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Raising Broilers for the First Time
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Raising Broilers for the First Time

This article was featured in the 2023 Hillsider Magazine Summer Edition. 

The 2024 Hillsider Magazine Summer Edition is dropping live on my website on Thursday, June 6th, 2024. Preorder your copy today!

 

On our journey to self-sufficiency, this year we decided to raise broiler chickens of our own. With the rising cost of meat and groceries in general we are always looking for ways to add quality food to our family's diet while also trying to keep the grocery bill in check. In an effort to manage the task of raising our own animals for meat, we settled on broilers due to the short raising period, low input cost, and overall feasibility of taking this on.

 

 

The First Steps

You will want to start with finding a hatchery to source your chicks. You are looking specifically for meat bird varieties. Meat birds are usually sought after for their fast-growing, hardy, and efficient characteristics. Based on recommendations from local homesteaders, well experienced in raising broilers, we chose to raise Cornish Rock Giants. Once we settled on a hatchery we placed the order for our very first batch of broilers. As first timers, we settled on raising 25 birds this time around.

 

"A Brooder is an important part of this process because freshly hatched chicks require a warm climate controlled space "

 

After the chicks hatched they were boxed up and shipped directly to us via mail. When they arrived at the local post office we received a call and immediately went and picked them up and brought them home. Once at home, we began the process of dipping beaks which is an important step in hydrating your new chicks. The mixture consists of water and electrolytes and helps in reducing stress after shipping. Once all your chicks have had their beaks dipped you can place them inside the brooder.

 

 

The Brooder

When you bring your chicks home you will need to have a brooder to place them in. A Brooder is an important part of this process because freshly hatched chicks require a warm climate-controlled space where they will remain until they are feathered out and able to manage their body temperatures on their own. We learned during this process that chicks grow extremely quickly and require more space in the brooder than we initially thought.

 

Our original brooder was 3’x3’ for our 25 chicks and as the weeks went on it got increasingly crowded in there. Going forward we will be redesigning a brooder that is not only more spacious but will also feature wheels and a drop-open floor design for easy cleaning. The takeaway here, build yourself a brooder that has ample room for your chicks because until they are feathered out they need to stay somewhere warm. Our chicks ended up staying in the brooder until 4 weeks of age before we moved them outside but if the weather would have been cooler outside we would have had to keep them in the brooder for at least another week and at this point, they were running out of room. The moral of the story is don’t skimp on space when building your brooder!

 

Chicken Tractor

Once our chickens were old enough we moved them outside to the chicken tractor. We chose to raise our broilers in a chicken tractor because we liked the free range like aspect of it while also offering ample protection from predators to our birds.

When designing your chicken tractor you need to be able to provide your broilers with at least 2 sq ft of space per bird. In our chicken tractor we chose to hang the feeder and the waterer to simplify the chore of moving the chicken tractor., which is part of the daily chores. By moving the tractor daily you are able to provide your birds with a clean environment while also enriching their enclosure by providing them with fresh grass to peck at and ground to scratch. On occasion, I have actually watched my birds dig up earthworms in the chicken tractor and they go crazy when they find one!

Feed and Water

Having broiler chickens does come with daily chores. This includes moving the tractor, feeding the birds, and topping up the waterer. You will want to use large feed troughs and waterers to cut back on the labor. We ended up going with an extra large waterer because we were struggling to keep up with how much water our chickens were drinking which we were not expecting! You will not regret choosing a large feeder and waterer for your flock.

 

Butchering

Currently, our chickens are 7 weeks old and are going to be ready to be butchered in the next week. It is typical to butcher meat chickens at around 8 weeks of age. Some of the steps we are taking to prepare for processing day are ensuring we have kill cones, a hot water bath, a plucker, ice baths, a vacuum sealer, and a new freezer for all the meat we are about to have!

We are looking forward to processing our broilers and filling our freezer with our very first batch of homegrown Hillside chickens. If you are interested in learning more about our firsthand experience with raising broilers be sure to follow me on Instagram where I will be sharing more on the process.

 

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