Growing Meat Chickens at Home

 “Oh we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes, when she comes. Oh, we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes when she comes.” 

Back in 1947 when Gene Autry sang those famous lines in “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” a chicken dinner was a treat served mostly when hosting dinner guests. Traditional chicken dinners came from old hens past their egg laying prime or roosters from heavy breed chickens like White Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, or Buff Orpingtons.

Since then, poultry breeders developed an amazing hybrid that grows at an astonishing speed and revolutionized human diets, making chicken a common meat. In 1960 the average American ate 63 pounds of beef but only 24 pounds of chicken. By 2016 beef consumption had dropped to 56 pounds while chicken soared to 90 pounds.

A dual-purpose breed rooster takes about 16 weeks to reach broiler size, and by then his flesh is staring to toughen. He also lacks the thick breast meat featured in many of today’s recipes. In contrast, a modern Cornish broiler reaches eating size in only six weeks and his tender meaty body includes a deep breast.

Hybrid broilers are amazingly efficient. Back in 1925 an average broiler chicken ate 4.7 pounds of feed for each pound it gained. By 2011 a Cornish Cross broiler ate only 1.9 pounds of feed to gain a pound of body weight. Feed efficiency and rapid growth has made chicken an inexpensive and healthy meat.

Big commercial growers enjoy the cost advantage of scale by buying thousands of chicks and hundreds of tons of feed. Small flock owners must spend more for chicks and feed to produce their own broilers. Then they must slaughter their birds. It likely costs more to raise broilers at home than buy them in the store, but there are outstanding reasons to do it.

Nothing beats the pride of producing food at home, whether home grown tomatoes or broiler chickens. They just seem to taste better than supermarket counterparts. Growing winter chicken dinners yields satisfaction as well as meat. Many hatcheries sell Cornish Cross and Red Ranger hybrid chicks all year. Ordering some to arrive in early fall will fill the freezer before Thanksgiving.

Cornish Cross Broilers are super achievers that produce the most meat on the least feed in the shortest time. These are single purpose chickens bred for meat only. Hens are slaughtered when they reach eating size and aren’t good layers. Cornish Cross Broilers get so heavy so quickly they have a hard time walking and prefer to stay by the feeder and eat. They need a special high protein diet and careful management.

Red Rangers or Red Broilers are a hybrid well suited for small flocks. They grow slower than Cornish but faster than dual purpose breeds and lack the health problems of faster growing broilers. Rangers enjoy foraging outdoors and can be raised with standard breeds. They produce the meaty breast most people enjoy and are ready for slaughter by 12 weeks. Hens can be kept and will lay about 175 eggs a year.

Before anyone buys broiler chicks they should determine how they are going to process them. Slaughtering and dressing chickens can be done at home for personal use. Several You Tube videos show how to do it in graphic detail. Another option is to bring live birds to a processing plant. Usually state laws require that dressed birds offered for sale be processed in a licensed plant.

Most urban chicken ordinances are written allow homeowners to keep a few laying hens and prohibit slaughtering. However, many families who raise chickens are part of a network of other poultry raising families. Some may live outside city limits where birds can be brought for processing.

Growing broilers in a small flock is more challenging than tending laying hens, but growing healthy in a backyard coop is satisfying and makes delicious winter meals.

Bathing Your Chickens

For many young 4-H’ers, it’s that time of year where they are preparing to exhibit their chickens at local, county or state fairs. Whether you’re entering the show ring soon, or just think your girls could use a good washing, check out these simple tips on bathing chickens.

Vacation Time – Keeping Chickens Safe & Healthy When Away

Caring for chickens and enjoying their beauty and eggs are part of a healthy lifestyle yet it comes with everyday responsibility. Every once in a while, a flock owner needs a vacation or weekend getaway. Ensuring that the flock is safe while its owner is gone can be challenging. There are solutions.

Many aspects of chicken care must be done daily. These include filling waterers and feeders, opening the pop hole each morning and closing it at dusk, and collecting eggs. Other tasks include fending off a predator, keeping bird’s safe during extreme weather and, rarely, caring for a sick or injured chicken,

FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NEIGHBORS

Nothing beats having friends, family or neighbors as temporary chicken caregivers.   Few people have ever tended chickens. While they may be eager to fill in, they likely need training and coaching.  A wise flockowner lines up substitute caregivers well before the vacation so there is plenty of time to train the sub. Having a few volunteers ready to fill in is invaluable should an unexpected trip come up at short notice.

A trusty substitute should be comfortable around the flock and know what needs to be done and where supplies are. Here are a few tips.

