Finished my first flock of Chickens

De Bauer

Chirping
Nov 5, 2020
40
132
50
I am a new member here.. While new I have been gleaning info from the members here for yrs.. Much of what I learned and my success was because of you all.

Thought I would give an accounting. Really kicking myself for not taking video or pics.. Will do that for sure next season.. This is likely to be VERY lengthy but I wanted to share it.

First was the hatchery.. I was all prepared to order from one of the recommended mail order hatcheries.. A few members mentions Reich Hatchery in PA.. While not right down the road it was in driving distance.. They are great.. They are small family owned 2nd or 3rd generation hatchery.. Their site is very antiquated and you must call to order.. Their CS is great as is the quality of the poultry.. They mainly supply the Amish and other local farmers in the area.

We ordered 50 Cornish X.. When we arrived at opening for pickup they had added an extra box of chicks for that days orders so had extra chicks.. I ended up with 60 at no extra cost.

Reich Poultry Farm


Got them home within a couple hours and ASAP into the brooder and on food, water, and heat. We used an electrolyte probiotic water supplement.

I used a Soy free non GMO feed from Sunrise Farms out of Stuarts Draft Va next to Staunton.. I ordered in bulk for discount.

My cousins family does commercial pasture raised chickens in moble tractors.. All their kids did 4H chickens and always competed and won meat division.. He recommended I start them on higher protein using Turkey gamebird starter 27% crude protein for the first couple weeks.

We moved them to the tractor at day 17.. The idea to get them on grass and use to scratching foraging early..

To stimulate them scratching/foraging I spread some meal worms in the pine chips a couple times each day when I checked on them in the brooder.

Once in the tractor I would throw a handful of meal worms on the fresh grass before I moved the tractor on it.. They went crazy for it scratching and searching for them.

The tractor was large. I may go with two smaller ones next season.. The tractor is 16'X8' for 128sqft which for 60 birds gives them 2.13sqft/bird.

For feed I used plastic rain gutters mounter to the end and sides of the tractor. One 8' section on the end and 2x4' sections, one on each side. The joining ends cut @ 45° for one connected trough.. The trough end is the lead end of tractor when moving it. I would fill the trough then move the tractor to new grass.. This kept all the birds piled at the lead end so they could not be run over or caught and injured by the back end of the tractor.. I saw this issue reported by a number of members here while the birds learned to move.

For water I used 2 Piasson Breeder Drinking Bells.. I chose the larger ones as we plan for turkeys next year.. They were connected to a 25gal container.

We kept them on full access feed thru wk4, then switched to 12/12.

We butchered at day 52 a few days past wk 7.. Holding food for 24hrs prior..



We rented / borrowed a plucker and T-Stat controlled scalder with dunking crane and a lazy Susan dispatching carousell tower with a tub to catch the blood. Held 6 chickens at a time; 4 normal and 2 large cones. What a time saver.. We finished all 60 in 4.5 hrs.. It could have easily taken twice as long.

We had zero losses..
Total chickens processed: 60

Chicken Carcass weight averaged out for 52 days:

Pullet: 5.9lb

Cockerel: 7.9lb

These were weighed after the necks were fully removed.. Add between 1/3-1/2lb including necks;. a few more ounces for liver gizzard heart.. No pullet was under 5lb or cockerel under 7lb.


I am a research nut,. Spend lots of time on NIH PubMed research sites as well as many others like Google scholar etc.. The poultry got the same treatment LOL.

To finish up with the processing I read about how high end poultry processors are switching from submersion cooling to air chilled coolers. Benefits being better skin and meat quality. Submersion causes soggy skin etc...

My homestead hack for that was to purchase cheap bread bags.. After processing and final rinse we bagged them and knotted it.. Then tucked the knotted end into the carcass cavity.. Then into the ice bath.. Still got cooled but no direct contact with the water.

They were rested for 48hr at 36 degrees.. Research shows no benefit after 24hr but my grandfather and many others do 72hrs.. I split the difference.

I research brining and found the most retained moisture and tenderness was from dry brining and doing so prior to freezing.. So we salted them using the recommended Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. Then immediately heat shrink bagged them.. I used the Texas Poultry Shrink bags using the straw method.. That was very new to me.

Then into the deep freeze.



Going into this I was concerned with losses.. I had seen many lose 1 to 3 out of 50 but some as high as 5 or more.. So I researched it.

