Free range alternatives to broiler pens, tractors, and coops

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by Buster52, May 10, 2012.

  1. Buster52

    Buster52 Songster

    Jan 28, 2009
    Geronimo Oklahoma
    I have raised various breeds for meat in Salatin style broiler pens. Now I am raising Cornish Cross meat birds, several pens of them, at the same time. As they grow, I'm not pleased with how crowded they appear to be, even though most of them are stocked 2 sf per bird.

    I then saw Beekissed's vid of her little CX running all over the yard, followed by reading of alternatives that allow for more freedom for the birds in the following books:

    Humane and Healthy Poultry Production: A Manual for Organic Growers by Karma Glos

    Free-Range Poultry Production & Marketing, by Herman Beck-Chinoweth.

    Both of them discuss a more open, free ranging type of setup, based on a pasture shelter and moving the feed (rather than the shelter) daily to get the birds to move to different spots. The former utilizes electric poultry netting to discourage predators (you can click on the link to read an excerpt), the latter on distance from the fenceline and a shelter that closes up at night. Both models seem to be effective ways to protect the birds, give them free access to pasture, and control their grazing. Both use Cornish Cross as their meat bird of choice.

    I was wondering if anyone else out there uses a system that takes advantage of free range. If so, I would very much appreciate your thoughts and advice. I doubt I can do it this year, but it is something I would like to try next spring.

  2. wsmoak

    wsmoak Songster

    My first batch of 26 Freedom Rangers was in a tractor initially, then electric netting towards the end.

    I moved the food around, but they really don't need much encouragement to move, they spent a lot of time scratching, eating grass, and just running around and flapping.

    This happened by accident as we were *supposed* to build a second tractor to split them up when they got too big, and that project never made it to the top of the list, so I ordered the netting and charger from Premier.

    However... my intent is to give them 3-4 square feet per bird in the tractors. I only want 12-15 birds in a 5x9 tractor.

    I haven't decided. I liked having them out running around, but then you have to deal with aerial predators. As expensive as they are, I do *not* want to provide hawk snacks! (I didn't lose any. The hawks here are noisy but I *think* they are red shouldered hawks and they really don't look big enough to carry off a meat chicken.)

    I think I'll probably do both, and run them in tractors farther away from the house when they are smaller, then bring them up closer and let them out for the last couple of weeks, where the dogs and cats and general activity will discourage anything from bothering them.

  3. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Salatin does his free range layers in poultry netting with a GP dog in the netting along with. When he wants to give a new area, he just shuts them up at night, hooks their eggmobile to the tractor the next morning and moves them along, taking the fence and the dog along with. The only cover he has from hawks is the wagon/eggmobile. I doubt he loses any...he has a great dog.

    My dog and the scarecrow seems to be a pretty good deterrent, as I have many hawks and owls here and the CX range until dark. Jake doesn't tolerate aerial visits very well and will chase even buzzards away.

    I can tell you that the coop really benefits from the fecal load being deposited right where I want it, on the garden and the lawn, and NOT in the coop bedding. Makes for a sweeter situation all around.

    I don't move my feeder because they range clear down the hill and back again several times a day, they come back to eat, drink and sleep at appropriate times but they never really lounge in the coop. Too many other more appealing places to be.

    I examined some feces today and found much grass, even more bug shells, etc. but little feed residue and absolutely no smell.
  4. bruceh

    bruceh Songster

    Apr 1, 2012
    hanover pa
    i raise all my chickens on a pasture type setting. i don't divide the egg layers and meat birds. they are all raised together. i have a dog kennel with a coop in it. in the morning the gate to the pen is opened and all chickens are allowed out to roam the 3/4 acre lot. at night the chickens come back on their own and given some dinner and counted. the pen door is then shut til morning.
    my pasture is fenced. my cornish x's run ,jump. eat the grass, eat bugs, eat clover.dust bath and do all the things chickens do. the only thing i see that i can tell a difference is they might grow a little slower. however this makes for a healthier and better tasting chicken.
    i have had not one loss either. however i did have a runt that did not grow. she is called faker chicken. i call her this because she faked being a meat chicken. she does however have a purpose, she teaches the new chicks how to free range.
    i would ask beekissed also. from chatting with her she does a wonderful job. i am sure other people do the same but i don't hear much from them.
    i hear alot of negarive things about corrnish x but they don't have to that way,

  5. Buster52

    Buster52 Songster

    Jan 28, 2009
    Geronimo Oklahoma
    If it helps, I'm planning to raise 200 to 400 broilers at a time and want to do so on open pasture.
  6. That's doable with about 10 pens if you do the pastured poultry. Also, I have seen the electric poultry fencing used with a central roosting place. They simply roam as far as they like, and come back as the sun goes down.

    I just visited a neighbor who runs Wild Turkey Farms in China Grove, NC to see his setup. He uses the cattle fencing cut to 12'. It makes for a nice, squat and solid structure that he keeps about 60 birds in. I believe they were 8'x8', but then again, I think his runner on the side was longer (10' maybe). I was quite impressed. He had some layers in one, and broilers in two. He also showed me his brooder, with some CX in it. I may have to go volunteer at his farm some to get a feel for how everything works there.
  7. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Lots of poultry netting~ or just use your have a good plenty! I bet you wouldn't lose one bird, Buster.

    Tarping for shade and cover areas is easy to do with push in stakes and a tarp~ like the one in the far right of this pic. [​IMG]

    You could have several of these for rain or sun shields and to shelter your feeds and water.
  8. Ok. Now I have heard from 2 people that I trust that if you free range them, it will take them extra time to get to weight. I am interested in your opinions on this. More time, means more feed does it not? Feed does cost. Does anyone really believe that they will eat 30% of their feed costs in forage?

    Thanks in advance,

  9. Buster52

    Buster52 Songster

    Jan 28, 2009
    Geronimo Oklahoma
    Well, that isn't clear. Some folks who free range also feed a lower protein percentage feed. The desired weight is muscle mass, not fat. How does more activity diminish muscle?

    I guess they might get a lower percentage of protein overall if they are eating greens, but then that would directly offset with less feed intake. My plan is going to be to keep them on 22% protein to then end, when I start free ranging them.
  10. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Yep. I have been free ranging for 7 wks now and have spent $96 on feed. They forage better if you don't offer continuous feeds, you spend less money if you don't offer continuous feeds, and if you offer different feeds than broiler mix it is cheaper. It all adds up to big savings. Right now my CX are out there eating totally free food...actually filling their crops with food that didn't cost me a dime.

    More activity actually builds muscle...ask any weight lifter or athlete. The muscle will be more dense and compact, yielding a bird that weighs in at appropriate weights...muscle weighs more than fat. These birds are genetically predisposed to have more muscle tissue at breasts and thighs and that is exactly what will happen, no matter what they are fed.

    Older birds have more flavor, so the extra time is desirable for a better end product. With the improved health, more birds make it to the processing table~more money saved right there.

    I'm estimating here but will give the actual numbers when I'm done with this batch...but if they use the feed at the rate they currently are using, I will have approx. $4 in each bird(that is cost of chicks, bedding, equipment and feed). With just feed costs, it would have been $2 a bird.

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