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We're in the Chicken Business Now!

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  • We're in the Chicken Business Now!

    I think I've mentioned on here before that I was diversifying the business from just horses...or simply put I'm not able to put my eggs in one basket anymore and am looking for other ways to make our farm productive. I've been having a blast learning the "pastured poultry" business this summer and raising our first batches of chickens.

    I went yesterday down the road to a neighboring pasture based farm and helped butcher broilers as well as how to cut them up and pack them. We have a farm in our area that is already doing this system of farming and they are gracious enough to help us learn from them. These folks are making their living 100% off of pasture farming selling grass raised/finished chicken, turkey, pork, beef, goat and raw milk shares. Lucky for them they have a work force of kids...I don't think they could do it otherwise.

    They sell out by November of every year on poultry so there is still lots of room in our local market for folks interested in this type of meat.

    I have a personal aversion to the idea of raising the factory farm super duper fast growing Cornish hybrid chickens that you commonly find the grocery store. It doesn't feel right to me for one thing as I prefer traditional things...and second thing...they are quite hard to raise on pasture and much more suitable to confinement operations. They are poor foragers and most won't range at all but will sit by the mash feeder and stuff themselves. They also will eat themselves to death. They are prone to all sorts of leg/growth problems as well and frequently have heart attacks and die on you. Mortality rates are high on these chickens but they are very cheap to purchase so many folks take the losses as acceptable. Many of the pastured poultry folks are raising them but you really have to fuss over them...which I don't have time for...so I went to explore other options.

    Our first batch of chickens includes some layers also of three old fashioned American varieties...Buff Orpingtons, White Rocks, and Silver Laced Wyandottes. We bought cockerels of the Rocks and Orpingtons to use as broilers in this batch. They grow slower and take longer to mature but they are believed by some to have better flavor and taste better because of the slow growth. This batch of chickens is now outside in our portable chicken house and we're about a month from slaughtering the boys. The girls are about a 2 to 3 months from laying.

    The yellow chicken is the Buff Orpington, the black and white one is the Silver Laced Wyandotte, and the white ones are the White Rocks. My favorite ones so far are the Wyandottes. They are gentle and quiet.


    I did some research and found that the chickens raised in France as Label Rouge, considered to be the best eating chicken in the world, are now available in the US and called "Freedom Rangers." The French farmers developed a free range broiler for pastured poultry systems that are active foragers, slower growing than our US hyrbrid, yet finish better than the old traditional breeds with nice breast meat and an outstanding flavor. I purchased a batch of these little guys. They came Friday and are in my brooder house now. They are quick and tough...that is for sure...the little buggers got out the first day and it was a mess getting them all caught. You have no idea how fast a 2 day old baby chick is until you have to run one down!

    My husband and I built our first movable chicken coop...also called a chicken tractor. Our system is set up for "day range" which means instead of a bottomless pen that has to be moved daily, we use a secure pen with a floor set on skids (or wheels but ours are skids) and door we can lock and electric poultry netting to make a safe chicken ranging paddock. It's not hard to move at all...I did it yesterday in maybe an hour and you only have to move it every few weeks to even a month...depends on the ground also. Later when the hens are grown and the roosters are butchered, I may just let them roam without fence. We do have foxes around here and I'm not wanting to lose any if I can help it.

    The netting is very effective at keeping our predators. Our Jack Russells tested it for us (unknowingly) and now the dogs make the sign of the evil eye at the chickens. The only thing we can't stop are hawks or owls coming in from above but the chickens can run into the coop if they feel scared and at night hopefully they are roosting inside out of the notice of the owls.

    We also have found that we've had a VERY low mortality rate so far...lost one chick of the first batch doing things this way. The chickens are clean, healthy and get lots of exercise and dust baths....happy chickens. We are not feeding any medicated feed at all either nor anything to push growth.

    Here is the finished chicken coop. This will be for the hens mainly and can hold 60 to 70 grown layers. We'll build some more pens for the broilers (much shorter lived) soon.

