Is this a good idea?

Discussion in 'Meat Birds ETC' started by Myrtok, Feb 17, 2015.

  1. Myrtok

    Myrtok New Egg

    2
    0
    7
    Feb 17, 2015
    I've been considering getting started with a small flock of broilers in a chicken tractor. As I cruised the web for information, google kept pointing me to answers in this forum, so I thought I'd go the more direct route and make an account here. I have a bit of a plan shaping up, but I wanted to run it by some experts so I can be sure about what I'm getting into.

    As for my previous experience with chickens: I've barbecued them, boiled them and baked them. I've even chopped them up real fine and put them in enchiladas. However, I've never owned a chicken that had feathers or even a head on it. I've occasionally owned one with the giblets neatly packaged and stored inside the carcass. That's about the extent of my chicken history.

    I'm not really interested in layers. I don't know why, but I'm just more intrigued with the idea of raising some chickens for meat. Besides, I've never tasted a chicken that wasn't from the grocery store, and now you've all got me super curious about how much better tasting my own tractor chickens could actually be. The chicken tractor idea looks neat to me. No shoveling of chicken poop. No changing of bedding. I'm just not sure if it will work in my situation.

    We're a family of five. We live in a very small town. Our back yard has around 1/2 acre of open space (full acre total lot size), surrounded on 3 sides by tall trees. It has ordinary grass of some kind or another growing in it. It's not a manicured lawn by any means. I generally have it sprayed for dandelions each Spring and mow it when I have to. Other than that, it's just whatever ordinary mix of grasses and weeds that you get in a little Central Illinois town. I'd like to start with around 25 chickens - the ones that grow in under two months. From what I've read, I should count on several of them dying, so I'm really aiming to end up with 20 or so.

    Is it reasonable to drag a chicken tractor with 20-25 chickens around a yard that size? I understand they will still need regular chicken feed, but will a mowed lawn serve as well as a pasture? I've read that the people who do this on a professional level say it's actually better to let cows mow down the pasture before putting chickens on it, so am I crazy for wanting to do this on a mowed lawn?

    If I move the tractor every day, will the chickens destroy my lawn? Like I said before, I'm not really that particular about perfect grass or anything, but I don't want to have it destroyed and left with bare spots that are going to grow up in weeds before the grass can fill back in.

    I have three kids who like to play in that yard. I keep reading that the chickens will poop A LOT. How "contaminated" is yesterday's location for the tractor going to be, assuming I'm going with 2 square feet per bird? What about the location from a week ago? How long after the chicken tractor has been moved will that area need to be off limits for playing in order to keep my kids healthy?

    How much stink are we talking about? Will it be something you notice only when you get close to the chickens, or something that makes town people wrinkle their noses from a couple hundred yards away?

    So, heat is a problem, except when they're young and actually need heat lamps. So, what if I buy my chicks around the end of July when it's likely to be over 90 degrees anyway and plan on harvesting around the end of September? Good plan or no?

    Thanks in advance to whoever finds time to answer some of my newbie questions!
     
  2. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

    8,660
    3,325
    441
    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    [​IMG]

    Welcome! I wish I could be of some good help, but I have never used a chicken tractor. The only thing I have for you is to make sure that whatever you put your chickens in, make sure it's secure. Don't use chicken wire. It's made for keeping chickens in, but won't keep anything out. Dogs, raccoons, coyotes... they can all tear right through chicken wire. I would not wait until it's in the 90's to get chicks if you're having them shipped. That heat could be hard on them during transit. They aren't as likely to have major health problems if you don't over feed them. Some people offer feed for 12 hours, then remove it. It's been a long time since I've raised that type of bird, so I can't really advise on that. You really don't need to mow the lawn short, and I certainly wouldn't spray for dandelions. The chickens will take care of your excess vegetation.
     
  3. dfr1973

    dfr1973 Chillin' With My Peeps Premium Member

    594
    200
    166
    Nov 20, 2011
    rural central FL
    Another [​IMG].

    I would start a bit smaller than a batch of 25 to get a feel for it. The chicks will need to be in a heated brooder for about 3-4 weeks while they get their feathers. I tractor my meaties (well, right now all my chicks) and it stinks significantly less than a stationary pen! I had to be right there to smell the nuggets in a tractor. When you first move them outside, they'll be small enough to move every other day, but they grow FAST and you'll want to move it daily by the time they are fryer size.

    Definitely stop spraying the dandelions. If y'all aren't eating them, the chicks certainly will.
     
