Chicken Season- GO!

After last years disasterous chicken farming season I was almost ready to give up.  With the bees gone I’m not feeling like a very successful mini-farmer.  So as an unsuccessful mini-farmer I’m going to follow my typical impulse and try, try again; I’ve decided to raise 200 chickens this year.  I ordered them to arrive in batches of 50 last week.  They will  be coming every 3-6 weeks over the next 6 months.

1 week old Cornish XRock chicks

1 week old Cornish XRock chicks

Part of the problem last year:

1.  It’s recommended to keep the chicks in a *brooder from day 1- week 3.  I left them in the brooder one week too long.  They had plenty of space but because they are already stressed in the high altitude I’m pretty sure it didn’t help.  Controlling the dust and keeping things clean becomes real difficult past week 3 in our brooder.

2.  I’m raising fast growing Cornish XCross  chickens (AKA broilers).  It is a breed that is not recommended to raise when you are living over 6,000 ft in altitude…we are over 7,000 ft. They grow so quickly and are so much better tasting that I ‘m going to keep adjusting my growing techniques to allow these chickens to thrive.

3.  Last year we had a batch in with the baby ducks.  Hindsight is everything.  What I didn’t know is ducks get their water everywhere.  These chicks are delicate.  I believe that the moisture in the air and in the bedding might have led respiratory illness.

Changes this year:

  • They will only be kept in the brooder for the allotted 3 weeks.
  • I’m adding some vitamins and minerals to their water.  It’s called ‘Broiler Booster’ and I get it from Murray McMurray Hatchery
  • I will take July and August off- this is the hottest time in Santa Fe.  The heat can stress the chickens.
  • Mike’s cousin raises pastured chickens commercially (ironically he’s a vegetarian) in Maine.  He has had more success then any other chicken farmer I have read about (<5% loss).  I’m going to talk to him more and get details how I can make improvements.

A few things you may have not known:

Although you can eat any type of chicken CornishXCross are by far the most popular.  If you buy poultry in the store this is the kind of chicken you are getting.  Even though there are some 9 billion chickens consumed in the US. The word on the street is that only 4 hatcheries in the US that hatch CornishXCross.  I ordered them from a hatchery in Eastern NM but they get them from Iowa.

Raising our own chickens to eat means we can assure they were raised in sunlight and fresh air (which help to control diseases), they are killed quickly and processed cleanly without using harsh chemicals.

Cornish XCross’s are not very attractive nor do they have endearing personalities.  I’m just sayin’ it makes butcher day a little easier.

*A brooder is an enclosed area that keeps the chicks warm and away from any drafts.  There’s many variations on the theme.  We made our walls out of plexi-glass to allow as much natural light in as possible.  Some issues with a brooder is ventilation.  It’s tough to ventilate when you don’t want to expose them to drafts.  To help this we’ve attached a small outside run to the brooder.  We start letting them go outside when they are about 10 days old.

Moving upward and onward…

So with my chin up and the brooder cleaned out I will try once again to be the best chicken farmer I can be.  On the bright side I don’t have to do much to do better than last year!

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Here’s where else we are showing off our prowess as Chicken Farmers:

Homesteaders Blog Carnival

Home Grown NM

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17 Comments

  1. lgd113@yahoo.com
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    I read and worried about ventilation, too. But, the ventilation problem is in commercial chicken houses, not our small-time chicken raising. I kept mine in a plastic box indoors for three months. When I realized they were pecking each other featherless, they got an outdoor pad. It was makeshift and wet. So, maybe all the things you think you did wrong were not so detrimental to their health. Some chickens do better in more temperate climates.  If I remember, the cornishxcross had a few drawbacks. I’m not sure what. I got my chicks from an Amish couple. Chicks had no vaccinations. They remained healthy through exposure of 9 F and only a Rubbermaid container that they refused to go into. They slept on top of the box, even on cold nights. I did everything wrong and all ten survived.

    I do agree that ducks are a bad thing with chicks or older chickens. It’s a wonder mine did not freeze to death when I tried to ventilate them.  Then, I covered them tightly and were surprised each morning when they were alive.  

    • Posted March 27, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Our very first batch we did back in the Fall of 2010 we did great with. No more deaths than with the slow grows. I still am scratching my head trying to figure out what we did right!

