Myth Busting for Meat Chickens
I’ve been watching my meat chickens while I work outdoors this afternoon and thinking about how simple they’ve been to keep. Raising chicks for the first time about 15 years ago was nerve wracking. I had to keep them between 95 and 100 degrees for the first week, then decrease the temperature by five degrees weekly. They had to be taught how to eat and drink as soon as they arrived. Never, ever let them run out of food and water. I was a helicopter chicken momma, hovering over them constantly.
There’s so much misinformation out there about raising Cornish cross or similar breeds. There’s no need to hover. Let’s do this the simple way.
Myth #1: You must teach the chicks to eat and drink when they arrive.
You don’t. Instinct, hunger, thirst and curiosity will take care of this. Put them in the brooder with food and water and watch. They’ll have it figured out in a few minutes.
Myth #2: You must keep chicks very warm at all times.
You don’t. Give them a source of warmth in the brooder and the ability to come and go and they’ll make themselves comfortable. I use a heating pad under one end of the brooder. I dislike heat lamps. They’re a fire hazard. If the chicks are cold they’ll move to the warm spot. If they’re hot they’ll move to the cool spot. They’ll move around and generate their own warmth if you let them.
Myth #3. Meat chickens are filthy.
This is true only if you choose to raise them in filthy conditions. I raise mine in chicken tractors.
The tractor is moved to clean grass every day. I feed them in the morning, outside of the tractor. They race out the opening to get to the food, and while they’re busy eating and I know where they are, I move the tractor. I pick up one end and slide it to the side. Repeat on the other side, then back to the first side to straighten it up. Done. The chickens run around either free or inside electronet for the day so manure doesn’t build up.
TIP: I get my chickens in early August. It’s warm enough to keep them from getting chilly at night. By the time they’re big enough to get too hot it’s September and the days are much cooler.
All meat chickens do all day is eat and poop. This is true but it doesn’t have to be.If you put an endless supply of food in front of these birds they will lay down to eat and not get up. I feed my birds in the morning so I can move the tractor and again in the evening. I feed them inside the tractor in the evening so that they go in on their own. They spend the rest of the day finding their own food.
Just like laying hens, meat chickens will spend their days chasing insects. They’ll eat crickets, grasshoppers and other garden pests they find in the grass. Free protein! They’ll eat rodents and frogs (chickens are not vegetarians), worms and small snakes. If you’ve never seen a chicken running with a screaming frog in its beak, well, you’re missing out.
And just like laying hens, meat chickens will take dust baths and scratch for grubs and worms. Keep your birds searching for some of their food and you’ll eliminate growth that’s too fast for their hearts and legs. Just like us, they need to be up and moving.
An old friend said something to me 15 years ago that I still repeat often. “Raising these chickens is only as difficult as you decide to make it.” He was right. You need a feeder and waterer, shelter, and preferably some grass. Add fencing if necessary. That’s it. My meat chickens are five weeks old now. They’re running loose with the laying hens and Khaki Campbell ducks. Our English Shepherd keeps them safe from predators. It’s as simple as I decided it should be.