Broilers 101

It’s our opinion at Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill that if you want to make the biggest positive effect on the sustainability of our food system, you should purchase pasture raised, organically fed, and humanely treated eggs and meats. We also suggest you consider taking it to the next step and raising broiler chickens for your dinner table. Raising your own broiler chickens is a great way to stretch your grocery dollar and it also will permit you to eat organic meat at a fraction of the retail price.  Like keeping laying hens, raising chickens for meat will give you a new respect and awareness of what’s on your dinner plate.


Keeping Broiler Chickens

Choose Your Breed and Buy Your Chicks

Like laying chickens and turkeys, you’ve got a choice between “commercial” varieties – breeds created for maximal output in the shortest time, often at the expense of all else – and “heritage” varieties.  The gold standard for commercial broiler chickens is the Cornish Cross – typically finished in four to eight weeks, the Cornish Cross has a broad breast of white meat.  There are several heritage varieties available today, including the Freedom Ranger, Ameracauna, Rosambro, and Barred Rock.  Heritage varieties are much slower to mature at 12 weeks or more and may never get as big as a Cornish Cross but many prefer the flavor and texture.  One great thing about raising broiler chickens is that you can experiment with several different types to find one that’ll work best with your methods.

Prepare Their Space, Keep Them Safe

A chick is a newly hatched chicken.  Chicks must be kept in a warm, safe environment.  A child’s wading pool is a good choice for brooding turkeys, chickens, and ducks as they can be easily cleaned and have no corners – spots where chicks can pile up and smother each other.  Fill the pool with a few inches of straw or cob litter and cover it with paper for the first week or so to prevent them from eating the litter.  The floor temperature of the brooder should be around 95 degrees fahrenheit, maintained through the use of heat lamps.  Each week, raise the lamps a bit more to drop the temperature by 5 degrees or so.

Chicks need food and water available to them at all times.  For the first day or two, sprinkle chick starter feed on sheets of cardboard, later moving to trough-style feeders.  Each chick needs one linear inch of feeder space to start but as they mature will require three to four inches per bird.  Water should be fresh and waterers cleaned daily.

Observe your chicks closely: Are they drinking?  Often baby birds need to be shown how to drink – just dip their beak in the waterer and tip their head back to help them swallow.  You need not do this with each bird; their sisters will copy this behavior.  Are they piling up on each other?  The temperature may be too low.  Hanging out around the edge of the heat lamps?  The temperature’s probably too high.

Broiler chicks should eat Coyote Creek Organic Chick Starter for the first three weeks of their life, a crucial point in their development.  Chick starter has a high protein content to help the baby chicks grow quickly into the pullet stage.

The Coop

Broiler chickens have different housing needs than laying hens.  They don’t need nest boxes, of course, nor do they require roosts.  A simple hoop house or similar structure will suffice.  Be sure to provide some covered area to protect the birds from the elements.

Broiler chickens need to have feed available at all times. If they experience too much stress from living conditions or lack of feed or water, the texture of the final product can suffer. Results can vary greatly, impacted by the quality of living conditions, including weather, stress, and management. Adequate access to clean water should be provided at all times. Always ensure the availability and accessibility of feed. A day without feed will result in weight loss, inhibit growth, and increase aggression; please plan your feed purchases accordingly.


Feeding, Watering & Care

Water

Be sure that the waterers are always full! Dehydration is a major stressor. During the heat of the summer, you might consider adding one tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar or trace mineral salt to each gallon of water. This helps improve hydration and digestion as well.  Take a look at our feeder and waterer design document for ideas.  Take note: feeder and waterer height is even more important for broilers.  Make the feeders too low and your birds will end up sitting in them.  Too high and they won’t eat enough.

Feed Transitions

When transitioning from one feed to another, it’s important to taper your broilers off of the old feed slowly and onto the new feed by increasing the amount of it in their feeder little by little over a period of about a week.

Feeding Programs

There are two types of successful feeding programs for broilers. The first is the traditional way outlined on our broiler feeding guide. This feeding method is ideal for slower growing heritage style breeds like your Freedom Rangers, Red Rangers, Slow White Broilers, etc.

For performance breeds like your Cornish Rock Broilers, an alternate feeding strategy can be utilized. Instead of transitioning into Coyote Creek Organic Broiler Grower, continue using the Broiler Starter until the desired live weight is reached. You should expect to use two pounds of feed for one pound of gain. Typical processing can occur as soon as week six.

Stress and Illness

If your chickens show signs of illnesses, don’t rush to medicate them. We are glad to share some organic healing methods with you here. Adding one tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar to each gallon of water can help a myriad of issues including dehydration, digestion issues, and general immune system weakness. You can also add one teaspoon of garlic paste to their water to support their immune system and fight off infection or respiratory issues. Organic molasses can be added during times of high stress.

Good luck and have FUN!  Enjoy your chickens!