It’s that time of year again! Raising broilers only takes a short time, but there are several tips and tricks that will help keep your chicks alive when you get them.
I ordered our broiler chickens last week. They will be arriving at the end of March. It can still be really cold at that time, but we have our brooder permanently set up so it’s not a big deal.
We’ve been raising chickens for many years. Some years we have a lot of birds, some years not so many. Some years we’ve had Leghorns, broilers, and turkeys. This year we ordered 35 chickens and 15 turkeys.
We ordered Cornish Cross birds for meat birds and beautiful Orlopp Bronze Turkeys.
One year we had it -39*F the first night the chicks were at their new home. Our heater was not able to warm it up sufficiently, and we had frozen turkey chicks legs.
It was horrible, and we thought they might not make it. But thankfully, they all recovered and had no lasting effects!
Raising broilers from start to finish is something we’ve done for many years now. Not only do we enjoy eating our homegrown broilers, teaching the process of field-to-table to our kids is important to us.
The amount of time it takes to grow broilers is not very long. If you have the setup complete, it’s not that much work. Turkeys, on the other hand, take a lot longer to raise up.
The fast growth of Cornish Cross Broilers is excellent as a meat bird. They are bred for meat, which means they do not do well as breeders and egg producers. They get too big and heavy to breed well.
For a dual-purpose breed, the Red Sussex Cross, or the Red Rock Cross would be better. I would love to try this one day when we have a winter barn properly set up. Canadian winters are a challenge in itself.
Heritage Breeds such as Barred Plymouth Rock and the Columbian Rock do not do as well for meat production unless you butcher them while they are still young.
Where To Order Broilers
We order day-old chicks through our local farm supply store. If you have a local Hatchery, you can also order through them, or they will direct you to the right place.
When To Order Your Chicks
It’s a good practice to make your broiler order a month ahead of your desired pick-up date.
To my understanding, hatcheries incubate the number of eggs according to the number of orders they have, so you need to order ahead of time. They might have extra’s so if you forgot, it is worth a call to see.
What You Need
You need to be prepared for your chicks ahead of time. When you get the broiler chickens, they haven’t had any water or feed.
This is the reason why they are able to transport them to faraway places. But this also means the first thing you need to do when you get them is to place them in a warm place and dip their beaks into water (more on that in a minute).
Before Your Get Your Chicks, Make Sure You Have:
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You can make your own brooder (which is what have) or buy a Chick And Quail Brooder. This one has a capacity of 125-day old chicks.
I don’t have any experience using one of those, so please do your own research.
We have a DIY brooder room, with heat lamps, and a thermometer that has a sensor inside our house so we can constantly monitor the temperature. Temperature is the most important aspect of keeping young chicks alive.
That, and a good source of feed and water.
You can learn how to make your own brooder here.
The ones we use look a lot like these. It’s important to make sure you regulate them by plugging them into a Digital Temperature Controller.
Temperature fluctuations can kill small birds, so you want to make sure to regulate it well. The temperature of your brooder room will also change as they grow older, so it’s important to know the standard and follow it.
Too cold, and your chicks will die. Too hot and they will die. Normal room temperature is too cold for chicks.
The proper thermometer will increase the success rate of raising broilers. We got this one last year and its works great. The digital settings make it super easy to manage the temperature in your brooder room.
Straw does not work as well as shavings. Local farm stores usually carry this as well. If you’re really stuck, Amazon has them too.
Plastic Founts For Water
As they get older, you will also need:
A large Feed Tube & Pan
This is absolutely necessary. The small chick feeders are better for the small chicks because they can’t reach into the big ones. Broilers eat a LOT, so you need a bigger feeder.
All this should also be available in your local Farm Supply Store. We buy most of our farming supplies at local stores, but we also live in a farming community. Most stuff is also available online.
Prepare your border at least a week before the chicks arrive. Thoroughly clean and disinfect all the equipment, walls and ceilings, and floor. Allow the area to dry completely. Disinfect all feeders and waterers as well.
The Day Before You Get Your Chicks:
The day before you get your meat chickens, you want to pre-warm your brooder. Make sure your heat lamps are the correct height and place fresh wood shavings on the floor.
A good 4” of shavings, packed down, is recommended. Make sure the surface is as level as possible.
These will also need to be replaced periodically. Once every two weeks should be sufficient unless your brooder is very crowded.
Place your thermometer away from the heat lamps. It will be warmer under there, so it is more accurate to place your thermometer sensor somewhere in the middle of the room.
Ours is in the middle against the back wall. Check your temperature at chick height. Check for cold spots and drafts.
Set your temperature-controlled light to 95*F/35*C.
Put out the feed. Hold off on the water until chicks arrive. The water should be cold so that the chicks don’t get into the water.