  • Leave a cell phone number and other contact information in case the sub needs to be in touch.
  • Before leaving fill all waterers and feeders.
  • Post in the coop in a plastic sleeve to keep it clean a written list of daily tasks.
  • Have plenty of extra feed in storage near the coop so the caretaker doesn’t have to buy any when you’re gone.
  • Welcome the caregiver to take eggs home to enjoy. Leave extra egg boxes handy to make carrying them easy.
  • Assure the caregiver that every once in a while, a chicken dies. Be sure he or she understands that this happens and is not his fault. Let the caregiver know how to dispose of a dead bird.There are ways to legally and safely dispose of a dead chicken. Burying is an option. Many communities allow homeowners to place dead animals in the trash if the body is placed in double or triple plastic bags. Check with your town’s sanitation department to learn the procedure. If it’s hot and trash collection won’t occur for several days it may be wise to triple bag and seal the dead hen and put her in a freezer until trash day.
  • Show the caregiver how to open and latch windows in case of severe weather.
  • Offer to care for their own chickens, pets, or home when they are away. If appropriate offer to pay them and bring them a small gift from the trip.

A WEEKEND GETAWAY

For a very short absence during mild weather it’s possible to set up a coop so the flock is fine without daily human attention. Having supplies on hand and the coop prepared for a couple of days absence makes leaving them untended possible even though it’s always best to have a substitute visit daily.

There are two possible problems in leaving hens without daily care. One is egg collection. Ideally eggs should be collected every day. When uncollected so many eggs can accumulate in the nest that some may break. Nests designed so eggs roll out for easy collection solve the problem. A second problem is opening and closing the pop hole. Solar or timer controlled devices can be purchased to automatically open and close the door at the proper time. Or, simply leave the hens inside for a couple of days.

Redundant waterers and feeders are important. Have at least two waterers in the coop just in case one leaks when you are gone.

Chickens should never be left untended if extreme cold or beastly heat are predicted.   Cold freezes drinking water and eggs, and chickens can die if left in a stifling coop without relief.

Everyone needs to get away once in a while. With a little preparation and good friends, the flock will be healthy and productive while its owner sits on a distant beach or enjoys a weekend in the mountains.

Keeping Your Chickens Cool This Summer

Summer is an exciting time for your chickens, they likely have more freedom than the winter months and enjoy exploring in the warmer weather. But it can also be a time where vigilance is key as a chicken owner. The extreme temps can take a toll quickly on your feathered friends, so taking proper heat precautions is extremely important. Here are a few tips to make sure your chickens have a comfortable summer.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • Lethargic and not actively moving around.
  • Open beaks with wings spread out. The birds look similar to a dog that is panting.
  • Little or no intake of food and water.

Water

  • Make sure your chickens always have fresh and clean water. It is a good idea to give fresh water at least every 24 hours. Stagnant and dirty water attracts mosquitos and acts as a petri dish for holding diseases. Old and lukewarm water will not be appealing to your birds and it will cause them to stop drinking, which can lead to lower egg production, forced molt, dehydration and possibly death.
  • It is a good idea to put ice in your watering system. Chickens may stop consuming water if the temperature of the water rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shade/Coop Ventilation

  • Have your coop in an area that is covered and protects the flock from the sun.
  • Make sure the coop has several open windows that allow air to flow through the structure. Windows can be added to the coop by cutting holes in the sides of the structure and covering the holes with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth should keep predators out of the coop, but it will allow more air circulation and ventilation for the birds.
  • Consider letting your flock free range in the summer. Free range chickens can have more opportunities to find shade and cool off in dust bathing areas. There are certainly risks involved in letting your chickens free range, but it can be a great option for keeping them cool in the summer time.

Treats

  • Melons and squash are great treats for the summer.
  • Chickens love watermelon as a treat and it naturally increases water intake, since watermelon is about 91% water.

AC for the Flock

  • You can freeze gallon jugs of water and place them in and around your coop. The jugs of water can lower the temperature in the coop and perform as a makeshift air conditioner.
  • A small baby pool gives chickens the option to cool off in the summer time. (You only need to fill the pool with a few inches of water).
  • Purchase a mister attachment for your hose. The mister attachment can reduce the body temperature of your birds as well as the ground temperature around the coop.
  • Consider placing fans in and around the coop. There are battery and electrical powered fans available at your local hardware store (make sure the fans are not close to any water, as this can potentially be a fire hazard).

 

Nine Reasons Hens Stop Laying Eggs

It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?

Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.

  1. Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
  2. Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
  3. Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
  4. Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
  5. Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
  6. Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
  7. Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
  8. Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
  9. Illnesses/parasites. The reasons above may likely be the cause but parasites or illness can also cause stress on a hen. We’ve got a whole section on our blog dedicated to diseases and disorders of chickens, so take a look here to learn more: http://scoopfromthecoop.nutrenaworld.com/category/diseases-and-disorders/