  2. Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    The best of (c)luck for this season!   I egg-spect your results will be hen-tastic.    (..sorry..)

  3. Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Our incubator is on!

  4. Linda Nellett
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Molly, I was really impressed with Harvey Ussery’s book The Small Scale Poultry Flock and highly recommend it for anyone trying to raise poultry for eggs or meat in a less commercial way. He has written a lot of articles for Backyard Poultry magazine that are incredibly informative and well written, and I think he also has a website and/or blog.

    I know CornishXCross are bred for gaining weight quickly and are optimized for commercial operations, but I’ve read good things about alternate breeds like the Freedom Ranger that are better adapted for the real world conditions found on small scale farms and yards. Freedom Ranger birds are also supposed to put on weight quickly and they may work better in your area. J.M. Hatchery (www.jmhatchery.com) has them, but you may be able to find this breed or something similar to it at a hatchery closer to you.

    Best of luck with your meat birds!

    • Steve C Haines
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      M&M,
      I am also not totally convinced the CornishXCross are appropriate.  Spending the extra time, additives and extra $ to help them survive at higher altitudes might be a wash to the speed of harvesting.  The greater mortality of birds which can expire early is a drawback especially after feeding for a period of time.  The alternative slower growing breeds are well suited to outdoor production.  Because they spend longer outside, the meat on these birds develops a richer and more complex taste with firmer texture than their Cornish Cross cousins. Is not part of point of home raising birds to cultivate a variety of species rather than the common supermarket variety?  The bigger picture could be biodiversity of different species which may take a little longer to mature but have stronger genetic personalities.  I know you have had some problems and disasters in the chicken past, but wish you all the luck.
      Steve

      • Posted April 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I beg to differ on the taste.  Once I tasted the Cornish fast grow vs. the slow grow there was no going back in my mind.  But…just for you….because you are a dear friend …I will order a batch of Freedom Rangers!

  5. Linda Nellett
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    After I posted, I found this article from a previous edition of Backyard Poultry online. It was written by my favorite contributor to that magazine, Harvey Ussery. ;-)

    http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/issues/4/4-2/alternatives_to_the_cornish_cross.html

  6. Nino
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Good luck this year!

  7. Mommy Sha
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Good luck this year. It sounds like chicken madness is on.
    mommy sha

  8. Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Good luck!! This is one of those things I can say I will never ever do. But man it’s fun to watch you guys!

  9. Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    good luck molly/mike!  I’ve wanted to give this a try as well!

  10. Linda Nellett
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    If you can stand another comment on this…I just got my latest edition of Backyard Poultry and there’s an ad from a hatchery called S&G Poultry (www.sandgpoultry.com) in Alabama that is offering “Red Ranger,” “Rainbow,” “Golden Nugget,” and Naked Neck chicks to be grown as broiler birds. Seems the number of hatcheries offering faster growing meat birds that are an alternative to the CornishXCross is growing!

    • Posted March 31, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Comment away Linda!  You always have great information.  I’m going to substitute one of my batches of cornish with freedom rangers.  I’ll take a look in Backyard Poultry to see the ad.  
      One year I was at the feed store with my kids getting a few chicks.  I wanted the Naked Necks but when the girls saw the photo of the grown chicken they told me they would never go in the chicken yard with those kind of chickens!  Bejebus!

  11. Sherry
    Posted April 1, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    OH MY!!!! I have 6 chix in my bathroom right now, I can’t imagine having 50 at a time!!!  Mine are sweet barred rock babies.  I had 6 grown ladies and 6 white leghorns  in the barn, but my neighbor’s dog paid them a visit and now there are only 3 left.  Good luck!

    • Posted April 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Our brooder use to be the girls bathtub- they hated it!  Our max was 25 for the tub though.
      I warn people that the most devestating predators to the backyard chicken  is the domesticated dog and not the coyote.  Our 8lb dog kill one of our chickens once!

One Trackback

  1. By Buy Fresh Poultry | Home Grown New Mexico on June 10, 2012 at 11:22 am

    [...] are deep into our chicken season and it seems like there is a chicken at every turn.  This year we decided to raise and process [...]

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