Changes 2017: Meat Chickens

Sorry, no pictures since we don’t raise meat chickens over the winter.  The first batch arrives in early April.

After years of lackluster broiler chicken experiences, we finally felt like things were clicking in 2016.  Chicken health was great, mortality was lower than we imagined possible, and feed conversion rates were vastly improved.  Last year we thought we were going out on a limb to raise 300 chickens instead of our usual 150, but we are currently sold out on all our cuts except drumsticks and nearly sold out on our whole broilers.  Clearly we need to go bigger this year.

AJ, our chicken czar, is about to turn 12 and is becoming stronger and more capable.  He gets paid a commission on every chicken that he raises, so when we discussed our 2017 plans I could see the cash register cha-chinging in his mind as we planned to target 600-700 chickens this summer.  But it isn’t just the pay that motivates him, he really has a knack for chickens so it is fun to see the confluence of interest and opportunity.  He reads every issue of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association newsletter and we get together afterwards for him to tell me what he’s learning.  I think this will be a great year for him.

Our new pasture chicken shelter can easily accommodate 350 birds, which is the number we’re targeting for our batches this year.  To accomplish that, we’ll need to build a bigger brooder.  Brooding chickens has always been a weak link, where we utilize whatever we can cobble together to keep the chicks warm and safe during the early days when they need extra protection.  For this season we will repurpose a chicken coop we outgrew and rebuild it into a brooder on wheels.  One appeal of the mobile brooder is that we can tow it out to the pasture and unload chickens directly from the brooder to the range shelter, skipping the intermediate steps of crating and uncrating.

The additional chickens are going to require a second bulk feeder and a bigger waterer in the shelter.  I’d also like to purchase a few hard-sided feed boxes so I can forklift a half ton of feed out to the shelter at a time rather than using our current method of toting the feed out in 55 gallon drums.

Overall I don’t expect any major alterations to our methods this year, the only changes will be a few upgrades to accommodate the growing flock size.

Apologies for running out of chicken so early this year.  We’ll do what we can to keep up with the demand, once spring rolls around and the chickens can get out on pasture.

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