I’m writing about our experience of raising chickens for meat. Since I didn’t want to kill chickens, we still found a way to raise our own, thanks to a friend who told us about chicken processors.
In part 1, we had obtained our chicks and told you about the things they required to grow strong and healthy in their plastic bin in our home. I also told the funny story about how my husband reacted when I shared my plans to move layer chicks into our first home together. (It all worked out really well. Jeff helped me with the chicks.)
Chicks Grow Amazingly Fast
Anyway, back to raising meat chickens. The chicks grow amazingly fast. Within a few weeks at most, the bin, which seemed plenty big enough a few weeks prior, became very crowded. At that time, I needed to move them to their chicken tractor. The problem was, I didn’t have a chicken tractor.
Rolls Royce of Chicken Tractors
I really love the chicken tractors that Dave Duffy built for Annie. It is the Rolls Royce of chicken tractors. I showed my husband the article Dave wrote, complete with detailed instructions and beautiful pictures and told him that was what I wanted. He read it. Then told me he might be able to get to it in late summer. That would not work.
A Very Simple Chicken Tractor
The chicks were very crowded at this point in time and mostly feathered, so I got online and found a very simple chicken tractor on YouTube that only required four 8-ft. pressure treated 2×4’s, three livestock panels, two large eyebolts, some chicken wire, and a 5ft by 7ft tarp.
Two of the 2×4’s were left at the 8ft length, but two he cut to 5ft. He fastened them together– the 8 ft. boards on the sides and 5 ft. boards for the ends. Also, he cut four little triangles out of scrap pieces of plywood and used those in the corners to brace it a bit, because I would be dragging the cage around every morning.
Then, we fastened the livestock panels on the inside of the frame side to side, making a rounded cage. After those were firmly attached, we covered the livestock panels with chicken wire and attached it securely with black zip ties. (Black zip ties hold up better in the sun than white ones.)
We then cut the remaining livestock panel to size to make doors on the front and back of the cage, and we also covered those with chicken wire. I fastened them onto the front and back of the cage using ***bailing twine***amazon.com/Lehigh-Group-PB1060-Heavy-Binder/dp/B001GQPYQC. You could certainly use something better than twine to fasten the doors on; I was just in hurry and trying to be as cheap as possible. Finally, I attached the tarp over one end of the tractor, so the chickens would have their choice of sun or shade, and some protection from rain, if need be.
Able to Pull the Chicken Tractor Around
Now we had a chicken tractor, but I needed to be able to pull it around, so I took six pieces of bailing twine, tied two each end to end to make it longer (which made three long pieces of twine), then braided the three long pieces to make a stronger rope and one that was easier on my hands. I was going to tie them to the sides on each end of the front of the tractor so I could pull it around, but my dear sweet hubby went into the shop and grabbed two large eye bolts and screwed them into the sides near the front and I tied my braid onto them. I also added four small bungee cords, one on each corner to hold the doors shut.
Personally, I would have liked to have pull twine on both the front and back of the tractors. We will next year, but this worked okay for the first year. It makes pulling the tractors into the place I wanted them much easier than grabbing the back, lifting it, and pulling it into place (and potentially letting a chicken loose, which required me chasing it around and putting it back in the tractor).
Even though we built the chicken tractor in the barn, and the barn would shelter them somewhat, we were still having morning temps at below freezing, and the chicks were not fully feathered. So I went ahead and hung another brooder lamp in the tractor, under the tarp area (to help hold in heat). I fastened it up, very carefully, so that I did not need to worry about it falling onto the hay on the floor and catch my barn on fire.
Once temperatures warmed up and the chicks had more feathers to keep them warm, I pulled the tractor outside. When pulling the chicken tractor, I had to watch carefully, as it took the chicks a few days to learn to move with the tractor, and not get their legs stuck under it.
Fresh Grass and Weeds
I moved the chicken tractor around every morning so the chickens would have fresh grass and weeds. They ate a lot of weeds and had fresh greens, but it seemed like they did more pooping than eating. Once the chicks are several weeks old, and mostly feathered, I started removing their feed every night (but leaving the water) and gave it back to them in the morning. This gives them approximately 10-12 hours without feed, and it helps to regulate their growth and prevent heart attacks. Believe me; they eat plenty of food during their 12 hours of eating. I had three gallon chicken feeders, and they went through almost that entire amount of food per day as they got older.
If, like me, you don’t want to kill and process the chickens yourself, you will be taking them to a poultry processor. Poultry processors are available in most states. The best way to find them would to be to run a search for poultry processors. As I just did that again, I find a number of sites, some listing USDA processing plants and some just listed as small poultry processing plants.
As A Money Making Venture
If you plan to grow meat chicks as a money making venture, be very sure to check the laws in your state first. I took my birds to a plant that is licensed by the state of Idaho, which would make it legal for me to sell my birds at a farmer’s markets in Idaho but not in Oregon, where I live. That was absolutely no problem for me; I was growing the birds for our own consumption. If you live in one state and want to sell your birds in another, you may have to take your chickens to a USDA processing plant (again, check the laws in your state).
As of this writing (September 2018) there was not any difference in the cost between the state licensed plant and the USDA plant, but there could be. So, if you have several plants near you, you might want to check. It cost me about $3 per chicken to have them dispatched, cleaned, cooled and packaged in vacuum sealed bags.
Be sure to contact the poultry processor several weeks before you plan to have your chickens processed and make an appointment. Their time slots can fill up quickly.
Since we had over an hour drive each way to the processing plant, we brought a large ice chest and ice to keep them cool for the long drive home.
Now, as a warning, growing your own chickens for meat is likely going to be more expensive than buying them at a grocery store. The large mega farms grow the chickens in large barns under terrible conditions, where there is not much room for each chicken to move and urine and feces everywhere so then they need to be on small amounts of antibiotics to keep them alive, and then they process them by the thousands, which is for them, a lot cheaper than processing a few at a time. Taking them to a processing plant, if you don’t want to do it by yourself, costs about $3 per chicken, which again raises the cost of raising your own meat.
However, your homegrown chickens will be healthier, a whole lot tastier, and you’ll know what they have been fed. You will also know that they have lived nice little chicken lives, eating greens and bugs as chickens should, before they become your dinner.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 80 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
- An assortment of products along with a one hour consultation on health and wellness from Pruitt’s Tree Resin (a $265 value).
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances.
Round 80 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.