    Future plans include moving into grass finished beef this Fall. I'm researching this now and how we can integrate a rotational grazing system into our farm using the three animals we have...horses, cattle and chickens. The chickens are the "clean up" crew behind the big grazers. You first rotate the horses, then the cattle to eat the grass and then let the chickens come in behind and eat the parasites, fly larvae and break up manure piles and leave behind their own fertilizer.

    I can vouch that chicken raised this way has excellent flavor and the nutrient profile of the meat (both chicken and beef) some feel is more healthy than grain finished.

    I'm seriously looking at Highland Cattle as they are good foragers and said to have outstanding beef finished on grass. They are also gentle-natured and smaller and more suitable for a small farm like ours. I can say that the best steak I've ever eaten was in Scotland. Unbelievable flavor and tenderness.

    So were on our way...slowly...and after yesterday's work on the other farm processing broilers, I KNOW that I can do this. I'm thoroughly enjoying raising the chickens and I have folks lined up now to take orders when we start processing. I suspect we can find ourselves growing quite fast once the word get out. The folks I visited yesterday say they are at capacity and can't do anymore than they are doing.

  • #2
    Hey Sharon,
    Sounds like fun!

    Bartley Heath
    Buy Factory Direct and $ave at DoubleDTrailers.com


    • #3
      Wish you lived near me! I'd buy your meat for sure.
      I realize that I'm generalizing here, but as is often the case when I generalize, I don't care. ~ Dave Barry


      • #4
        Welcome to the dark side!

        Even with the horrible economy I had to turn people away this year (beef and pork)

        Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
        Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
        -Rudyard Kipling


        • #5
          You can keep hawks & any other airborn predator out of your run with deer netting.
          I covered the top of my fenced run over a year ago and it has withstood all sorts of weather including heavy snowfall.
          Cheap, simple to string up and effective.

          Hawks have great eyesight and apparently they can see the netting as an obstacle so don't try to get through it.

          I've heard of the Freedom Rangers - but did not realize they are a French breed. Pretty birds.

          Good luck to you in your business.
          My chickens are merely pets.
          Pets who make me breakfast
          *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
          Steppin' Out 1988-2004
          Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
          Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


          • #6
            Our family is doing something similar but on a much smaller scale. We're just looking for self-sufficency and healthier food. We moved out in the sticks a couple months ago to get our farm started, bought our first batch of Buff Orpingtons. We chose them not for meat but for egg production as they lay year round. I am hopeing to build another coop next year and am interested in a heritage breed for meat rather than going with the cornish x for the same reasons you mention. We are building a bigger barn in the spring and then plan on getting a cow for all our dairy needs with an eye towards processing her calf yearly and even though I dislike live pigs.....we're getting one because I do so love bacon.

            I think that the changes in the economy are a primary driving force behind this movement in America...sort of progressing by going back!

            In any case I have rambled enough. I look forward to seeing your journey progress and hopefully give our smaller scale eventure some ideas!

            Visit us @ http://intentionalfamily.wordpress.com/
            and check out our attempt return to the multigenerational self sufficient household


            • #7
              I breed warmbloods on a small farm, have showing stallions, and still work at introducing permaculture type management to my farm, growing food and I am working on a poultry shed to introduce a few hens and ducks for our egg supply. The method of rotating chickens over area grazed before by horses so they fatten eating pests I first heard of in Michael Pollans book the Omnivores Dilemna where he cites Joel Salatin using this method in synergy with his cattle production. I want to build a tractor to utilize the poultry to eat the insects around manured areas and slugs around my horse pastures and garden area.

              Synergy Sporthorses


              • #8
                Chickens are in my future, I hope. We are so overrun by grass hoppers this year that by next spring this farm will have chickens or else .
                Follow us on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/River...ref=ts&fref=ts


                • #9
                  Love your set up!


                  • #10
                    Sounds great, DDB! Your set up sounds very similar to what we hope to do in a few years; looking forward to hearing how things develop for you.
                    bar.ka think u al.l. susp.ect
                    free bar.ka and tidy rabbit


                    • #11
                      WOOO! That is awesome. I'm setting up for a few chucks at my house.


