We now find ourselves halfway through this journey and this is what we have done and learned…
Meat Chickens are Male. You can get female meat chickens but they don’t get as big, so you pay the extra few cents to get all boys so you can get the biggest bang for your buck.
We kept a brooder light on them most of the time for the first week and a half except when they showed signs of being too hot since it is summer and they were in our garage. We were impressed that we only lost one chick during the first week.
They started out cute, but soon began to look almost sickly because they grow so much faster than they feather out. Their baby fuzz only partially covers their little bodies and you can see their skin showing through.
These chickens are huge! No joke, these chickens are a breed called a Cornish Cross. It is the standard in the US for meat chickens. Whole foods or walmart, this is almost certainly the chicken you get, the only difference is how they are raised.
Getting back to the size of the chickens, we were fortunate to have bought 3 buckeye (a breed from ohio!) chicks at the same, so we have a built in comparison as they all grow up. I’ll just let the photo speak for itself. Both chickens are the same age within a couple of days, and you’ll notice our white meat chicken is substantially larger than the Buckeye. Cora could barely hold the meat bird up on her arm.
These chickens were born to eat and poop. For the first 3 weeks we kept food with them 24 hours a day. Just shy of three weeks, we moved them out to the grass into one half of our pastured rabbit pen which is 4×8. We move it at least once per day and sometimes twice because as I mentioned earlier, these birds were born to eat and poop. Let me make that point clear. In one day they could have the complete 4×8 area almost completely covered in a layer of poop.
We encourage the chickens to forage as much as possible by taking away their food for a few hours each time we move the pen. This seems to work great as they excitedly run about the pen scratching and pecking at the fresh grass and bugs.
The downside of these moves is that we have lost 4 more chicks since moving them outside because we accidentally pinched them while shifting the position of the cage. They have almost 3 pounds of meat on them and if I have been prepared I could have processed those 3 that day, but I wasn’t.
Contrary to many of the articles we read, we have found that these chickens are not as lazy and lethargic as many would argue. They love to explore the fresh grass and area once we move their pen and are just as difficult to catch as any other chicken.
We just moved them into their “chicken tractor” where they will live for the remainder of their lives. We were lucky enough to meet people that let us borrow their tractors so we didn’t have to build them this time around. They follow the Joel Salatin design from his book “Pasture Poultry Profits” with a few differences. These are built as 8′ by 8′ by 2′ tall pens with chicken wire all the way around and aluminum sheets over half of it as a roof.
We will move this tractor once to twice a day for the next 3-4 weeks until the big butchering day. Time to start learning and planning exactly what to do!