I believe one of the reasons significantly effecting chicken health and performance over their entire cycle comes from early stress and feed restriction.. I had my chicks on feed water and ideal temp within 24hrs of hatch.. Only the few hours transported from hatchery to our brooder had them without access.

There are a number of research papers and articles about how critical that first 5 days to week is foundational for these birds.

Effects of delayed feed intake on body, intestine and muscle development in neonate broilers

Why the first week's feed can make or break broiler performance

That is just two examples of many.

There is no doubt day old chicks can survive 3 days off food and water.. But I think there is no questio that being in a box in the mail system on top of that restriction is highly stressful and research seems to indicate this can have long term negative effects..

It's also known proper/inproper incubation can have a similar effect as even eggs from the same clutch may need slightly different temps to achieve same shell temp mainly from size differences in eggs.. This is certainly true of different strains in broilers.. Nothing we as customers can do about this though besides using highly rated hatcheries.

My birds were quite mobile.. I expected to see fat exhausted chickens by weeks 5 and 6.. Instead the largest cockerel which processed out over 9lbs numerous times right up to the day it was butchered would jump up onto the 2' high ledge of the door to the tractor when I openness it.. Escaped one day but the feed bucket made him change his mind LOL.. The rest were just as active running around when I entered and most certainly when I had food.. Ungainly? Yes with llegs spread from large breasts they have no choice but to waddle.. But they certainly were not barely mobile.. None had leg issues..

I stopped full access feed at end of wk4 but I know I could have gone another week possibly more without ill effect.. Personally I would rather hold off restriction if there is no increase in mortally or obvious negative health consequence and simple butcher sooner when they reach a predetermined weight.. Next season I am going to base when to switch to 12/12 by their health and mobility rather than a fixed age.. I also fund the current sizes perfect for cooking whole.. I may want smaller ones for splitting and BBQing

Another thing I found in research was than the finer ground the feed (to a point) the more surface area it has and the higher the digestion/absorption efficiency.. I actual used broiler starter feed after switching of the Turkey game starter feed after week 2 as its a finer ground feed 21% protein than the reg broiler feed.

They have a good ingredients list from what I can tell.
Peas, oats, corn, fish meal, linseed meal, dehydrated seaweed meal, Yeast Culture, Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Bacillus Lichenformis, Bacillus Subtilus, Lactobacillus Iactis, Streptococcus Faecium, Protease Enzyme (dried Aspergillus Oryzae Fermentation Extract). Etc..........+ vits aminos

I kept them on this the rest of the time till slaughter.

Boy do they drink a lot of water. At their peak they were going thru 10+ gal of H2O/24hr and it was never above the low 80s.. I did not expect that.

We pulled one of the frozen chickens a few days later. Let it thaw a couple days in the frig. After the first 24hr we unbagged it.. Dusted it lightly with baking powder and let rest and fully thaw for the last 24hr.. Then set out for a couple hours to get to room temp.

Seasoned with a blend of garlic, salt. paprika, black pepper, small amount brown sugar.. Filled with stuffing and tied up. 350° F for a couple hours.. Let rest and served.. WOW!!!. That is no store bought chicken.. Even Costco maybe a great deal but this has it beat in taste and meat quality.. The skin was so crispy and with the seasoning...Oh My....

Not to mention no antibiotics, no gmo, no soy and pastured.. The later two, according to research, both increase the omega 3 to 6 ratio so healthier fat as well..

My wife and kids destroyed it.. I got to pick meat off the carcass and maybe a tablespoon of dressing.

We rebagged the stripped carcass for chicken stock/soup.

I have all of you at BYC to thank for all the info and experience you openly share on these forums.. I would have done thing quite differently without it and not for the better.

I still have lots to learn as I know there are many ways to achieve great meat birds.. Looking forward to learning more.. In the spring we will be adding layers.. Possibly some ducks next.. We have another batch of broilers to do late spring and then turkeys for thxgiving and freezer.

Thank you all..
 

Matejka

Crowing
Mar 12, 2020
1,984
5,265
461
Lyons Texas
Welcome to BYC.
Congratulations on the success of your project.
How much freezer space does 60 chickens take? Did you part any out before freezing? Are you selling any?
 

piminuse

Songster
Jul 17, 2020
464
2,030
201
Portland, OR
Welcome to the flock, and thanks for your time writing all this up to share with folks who are interested in raising/processing their own birds. Very informative!
 

