raising chickens

Raising Meat Bird Cornish Cross Chickens

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When I raised my last batch of "meat bird" cornish cross chickens, I kept a daily diary of everything that happened. I noted different events, feed used, bird behavior, potential problems, etc. What is posted here is a summary, with links, of ALL that happened.

Weeks 1 and 2 - Brooder Setup and Chicks
The first thing you must do is set up your brooder, as outlined here. You then must pick up your chicks, that have either been ordered or are on hand brooderat a local feed store. I buy my chicks "cash and carry". In other words, I buy the chicks on hand at our feed store - these have been there for a day or two already so any that were not healthy have already died. The last two times I have not lost a chick! Make sure your brooder set up is warm enough, using tarps as shown left, if needed, but also make sure the chicks have a way to escape excess heat. Too hot a brooder setup will kill chicks! At the same time, you will not want to have chicks in an unheated shed or garage until early summer (60F+ during the day and no colder than high 20's at night). Some put their brooder setup in a heated area - that works. Watch the chicks. If it is too cold, they will all be under the heat lamp, if too hot, they will be trying to escape the heat. Also, a digital thermometer is helpful - the chicks need 90-95F in the first week. Remember to place a few inches of wood shavings in the bottom of the pool. At the feed store get a 50 pound bag of chick starter - I use medicated starter. Medicated feed is not an antibiotic, as many think, and will help prevent losses. Have one or two small waterers for the chicks. A tray feeder works well for the small chicks. Make sure your brooder area is secure so cats, raccoons, etc can not get at the chicks!

You will be shocked at how fast these chicks grow and develop! Within days, they will start to get white feathers. Also they will start to consume water and food at an increasing rate. At the 5th day I was using a larger waterer that was up on a 1 1/2" block to keep the water cleaner and I was restocking feed much more often. With respect to bedding, I simply added more bedding over the top until the 2 week mark - then I replaced all bedding with new.

At the 2-week mark I switched to a large feeder. Also, I started mixing in regular chicken feed, known as "broiler grower". I picked up a 50 pound bag at the feed store - cost a little over $12. I mixed at a 1:2 ratio. In addition, I started pulling the feeder out for about 12 hours per day. It is important to withhold all access to food for 12 hours each day - otherwise these chickens can put on weight too fast and have leg and/or heart issues. Also, by the 2-week mark, if not sooner, you will want to place a 2 ft high enclosure of chicken wire around your brooder pool to keep them from escaping.

As these chicks get bigger, you will want to put your larger feeder up on blocks to keep it cleaner. Also, you will want to raise up your waterer as needed.

Week 3 - The Last Week in the Brooder
This is the last week in the brooder setup. If it is warm enough, you can replace your brooder lamp bulb with a regular 75W light bulb or even shut it off. On the 17th day my brooder bulb burned out over night. Not sure how, although it is possible one of these larger chicks bumped it with its flapping wings. I replaced by brooder bulb with a 75W bulb with no problems. In this week you will want to phase in more "broiler grower" - I switched to a 50-50 mix of grower and starter on the 19th day. You will find that 12-15 birds will start to get a bit cramped in the kiddie pool by this time and they will use a lot of water. Keep an eye on them - on the 21st day they nearly used all the water and then knocked the waterer over! In this week your chicks will turn into chickens, getting most of their feathers.

Week 4 - The Chickens Move Outside
On the 22nd day I moved my small chickens into my chicken tractor. My PVC chicken tractor is perfect for my 12 birds. It features a metal half that may be locked up at night, along with an open half. It is shaded to keep it cool, and has an inside waterer that may be filled from outside. I designed and built this myself, and I have free plans for this chicken tractor here. Predators are always an issue, and from my experience, a hungry predator will rip through chicken wire with ease - keeping them in a metal pen prevented any losses.

The chickens will need a day or two to adjust to the pen. At first, they would not go inside the metal house, so I had to shoo them in with a broom when I closed it for the night. Then, the next day they would not come out for the feed! But they quickly adjusted and after a few days would even go inside the metal part once it got dark all by themselves. By the 24th day some were already starting to browse on grass and clover.

The daily procedure for these chickens, once in the tractor, consists of:

  1. Remove the metal door, which I call my "chicken plunger", and let the chickens out.
  2. Have some new feed ready, and place it out in front of the tractor to draw the birds out.
  3. Place the wheels on and move the chicken tractor at least 12 feet. The chickens will keep following the feed! See my video of me doing this here.
  4. Give the chickens their food and while they eat take off the wheels.
  5. Replenish the water, both at the outside waterer and the inside tray waterer.
  6. Spray down the area where the tractor was the previous day - this will keep your lawn cleaner and also prevent odor that might attract predators or neighbor's dogs.
  7. At night, lock up the pen by securing the door, as shown here. Usually all the chickens will go into the house by themselves at dark, so you just have to shut the door. Also bungee the PVC door down.

This sounds like a lot, but in reality takes about 15-20 minutes. One might be able to save some work by leaving the wheels on, but this gives a digging predator a head start. For a predator, keeping the birds out of sight completely is helpful. Also, keeping the smell down helps. With my setup and procedure, smell was kept to nearly none!

You will want to switch to a larger 4 or 5 gallon waterer at some point - I did so on the 36th day for my 12 chickens, but I had been watching and refilling my 1 gallon waterer very closely. If you are not watching water so closely, you might want to switch to the large waterer right away. I always kept my inside tray full of water too. For the very hot days, that inside water tray is a nice insurance policy!

Weeks 5-8 - Finishing The Chickens in the Tractor
At this point, you will start using a lot more feed. In addition to the 50 pounds of chick starter and 50 pounds of grower, you will need another 150 pounds of grower to finish 12 chickens. On the 29th day (half way) your chickens will look like this. You will notice more and more "sparring". As long as the chickens are not hurting each other, do not be concerned.

You will find that the chickens will make more and more use of natural food like grass and clover. You can get them eating more green matter by picking bundles of it and using a bungee cord to hold it to the side, as shown here. And they will start to eat bugs with intensity - if you have an abundance of grasshoppers, have one of your kids gather a bucket full for them.

Week 8+ Butchering
Many people butcher all chickens at once. And I remember days when the whole family was out butchering 25+ birds on a hot day, ALL day. But I have gone to a "batch" system for my smaller number of (12) birds I now keep. I will do 4 at a time, making each batch more like cleaning a mess of fish rather than an ordeal. I have summarized all the details of chicken butchering here.

I started with a batch of 4, then 4 more, then one for a birthday dinner, and then the last 3 at nearly 9 weeks. Not only was this less stressful on me, it allowed me to have the last birds consume all the feed, resulting in no waste. You can keep feeding the chickens, but there will be less efficiency in growth per feed and the birds will start to get a little tougher - most all people raising these Cornish Cross Chickens butcher at 8 weeks.

My chickens, all processed and ready for the freezer, weighed from 5# to 5.7# each. The total cost for my 12 birds was about $110, not counting costs for feeders, waterers, or my PVC tractor. This came to a little over $1.60 per pound. I did not lose one chick or chicken to disease, heat, or predators.

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