On the chicken tractor process

Nothing like the hottest week of the year to receive 154 chicks in the mail.

I didn’t order the weather, but I did order the chicks.  Granted, 125 of the birds are going to homes other than my own, but…I do have method to the madness of ordering chicks in July.

Chicks, let’s be clear, are a lot of work!  I find it best to let a hen raise them (either her own or foster birds) and that has worked for me in the past, but a 100% farm-hatched meat bird operation has not.  So I order in, and play Mother Hen myself.  If I have to raise them myself, I find the best time to do so is when it is warm, even hot, outside.  I only need the lamps on overnight for that first crucial fluffy week.

I supplement the home-hatched roosters with a slow-growing meat bird, tractored out on pasture.  Last year we received 25 Freedom Ranger birds.  I loved the taste and tenderness, and they grew out quickly, but…the first week was tough as I lost three chicks, and all three chicks plus three more experienced spraddle leg.  Spraddle leg can be caused by three things:  a too-slippery surface (like their transport box) for the first few days of life, old eggs, or a food deficiency.  It takes two days for the chicks to reach us by mail (coming from Pennsylvania!  go figure!) and if it happens to these birds, that’s it, no more Freedom Rangers for me.

Considering it’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get, I will document the care of these birds a bit more than I have done in the past.  They’ll be here until October, and then they’ll hang out in our freezer.  Stay tuned.

13 responses to “On the chicken tractor process

  1. Cant wait to read more about them, I am interested in doing some meat birds next year,

  2. Last year, I did chicks in the spring. Early on, it was too cold to put them outside. Later on, it was too hot and I lost a few to the heat. But doing it your way–ordering them in the late summer–seems perfect. Early on, it’s warm and you don’t have to heat them as much. Later on when they’ve got their adult feathers, it’s cooler.

  3. We just got new chicks and, you’re absolutely right, it is much easier when it’s hot than in the spring. I’ll be following your progress with great interest, as there is talk around here of raising some meat birds, too.

    I’ve always felt you shouldn’t eat meat if you’re not prepared to raise and butcher it yourself, which has resulted in us being vegetarian, for the most part. So there is still that little piece that needs fixing before we turn into meat chicken growers.

    • Bev, I *was* veg for 16 years until I raised and killed my own. Now we eat meat only from here and well-raised (grass-fed or pastured) animals from neighbors (we buy sides of cow and pig). I’ll tell you: it’s a world of difference, both in taste and in commitment. It forces you to use the whole animal, too, otherwise it would be a sin (if I believed in sin, that is). So no waste. I have jars of fat in my fridge where many other people might have, what, I don’t know, something probably immediately more edible.

  4. El, we missed the boat on the spring chicks and are actively looking for a supplier. Would you be willing to share the name or website of your supplier? Feel free to use my email attached to this post if that is best. Thanks!

    • Unfortunately Liz the place I ordered from has a minimum order of 100!!! But I have liked Privett Hatchery in New Mexico, and I know many, many people like McMurray. Are you going for meat birds? If they have them, the Slow-Growing Cornish from Privett (and their red and black broilers too) were just great…but they do take longer to grow out (12-16 weeks versus 8-9 with CornishX). There’s also an outfit in Texas called Ideal Poultry. Hope that helps!

  5. El, just curious what the % protein is on your grower feed? We had awesome luck with our FR broilers this year (no mortality at all on 50 birds), but are now 2 weeks into a batch of cornish X birds, and have lost a half dozen, presumably to the heat. With the FR birds, we always kept them on feed, but will be trying a 12-on, 12-off regimen that has been recommended for keeping the cornish birds from growing too fast and getting twisted feet, etc. So that and protein content are the two variables that we’ve been told to watch out for.

    • Interesting problem, David. I would blame the weather but I think withholding food is an okay thing too. I threw 7 CornishX chicks under my 2 broody hens who lost their eggs to the cold this spring. I figured because they’d be raised by hens they’d maybe pick up the foraging abilities their foster moms had (one’s a mutt and one is a Speckled Sussex who’s a great forager) and therefore just fed them regular feed (scraps, grass, bugs, layer ration and scratch) and they did well…until their moms abandoned them. Then they just LIVED in, on, or around the food bowl. I was hesitant to hold feed from the laying girls so I let them do their thing. Anyway, I only lost one.

      The FRs get started on 18% chick starter then up to 24% grower at 3-4 weeks, then back down to 18%f from weeks 6 on up. They also get scratch and scraps but they’re tractored and get lots of grass too.

      I think withholding feed is a good idea. When I grew tractored CornishX, I quickly realized how food-focused they were. So I only fed them 2x a day (and they ate all the feed at one sitting). But with my slow-growing Cornish and red broilers, I just fed them 2-4 times a day in the tractors (they were similar to the FRs but the girls grew slower). They loved the grass so I also moved the tractors 2x a day. Work, I tell you!

  6. Hi El,
    Sorry I didn’t get to meet you yesterday when I picked up my chicks! They’re all settled in and did well overnight. We have a leaky 300 gal. horse tank that we start them in on our back porch. Thanks for arranging and ordering the chicks. I’m so glad they did so well being shipped in the extreme heat.

  7. Oh, good, I’m looking forward to your posts. I hope all settled in and these work out better. It’s heartbreaking to lose them so early.

  8. Hi Scott. Well, I hope documenting the process helps you think of ways to do it yourself. Cheers!

    Joshua, let’s just say I often look for shortcuts, especially where it means everyone has less work and less worrying to do. I had the chicks out this morning and quite a few of them found worms and bugs already…and they’re less than a week old!

    Anyway, Bev, yeah, sorry for soapboxing. (whoops wait a minute, my blog, my blahblah, right?)

    Liz, sorry I didn’t give you the actual site I ordered from: Freedom Rangers is what the birds are called, and there’s only one outfit that sells them here: freedomrangerhatchery.com

    David, well, better luck next time, eh? I will probably get FRs again, so maybe we can go in on an order next year.

    Brenda! Tom said it was pouring when you came so you didn’t even get to take a tour! Sorry I wasn’t around; I work in my office some 30 miles away on Mondays and Fridays. Let me know how they’re doing, and stay in touch, okay?

    Stefani, so: you’ve taken over your neighbors’ lots and will be tractoring too??? Maybe you and Esperanza can work something out 🙂

  9. good timing for me to see this – my first batch of 50 will be here Aug. 2, so I’ll be watching your updates. Focused on dual purpose and hardiness in heat/cold – and availability, since I didn’t plan in advance (well, I planned, but didn’t trust I’d be ready) . Ended up w/ straight run of Buff Orpingtons and Silver Laced Wyandottes. Will eat the roos, keep the pullets. Want a couple of feeder pigs next spring, and the eggs will be a help.

  10. I got chicks from Meyer Hatchery in Ohio. You can order as many as you want, I think there is a 3 bird min. You have to pay more for shipping with smaller quantities. The meat birds had to be separated from the egg layers, too much feather pulling. I had a small fan and lots of shade for the really hot days.

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