IT’S KIND OF A SCREWED UP THING WE’VE GOT GOIN’ ON…
…WITH MODERN DAY BROILER MEAT CHICKENS.
In fact, I kind of think of them as more of a “Frankenchicken” than anything else. They are bred to eat.
And sit, so they don’t burn any calories. So literally, all they do is sit and eat. Sometimes they die from dehydration…because they can’t find the water dish sitting right in front of them.
Okay, I’m just gonna say it…they are DUMB.
I’m sorry folks, but that ain’t normal! (Joel Salatin…if you are reading this, which you probably are not, but if you are, that one’s for you buddy).
Typical Cornish-Cross Broilers have little to no desire to forage, like, well NORMAL CHICKENS. They usually finish out in 6 weeks, but honestly, its super hard to get ANY to last that long. Feeding them a high protein diet causes their little hearts to implode as their bodies grow faster than their hearts, and they just can’t keep up…leading to heart attacks.
Joel Salatin said it best when he said it really is a science raising these birds to butcher. Our first year, we raised the common white, Cornish-Cross Broiler.
And we lost most of them.
We should have just lit a 100 dollar bill on fire.
It would have been cheaper.
And less heart-breaking.
But hey, who needs money?
So, we switched to Freedom Rangers. They are a four-way hybrid bird that do grow fairly fast like the Cornish-Cross, but are WAY BETTER foragers. 2015 was the first year we raised them, and we were very impressed. We fed an 18% protein feed, butchered at 8-9 weeks, lost very few birds, and the meat was EXCELLENT.
This year, however, we didn’t have as many stars in our eyes.
As in, they made us want to move back to town and contemplate how we could even think of ourselves as progressive farmers. I mean, who loses 40% of their flock. Honestly. That farmer would be broke. Or starve to death. Or laughed at.
It’s a good thing we do have grocery stores.
We lost a few due to a Tom, a big orange Tom-cat. He went bye-bye.
Then, we lost some because Nebraska weather sucks and JULY was cold here…never would have guessed that would happen. So, they huddled up too much and squished each other.
And then, we lost even more because they went CANNIBAL! Never ever had this happen. I was beginning to think people were lying.
Well, no one is lying. It happens. And its bad.
Whichever Frankenchicken you decide to raise for meat, the following 10 TIPS will help you (hopefully) avoid unnecessary deaths among your flocks.
10 TIPS FOR RAISING BROILERS
10. THEY GO DOWNHILL FAST. The first week of life, I have found it necessary to check our chicks at least 3-4 times per day. They go downhill fast, and weird things happen sometimes. Like, sitting on one another (which can easily be fixed by adding a heat lamp), or unable to reach their water. Think of them like cute little first time moms…everything stresses them out. Just check them often, okay?
9. HEAT. Chicks need heat the first two weeks of life. We thought we were being clever by having our chicks delivered in July. Its always warm and muggy in Nebraska in July. Always. Well, not this year. We had a cold July and lost a lot of babies because it was just too cold. Ding, ding, ding, and a fail for the Coffin family, again. This can easily be fixed by placing an infrared lamp in their shelter.
8. SHELTER. Shade is especially important if you plan on pasturing them. Like any animal, they will need a place to get out of the sun/rain. Predators are also a huge problem. Our new chicken tractor design wasn’t as predator proof as we would have liked. Be sure their environment is as secure as you can make it.
7. GROWING SLOWER IS BETTER. We have found that feeding these chicks slower, rather than trying to meet the 6 week butcher date is better. Often times, you will be instructed to feed your meat birds at a 20+ protein percentage. We’ve had better luck using an 18% protein feed. Your chicks will have less heart attacks growing at a slower rate.
6. HAVE MULTIPLE FEEDERS. The more feeders you have, the less fighting and competing there will be between your birds. We started out with 100 birds and had two of the 7lb. round, red and white feeders for 50 birds….which is not enough! I would suggest at least three/per 50 birds.
5. NEED WATER AT ALL TIMES. They go through water faster than one might think. Having two waters for 50 birds will help to ensure that they don’t run out of water before chore time.
4. HELPS IF YOU FEED THE SAME TYPE OF FEED. Consistency in feeding in always helpful when raising any animal. I have found this to be especially true with these birds. Different feeds have different nutrition/mineral values, and its hard to keep track of whats in each bag if you are switching from week to week. It can also be stressful on their digestion…and we’ve already established that they are little fiery balls of stress. So, try to be consistent.
3. WILL GO CANNIBAL. I’m here to tell you its true…they will go cannibal. We learned this the hard way. Don’t be stingy on feed. If they get too hungry, they will start to go after one another. Don’t forget that broilers are bred to eat. Once they’ve gone cannibal, they will always be that way. We had two separate chicken tractors. The one tractor that went cannibal had more birds in it, so each bird was eating less. We came out one morning to find several bloody “behinds”. This went on for a few days until we realized we weren’t feeding them enough at night and that they were in fact, pecking each other. So please, don’t hold back on the feed, it won’t do your bottom line any good. You won’t be saving any money if you don’t have any living birds.
2. USE NATURAL FORAGING ABILITY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE. The Freedom Ranger broilers we have raised the past two years are AWESOMELY FANTASTIC foragers. They LOVE bugs. If you are raising them in a chicken tractor, if you have the time, it would be a great idea to move your tractor 2-3 times per day depending on the size of your tractor and number of birds. The recommendation is to have 1.5 square feet per bird. We have found that 2-3 square feet per bird is better, for the simple fact that they aren’t as squished and stressed. They forage more, and we have to move the tractor less. They might grow a little slower, since they are burning more calories, but that isn’t a concern for us.
1. CONSISTENCY IS KEY. Whether you are raising Cornish Crosses or Freedom Rangers, these birds are bred to EAT & GROW. The honest truth is: they are finicky and need consistency. We usually try to keep full feed in front of them the first week of life. After that, feeding once in the morning and once in the evening works really well for us. Also, feeding/watering at the same time each day helps a lot too.
Raising your own broilers for meat is great for any size hobby farm, as they can be grown on small-scale pastures if needed. Chores are easy and they do not require a whole lot of time. Butchering is straight-forward, not super labor intensive and the birds freeze well.
If you are having problems raising broilers, don’t give up. We learn to most through our failures.
Keep trying. You will get there.
Have any tips you want to add? Please comment below and let me know!