De Bauer

Chirping
Nov 5, 2020
40
132
50
Welcome to BYC.
Congratulations on the success of your project.
How much freezer space does 60 chickens take? Did you part any out before freezing? Are you selling any?
I will have to check the size of this freezer.. Its not my huge chest one that is 7' long and 25 cuft.. I would say its about 13/14cuft.. What I did to freeze them quickly is put a single layer in each of my various freezers.. Once frozen I moved them into that one freezer.. We have 5 freezers plus 2 on refrig.. Two large 25cuff chests two 13/14cuff chest.. One upright about the same size.

We are a family of 5 and tend to go thru 2 Costco chickens per wk.. These are larger so less.. Was thinking 60 should be a yrs worth.. But I have a friend that could use some so we were going to give him and another family 5 each so back to 50.

I was planning on parting out (standard 8 piece bone in) but we were running tight on time so sealed and froze them whole.. My wife figured we can part them as we.use them as needed.
 

De Bauer

Chirping
Nov 5, 2020
40
132
50
Thanks.. Yes it is.. We try to stock/cycle our meat and crops on a year supply.. The down side to this is space and cost of freezers.. When you end up with a few hundred pounds of beef. About 400lb of chicken. A couple hundred of hog and about that in venison.. Usually some squirrels rabbits and a few turkeys..

Then all the veggies from the garden.. We have been canning a lot more as well.. Did about 70qts of tomato sauce. 20qts salsa. 50qt green beans and a bunch frozen. A lot of Zucchini spiralize blanched and frozen we use instead of pasta.. Tons of cauliflower frozen we use as a rice or potato sub. Lots of spinach frozen.

Plans for next spring are to add raising turkeys and rabbits.. My wife does not know yet but I also want to add honey bees.. We always had a few bee hives growing up.. Also great for the garden and fruit trees and bushes. Tastes sooooo good too..

I wish I had a connection for fresh ocean fish. Not close enough for more than rec fishing at Assateague and the rest of the outbanks.. Usually get a few 10lb stripers and a fair amount of speckled trout, red /black drum,whiting/kingfish. Wish I had access to the Salmon like the west coast has..

We try hard not to store buy any meats and limited veggies (fresh for salads and things we did not or could not grow) We added potaoes and onions this last season.. They were so easy we will keep growing them.

Who knows maybe we could do more chickens and sell enough to cover costs of our own.. Virgina allows you to process and sell up to 1000 chickens without needing FDA inspection. Pasture raised no antibiotic no GMO soy free go or about $4+/lb for whole chickens around here.. My cost minus labor is around $1.10-1.20/lb
 

blueberry1

Songster
8 Years
Mar 2, 2012
67
70
131
Awesome to hear your story! It’s inspirational and very well written. Im currently doing a batch of 50 cc. Have you considered fermenting their feed? I believe there are many benefits including less feed waste and less water consumption at the drinker. My birds go through less than 5 gallons a day at 57 days, their feed is the consistency of oatmeal. Wet and pourable. It definitely helps on the smell even when moving in a tractor everyday.
Please keep us in your loop!
 

De Bauer

Chirping
Nov 5, 2020
40
132
50
Awesome to hear your story! It’s inspirational and very well written. Im currently doing a batch of 50 cc. Have you considered fermenting their feed? I believe there are many benefits including less feed waste and less water consumption at the drinker. My birds go through less than 5 gallons a day at 57 days, their feed is the consistency of oatmeal. Wet and pourable. It definitely helps on the smell even when moving in a tractor everyday.
Please keep us in your loop!

Wow thats funny.. I had read about fermenting feed right before I picked them up but wanted to not try to many things with our first run.. I was literalism just starting to search this topic again.. I am so glad you brought it to.

I never considered the water they would get from the mash cutting down on water consumption.. Never crossed my mind.. That would be a benefit as adjusting for 60.I was still going thru 2x the water you were.. That would be huge.. Packing water to refill the reservoir container gets old.

I am already big into using probiotics for chickens.. We personally use them and eat fermented foods ourselves.

I recall a few threads on here with instructions.. IIRC its pretty much add nonchlorinated water and stir a couple x per day start using after 5-7 days?

If it keeps fermenting does it get too sour were it puts off the chicken ?
 

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