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No Chicks for Old Women

April 17, 2013

No meat chicks that is.  I decided to take a year off of raising meat birds, not a decision I take lightly, but it so happens that my chicken mentor still raises really nice birds so I got on his list this year.  I will still be starting my replacement pullets in a couple of weeks so I thought this would be a good time for a refresher post on chick tips for pastured poultry.

curious chick 3

I really am going to miss handling these meaty guys.  They are so cute and solid at this stage.  Much calmer too than layer pullets, but I’ll just have to get my Cornish cute fix with photos from the archives.

curious chick

I  think many times people get turned off by these industrial type meat chicks because they really aren’t set up to handle them, or they try to compare these birds to birds of other breeds.  I like them because they do exactly what I want; they grow a nice carcass in a short time.  I realize I am going against the heirloom grain here,  instead of the focusing on the bad things about the Cornish, I like to spend my energy seeing the good in this hybrid breed.  I like their efficiency, I could care a whit about making friends with them.  I know production is thought to be a four letter word in homesteading circles but sorry, I don’t like wasting money.  I often think folks who say they don’t have enough personality compared to a layer are only comparing size, not age.  I’ve raised lots of chicks, and I have not seen too many 8 week old chicks of any breed really show any personality, they are just too young at that age.  I’m more concerned about filling my freezer than satisfying the beauty contest rules.

Getting your chicks off to a good start is the most important thing, no matter what breed you choose.

♥  A clean, predator proof brooding area.  I use a little greenhouse for this purpose – natural light beats artificial, hands down.  Plus I’m not worrying about burning down the barn!  On many days I do not need to use heat lamps.  Who doesn’t want to use less electricity?

♥   Clean bedding refreshed as needed.  Not when it gets finally gets offensive to you.

♥  Fresh clean water at all times.

♥  Appropriate feed – high protein chick start mash is best.  I add boiled eggs the first few days just to make up for any shortfall in the protein content of the feed.

♥  Adequate feeder space – this is a biggie.  You  must have enough lineal feeder space so that each chick could be eating at the same time.  I like reel feeders best.  Small ones for in the brooder at first, and then graduating to the ones with legs for height adjustment as the chicks get larger.

♥  Grit from day one.  Grit is the teeth for chickens.  They need to fill their gizzards with grit if you expect them to fully utilize their food and be able to assimilate the grass.  Grass is vitamins for chickens, and if they can’t properly grind that grass they aren’t really getting their vitamins.  I use #1 fine and switch over to #2 about the time the chicks go out on pasture.  Just to make sure everyone gets some, I top dress their feed with grit.  If you see feed ingredients that are being passed over in your feeders, add grit or ask your feed mill why your grains aren’t cracked????  I see that a lot with the newer “alternative” feed sellers.  Good feed is scarcer than hen’s teeth and if you’re paying a premium for feed and getting whole seeds, you’re getting a pig in a poke.  Funny how all those old sayings relate back to the days when farming was important and the norm.

♥  Keep separate areas for older mature birds and chicks.  Chicks are pretty susceptible to parasites and while sure, it can be done, why risk less feed efficiency to worms.  This goes for pasture too, separate areas for different classes really makes more sense in many ways.  I want my broiler chicks to get all the fresh range they can, and they leave enough manure for one year with each daily pen move that I don’ t want more chicken manure in the same place, too much of a good thing (high nitrogen chicken manure) is just as bad as not enough.

reel feeders

I’m looking forward to my chicken vacation this summer.  It won’t be the same without these guys.

curious chick 2

29 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2013 9:45 am

    I need a chicken mentor… really I need lots of mentors, lol.

    Nice to have a break from time to time.

    • April 17, 2013 9:48 am

      AMF, I can’t believe he still does pastured poultry, he’s 70ish.

      I am thoroughly enjoying not milking. My break will be over soon enough, Jane is already springing >:p

      • April 17, 2013 9:55 am

        I’m on baby watch here too. Good luck this year with Jane – tell her no mastitus repeats!

