Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
I wanted to revive this thread with a few questions related to meat birds and pastured poultry. We are in central NC, not far from Raleigh, and are just starting our farm in the coming months. My questions:
1. When raising heritage birds for layers and meat birds, how do you handle rooster behavior once they come of age? We raised a straight run of 8 chickens in our small backyard in the city this year, and when the roosters got to be about three months, their rooster-ness came on full force. Not only were they frequently "courting" the hens, they became quite aggressive toward us and our dog...and this was only with 2 roosters and 6 hens. The roosters were nowhere near the size to process at that time, so they got a trip to the auction. So, the question is, how do you handle roosters being roosters until processing time? Do you need to have a separate paddock and coop for the roosters or can you just let it play out for a few months until their time comes?
2. We have a local poultry breeder who we would prefer to deal with rather than a mail-order hatchery. She raises several heritage breeds and a few sex-link hybrids. I believe the sex-links are hybrids of RIRs and barred rocks. Does anyone have any experience raising sex-links as dual-purpose birds? With that hybrid, it seems like they would be the best of both worlds...
3. I'm looking for any input on feeding. I'd rather not rely on commercially-mixed feed, but have read in many places that it's nearly necessary, even with free-ranging birds. I'd love to just supply some grain and water and let them find the rest of what they need on their own, but have been warned about nutrient and mineral deficiencies.
Let It Grow Farm, LLC
Age -- Three months is old enough to process a rooster. They're great eating at that time, especially grilled on the bar-b. There is no such thing as "too small" really. We butcher our excess bantam roosters, and they make a beautiful little barbequed chicken. We just cut them in half straight up the breast bone, and each person has their own leg, thigh, breast, and wing. A 3-4 month-old Sebright bantam dresses out right at a pound. I also want to add that not all roosters get mean. If they get mean here, they're dinner ASAP. Personality varies from breed to breed and even rooster to rooster within breeds.
Breed -- Sex-links vary from one hatchery to another, and they have no "standard," so no one on here can really give you any decent advice on the chickens that this woman owns. You should ask her about them. Personally, I prefer heritage breeds. The sex links are usually raised for eggs because they can be color sexed at hatch, and roosters an be disposed of. I'm not sure what you mean by "best of both worlds." Usually if a chicken is pushed for egg production, the roosters are not that big because they have not been selected for that trait.
Feed -- You can feed only grain or whatever to free-range chickens. People did it since the beginning of time. In fact, chickens actually got very little supplemental feed historically. They were mostly fed table scraps more than a century ago before people started raising them commercially and confined them. It is a trade-off, however, with egg production in hens and growth on roosters. Without the protein in commercial feed, egg production is lower, and roosters don't grow as fast. If you have your own home dairy and can provide them with whey, that will help, but I couldn't tell you how much you'd need to feed them to make up the difference. Someone from North Carolina was telling me a couple of months ago at a conference that in the winter, he puts his chickens in the woods, and they eat very little commercial feed because they spend most of their time scratching through all the fallen leaves finding bugs. We have experimented with feed a lot over the past ten years, but I finally gave up on figuring our my own poultry feed. We didn't have any trouble with illness, but I didn't like the drop in egg production and the slow rate of growth on roosters. I'm not in a big hurry, but a rooster that weighs less than 3 pounds at 4.5 months is rather sad looking because the bones were pretty big, but there just wasn't much meat on them.
Hope this helps!
Deborah in Illinois
A couple years back I raised 20 CX chicks under a foster broody and free ranged them with my layer flock. I fed once a day along with the layers and they got laying mash and later some whole grains. They were active, healthy and clean right up until the day of processing at 11 wks.
Their finishing weights were comparable to those raised with more commercial methods but I had 100% survival rate, healthy internal organs, and I placed well over 100 lbs of meat in the freezer. Lean, tender and flavorful.
Prior to this point, I'd always just culled extra roos and retired hens but there really is no comparison in the amount of meat and the tenderness, not to mention the ease of processing of these young CX chickens.
I like to give unpasteurized ACV right in the first watering and every watering thereafter and I think the exercise, foraging, the ACV and maybe even the laying mash helped strengthen their bones and hearts.
I'll be repeating the same methods~sans broody~with 40 CX this spring but will be getting them earlier than last time...didn't get them until May last time but hope to start in March this year.
Pound for pound they are the best value and you really can't put meat in the freezer that cheaply in any other way unless it were given to you.
