Interested in raising chickens or other poultry species for meat? It’s a different game than raising laying hens. Listen in as Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart shares valuable advice on getting started in the meatbird world.
Cornish Crosses are the best bird to raise for meat
Separate them from other breeds
Restrict their diet to feed 12 hours on, 12 hours off
Feed a specialized meat bird diet that is higher in protein
A big part of keeping your backyard chickens happy and healthy is providing them high quality chicken feed, like those from Nutrena! But if you don’t store your feed properly, no matter what brand you buy, you can run into trouble. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart a few key tips to keeping your feed fresh and your girls happy!
Dump feed in a metal trash can with a lid on it to keep out rodents
Save the tag from the feed bag
Keep feed in a dry, cool place
Buy a little less feed in the summer time, more trips to the feed store
If you bought new baby chicks this spring, they might be getting close to ready to go from the brooder to the coop. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to make the transition a successful one!
Chicks should be fully feathered before transitioning
Place chicks in metal dog crate for two weeks before moving to the coop
Learn what the most important components of a brooder are for raising baby chicks. From the types of brooder containers, to lighting, to bedding to use, you’ll know all the key tips to keep your chicks happy and healthy in the brooder.
An old stock tank, plastic tote or cardboard box work well to hold the chicks and keep the heat in.
Make sure heat lamp is secured.
Both clear and red bulbs work fine. Red bulbs will reduce cannibalism.
Chicks like to scratch in the feeder and will waste a lot of feed when they’re young.
Use baby chick starter feed for the first 16 weeks.
Few foods are as appealing to a hungry chicken as a bunch of young lettuce or spinach sprouts poking through the spring soil. Given the chance, a few hens will quickly devour plants intended for their owner’s kitchen.
Ironically, few soil additives are as appreciated by lettuce, spinach and other vegetables as chicken manure. Plants seem to leap from the ground and produce human food in abundance when stimulated by the droppings that chickens produce every day.
The trick to achieving both healthy chickens and an abundant garden is managing the flock in a way that the hens help the gardener instead of their gobbling down valued veggies.
Here are a few ways to manage a flock for garden abundance:
The Double-Run System
Probably the best and easiest way to manage a flock and garden is to create a double run. The chicken run is simply the fenced in area where the birds enjoy daylight hours lounging, dusting their feathers, and foraging for seeds, insects, tender sprouts, and bits of stone that helps their digestion. Over the course of the day they deposit their droppings randomly.
Most coops have just a single run, but often the owner can convert this into a double-run system. The bigger and sunnier the area the better.
Stretch a wire mesh fence six or eight feet tall to split the run roughly in half. Devise a way to allow the chickens to access only one side of the run at a time. The rest is easy.
In one gardening season let the hens into only one side. Plant the garden in the other. Next year, reverse it. It’s an outstanding way to rotate crops and nutrients.
Many flock owners don’t have enough room to create the double-run system described above. They can still use chickens to help with gardening chores.
For most common garden vegetables, it’s vital to keep the birds excluded during the growing season. Otherwise they’ll harvest the crops. However, usually there are several weeks after the snow melts but before it’s warm enough to plant seeds. Come fall once the season’s last vegetables are harvested, there is often a long cooling window of time until the ground freezes and snow falls. These are prime times for chickens to enjoy gleaning tasty morsels from the garden.
Chickens have superb vision, strong legs and feet, and nimble pointed beaks. They gleefully spend hours scratching up the soil. Humans might call it tilling. Their sharp eyes spot tiny weed seeds and insect eggs and larvae. Their pointed beaks snatch them from the soil and turn them into delicious protein filled food. Chickens remove the seeds and bugs that can pester next year’s vegetable plants and convert them to food.
Turn a flock loose in early spring or late fall and hens will usually head right for the rich garden soil hiding delicious goodies, but there’s a way to encourage them to target the places that need the most chicken foot rototilling. Bait them by scattering a few handfuls of dried mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds – those in the hull – in the garden and rake them gently into the soil. Hens love mealworms and sunflower seeds. In the process of hunting these goodies they’ll loosen and soften the soil and discover hidden insects and weed seeds.
Excluding Chickens from The Garden
Many people can’t let their chickens forage in the garden, but they can still blend vegetable and chicken husbandry. It’s simple. Weeds and vegetable waste mixed with chicken manure and manure-laden litter decay into outstanding compost. Work the compost into the soil before seed planting and watch the vegetables flourish upward.
Much research is being done on the benefits of using chickens to restore degraded grasslands in China and Europe. Essentially scientists are finding how helpful it is to let hens access land. Dr. Carl Rosier works for the Rodale Institute at Etzel’s Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying ways to improve soils in cropland. “Chicken manure stimulates plant growth and increases soil productivity, water holding capacity, and nutrient retention. In a nutshell chickens, when incorporated into the garden correctly, can help bring balance to the soil ecosystem,” he said.