  4. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

    18,910
    6,345
    526
    Nov 7, 2012
    CENTRAL MAINE
    Where are you located? Will you be doing your own butchering? Have you ever butchered an animal before? The biggest concern I have with your plan is that you have been applying a herbicide to your grass every year. The first thing I recommend is that you find out exactly what was in the herbicide, then find out how long it needs to break down in order to be safe for farm animals that you intend to eat. I'd also ask, how long it would need to break down before you could safely plant a garden on the site. Not that you intend to plant a garden, but the answers to these questions will be your guide here. One thing I'd definitely NOT do is raise chickens for meat or eggs in a tractor on soil that's been poisoned with herbicides/pesticides. Your other option would be to raise them in a run system over a deep litter. You'd need to have the area enclosed to make it predator proof, and I assume you'd want to cover it to keep it from getting washed out by the rain. IMO, you might want to re-set your sites, and do 10 birds at a time, for starters. Since each group would spend an average of (if not a minimum of) 4 weeks in the brooder, you could start one group every 4 weeks. If this is something you intend to stick with, I recommend that you NEVER apply pesticides/herbicides to any ground where your animals will be grazing. Besides, chickens LOVE dandelions. They're also a tasty green for people too!
     
  5. Myrtok

    Myrtok New Egg

    2
    0
    7
    Feb 17, 2015
    Thank you all for your time and thoughtful answers.

    First, I'll answer a few questions that I have been asked:

    I live in a very small town in Central Illinois.

    Yes, I have butchered an animal before. I am a bit worried about how the kids will really react when it is time to kill the birds they have raised from chicks, but that lesson about appreciating what really goes into putting meat on their plates is something I see as one of the benefits of this project.

    Yes, it is my intention to do it for the long haul, assuming it turns out to be something we enjoy.

    Thank you very much for reminding me to consider the long term effects of the herbicides I have used in the past. My yard was sprayed last Spring. The stuff is supposed to be safe for kids to play on as soon as it dries, though we usually wait until after the next big rain before we trust it. Of course, that has little to do with what kind of trace chemicals could be ingested by eating the vegetation. In all honesty, I think the stuff is just a fertilizer that "overfertilizes" the dandelions and makes them grow so fast that they die. They always get huge during the week after they're sprayed. I'll look into it though.

    One big question I still have concerns the time it will take each section of yard to recover from a day of having the tractor on it. Are the chickens going to scratch it bare in one day? How long does it take for that natural chicken-poo fertilizer to soak into the ground so my kids can play on that spot again?

    I've taken to heart the advice that I start smaller. I'll start with 12 or so chicks the first time, assuming I can find a place to sell me such a small order.
     
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

    18,910
    6,345
    526
    Nov 7, 2012
    CENTRAL MAINE
    So, you're saying that you have 1/2 acre that you can put into this rotation. I'd like to suggest an alternate to the labor intensive tractor. Have you considered electronet poultry fencing? This would give you a moveable run which would be 1600 s.f. if you bought the longer length. It entails hooking it up to a fence charger and either a deep cycle 12V battery or household current, as well as a ground rod. But, this will give you a nice big run which you might not even need to move between turning the chicks loose in it and butcher time. Of course, they would need some weather proof housing as well, but that could be accomplished fairly economically. The added benefit of the electronet is that it is land predator proof. No dog, coyote, fox, or coon will mess with it more than once. You'll need to provide some shelter from aerial attack. This can be accomplished by putting a number of posts around inside the run, using CD's or other bright shiny objects, as well as providing a couple of raised areas that the chicks can dive under if threatened from above. When I considered the option of putting up a permanent run for my flock, compared to the electronet, I chose the latter: Easily moved, no fence posts to drive into the ground... only to have them rot out a few years later, and the greatest benefit of all: rotating pasture to prevent them from turning part of my yard into a barren moon scape. And, no critter would try to climb over it. It was a no brainer, in my situation. I can put it around my garden to fence the birds out, or put it around the birds to fence them IN!

    Regarding your question about damage to your lawn: You're just going to have to try it and see how it works. Every yard is different, including grass species, soil types, and moisture level. I can tell you that I had a fairly dense population of birds on one section of my lawn last summer. They cropped the grass down to 1", and completely bare in some spots. When the birds were moved off that area, it recovered nicely in about 3 weeks time. I'd not want my children rolling around in that grass after 3 weeks, but it looked very green! Also, in a 6 x 7 tractor, there was actually a cap of manure crusted over the grass when it was moved. The hose broke the cap up, and the area recovered in 3 - 4 weeks time.
     
    1 person likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by