        I’m always nervous until the last one arrives and shows me they are going to respect the fence. Linda’s post with the surgery and calf pulling only reminded me… at least my weather is mild.

        • April 17, 2013 10:05 am

          AMF, I’ve told her she better be totally healthy! We’ll see, she is feeling really good now, kicking up her heels and being goofy, but she’s got 6 weeks to go yet. I have about a month before I’ll see my first calf, and I am in no hurry.

          I like seeing c-sections from afar, I hope that is all the bad births they have to attend to, the cold is bad enough 😦

  2. April 17, 2013 9:49 am

    I have been raising chickens for four years now and it was steep learning curve. Thanks to books and mags and some internet help…. we have a healthy, productive flock. I have frequented blogs like yours to help mentor me in homesteading skills. Thanks for the good advice…. great to have knowledgeable information provided for us newbies….

  3. April 17, 2013 9:57 am

    Love chicks – so stinkin cute;) I remember one time growing up that a batch of chicks were a little more vocal than normal and then discovered the cat hanging from the screen door of the coop – not good kitty! Have a Great Day

  4. Bev permalink
    April 17, 2013 11:10 am

    Can’t say enough about the Cornish Cross! We develop stock to produce better meat. Why not a chicken. The nice looking chicken in the markets are. I am sure a cornish cross. We have raised them for over 25 years. Like you have said. You know just what is going into and how they are being raised. Market chickens not so. It is great you have a mentor that raises them the way you do. Really enjoy seeing how much care and how healthy your chicks look. Enjoy your break.

    • April 18, 2013 5:36 am

      Bev, my mentor and his family turned into great friends. Salt of the earth, for sure. Looking forward to picking my chickens in a bag and visiting too 🙂 He makes his own feed and really does a good job.

  5. April 17, 2013 12:00 pm

    I have never raised chickens to eat as i cannot find anywhere to dress them. and I really am hopeless at doing it myself.. but I have a dozen pullets in the basement needing putting put into a bigger pen! interesting about the grit though, I must remember that.. c

    • April 18, 2013 5:34 am

      Cecilia, you might see where the Fertrell distributor is in your area, they usually know the pastured poultry folks who have their own butchering equipment. Many times they rent that equipment out or do custom work. 🙂

    • April 18, 2013 8:06 am

      Just as an FYI, creek sand is all the grit they need.

      • April 18, 2013 9:31 am

        that is of course, assuming you have creek sand available near your pasture…and in my neck of the woods removing material from designated fish streams is a no-no, not to mention too much work to get. We’re talking cold, swift mountain streams down in steep canyons 😦

        • April 18, 2013 11:18 am

          I observed salamanders down the hill from your farm in 1997 and fell in a stream at Mount St. Helens the same week. Cold water! I got sick as a dog…couldn’t talk at my wedding. I collected an ascaphus truei (tailed frog) at St. Helens. Highlight of my trip.

        • April 18, 2013 1:35 pm

          Does that mean you’re not married? Don’t you I have to say “I WILL.” 😉

        • April 18, 2013 5:09 pm

          I did. Julie and the pastor were just about the only ones who heard it. That was almost 16 years ago…

  6. Janet permalink
    April 17, 2013 12:43 pm

    Good information as always. Thinking of raising some meat chickens for the first time this year. Got my feet wet last year with three turkeys. They were delicious! 😉
    Appreciate your knowledge so much, thank you for sharing with all of us!

  7. April 17, 2013 5:09 pm

    Meat-chicks aren’t cute? Meat production isn’t about cute . . . . anyway, there isn’t much non-cute about those little puffballs.
    My husband and his first wife raised Cornish-Rock cross chickens for meat (along with Araucanas and Bantys for eggs) and he still says that’s the best chicken he ever ate.

