Backyard Chicken Tips

We have an entry from the local blog Mike & Molly’s House. They have a mini-farm outside of Santa Fe and write about money-saving ideas, gardening, chickens, recycled paper greenhouse production and much more. You can follow them at mikeandmollyshouse.com and come to their classes in April and May.

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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5 responses to “Backyard Chicken Tips

  1. Pingback: Chicken Season- GO! - Mike and Molly's House

  2. Why are you raising these chickens when they don’t do well at 6000ft, let alone 7000ft? Is there no alternative for you-no high-altitude variety? How big is your chicken run–200 chickens is a lot of chickens!

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  3. One more thing: what happened to your bees? I’m a beekeeper myself and new at it, too. Just curious.

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  4. Tracy,
    Great questions! Taste and making a profit are the two main reasons I switched to the fast-growers. At the end of my first season in 2010 I ended up with 75 chickens (I started with just over 100). They were the slow-grow variety. I raised them over the summer in batches of 25. For all my effort I made about $1 and hour. The feed was my greatest cost. Going with the fast-growers meant I could increase my profit. Now, I was not expecting to become a millionaire but at this rate I was at a high risk for going in the red with my little business. In the fall of 2010 I raised 25 fast-growers and had the same number of losses as my slow-growers. Culling them 2 weeks earlier meant I could actually make a business out of this. The other surprise was the taste. They are a much tenderer chicken than the slow-growers. This is subjective. I have a friend that prefers the firmer texture and more complex taste of the older slow-grow chicken.
    In 2011 we lost 75% of our first batch of 50. It was devastating. I know realize my biggest mistake was to grow them in the same brooder as the ducks. These chicks are sensitive to respiratory issues and the ducks would play in the water. I believe this was not healthy for the chicks. Joel Salentin wrote a book called ‘Pasture Poultry Profits’. In it he has an entire chapter devoted to his trials and tribulations of raising meat chickens. It’s a great book! If I have over 30% losses with this batch of fast-growers I will switch to some of the other breeds like the Freedom Rangers.
    I raise them in batches of 25-50 over the season (not 200 at a time). My brooder is 3’x9′ with an outdoor yard they can access when they are 10 days older. They will stay in there until they hit 3 weeks. At that point I split them up and put them in my two mobile pens that are 4’x8′. Again they have a yard to access during the day. The Cornish Rock (fast or slow variety) are not like your typical breed of chicken. They do not move much. I have to shoo them out into the yard. They sit around and eat….

    I just wrote an update about my bees, you can read that here:

    http://mikeandmollyshouse.com/growing/the-bees-where-did-they-go/

    If you are a local beekeeper I’d love to touch base with you!

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  5. Pingback: They are so FREAKIN’ cute! | A HEALTHY LIFE

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