Things to be aware of: They have explosive diarrhea no matter what they are fed and drink inordinate amounts of water as a result. This tells me they are dehydrated but I feel that plain water will not replace those lost electrolytes from the diarrhea. The ACV has the needed calcium, potassium and phosphorus to replace those lost electrolytes, while also reculturing their bowels with good flora. I'd give it a try...you've got nothing to lose.
They don't need to have continuous feeding to reach maximum finish weights. Mine got the same weights as those others were feeding on high pro broiler feeds with a 12/12 feeding schedule, though mine were free ranged all day every day and only ate once a day on regular laying mash ration. After about 8-9 weeks their growth sort of plateaus anyway and I saw no appreciable gains after that point, no matter how much they ate or didn't eat.
Yes, they WILL forage but they will lay down in the shade in the hottest part of the day when they are full size. I've found most any bird will forage for their food if they don't have a feeder full of easy grain in front of them.
I think a big part of your decesion is are you raising these for sale commercially or for personal consumption.
I think it depends on who will be eating the birds. If it is a family who just moved to the country whose culinary experience has been limited to grocery store chicken, then I recommend you start with Cornish Cross. It was a huge jump for my family to go from land to table. It is one thing to cook from a plastic package. It is another to see the animal walking one day and in a pot 2 days later.
To keep the adjustment minimal, I knew the chicken needed to look the same as packaged birds. We pasture raised cornish cross and fed medicated feed. I think you have to do medicated feed to raise these genetic abnormal birds. I once tried the all natural and most died within two weeks.
If you pasture raise and use medicated feed, the cornish cross will still be different than the grocery store. They get more exercise so the meat is a little tougher. In addition, they are not pumped with solution during processing which is much better.
Now we are eating the heritage roosters. It is one more transition. These look different. The legs are longer and the meat is darker. My family prefers the cornish cross, but will eat the roosters. I also need more experience cooking these. Had I started with the heritage roosters, I think it would have really turned off my family.
I recommend baby steps.
I will disagree very strongly that they require medicted feed. There are tens of thousands of cornish x raised every year on pasture without the use of medicated feed. They require careful care and are not tolerant of mistakes inhusbandry -- but they do not need medicated feed.
I am new at this so I accept your comment as correct. I don't know what I did, but it was probably the person raising them (me), not the chicken. When I used medicated feed, no problem. I tried all natural and had a terrible time doing exactly the same thing.
I'll agree with Mr. Hamons...I've never raised any chicken on medicated feeds and I feel raising CX on medicated feeds pretty much defeats the purpose. I've known many people who raise their CX as I have done and they have been as successful as I was.
I don't even find them to be genetically abnormal...they just are what they are. They act pretty much like most chickens will, but with a bigger appetite and growth pattern.
There are sheep that grow bigger and faster than other breeds and we don't usually refer to them as "genetically abnormal", just genetically different than the run of the mill breed. They may require different techniques in handling but they are still sheep at the end of the day...feed goes in one end, meat stays in the middle and poop comes out the other end.
As with everything to do with animals, the difference in animal husbandry makes all the difference in the world...and sometimes things just happen for no reason at all. Such is farming/homesteading with animals!
How "kid friendly" are the barred rocks?
Does it really matter in the long run if you mix breeds? I am wanting a heritage breed that will have pretty decent egg production, but also have decent meat when we butcher old/roos, but at the same time, I don't need ones that will charge and attack the kids. I'd like ones that are easy to work with and good foragers, but also ones that are less susceptible to predators. Yes, I'd like it all!
I have a coop with eight nest boxes - what is the max number I should keep my flock to?
The old style cochins and orpingtons were known as really good dual purpose breeds but I think some strains today of both are known more for show than anything else. But we've had both and like them a lot - decent size, OK egg production, and totally docile - great if you have children around or want birds that aren't flighty and are very sociable (and beautiful).
CX from the store are going to be mushy and bland because of the method by which they were raised. If your turkens were penned and fed commercial feeds and gained weight like the CX until they couldn't move, their meat would be mushy and bland also.
Store bought eggs are pale and bland for just the same reason. They aren't that way because of the breed of chicken from whence they came, they are that way because of how the bird was raised and the diet it was fed.
Chicken meat darkens as a chicken ages, so if you butchered a 2 mo. old Barred Rock(or any breed) her breast would be just as pink as a 2 mo. old CX...no mystery there.
Try Buckeyes. They are friendly. Dual purpose and very pretty... and the roosters don't crow!