                      • #12
                        I'm so jealous! I can't wait to move so I can get some chickens in the coop. Keep us updated on how things are going. And more pictures. Especially of the wyandottes.


                        • #13
                          Wow, that's for all the information. We're just getting started in this direction as well. PIcked up 6 already laying Barred Rock hens a couple weeks ago and plan to order a set of chicks in the next week or so. We've talked about pastured beef (we could do 2 in the space we have right now), a pastured jersey for milk, as well as doing pastured broilers next year. The lady we currently have a raw milk share with also does pastured eggs and we went to visit her a couple weeks ago. She just does eggs and milk though although they do/are trying to raise all their own corn for feed as well as hay. She's a neat lady and convinced me we coudl do this.

                          I would love to have a resource like yours closer though! Sounds awesome. If you dont' mind...

                          1) with the pastured broilers, do you give them ANY additional feed beyond what they forage?

                          2) What government regulations have you come across with regards to doing pastured broilers? I know you're in a different area than I am, but curious where to start looking to make sure if we do this we're ok legally.

                          3) How big is your tractor? How big is the yard? I'm having a tough time figuring out how big a tractor with yard would need to be to keep the chickens happy with enough space but not "waste" space.

                          4) Also, where did you order the freedom rangers?

                          Last edited by tle; Aug. 24, 2010, 09:59 AM. Reason: forgot a question
                          "Of course it's hard. It's supposed to be hard. It's the Hard that makes it great."

                          "Get up... Get out... Get Drunk. Repeat as needed." -- Spike


                          • Original Poster

                            Originally posted by tle View Post
                            1) with the pastured broilers, do you give them ANY additional feed beyond what they forage?
                            Oh yes, they have Start and Grow at all times free choice. Now with the Cornish Cross broilers I'm told you have to withhold feed to get them off their butts and out moving to find food or they will just sit and eat grain. You will not find that with the traditional breeds or the Freedom Rangers. They will nibble at the mash during the day but love to roam around foraging.

                            You might not have to feed any grain/feed if they have a big enough area to forage but they definitely eat less if they have lots to eat otherwise. A chicken (old fashioned variety) will always go after bugs and other yummies before they'll eat the start and grow if given a choice.

                            Originally posted by tle View Post
                            2) What government regulations have you come across with regards to doing pastured broilers? I know you're in a different area than I am, but curious where to start looking to make sure if we do this we're ok legally.
                            This is what applies to Virginia.


                            My understanding is that under 1000 birds grown and processed in one year by a producer/processer there is no need for inspection and you may sell the poultry to customers. I am not sure but I think that law is Federal and applies across the US...BUT...at least in Virginia..we have a 20,000 bird limit with a license and an inspection of our premises. It's not super stringent to pass but you are required to have a poultry processing site that is enclosed to keep insects out, must have potable water, etc... I spoke to the person in charge of this a month ago and she told me that until I get big enough to do more than 1000 birds, to not bother getting inspected.

                            I found this googling for Ohio...so you may be able to find more on a search specifically for your state's regs.


                            Originally posted by tle View Post
                            3) How big is your tractor? How big is the yard? I'm having a tough time figuring out how big a tractor with yard would need to be to keep the chickens happy with enough space but not "waste" space.
                            My tractor/coop is 8 x 15 or 120 sq. feet, and I figure my capacity is about 60-70 hens with 14 nest boxes. I have about 65 chickens in there now with the broilers mixed in but the boy's time on earth is limited and they will be getting processed in a few weeks.

                            The rule of thumb for day range poultry is that they should have 1 sq. foot/bird inside the coop. A commercial broiler gets .33 sq. foot for his short factory farmed life...so they do get quite a bit more room this way even for the short time they are in the coop at night or locked up for foul weather. My chickens have 2 square feet in my tractor and I built the tractor to fit in my barn aisle so we can pull it in there for a Nor'Easter or a hurricane.

                            I think, but I'll have to check, that the yard should have no less 5 square feet per bird. My chicken paddock is close to 1/4 acre if not a bit bigger. They have plenty of room in there.

