[Note: We no longer raise meat chickens.]

The first time around, I raised the modern industrial breed, Cornish Rock Cross, which is a Frankenstein of a bird that grows so fast that sometimes its heart explodes and its legs give out because they can’t support its unnatural weight. I will not raise Cornish Cross again. For the time being, I have switched to “Red Broilers.” These are still a modern production breed, but they grow slower and have less problems than the Cornish Cross. Eventually, I will move away from modern breeds altogether to a dual-purpose “standard bred” breed like the Delaware or Barred Rock. I will raise the females as layers and the males for meat.

The life span of a modern breed broiler is short, only eight weeks in a pasture setting for Cornish Cross and just about six weeks in an industrial confinement setting. The Red Broilers take ten weeks. In a pasture setting, the chicks are placed in a brooder, generally inside a barn on a bedded concrete, stone, or wood floor when they arrive as one, two, or three day old chicks, depending on whether they are picked up at the hatchery or shipped. The chicks are then raised in the brooder before being put out on pasture at two, three, or four weeks old, depending on the time of year. Chicks need high temperatures for at least the first couple of weeks until they start to feather out (95°F at first, decreasing by five degrees per week for a few weeks). When chicks are raised by hens, the hens provide this heat. For the next few weeks, the chicks live outside on pasture until they are ready to slaughter.

The meat chickens that I raise are “pasture” raised, which means that they have fresh growing green grass in front of them at all times. To ensure they have this, I confine the broilers to a 1600 square foot paddock in the pasture with a single section of electrified poultry netting, which I move around the pasture as necessary, according to grass height and manure concentration.

I feed a locally grown, ground, and mixed feed that I purchase directly from the farmer. I feed the chickens free choice out of a range feeder that holds fifty pounds of feed. The feeder needs to be filled every two days.

For water I use a five gallon metal purpose-made waterer. I empty and fill the water daily. I scrub it out as needed.

The chickens have a 8’x10′ tarp-covered, floorless, cattle panel hoop house for shelter. The shelter is framed with two by fours. Then two cattle panels are bent into a hoop between two of the sides and secured with fence staples. A tarp is stretched over the cattle panel to provide shade and protection from the rain. The back end is also covered with a tarp to keep the rain out. The cross pieces serve as low makeshift roosts.

Environment and Handling
Between the coop and being kept on pasture, the chickens are free to express all of their natural instincts, including roosting, foraging, and dust bathing, which altogether makes for a low-stress environment. When I walk among them, I do so slowly in an effort to excite or frighten them as little as possible. When I need to handle any of them, I try to catch them quickly and without too much stress, but chickens are fast, so it is sometimes necessary to snatch them by a leg or pin them down by the back in order to get a proper hold of them. Whenever I load or unload chickens into or from a crate or some other carrier, I do so slowly and carefully.

Ideally, chickens should be slaughtered on the farm because there is a USDA exemption that permits farmers to slaughter up to 1,000 chickens per year on the farm for direct sales to customers. However, I currently do not have the labor or equipment resources to allow me to do so. I hope to convince a few of my in-laws to help me, so that it is not necessary to transport the birds thirty-five minutes to the nearest slaughterhouse.

34 Responses to “Farming Practices: Meat Chickens (aka Broilers)”

  1. twwly Says:

    Is your starter unmedicated?

  2. stonybrookfarm Says:

    Hi twwly,

    I haven’t raised broilers on non-organic grain yet, but this year when I do, I will get unmedicated starter.


    1. Anonymous Says:

      BE, careful with unmedicated starter, we did it ,to make shore that dey will be organic as passible we lost over a year a lot they are easier to get sick, this year we will put them for 4-6 weaks on medicadet starter that was a advise from a vet and from University of Guelph.Ont.( Specialy if they big red or broilers. Good luck ! Dorota .

    2. Lisa Says:

      we live in Idaho and we have a hatchery that makes chick starter out of fine ground corn and sprays oregano on it. I have had really health chicks. The Hatchery is Dunlaps in Caldwell Idaho.

    3. Jadie Says:

      I agree that one should be careful with unmedicated starter, and ensure that your day olds have got their “shots”. Remember that the broiler is not the most natural of creatures and the specimen we have today has been heavily engineered through breeding and genetics. Just like certain man-made breeds of dogs have drawbacks and health problems as a result, so do broilers. Their immune systems are less efficient. Your grower, if you choose to use it, can be without things like urea (growth stimulation through nitrogen conversion) and monensin (antibiotic). We raise thousands of free range broilers and our 2nd phase feed has none of these chemicals in it.

    4. Will Says:

      Jadie & Lisa –

      there is no reason whatsoever to give your chicks shots. If you are providing clean (read sunlight, fresh air, pasture) shelters, there is no reason to give them antibiotic filled feed or preemptive shots. These are crutches to cover up other mistakes in your production model.

  3. Sally Baecker Says:

    Could you please send me a photo of your shelter for these chickens, and how long would it take a Delaware or Barred Rock to be ready do you think to eat verses 10 weeks for Red Broilers.