  8. April 17, 2013 6:56 pm

    Cute photos! And good advice as always. Personally I prefer not to use any commercial breeds because I don’t want to rely on some big corporation to provide my chicks made to their formula anymore than I want to buy processed food from them. I think that the sale of commercial chicks supports the confined animal feeding operations, just as buying non-free-range meat and eggs. I prefer to produce my own chicks, then I know where they came from, I can always make more and I’m not supporting anything I don’t agree with. We raise Rhode Island Reds, as they are dual purpose. Sure they take longer to get to killing weight, and probably eat more in the process, but we have them free-range anyway, so its mostly pasture and bugs. Any pullets are replacement for our laying hens and most of the roosters are for the freezer. Not criticizing, just explaining another position on the issue.

    • April 18, 2013 5:30 am

      Liz, I know you’re not criticizing, we all have our lines we draw. Eating so much chicken is a new development in our lifetimes. Good marketing on the big guys part. We rarely ate chicken when I was growing up, rabbit was the white meat we raised. And I think most people have been duped into believing that chicken is better for the environment and beef is bad. I find the opposite to be true on my farmstead and the Holistic Resource Management folks have proved this to be true. No plow or herbicides needed to grow beef, poultry is an entirely different story.

      I don’t want to be blasé about it, but just growing my own food makes me reliant on some big companies, I have greenhouses, I use plastic pots, and I buy some seeds. Or I could just eat what would grow here in a short growing season and not have much variety. I have no idea what the answer is, everyone has a different one I suppose. And none of that involves the part of the equation my high producing family cow adds to the mix.

      Enjoyed your comment as always 🙂

  9. April 18, 2013 3:50 am

    We’re increasing our broilers to 75 this year, up from 50. We no longer have a steer every year, just every other, so we are trying more chicken. See how it goes…

  10. April 18, 2013 8:11 am

    I was told just yesterday that raising CX is just cruel. I’m not going to suggest that these birds are not without their learning curves but they really aren’t that hard to raise. Keep them clean and dry, give them plenty of vit. B, feed them fresh greens, and moderate their protein intake after the first two weeks. I have never had a bad leg on a bird. I do see CX with heart attacks from time to time but not a significant number. Heat is a real issue for them so we only raise them spring and fall, taking the summer off. Really, the only problems I have with CX are ones I create by handling them incorrectly.

    • April 18, 2013 9:38 am

      Cruel, yes if you don’t take care of them. I agree, any problems we have had have been pure husbandry failures on our part. Here heat is not a problem so summer is a great time for meat chickens here, by September the nights get cool enough and short enough that you use a lot more feed just to keep them warm. I think it is cruel for people who make mistakes with Cornish to keep maligning them, there are owners manuals available if you look for them.

      We’re all eating too much chicken – it’ll take more than the most recent recession to bring that home to most folks though. Especially when you can buy a cooked rotisserie chicken for about $6.00 at the store. It costs me more than $6.00 bucks to get my chickens to butcher age, but then again I am not subsidized nor vertically integrated. Feed runs anywhere from $700 – 900 per ton for any decent type mash. Less than that for the cooked, pelleted or crumble type feed. 😦

  11. April 19, 2013 10:43 pm

    I’ve done heirloom and Cornish cross and will only do CX now. I’ve never lost a bird, they get to butcher weight sooner and honestly they just taste better! I even did a run of Red Rangers and I had dead birds, odd growths, etc…just plain weirdo stuff. But my CX runs are always healthy and with good management they grow well and are very mild mannered.

  12. April 21, 2013 11:41 pm

    Interesting comments between chicken and beef – what is more cost effective and better for the environment? I guess it all depends on your land and what feed you can get locally. I would love to have a milk cow and put any offspring into the freezer, but the topography is on slopes with very little pasture available – so chickens are the go for us.

    Not that we’ve raised or killed many meat chickens mind you. But when it comes to what is more cost effective, I guess it comes down to what natural assets your land has.

    I also reckon it doesn’t hurt to take a year off and support a local producer who does the same thing. Especially if it helps keep their operations going.

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