When The Chicks Arrive
The first step after getting your chicks is to take care to keep the chicks from drafts as you transport them from your vehicle to the brooder room.
Fill the Water Container with cold water, and place it on the floor. The first two hours after your chicks arrive are critical. They need to adjust to their surroundings.
Make sure the corners of your brooder are rounded so they can’t pile into them.
Taking each chick out one, by one, dip their beaks into the water. Make sure they have taken at least a sip then set them on the floor.
Again check your temperature, making sure it is the right temp. Using a monitor makes it so much easier because you can watch them from inside the house.
We’ve used a baby monitor for some years now, and a temperature-regulated heat lamp.
Chicks do not have the ability to control their body temperature until they are two weeks old.
Floor temperature and insulation have a big effect on the chics during this time, even more than the air temperature. Make sure to provide enough dry litter to provide protection from the cold floor.
A cold chick will huddle for warmth, and in doing so will not eat and drink. If your chicks are huddling, it’s too cold in there! Very important to look not only at the temperature but also at the behavior of the chicks.
Huddling chicks are too cold, but if they are all spreading out as far as they can, towards a cool wall, it can mean it’s too hot in there.
Monitor your chicks extensively for the first four days to prevent the loss of chicks.
Consistent heat, water, food, and good quality air will result in consistent growth. Proper heat regulation will also prevent future problems such as heart attacks and leg issues.
When Do Baby Chicks Start Eating and Drinking
They start eating and drinking as soon as they have been given water. This stimulates their digestive system. We always dip their beaks into the water when they first arrive.
The first week is crucial to the health of your birds.
Temperature Regulation Of Chicks
|Week 1||32*C-35*C (90*F-95*F)|
|Week 2||29*C-32*C (85*F-90*F)|
|Week 3||26*C-29*C (80*F-85*F)|
|Week 4||23*C-26*C (75*F-80*F)|
|Week 5||20*C-23*C (70*F-75*F)|
|Week 6 and onward||18*C-21*C (65*F-70*F)|
Meat Chicken Feed Schedule
Day 1 to week 3, Feed them 20-23% Protein Chick Starter. You want this medicated unless your birds have been vaccinated against Coccidiosis.
This is also a personal choice. Birds can still thrive in optimal conditions without all the medications.
Week 3 and Onwards: 16-18% Chick Grower. Mix together starter and grower gradually over one week so they can get adjusted slowly.
Two weeks before butchering, put them on a Broiler feed called Finisher. We make our own homemade chop which is also a great o
ption. Not only does it cut down on the cost, it also is a lot healthier. Make sure they don’t receive any medication 2 weeks prior to butchering.
How Long Does It Take To Grow A Broiler Chicken
It takes approximately 8 weeks to grow a broiler chicken. Your bird should be about 4-5 lbs at this time. We like our birds a bit bigger, so we feed them for 10-12 weeks.
Also, if you will feed them more homemade chops, they might also grow slower. This is not a problem for us, because we prefer them not as pushed, but you can butcher them after 8 weeks.
For smaller birds, some even butcher them at 6 weeks.
Signs A Baby Chick Is Dying
Without proper temperature, feed, and water, baby chicks are notorious for dying off the first week so it’s crucial to take good care of them.
A baby chick that is dying will be extremely lethargic. It will stop running around, and make no effort to run away from you.
Proper hygiene is also important to keep them from dying. It is a common problem to have some chicks during the first week.
It might be a genetic disorder or health issue that cannot be fixed. Do your best to follow the steps, and let God take care of the rest.
Moving Meat Birds Out OF The Brooder
This will depend on the temperature of your chicken coop Because we get our meat birds in March when it’s still really cold outside, we keep them in the brooder for longer.
The general rule is to follow the chart above. If home temperature ranges around 75 degrees (Fahrenheit), you won’t need a heat lamp past week four.
In barns and garages which may run colder, you will need to supply a heat source until they are fully feathered, which is about 6 weeks of age.
Feeding Grown Broilers
Cornish Crosses (Broilers) love to eat and they will eat themselves dead if allowed. A good habit to have is to take away feed for the night. Or just give them enough that they run out by night.
Another thing we always do, after 6 weeks of age, is to separate the waterers and feeders by at least 6-8 feet. This makes the chickens get up and walk over to the water/feed.
This keeps their legs stronger so they have fewer leg issues. Because of being bred for meat, meat birds are notoriously heavy and eat ravishingly once they get older.
Feeding them homemade chop is a great way to lessen the cost of your feed, and if you can feed them grass using a chicken tractor, your meat will be even healthier.
There is a lot more that I could say about raising meat birds. Let me know if you have any questions. You can download this as a PDF if you need a copy in your barn.
Parasite problems? READ: Natural ways to deworm chickens.