Broilers on Pasture

Tried and true tips for raising broilers.

Raising broiler chickens is quite a different proposition from raising layers. The main difference is that broilers are temporary residents of the barnyard, where layers are more or less permanent.

Modern broiler chickens such as Cornish Rock crosses and Freedom Rangers are full grown and ready for processing at about 10 weeks of age. Each fall we raise a small batch of broilers on a piece of ground that needs fertilizing, such as our small (just-harvested) corn patch; this way, the soil gets fed, and so do we!

Chicks and Brooders

Order chicks from a reputable hatchery (see resources below). Your broiler chicks will be shipped at one day old. There may be a few casualties, but this is normal.

Set up the hatchlings indoors in a brooder. A brooder can be purchased from a poultry supplier or you can simply use a galvanized stock-water trough. Chicks need to be kept warm and free from drafts, so a heat source is required, even in summer. If using a homemade brooder, clamp a heat lamp to the side of the brooder and aim it at the chicks. For the first few days, closely monitor the chicks’ activity—if they’re all piled up directly under the heat lamp and are peeping loudly, they’re cold. If they’re spread out, peeping loudly and won’t go directly under the heat lamp, they’re too warm. If they’re active and spread out, not fussing at all, the temperature is just fine. Make adjustments to the heat lamp accordingly.

For the first three weeks, feed a broiler starter ration that is 20 to 24 percent protein in feeders low to the ground. Food and water should be checked twice a day and replenished as necessary.

At about three weeks of age when the birds have fully developed feathers and have lost their yellow chick fuzz, they can be moved outdoors for finishing.

Fencing and Housing

Depending on area predators, erect either a temporary electric-mesh fence (more predator pressure) or a woven-wire mesh fence (less pressure) in a convenient place in the yard with enough space for 2 square feet per bird.

If predators are minimal or under control, this fencing may be all you need to finish your broilers. If you need an enclosure to protect your birds from predators and harsh weather, consider one of the following set-ups: 1) Keep the birds confined in a mobile cage directly on the grass. Move the cage daily to allow the birds access to fresh grass and insects, and to fertilize different sections of the yard. 2) Provide a shelter, such as a simple skid house, within the confines of an electric netting fence so the birds can range freely inside and outside the shelter. Make sure the structure has overhead protection, such as a strip of galvanized metal, which will offer shade and shelter from downpours.

If you choose the second option, set up a feeding and watering station near the edge of the fence—therefore you don’t have to enter the pen to feed (or construct a gate for the enclosure). Stock the feeder with broiler finisher ration that is 16 to 20 percent protein until butchering at 10 weeks.

Resources for Broiler Chicks

Cackle Hatchery (Lebanon, MO)
Hoffman Hatchery (Gratz, PA)
Hoover’s Hatchery (Rudd, IA)
J.M. Hatchery (New Holland, PA)
Murray McMurray Hatchery (Webster City, IA)