I'm starting this thread because I've come across some challenges that are somewhat unique to growing meat birds in the suburban environment. background: I grew up on a farm in PA many years ago and now wish to share some of my farm experiences with my children, even though we live on a 10,000 square foot lot, not the 125 acre farm of my childhood. We started out about a year and a half ago with the building of a coop and the making of a DIY cooler-bator for my daughters kinder garden class. this year, we've expanded our venture to meat birds, preparing the kids for the difference between our pets and what we will be relying on for food. after clarifying the local ordinance, the city clerk informed me that the limit of 6 hens applied to birds over 6 months old and that currently there were no limits on how many younger birds we could have. she basically told me it was legit to grow out some fast growing meet birds in addition to our egg layers as long as they were dispatched before the 6 month mark. to coop or not to coop In the suburban environment there are a variety of pressures that make homesteading challenging, not the least of which are neighbors. between the concerns that a neighbor complaint could lead to a visit from an inspector with a "fine toothed comb" and the fact that dogs, birds of pray, coons and coyotes abound, we decided that our birds must be confined to the coop. while this is not as "sexy" or economical as free ranging, it does assure a secure place for our beloved birds to live. The coop was plenty big for 6 hens but adding meat birds was going to require additional space efficiency modifications. I basically added a second story within the coop, made up of three separate pens and decided to keep the meat birds off the ground on pine shavings. Frankenbird Cornish Cross, fact or fiction? our next challenge was to determine which bird to go with for meat. there are so many horror stories out there about cornish cross being gross and sickly that I initially was drawn to the stories about other types, like the "freedom ranger" that are better at free ranging and known for their hardiness. I did a lot of reading up and decided that I wanted to go with a fast growing meat bird and see if I could make it work, feeling that moving them through the coop and on into the freezer in a timely manner was the safest bet with the neighbors. OK, so which strain of Cornish Cross? our first run of 16 birds was kind of nightmarish, pretty much textbook frankenbirds, of which half died within days of arrival and the rest that survived gave off tremendous heat, pulsed and quivered like something out of a radiology test lab, more akin to test tube meat. This lead me to asking around for a good hatchery and a good strain. I was recommended to Jenks hatchery in OR. I called them and spoke with the owner, who was kind enough to teach me a lot of subtle details about the meat bird industry, particularly that there were vast differences in the strains within the "cornish cross". He said I'd be much happier with the strain they sell, the COBB 500, because it is livelier and retains more of a chickens natural instincts, even able to free range. we ordered 30 and are 6 weeks into it and have only lost one. these birds are night and day from the first ones, they run around, spar, fly a bit and are generally way more active. I also adjust the food and water height as they grow so they have to stand to eat and keep the food and water apart to encourage physical activity. what to feed? seeing that I was not able to free range, it became imperative to find a good economical source of food. I became a member of the local coop and was able to get modesto organic grower formula in 50 lb bags for about $35. after about 10 days I went from free access to pulling the food at night so as to avoid the myriad problems these voracious eaters can have, if allowed to gorge themselves. Water, water, water as these birds virtually double in size each week and consume ever greater quantities of food, so does their water intake increase exponentially. I check water levels at least twice a day. the poop-space continuum... with all that food and all that water comes a mind boggling amount of wet poop and with it, the challenge of moisture control. I learned about a product called stall dry, which is diatomaceous earth and clay, which has the ability to lock up ammonia, making litter management much easier and more economical, and if they eat it, could have the side benefit of deworming. I sprinkle it in, then add pine shavings, then sprinkle some more on top and then about once a day I turn it over to fluff it up and attempt to keep it dry-er. As some point I lose the battle and have to muck out the pens and start over. I am trying to experiment with how many birds I can have per square foot at various stages and still provide a reasonable of quality of life. for the first few weeks, the chicks pretty much stay close to the heat lamp and food and water and then, as they grow, the venture further away from the heat. it seems that somewhere around 3 square feet per 6 week old bird makes for a much more manageable moisture situation. drying out all the wet droppings/shavings is the key for their health. birds can stand on their own droppings up to a point, as long as they are dry. finding this perfect balance appears to be my greatest challenge so far.