 15th. Since I am in SE VA we usually have pretty short winter. Last year was super cold for us. As a result my 1st batch didn’t arrive until April 1st.
I know that this method of brooding isn’t for everyone, but I do think it has merit for those who live in more temperate climates. If you can somewhat control predation it is very labor friendly. My theory is that I want to make as much profit as possible per lb. If I can reduce labor involvement, feed cost, and loss then I am winning the battle. I currently get $4/lb for the chickens. I currently have about $3.00 per bird invested at time of processing. My cost goes up more in winter and down in summer. In my next post I will go over how I keep my feed cost as low as possible all year long.
Thanks for reading!!