                            Originally posted by tle View Post
                            3)4) Also, where did you order the freedom rangers?


                            Some more info on Label Rouge standards and what it's all about:




                            • #15
                              We love our chickens! We've got a black Australorp, an Araucana, 4 Ameraucanas, 5 game hens and a game cock (which is ironic since my wife went to Clemson and their rivals are the University of South Carolina Game Cocks). We get blue, green and light brown eggs and I believe the game chickens are supposed to give us some white eggs when they finally start laying. The chickens sure do help with the insect population around the place!
                              David A. Staples
                              Pony Tail Acres | Find Us On Facebook


                              • #16

                                Those chickens and their surroundings look so healthy and clean - what a nice way to do things! I get too attached, so would buy them off of you if you lived near, but can't "process" my own guys. I just have the 2 roosters (a Black Cochin named "Elvis" and a Wynadotte named "Wiley") that I keep just for tick patrol. They are EXCELLENT at that. They are too fun and have crazy and very different personalities. Miss having hens, but the predators around here are tough, and now with the 2 roosters I don't want them fighting over a girl lol!

                                Beautiful setup - good for you!


                                • #17
                                  Scottish Highland Cattle?....

                                  Hmmm.....I don't remember them as small and I don't recall any as "docile."

                                  Years ago a woman I knew would not herd them with her 16 hand Quarter Horse stallion. (Big and fearless) On edit: (Both, not a good combination)

                                  Couple years ago was threatened by a Scottish Highland cow when trying to herd her horseback back to her pasture. She had been hauled miles away from her calf. Obviously couldn't hear it but determined to find it anyway. No 4-stand barb wire was going to stop her and certainly no humans. Maybe weaning issues?

                                  I vote for a Guernsey cow for the dairy and cross her on Hereford or Angus. Way back when, we got some good, large carcass beef on the Guernsey/Hereford cross. Most laid back bull I ever was around was an Angus. Think Angus would tend to be a bit smaller.

                                  They have stone fences in Scotland, don't they? I think that might be the only thing that would stop a Scottish Highland cow.......

                                  Your mileage may vary.


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by witherbee View Post
                                    Those chickens and their surroundings look so healthy and clean - what a nice way to do things! I get too attached, so would buy them off of you if you lived near, but can't "process" my own guys. I just have the 2 roosters (a Black Cochin named "Elvis" and a Wynadotte named "Wiley") that I keep just for tick patrol. They are EXCELLENT at that. They are too fun and have crazy and very different personalities. Miss having hens, but the predators around here are tough, and now with the 2 roosters I don't want them fighting over a girl lol!

                                    Beautiful setup - good for you!
                                    I had a flock of hens and one roo -- gradually got picked off by hawks, 'possum, 'coon, etc -- then I took all the extra roos off of a friend that had made a straight-run order - about 9 I think

                                    some got taken so quickly they didn't get named

                                    longer term I had Romeo (loved one of my goats), Beavis and Butthead (for obvious reasons)

                                    many years later Beavis still remains though he now has a limp
                                    Nothing says "I love you" like a tractor. (Clydejumper)

                                    The reports states, “Elizabeth reported that she accidently put down this pony, ........, at the show.”


                                    • #19
                                      Just a note on the possibility of going into the cattle business. It's hard to make money raising cows if you have to buy hay to feed through the winter.


                                      • #20
                                        thanks so much for this thread and all the info- we just ordered our first 25 chicks for the farm yesterday! we got the "tophat special" straight run order- a polish variety pack from the mcmurray hatchery! so excited to see them and their wonderful little crests!

                                        we want them mostly for egg laying and barn pets and i can't bring myself to think about processing them... maybe one day- it sounds so much better than buying commerical chicken meat though.

                                        do yours tend to stay around? once they are big enough to range i am a little concerned about them wandering off the property- anyone have ideas about how to teach them where home is?
                                        Jazz- 4.9.01 OTTB, loved since 12.6.09
                                        Skip- 3.3.91 APHA, i miss you buddy