Raising chickens is easy if you follow good animal husbandry practices. Avoid these common mistakes when raising your own backyard chicken flock.
Mistake #1: Using 'dual-purpose' chickens.
If you are raising chickens for the freezer (i.e. fryers or roasters), don't use the so-called dual-purpose birds. They grow more slowly and rarely get as large as actual 'meat' birds. Order the meat bird recommended by your hatchery or feed store, usually a rock-cornish cross. These birds are intended to grow to roaster size in optimum time; taking longer than necessary to raise the birds costs you time and money.
Mistake #2: Skimping on chicken feed
If you want to raise big healthy birds, don't try to get by with cheap food - i.e. scratch grain or scraps. Feed a good quality chicken starter grain mix for 5-6 weeks, then switch to chicken grower. Chicken starter (preferably an organic grain mix) should contain about 20% protein; grower should contain about 17% protein. Your birds will also need access to mineral and grit. The birds will grow consistently and be healthier on good nutritious feed.
Mistake #3: Overfeeding your chickens.
Too much feed can cause your chickens to gain weight faster than their skeletal structure and internal organs can keep up. Feed your birds twice a day; the quantity of feed should take them about 15 minutes to clean up. This practice also helps control rodents as there is no left-over feed to attract them. When feeding this way make sure you have enough feeders so that all birds can get access to the feed.
Mistake #4: Letting your chickens get chilled or overheated
Temperature control is very important for both baby chicks and larger birds. Your little chicks need to be kept warm and dry; 95F the first week, then reducing the temperature as they feather out. A 'broody box' with a heat lamp and a screened opening for ventilation works well for chicks under 3 weeks of age. If you finish your birds on pasture, the older birds will need protection from too much sun. Provide access to shade or risk losing your roasters in the heat. Also make sure your birds never run out of fresh water when temperatures are high.
Mistake #5: Not protecting your chickens
Raising chickens successfully is mainly about controlling losses. One single attack by a predator can result in the loss of dozens of birds. You have to protect your chickens from foxes, weasels, raccoons, and even domestic dogs. Keep them in a sturdy pen, and provide a coop to lock them up at night. Or raise them on pasture and use electric netting to keep out predators. A portable coop can be easily constructed to give your birds shelter at night. The shelter can be constructed to have a canopy to provide shade as well.
Raising chickens to put in the freezer, or to put a few dollars in your pocket, is not difficult if you do your research and avoid these mistakes. A little reading can save you a lot of trouble.
p.s. If you know someone locally who has done it, getting advice for your first time is a good idea too.
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