Thursday, April 21, 2011

Free Range Broilers - Finally

When we got our first batch of Cornish Cross chicks to raise for meat, we figured we would raise them like all our other birds. We would brood them in the brooder pen until they were big enough to be turned out into the chicken house. Then, like the other chickens, they would eventually venture out into the wide world beyond the chicken house to feast on bugs and plants.

The brooder pen worked fine. Putting them out into the chicken house worked fine, but the Cornish Cross never would venture down the ladder to the great outdoors. They preferred to stay nice and close to the feed all day long. In fact, if they could lay down and eat, all the better.

In hind sight, it was probably best they never tried to go out from the chicken house. Our chicken house sits up high, and the ladder is long and fairly steep. This breed has a  propensity to break legs. Our ladder probably isn't a wise choice for them. So, we thought, if they won't go down the ladder, we'll just put them outside.

We have another shelter within our chicken run. It is not nearly as nice as the chicken house, but it serves the purpose. It is great to brood in when the weather is warm, or to use as an overflow pen if we have too many birds. We thought it would be perfect to use for the broilers to make free ranging work for them. They weren't impressed.

They would go out the pen door; a foot or two, but they still would not venture beyond the run into the pasture behind them where all the free range goodies are to be found. They wouldn't even venture over to the rabbit hutches, contained with in the run, to forage under the pens. All the other chickens seemed to think that spot was akin to a daily Thanksgiving feast. I gave up on getting them to go out, and brought greens and weeds to them instead.

With this batch of broilers we wanted to try something new. We talked on again, off again about building a chicken tractor for them. We weren't sure exactly what we wanted, or what would work for the number of birds we have, and the mostly sloped land we want to use.

There also was that ever pesky issue of time. Building something new takes time for planning, material gathering, and of course construction. Like most homesteads with farmers who also work away from home, time is a very precious commodity. Then it dawned on us. Why not use something we already have?

Last winter we got rid of all the rabbits in an effort to save time, and focus more on the meat animals that sell better. This left us five empty hutches just sitting there. Our first  thought was to use the hutches Tim and my Dad built. They are large. They are sturdy. They also are very heavy. That is a problem if we want to be able to move the birds into fresh grass every now and then.

The other problem is that Kellen is considering raising rabbits again. So, we may need those hutches. Our other two hutches were ones we acquired elsewhere. We really didn't like the design of either of them for rabbits, but for chickens we thought they'd work well.

They did need some slight modification. We cut the legs off them, and made some steps with scrap wood. We stapled some feed bags on the sides to cut the wind until the weather is warmer. One pen is light enough to move by myself. The other Kellen and I can move together. They are the perfect little shelters for the birds.

We set the pens up close to the house. I set up a heat lamp, just in case it gets really cold at night. At night the broilers are closed in the pens. In the morning the feed and water is moved out into the grass, and believe me, these birds follow the feed.

They are not fenced in at all currently. I think as long as we stay close to the house fencing won't be an issue. They do not roam far, and predators won't come this close during the day. If we decide to take the birds farther out, we'll need to set up fencing of some sort to keep them safe.

They seem so happy out there. They are eating clover, chasing bugs, digging through leaves, and acting more like I expect a chicken to act than any other batch of broilers we have ever had. It is good to see! 

1 comment:

  1. what a great idea. it's nice you gave so much thought to the well-being of the birds. so many would just confine them to make it easier. happy chickens! they'll give a lot back in return. great post.