On our farm we have decided that raising meat chickens to sell locally is a great way to get some cash flow and get our family to work together. One of our boys does a lot of the care for the birds in order to earn a commission on the sale of the birds. In other words if he forgets that he is the manager of these birds and they die, he will earn less money. He takes care of them in the morning, making sure they have plenty of water and feed for the day. He also needs to observe the heat level. Are they too hot or too cold? He checks on them in the early afternoon and evening. What a great way for this kid to get better at focusing on what he is supposed to be doing. We've had issues with this! We check his work often because there is always a chance that he will overlook something or forget to do something. I don't like babies dying on the farm.
Before the chicks come, we make sure that there is a nice cushy layer of wood chips on the floor to absorb the wetness and smells that could result. We also put a layer of paper towels over the wood chips to make sure the new baby birds don't eat the wood chips instead of the food. After a couple days I don't worry if the chicks can get to the wood chips or not. They know by that point where the food is. After a couple days, the paper towels aren't necessary. One of these days, I also might lay down some hay for their litter so I won't have to use paper towels. Yes, next year, that is what I will do...
In my Harvy Ussery book called "The Small-Scale Poultry Flock," Mr. Ussery recommends leaving some of the old chicken litter in your brooding area because studies have shown that the young birds are healthier when they are exposed to some of the biological activity that happens in the decomposing litter. So that is what we do. This batch of chicks did so well. I can hardly believe how healthy they were. Maybe it helped to have some of that good ol' biological activity!
We also set up the heat lamps and gallon waters before the babies arrive. Make sure the water is warm because that helps those babies stay warm. We put out our special water mixture of apple cider vinegar, garlic, and honey for the first few days in order to get these birds off to a better start. Out of 305 chicks, we had 11 die the first week. I think that is not too bad considering they were shipped from a great distance and came when it was still cool weather in mid April.
This year our Post Office lady called us somewhere around 6ish am and told us our chicks had arrived. We sprang into action making sure that everything is ready. Is the brooder house nice and warm? Are the waters ready? Farm guy goes to town and brings the babies to their new home. Each box holds 100 chicks. This last spring, they arrived with no dead babies in the box. That doesn't normally happen. Seems like there are always a few that are dead in the bottom of the boxes.
It's always a good idea to count the birds as you pull them out of the box, We dip each little beak into the water. Remember they have not had anything to drink yet. So they might not automatically know what they should be doing. Give them water first and after an hour or so put some feeders in. You want to make sure their little digestive systems are getting hydrated before you bring out the food. Be careful not to step on any. Don't let your little kids walk around them. They are very fragile.
It's always an exciting morning to see all those birds getting off to a good start. I check on them a couple times a day for the first few day's, making sure they aren't too hot or too cold. Do they have enough water and food? Watch for pasted vent which means their little backside needs to get cleaned off from dried fecal matter. Pull it off carefully or wet it down with some warm water if it's really stuck. When you order your chicks make sure you don't have them arrive when you have a real full schedule. It's no fun to have baby farm critters die because you were too busy or just didn't notice something going wrong.
We try to order our chicks to come 3 weeks before the temperatures get nice enough for them to be outside. When they are 3 weeks old they are big enough to handle being outside. Think about your night temperatures and when it would be warm enough for them to be outside in a moveable chicken pen. (aka chicken tractor) Having lush green pastures for your cows because you moved chickens around all summer is what it's all about!
This last summer we raised 2 batches of chicks that totaled 300 chickens. We sold 250 of them. The rest went to our freezer. Our goal is to raise meat birds between 5 to 6.5 pounds after processing. We devoted 2 full weekends and 2 week nights to harvesting the birds. The 2 weekends we did bigger batches and the 2 weeknights we did smaller batches. It definitely takes times to process them, so plan out what weekends or days you want to spend processing before you even order them. Word from the wise.... don't be pluckin 300 chickens by hand. Make sure you have a plucker or have one lined up to borrow.
Do you know how your chicken was raised that you put on your fork? Was it raised in the sunshine, eating bugs and living how a farm animal is meant to be raised?
Stay tuned: I am about to post: "How to Harvest Meat Chickens."