Okie doke, we are into our fifth week of raising broilers! We ordered 50 (20 female Delawares, 30 unsexed combo of Golden Wyandottes, Australorps and Mottled Houdans), and as of yesterday are down to 48. Which, if you read forums, is not bad considering one death was by chicken suicide (now we know why we have to make sure the lid of the waterer is on tight…a Houdan decided to try perching on the edge at 3 weeks and must have fallen and drowned, poor chickie!) and the other I’m thinking might be death-by-squishing (when they freak out, it’s every chick for themselves and they climb on top of each other in the tractor… they are a bit mellower now but when they first got transferred to the tractor a few were madly trying to jam their little bodies under the base and then of course would get stuck and we’d have to poke at them to get them out).
The tractor as you can see is not the artistic feat that you see on some blogs but it’s working like a charm and considering it was made for almost free (leftover PVC pipe and hardware cloth, about $20 worth of PVC connectors and zipties – thanks, Pinterest & YouTube! – plus an old tarp we had in the barn which gives them shade in the late afternoon along with protection from the elements for the occasional summer shower), I couldn’t be happier.
Some lessons learned as newbie broiler owners…
The best way to transport 50 chicks from the brooder in the barn to the aforementioned tractor in our garden? Borrow the neighbor’s long-handled fishing net. Works like a charm. Scoop a bunch up, gently ‘pour’ them into a plastic bin with a lid, walk them over to the tractor, then gently ‘dump’ them onto the grass (they wouldn’t walk out, as they decided playing dead during the journey was the way to go, so they kind of rolled out and then came back to life).
We fermented their (Scratch n Peck) starter feed for the first 3 weeks while they were in the brooder and it worked great. The barn temps were a bit more stable so the feed fermented right on schedule. We tried it for week four while the stuff was outside and, well, notsomuch…it went bad quicker and, as I’ll talk about later, they are not eating like true broiler breeds. Which is fine by me (and my wallet).
Rather than using super-wasteful paper towels over the pine shavings in their brooder for their first couple days of life (hell, I haven’t bought paper towels in at least 10 years), we used one of our old bedsheets from the rag bin, then just pulled it out and hosed it off. They were fine.
We found that the DIY feeder I quickly put together was useless. I grabbed a couple of old platters and spread the fermented “slop” on it and they were fine. That and – like we did with the ducks – some hunks of dirt from the garden to give them nice bugs and greens to seek out, was fine. Yes, they walk in their food. And I’m sure shat in it as well. But here’s the deal: all 50 chicks made it through the 3 weeks in the brooder alive.
Metal trash can + lid (just like the ducks have) = perfect feed storage… and they have never been tampered with out here in the sticks.
We took the feed store’s advice and did not buy special ‘broiler feed’. As one blogger said, it’s only a couple of percentage points different in protein, and home/locally-procured supplemental protein are just fine with these future edibles, which have thus far included:
All of our ducks’ eggshells – our compost tumbler is near capacity so we have two compost containers in our kitchen – anything chook-approved, and the weird misc stuff they can’t eat for the tumbler.
Weeds and old plants being pulled with all their dirt and grub still attached – they clean this out like no one’s business!
Leftover fish guts from the seafood market (they go frickin’ BANANAS over this) – most fishmongers and seafood departments are happy to give you the heads, spines, etc. that they have and it’s one of the best sources of protein beyond eggs.
A handful of oats or other seeds – if we have any to spare. Again the idea is, like with pigs, they get the leftovers. We ain’t a restaurant!
Banana peels – nothing funnier than a chick giving chase to another that has a tendril from a banana peel hanging from its beak…and they are a solid source of protein! 🙂
They don’t eat nearly the amount of feed that the websites say to feed them. Why? I think it’s because they recommend so much because a lot of people keep their meat chickens in barn stalls and other areas outside of the sun and nature, and the free-ranging really gives them so much of what they need. And along wtih that, many folks raise the traditional Cornish Cross and other fast-growing breeds, which basically are just bred to stand around and eat. Our chicks are much more athletic and being heirlooms, they’ll take around 12 weeks to mature instead of 8 (or more, we’ll see who grows the fastest!), with a lot of dark meat I’ve read (yesssss! I’m not a white meat chicken breast kinda gal!). Knock on wood, but I’m thinking what we are doing is working, and for these heirloom breeds, it should be worth it after a year’s worth of our neighbor’s fast growers that were way smaller and still spendy!
Ducks vs Chickens? Ducks. I never thought I’d call our four gals smart, but compared to chooks, our ducks should have college degrees compared to these delinquents. But they are all still funny to watch, and I could sit out in the garden for hours and watch these now-adolescent chooks as they explore their small world.
So it’s going to be an interesting next 6-8 weeks as these boys and girls get bigger…and bigger! Right now they look like their ancestral dinosaurs. (Remember those scary ones in the kitchen scene near the end of Jurassic Park? That’s kind of what they remind me of now – all legs, gangly and running around like the crazy adolescents they are.)