You may have guessed from the tone of the Rabbit Report post that Justin and I have been looking into other types of livestock to raise for meat. We plan to do a pig or two later in the year but this spring (this week, in fact) we’re getting some broilers to raise!
We did a lot of research before diving in (you’re so surprised, right?) and I thought I’d share some of the info and resources we found to be most helpful.
We’ll be raising colored broiler hybrids. These birds are hybrids developed specifically to grow quickly enough to be economical while also growing slowly enough to be healthy and flavorful. These chicks will reach butchering weight of 5-6 lbs in 12 weeks.
We decided to go with hybrids over heritage birds mainly because of economics. Heritage chickens would take nearly double the time to grow out. As to the type of hybrid birds, we emphatically decided against the Cornish X Rocks (Cornish Cross). We got the opportunity to see some in person last summer and they’re just heartbreaking. They grow so quickly that they can’t stand or walk easily, they don’t feather out completely, and they have health problems because their muscles grow faster than their bones and organs. Basically they’re franken-chickens and I feel that their existence is inhumane.
Colored broilers were developed in France in the 1960’s to fill the need for flavorful humanely raised chicken on a commercial scale. This article is really interesting if you’re looking for more info.
Also, I’ll say this to allay some concerns we’ve heard, colored hybrid broilers are created through cross breeding, they’re not GMO.
We ordered our chicks from Moyer’s Chicks. We don’t have any first-hand (or second-hand) experiences to draw on with mail-order hatcheries so we picked Moyer’s because their hatching dates lined up with our schedule. I’ll keep you updated with our experience, good, bad, or ugly after the chickens arrive.
We’ll be feeding the chickens a mix of organic soy-free broiler feed (19% protein) and organic whole wheat berries. We decided to add whole wheat to the rations because it significantly reduces the cost of feeding the chickens overall (in our case) and because we found a research study which showed feeding up to 75% whole wheat (or barley) caused no drop in growth weight or food conversion ratio but did improve organ health. So, cheaper for us and healthier for the chickens – no brainer. This article from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association gives a good overview of whole grain supplements for chickens.
We’ll be brooding the chickens in the rabbit shed until they’re ready to go outside full time (around 4-5 weeks). Then, we plan to put them in a tractor surrounded by electric poultry netting. A similar set up to this. We’ll also be building our own electric fence controller (more about that in a future post) from scratch to save some cash.
We are expecting our 35 broilers on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week (eek!) I’ll share some photos when they arrive as well as more specifics on our set-up and raising process. I am also dutifully tracking all of the expenses going into this meat chicken operation so I can share how much this project will actually cost us.
We’re pretty excited, wish us luck!