Friday, May 17, 2013

Backyard broilers

I've had chickens for about a year now.  They are layers and have been great at producing eggs.  So I thought I'd give broilers a try.  What's the motivation?  Well last year I went to the Holly Springs Farmers Market and bought a free range, pastured, all natural chicken.  I don't remember exactly, but it was either $6.00 or $6.50 per pound!  We paid right around $25.00 for a roughly 4 lb. frozen bird.  I thought if I could get 5 birds for my back yard and 4 of them lived long enough to make it to the freezer, then that'd be $100 worth of chicken.

I did some research and found that the most popular meat bird is the Cornish cross.  These birds aren't without problems (see here too).  The birds have a high mortality rate, as much as 30%.  The birds have been bred to want to eat.  So they grow fast, so fast that their legs can't support their bodies and they break.  And they'll have sudden heart attacks and are sometimes even too lazy to drink water so they die of dehydration!  I don't need to deal with that.

So what's the alternative?  Freedom Rangers!  The Freedom Ranger is a hybrid broiler that has been developed for the pasture.  They reach their mature weight in 9 to 11 weeks.  I haven't heard of them having any of the problems that the Cornish cross has.

Great, I know what birds I want, now where do I get them?  I checked around and found a nearby farm that raises these birds.  I contacted them and asked if they sold the chicks.  They said, no, but they'd be glad to sell me full size frozen birds.  So I had to go right to the hatchery.  The problem there is that the minimum order is 25 birds!  I don't want that many.  Oh well, that's why craigslist exists.

The last chickens I got came with feathers.  I've never had to deal with chicks before.  I don't know what the process is or even how the hatchery gets the birds from PA to NC.  So I asked my friend who gave me the layers.  She said that the USPS ships them all the time and that when they arrive at the post office they'll call you.  That call may happen as early as 4:30 AM!  Then you have to go pick them up.  Otherwise, they sit in the back of a truck all day.  Ugh, I was not looking forward to that.

I lucked out.  The chicks were hatched Wednesday.  The email I got when I ordered said they should arrive early Friday morning.  Much to my surprise, my phone rang Thursday morning at 10:00.  It was the Post Office saying my chicks had arrived.  I called my wife and asked her if she could go pick them up.  Thank goodness!  There were no 4:30 AM calls.

As for keeping chicks...  They need heat, food, water, and a cage to contain them.
The heat lamp was ~$6 at Walmart.  I got slide-feeder at Agri Supply for $3.49.  I already had the waterer and the pine shavings.  I'm using a plain old 100 watt bulb for heat.

That's a box full of cuteness.
This is Stew.
We haven't decided on a name for this one.  It'll either be Kung Pao or General Tso.
I'm kidding about naming the birds.  We've already told the kids not to get too attached.  They are fun to watch though.  They just run around and eat and drink.  Sometimes a few will settle down only to get run over by one of the other ones.  They aren't real careful about where they are going.  I guess that happens when you've been alive for less than 36 hours.

In total I spent $67.50 for 25 chicks.  That includes shipping.  That works out to $2.70 per bird.  I picked up some chick grit and starter feed as well.  I can't find the receipt, but I think I spent around $20.  I'm going to try to keep track of my expenses to see what my cost per pound ends up being.

This should be a fun project.  Well... at least until it's time for them to graduate from the yard to the freezer.  

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