Many new farmers and small land-owners would like to raise chickens, but are unsure how to get started. Here are answers to common questions about raising chickens for meat, based on our 8 years of experience on our small farm.
Question #1: Where do I find day-old chicks?
The first place to start the search for a source of day-old chicks is with your friends and neighbours that have raised or are raising meat birds. If you don't know anyone raising chickens, check with your local feed store. They will probably have sources, and often act as agents for hatcheries. Finally, you can locate hatcheries om the internet.
Question #2: What kind of chicks should I buy?
I strongly recommend you buy the meat bird type that is commonly raised in your area. This is usually some type of Cornish cross e.g. rock-Cornish. Don't buy dual-purpose birds for meat, or the 'alternate' meat birds some hatcheries offer. These other birds will not grow as fast or as large as a true meat bird.
Question #3: How do i care for the baby chicks?
Here's what you need to care for baby chicks: chick feeders, chick waterers, good quality chick starter feed with about 20% protein, wood shavings, straw or shredded newspaper for bedding, and an enclosed, rodent-proof, heated, area. The first four items are available at your feed store; you can build a simple 'broody' box out of plywood and install a heat lamp for warmth. When you pick up your little birds, get them into your broody box as soon as possible. Put down a good layer of shavings or straw.
Special Note: Day old chicks might ingest some shavings. I have seen recommendations against covering the shavings with newspaper, but it has always worked for me. You can remove the paper in a week or so.
Day-old chicks can easily survive without food or water for 24 hours, but it's best to provide feed and water right away. You will need one 1-gallon waterer and 1 2-foot feeder for every 25 chicks to start. Feed the birds twice a day, and add another feeder and waterer as they get older.
Question #4: How long do the chicks stay in the broody box?
Your little chicks need to be kept warm and dry for about 3 weeks; keep the temperature at 95F the first week, then reducing the temperature as they feather out. They should be fully feathered at about 3 weeks of age, and won't need supplementary heating after that.
Question#5: How long do I feed them chick starter?
Keep your chicks on starter ration for 5-6 weeks, then switch to a grower ration with about a 17% protein content.
Raising chickens for meat is not difficult. If you follow the advice here you will minimize losses and raise healthy (and tasty) birds.
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