Raising meat chickens … they’re not a dumb as you might think!

We have started growing pasture raised meat birds. Essentially, they are a commercial breed of meat chicken which we get as day old chicks. They come specially “packaged” and shipped to us within 24 hours of hatching. Here is what they look like in their little shipping box on arrival. A whole box of cuteness if you ask us!

Chicks - day old in box
50 one day old chicks in delivery box

We then introduce them into our brooder. It is a fully enclosed box which rats and other nasties cannot get into. They have a heat lamp, light, plenty of litter  (added to every second day to reduce smells), two feeding stations and two watering stations. There are no draughts and we control the temperature daily, slowing ‘hardening’ them down to be accustomed to lower temperatures. Here is a pic of them in their little brooder…

Chicks - day old in brooder
Day old chicks in brooder box. Protected from predators and draughts with plenty of access to feed and water.

Because these little guys are near our home, they get used to noisy children always handling them and learn quickly that if you approach an extended hand you usually get some nice tidbits. Unlike meat birds raised in sheds that run away from people, these little critters come up to you.

Here is one of our hand fed stars. You can already see good breast development on her. She is very inquisitive and loves being handled … mostly because she knows there is always a treat (or six) involved.

Chicken - 5 week old meat bird
Our children learn how to safely handle chickens. Even the chicken learn that it is OK to be held, just as this 5 week old meat chicken is being done. No running away from these capable little hands.

At the end of their second week, they graduate to our large brooder. It gives them more space to move around with a heated bench at the back under cover and a sunny lounging area at the front where they can eat or just lay down in the sun.

Here are some of our 5 week old chicks (combination of meat birds, plymouth rocks and mixed breed egg layers) snacking on some azolla  which we grow for them.

5 week old chicks snacking on Azolla. They love it!
5 week old chicks snacking on Azolla. They love it!

Once they reach 5 weeks, they are put onto pasture in our Joel Salatin inspired chicken tractors. We have modified the design slightly by adding some skis to the bottom plate to make it easier for us to pull along the ground rather than use a dolly system. It works a treat! Here are the cheeky little ones at 6 weeks of age. They were just moved to fresh pasture. Look at how much more feathered and chunky they are since the last photo. Only 8 days difference in these images!

Chicken - 6 week old meat bird
6 week old meat birds in chicken tractor

There are only 20 birds in this tractor. It is one of our future breeding pens so is smaller than most. We will be stocking these pens with 12 chickens and one very lucky rooster in the next breeding season!

So remember, when you buy your next chook for dinner, have a think about how they were grown and if they were happy. We know ours are. And while it is sad to say farewell to them once they reach eight and a half weeks, we know that they have been fed the BEST diet with a variety of insects, grain and fresh grass. Go you little chooks!

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