I recently published a blog about why we are raising meat chickens this year- now I am here to outline how ridiculously easy it has been to raise them, so far (knock on wood).
Meat chickens are not unlike regular chickens, really. They need some basic essentials to start life out on the right foot. We purchased ours from Meyer Hatchery as they have an excellent reputation, a 100% live delivery guarantee and free shipping on Cornish rock cross chicks.
Our order arrived very quickly, less then 48 hours from the initial shipping out time. We lost one on the trip, which was better then we expected, even with their guarantee. The rest of the chicks were alert, perky and ready to be placed into their new home- which we had prepared the previous weekend and put the finished touches on that morning.
- Brooder – we turned our plant nursery into a full room brooder for these chicks as we ordered 125. MrGillis and my dad built plywood floors and 2 foot tall walls with braces to hang heat lamps from. We used pine shavings on the floor to absorb their droppings. We gave them as much of the 8’x10′ room as we possibly could, while retaining a small work space for ease of taking care of them. They ended up with about 1/2 square foot each, which is sufficient for the amount of time they will live in the brooder. It is very important to stir the shavings, and add fresh every day.
- Heat – We outfitted the brooder with 3 red bulb lamps and one standard 600 watt grow light to supplement heat in the first day to help them recover from the trip. They seemed to prefer the regular grow light the red bulbs, but I think its because they didn’t have to crowd together to much to enjoy the warmth. Cornish Rock Crosses have the same heat requirements as any other chicks – 90ish degrees for the first week with a gradual 5 degree temperature drop per week until they are feathered out. Our room is at an ambient temperature of 82, which they seem to appreciate. It’s been hot here this week, so we’ve been turning off one of the heat lamps during the day and turning it back on at night. As always, watch your chicks and take their lead. If they are panting and spread out, its too hot. If they are all huddled together, they are too cold.
- Water – we put in 3 gallon sized waterers, which we filled with homemade electrolyte water to help them recover from their two day journey to our doorstep. Our electrolyte recipe is as follows : for every gallon of water, 1 tablespoon white sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon baking soda. I noticed some worrying looking droppings(yellow, foamy and frequent) after the first full day with them, so I treated their water with Corid for five days, in case of coccidiosis. I believe it was the right decision, as the chicks started having normal looking droppings by the second and third days of treatment. Then I went back to the homemade electrolyte water for an additional week. Treatment protocol for powdered Corid is 1/2 tsp per gallon of water, as their only source of drinking water for five days.
- Food – we provided 4 separate feeders with Nutrena NatureWise Meat Bird Crumble. This is a start to finish feed, at 22% protein content, which cuts out the guess work of what to feed when. Also it has no added antibiotics or hormones and IS fortified with vitamins and minerals. We allowed 24 hour access to the feed for the first week and then cut it back to 12 hours in and 12 hours out to prevent over eating and excessive, to quick, weight gain. This is important to prevent bone and heart problems later on.
- Time– when we first got the chicks, we literally introduced every single beak to the watering bowls and we showed a majority of them the food bowls. Some of them got it right away and drank very heavily or started eating immediately… others were skittish and ran away, but they all seemed to have the hang of it before we left them alone to recover. Others tried to just hang out IN the waterers, which we tried to dissuade them from, but we had to go back to work at this point. Over the course of the next few weeks, I checked on the chicks 3 to 4 times a day to ensure they had clean water, access to food or that the temps were where they needed to be.
- Care– just because these are meat chickens that will only be around for 10 weeks before moving to freezer camp doesn’t mean that we didn’t make an effort to be gentle, both while physically handling them and while talking to them. A gentle tone of voice and touch goes a long way preventing stress on these fragile babies. We did work as quickly as possible to avoid over stimulating the poor things, but always keeping in mind to be gentle. I also take time to watch for the same “warning signs” of ill health as I would with any other flock in my care- dirty butts, foamy poops, distressed breathing, etc. A healthy chicken is the end goal here.
A note about our meat chickens- We chose Cornish Rock Crosses, because of their rapid growth rate. They almost doubled in size before the 1st week was out and feathered out much faster then regular chicks as well. They also eat a lot, drink a lot, poop a lot and sleep a lot. They are very lazy chicks really, far more happy to lay around with a leg stretched out then run around cheeping at each other. This may or may not work for your particular homesteading adventure. We felt it working for us for a couple of reasons- they all look the same, so no getting attached to any single (or dozen) chick(s). I am five months pregnant at this time, so the faster we can grow them and process them, the better as its already cumbersome for me to get around. And finally, for our first foray into raising our own meat chickens, we wanted something known for its success rate. Which we are happy to report is very high for us so far, knock on wood.
Stay tuned for our blog about moving them outside and until next time, have a wicked good day!