Broiler Chickens: Start to Finish

If you’re thinking about raising broiler chickens for meat to start your homesteading journey…..I have some tips as a first time novice. First off, you have to get the book Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin. This was the model we followed. If you Google this method you will find lots of information. Doing this for the first time, there are many ways I think we can do it better next year…so if you get the book and still want to jump in, here’s some tips from a beginner!

{I am really unhappy because I typed up this ENTIRE post yesterday, and last night the power went out and I must have lost it all! But right now I am procrastinating going to the dump…and it’s pouring out…so I guess I will type it up again!}

We ordered the chicks from Cackle hatchery. They came exactly when they said they would come. One was dead on arrival. The first mistake we made was that the brooder was not big enough. It was probably sufficient for about a week and a half then it became apparent the chicks needed more room. It was at 14 days (the soonest the book says to do it was 12) that we put them outside on the grass.

brooder

The chicken pen was a Salatin style, floorless frame surrounded by chicken wire with aluminum on top. The book says you can put 70 chickens in a 10X12 pen, and we had 33 in a 5X5 pen. I’m not gonna lie it got pretty cramped in there the last week or so…so a bigger pen might be needed.

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We (my husband) constructed the pen out of materials we already had; old pallets and chicken wire laying around the farm. The idea is that you move the pen every day so the chickens have a fresh patch of grass. The next mistake was just putting the pen in our backyard that had already mowed grass. One reason was because it smelled AWFUL while laying by the pool and another reason was that the grass wasn’t long enough to support the chickens in becoming efficient foragers. This lead us to have to supplement with more grain than I would have liked.

feeding chickens

me feeding chickens…snap chat edition lol

We used Agway’s Meat Bird Feed, which wasn’t organic, but we just tried to do what we could starting out. The organic kind was twice as much and we weren’t trying to sell them as organic or anything so it didn’t really matter. The feed was not medicated. The issue was that we did not build the automatic waterer that he outlines in the book, and our feed trough was not nearly big enough towards the end. So we ended up having to go refill the feed and water 3-5 times a day! That’s a of time…especially since the book boasts you will only have to spend 1 min per pen each day. So next year we have to figure something out for the food and water. It made it really difficult if I was going away for the day because my husband works long hours and the chickens are supposed to be on feed all day long.

And…..then came the hard part. In just 6-7 short weeks the birds were ready! It’s hard to believe that they grow so fast. This Jumbo Cornish Cross breed is specially designed to grow fast for commercial meat production. This is another great thing about meat chickens if you’re thinking about doing it. They really don’t monopolize a large length of time (like pigs or cows).

broilers

So when it came to the processing I really tried to “chicken” out (HA PUNS). I called around to places seeing how much it would be…but in the end it wasn’t worth it to take the birds somewhere for the amount we had. So together my husband and I processed all 33 birds. I never thought I could do it! It was probably the most physically, mentally and emotionally draining thing I have ever done in my life. I didn’t actually do any of the killing, but I cleaned and gutted all of the birds. We thought everything was going to go nice and smooth since we had borrowed an automatic chicken plucker from a friend….until it died on the second bird!! Things were looking bleak at this point…..I had no idea how we were going to hand pluck 30 more birds. But we just pushed through and got it done.

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I can’t explain the feeling of accomplishment I experience looking in the freezer at the end of the day. Knowing that I fed, raised and processed all of this food and I won’t have to buy chicken from the grocery store. People (including me, before this experience) have absolutely NO idea what goes into obtaining their food and it constantly baffles me that we are always trying to save money on food and get the cheapest deal. Like I said with gardening, knowing all the work that goes into providing food for myself would lead me to believe $10 for a tomato is a great deal…… $50 for that chicken would be money well spent! I honestly do not want to know what goes on in conventional slaughter houses that would allow me to purchase chicken at 1.99 a pound; and I can take solace in knowing even though I had to do the dirty work my chickens had a better life than a chicken that sells for that much.

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And it tastes good!!!

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