housing meat birds versus "long term residents": why the difference?

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by MyFirstFarm, Apr 28, 2011.

  1. MyFirstFarm

    MyFirstFarm Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 31, 2010
    So we're planning on getting some meat birds this summer to raise on our 4 acres. Hubby has this image in mind of free-ranging pastured chickens running around in a large paddock (either our 1/2 acre pig pasture or a moveable electric poultry netting situation). But from everything I've seen and read so far, everybody who does meat birds seems to use chicken tractors. Hubby keeps asking me why we need to do it that way rather than just have free-ranging pastured chickens with a coop they can be locked up in at night (my first guess was that building a coop would be harder work than building a tractor). Can someone explain to me why this isn't practical with meat birds? What are the advantages of having a tractor (that override the "cons" of having them limited in range and choice of forage)?

    And just how much of a coop do meat birds need, given that they won't be here for cold weather and won't be laying eggs (do they still need perches? some of the tractors I've seen just have a covered section).

    many thanks!
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2011
  2. PotterWatch

    PotterWatch My Patronus is a Chicken

    Apr 22, 2008
    I think most people raise them in tractors for several reasons. One, they just don't forage as much as other birds, so giving them a very large area doesn't accomplish as much as you might think. They tend to congregate around the food and water and not venture out nearly as much as layers. By keeping them in tractors that are moved on a daily basis, you ensure that they are on fresh pasture every day, not just laying around the same area day after day. I also want them to fertilize my pasture evenly and a tractor is the only way to do that. They also tend to be very, very messy. When they sleep in the same coop every night, things are going to get nasty quickly.
  3. backyardmenagerie

    backyardmenagerie Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 13, 2011
    I think some other reasons why tractors are preferable is 1) a pastured chicken burns more calories than a contained chicken. Raising your own meaties is expensive enough for feed, and forcing them to range would reduce your feed conversion. And 2) meaties are stupid and susceptible to predators. I would imagine that should I let my meaties out to range, they'd make a nice meal for any dog, coyote, fox, owl, or hawk that happened to come by.
    As for space needs, Cornish crosses are too fat to perch, and will not need roosts. I believe the rule of thumb for meaties is 1.5 square feet per bird. So a relatively small coop should be just fine for raising a group of meat birds.
  4. Dogfish

    Dogfish Rube Goldberg incarnate

    Mar 17, 2010
    Western Washington
    They have a detrimental impact on a small area. If you gave them access to a shelter, food and water, they wouldn't leave that to venture out very far. They are home bodies. If that shelter/food/water was stationary, that area gets compacted with crap pretty quickly. 32 CX will degrade an 8x8 piece of grass in a day, trampling it flat and covering it with poo.

    We had 3 that we raised for a while with our laying hens, just to see how long we could go. One rooster lasted 16 weeks before I had to cull him. Even with the gate to the run open, they rarely left the run. When they did leave, they seldom went further than 20 feet from the gate.

    They are a completely different animal than your laying hens. It isn't that they are better or worse, just different.
  5. rickerra

    rickerra Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 26, 2011
    Spokane, WA
    Quote:Many folks do free range their broilers using fencing or electric netting. One of the biggest reasons folks use tractors is due to predators (dog, fox, hawks, eagles, raccoon, possum, etc.) in their area.

    Plus, the most prevalent broiler breed is the Cornish Cross (CX)... which has been bred for decades to grow big and fat very quickly with little desire to forage or free range... like many of the heritage breeds. So they work very well in tractors. You keep them safe, they are near their food and water... exactly where they want to be... and you can easily move them around to fresh and cleaner pasture to help spread out their waste.

    If you want to free range some broilers, looks at some of the more hearty and active breeds like Red Broilers, Freedom Rangers or even some of the heavy dual purpose birds. Just know that they will not grow as big as fast as the CX do. CX are ready to process at 8-9 weeks. Red Broilers and Freedom Rangers are closer to 12 weeks. Other dual purpose breeds may take as long as 16 weeks.

  6. Oregon Blues

    Oregon Blues Overrun With Chickens

    Apr 14, 2011
    Central Oregon
    When I raise Cornish X, they just go out with the rest of the poultry and get treated the same.

    Good shelter from weather, a large secure poultry run, and if I am there and outside to stand guard, everybody gets to go outside and scratch around and look for bugs and eat grass. The Cornish X do just fine raised that way. I never have any health issues.

    I do not free feed poultry and the Cornish X did not get free fed, either. They got sunshine and light exercise and they were healthy and the meat was delicious.

    Tractors are for predator control and to keep the chickens out of your garden. If you have a secure run where the chickens are safe from predators and can get out of the weather, your Cornish X will do just as well as your other chickens.

    No, they don't charge around hysterically. But they will stroll and do some light grazing. Unless you pour the food to them, you don't get the super-charged growth rate that they are famous for, but it is OK to keep food out all the time and they will eat what they want and grow just fine.
  7. ChickenAlgebra

    ChickenAlgebra Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 14, 2011
    For us, mostly because where our laying group live is pretty clean mostly, plus they do get some free range time daily. The meaties however are pretty much disgusting, smelly birds. Sweet, yes. But disgusting. I like being able to drag their tractor daily or twice daily to fresh ground to keep the filth from building up.

    But also. Predators. Our meaties can not be with the flock when free ranging. Meaties are too slow physically and mentally to see something as a threat and flee the area. They are a predator snack waiting to happen. So the meaties must stay in their tractor always.

    The pullets we have now that are growing up with the laying crew, meh. I don't know. They are doing better there, but they are still stinky birds.

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