Troubles with your chickens (and what to do about it)

We've been raising meat chickens on the farm for 8 years or so. Over that time we have had our challenges getting the birds up to size and off to the abattoir. Here's a few tips to help avoid troubles with your chickens.

- Overfeeding the birds. -

I think more problems are caused by feeding your meat birds too much rather than too little, especially when they are small.

Too much feed (or too rich feed) will cause the birds to put on weight faster than their skeletal structure and internal organs can support. Chick starter feed should have a protein content of 20-21%. Grower should have a protein content of 18%. Try not to exceed that. If your birds develop spraddle leg, remove all feed for 24 to 48 hours; give them water only.

For example, this year I'm raising my birds in batches of 75 at a time; I start out feeding them just over a pound of feed twice a day. It takes a couple weeks to work up to 2 pounds twice a day.

My experience says twice a day feeding is more successful in the long run than leaving food in front of the birds all day. The feed stays cleaner and fresher, and twice a day monitoring keeps you on top of other troubles with your chickens. The birds may grow a little slower, but they will be healthier.

- Overcrowding at the feeders. -

Conversely, you might be providing enough feed, but not enough feeder space. If you have a lot of small birds mixed with some HUGE ones, you might need to add a feeder or two. There will always be a natural variance in weight gain among your meat birds, but you don't want 2-pounders trying to compete with 5-pounders.

A rule of thumb is to provide 1 large round feeder or one 8-foot long for every 25 birds; it's better to have too many feeders rather than too few.

- Overheating in the brooders. -

While your new chicks need to be kept warm, it is possible for them to get too hot, especially in warm weather. If you use broody boxes like I do for my chicks, check the day time temperature regularly.

If you see birds with 'pasty butt', this could indicate that your little birds are too hot. The broody boxes we use have a screened portion on top to help regulate the heat. We turn off the heat lamp during the daytime, in warm weather.

And, once the birds are a couple weeks old, we leave the broody box open in the day time; we cover the top with some plastic netting to keep the little birdies in.

Information for your small farm
Secret Gardener's HandbookFree Gardener's Secrets book

screened broody box

Screen opening on our broody box helps prevent overheating

To sum it up, successful chicken raising depends on good observation. Pay attention to your birds' behaviour and appearance when you feed them.

It's good to detect problems early on; it's even better to AVOID troubles with your chickens in the first place. We now rarely lose a bird from the causes given above, because we've learned how to anticipate and prevent trouble.

See also:

Raising chickens for meat

The How to Raise Meat Chicken Handbook

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