Many families that keep chickens also enjoy growing beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. It feels good to bring both fresh eggs and crops into the kitchen. Meshing chickens with gardening is a perfect way to maximize food production while improving the soil’s health.
winter’s subzero cold stresses people and animals, the blistering summer heat
is usually a greater threat to lives and health. Wise chicken keepers prepare
their coop and run to be comfortable and safe during the July and August
chickens cool during the hot months involves providing shade, water, and a
Panting causes increased evaporation that helps chickens cool their bodies. During summer they’ll drink plenty of water, so placing several founts or buckets of cool, clean water scattered about the run and coop allows them to frequently drink without a long walk. Water fouls quickly in hot weather, so replacing stale water with fresh water is a daily summer task.
love a cool breeze during hot waves. Resting in the shade under a ramada lets a
breeze coming from any direction cool them during the day. Like people,
chickens enjoy a cool night time breeze while they sleep. Coop windows
positioned to allow cross ventilation help keep sleeping birds comfortable
through the night. Make sure that open windows or doors are covered with heavy
duty wire mesh to repel raccoons and insect screening to keep gnats and
chickens lucky enough to have a large, sunny outdoor run love to sit in the
shade on hot days. If they are lucky, the run has several shrubs that protect
them from sunshine. A simple ramada provides that shade if shrubs are absent. A
chicken ramada is not a fancy motel. It’s a structure easily made from a
discarded pallet. In the hot sunny southwest people traditionally built an open
sided structure of sticks that lets the breeze in while sheltering people from
the blazing sun. A chicken ramada does the same.
love spending time outdoors in a spacious run. It’s a place for them to
socialize, relax and discover tasty seeds and insects to eat. Unfortunately,
the outdoors can be a dangerous place.
hazards are common. One is the blazing summer sun that can be lethal if birds
can’t find cool shade and water. The other is overhead predators, usually
hawks, that occasionally swoop down seeking a tasty chicken dinner.
Building a Ramada
A chicken ramada shields birds from heat and raptors. A simple one can be made for less than $1.00 in about an hour, even by people lacking fancy carpentry skills.
Step 1: Find three free pallets. Some two billion pallets are in daily circulation around the world. Many are used only one time and then discarded. Stores and factories often pile pallets out back to be hauled away and disposed of. It costs them money to get rid of them, so often simply asking the store or factory manager for permission to remove a few brings and enthusiastic, “Yes!” Before picking up a pallet inspect it carefully. Most will be stamped with the letters HT. This means the pallet was placed in a massive oven and HEAT TREATED…..baked to kill any insects or weed seeds that might be lurking on it. Pallets with this marking are safe to handle. Occasional, pallets might be marked MB or have a tag saying they’ve been chemically treated to kill pests. Leave them alone! They aren’t safe for either people or chickens. Bring three heat treated pallets home and place them on a level surface.
Step 2: Using a hammer, pry bar, and nail puller, carefully disassemble two of the three pallets. Often pallet wood splits easily, so pry slowly and carefully to keep the boards intact. Most pallets are made of 1/2 to 3/4th inch thick boards nailed to 2X4s. You’ll need four 2X4s 24” long and one intact pallet to make the ramada. Save the 2X4s from the disassembled pallets and use the other boards for fireplace kindling or projects around the coop.
Step 3: Cut the 2X4s to 24” and use a screw gun to attach them to the bottom corners of the pallet that was not disassembled. Nails work if no screw gun is available. Buying screws or nails is the only cost of this project. Basically, a chicken ramada is a table-like structure with the 2X4s forming the legs and the intact pallet the surface. The length of the legs isn’t critical and can be anywhere from 18” to 36” long.
Step 4 (optional): Paint the new Ramada or coat it with a wood preservative.
Step 5: Place it in the chicken run. Try to position it as close to the middle as possible. This will prevent adventuresome chickens from flying out of the coop. Some chickens will flap up to the ramada and use it as a launching pad to fly over a fence that they wouldn’t otherwise have enough wing power to clear. If the ramada is a ways from the fence they won’t have the strength to escape.
ramada made from a recycled pallet has spaces between the boards that allow
some sunlight to filter to the ground, but mostly it casts a cool shade that
chickens loiter in on hot days. Often, they also like perching on top.
instinctively recognize that danger sometimes comes from above. They have
excellent vision and a few birds in the flock constantly scan the sky for
danger. Should a raptor or crow fly over they’ll give a warning call, sending
the flock scurrying for safety under the ramada.
heat isn’t far away. Comfortable chickens are productive birds and providing
water, shade, and breezes keeps them safe.