    We have a large buffalo pasture and would love to use it for rotating our chickens, but don’t want them getting killed by the buffalo, also currently have chicken tractor but is too heavy and requires 2-3 people or a real tractor to move, and also how does the electified chicken fence work any problems with dogs getting in or hawks, and what brand and height do you use, thanks Sally Baecker, Arkansaw WI

  4. karen Says:

    hi, you said the feeder needs to be filled every two days. how many birds is that for?

  5. Sami Lavin Says:

    Hi there! would just like to ask what is the breed that ‘broilers’ are? Or is that the real name? thanks!

  6. shannon Says:

    Hi, Thanks for all the info. We enjoy your site. We are raising red broiler also. Just 50 to start. They are on pasture, but I am having a hard time finding just how much feed to give them. I was assuming that your amounts are for more chickens? Thanks for any help Shannon

    1. stonybrookfarm Says:

      Hi Shannon,

      You can just feed the chickens free choice, if you have a suitable feeder (that is, one that will keep the feed dry). A red broiler will eat about 10-15 pounds of feed to slaughter.

  7. Griz White Says:

    We are going to raise meat birds for the first time in the spring and we do not like the idea of raising the huge imobile varieties.In your experience does the red broiler have a large breast and does it have good feed conversion?I just read your essay on how farming has changed you.It made me feel hauntingly sad and uncomfortable.Life does have it’s seasons,even the dying season.
    Thank you Snowbank woman

  8. Dauda Yusuf Dauda Says:

    How can i prepare red broiler feed?

  9. Johnson Says:

    What space can i give for 250 birds from brooding to finishing?

  10. sebastien Latraverse Says:

    How many meat chickens did you raise the year when you raised the cornish cross?

  11. Ekpu Says:

    Sir, thanks for your explanations, i am into poutry management, pls kindly advise on how to, what to feed broiler in eight weeks

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I currently have 25 Cornish Giants and at 5 weeks they really are gigantic. I have a 4×8 chicken tractor that they only stay in at night. At 5 weeks they have only ate 4 bags of feed total, and my 7 laying hens wander over and help themselves to the broilers feed. I suspect they get the bulk of their rations by scratching and scrounging.

    Very friendly birds, you just stand still and they all walk up and sit at your feet. Got them as day old chicks and have not lost a single one. I will keep a rooster and 3 hens over the winter and will start to butcher the rest in November other than a few every once in a while for a meal.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    I should have mentioned they are totaly free to roam all around our acrerage, we have no fences. 2 acres of bush and grass.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    it didnt give me what i needed to know but people who dont know very much this subject im sure it was greatly appriciated.

  15. […] a red or black broiler grower locally or order chicks online – determine which should be kept for breeding as they […]

  16. Jadie Says:

    I have a question, regarding the broiler’s ability to handle really cold temperatures, rain etc. I would imagine that birds, having feathers, are quite able to handle the cold – as with other animals. But I also know that broilers have not been engineered to be raised free range, as such. If anyone has any ideas or informatio I would really appreciate it.

    1. Evans mahlane mokhomola Says:

      I have setisfy for broiler and leyers,i know everthng about it ,how to make them grow earlier ,their vaccination nd how to control weather for the suitable place etc.my contact is 0849290435 im loking for a job.who have interest for that please im availeble call me

    2. Evans Says:

      Hi dont forget that im living around tzaneen

  17. farisai Says:

    how long does it take for a broiler chicken to go bad, after it has been slaughtered and not put in cold water or freezer

  18. Russell Wuertz Says:

    This breed isn’t the meat chicken we see in the supermarket that we can’t obtain stock for. UCONN has a breed of meat chicken, but can we get it from them”

  19. pine kgatlwane Says:

    how much feed do the broilers need per day or js give them any how?zt neccessary 2 regulate temperature even durin summer?

  20. Ayoola Bukola Says:

    i love what u do, i want to be part of it, learn and major in the business.How can i do it?

  21. […] Stony Brook Farm puts them out to pasture after two, three or four weeks depending on the time of year. […]

  22. Holly Says:

    I’m so glad that you aren’t raising the cornish rocks no more I bought a few and It is disasterous at what happen to them as they grow that just so wrong for people to make them grow that fast it’s so unnatural after I butch these I won’t ever get them again poor chickens it just isn’t fair to them ;(

  23. amos Says:

    my free range chicks are 6weeks know but looking like three weeks they dont grow fast what must i do

  24. Eric Says:

    Hi,would you pls advice me on breeding white broilers(cobb or ross) as free range.In terms of feeding ang ages for slaughtering.Thank you

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  26. Emelia Says:

    You may have already discovered this but there is an organic feed company in Vermont and they have both soy and soy free chicken feeds. I have raise 2 batches of meat birds (both heirloom breeds and cornish X) and have been very pleased. I don’t use medicated starter or vaccinations and have had no issues what so ever but I do free range and keep things clean.


    hi I want know how can I get the start up capital for my business

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