Raising and Harvesting Broiler Chickens

  I only have a few chickens myself, and I do buy them some regular commercial "layer" feed (you start them out with "chick starter" feed first when they are babies) which I just fill a container with and leave it, but I only do that as insurance. I also supplement their food a LOT. In summer, they don’t eat much commercial feed because they are grazing on grass and leaves and bugs so much, plus I give them lots and lots of cuttings and compost and leftovers, including lots of leftover meat and fat and mealworms. (Chickens are NOT vegetarian.) In winter I give them as many leftovers and stuff from the compost pail as I can, and I also supplement with suet, with mealworms that I raise in a bin inside the house, and every three days or so some sprouted mung beans or sprouted oats so they can have something fresh and green. (I sprout these in buckets and jars inside the house.) I also grow mangel beets in summer and I store them in milk crates in the garage and feed those until they run out, usually sometime in January. In addition to this, since I live in Vermont I buy a bunch of "fodder" (bruised) apples in the fall when they are cheap, store them in bushels in the garage, and feed those as well until they run out. As an experiment this winter I also raised feeder mice (originally to try to get my cats to eat them) but found that the chickens enjoyed them more. I am still learning about mice! You can also raise worms, and black soldier fly grubs. Overall, I would say that the more you can supplement, the cheaper it is. And the healthier it is, for both you and your chickens.
My eggs are to die for. The meat is the best I have ever tasted. So far, so good.
It is important that their free range area is large enough. You will find out within a couple of months if it is too small, because every speck of green will be eaten and gone. I have about 20 birds in winter and about 35 in summer now (meat birds only for a few months) and they seem to do well on about a 100’ x 50’ pen, which mostly sits just inside the woods. They get lots of leaves and bugs (and shade, which is critical) this way, plus they have lots of places to naturally hide. I also keep throwing in the fresh green lawn clippings to the compost heap all summer long, which is also inside their pen. (Note: water and ventilation are two critical items for chickens, even in the dead of winter.) I do not give my chickens any medicines whatsoever, other than a little ichthammol occasionally on sores, and perhaps an apron on a hen who has been treaded too often.
You want to keep a flock together, so they can establish their pecking order. It is not a good idea to keep separating and putting them back together, unless you want constant drama. They love trees and shade. They need a VERY secure pen, something to keep fox, raccoons, fisher cats, coyote, and neighborhood dogs from digging under, and the coop at night should be tight and predator-proof, but with lots of ventilation (hardware cloth over windows is good.) Hawks are a concern as well, but for me it is only the occasional scare, so for me I haven’t bothered trying to put netting overhead or anything. The bigger threats by far, are on four legs.
It is also not necessary to clean a chicken coop, if it is kept properly to begin with. At least not in the sense that many people think - washing it down with disinfectant, etc. In fact I believe it is counterproductive. I use the "deep litter method" which basically means I put a few inches of hay and dead leaves in the coop and let the chickens scratch in it, and occasionally pitchfork out a few poop piles out from under the night-time roosts, and refreshen the hay a bit (mostly in winter.) I usually just then toss that extra poop onto the compost pile, which is also inside the chicken pen for them to scratch through. The rest just gets incorporated into the litter and turns to dust. It is actually beneficial to the birds to have the probiotic mix of it all for them to peck at too, and baby chicks in particular benefit in the same sense that human children’s immune systems do better when allowed to play in the dirt. The coop stays nice and dry this way too - an excellent read about this is in Gene Logsdon’s excellent book, "Holy Shit" (about all things manure.) I also add a bit of diatomaceous earth to the floor every now and then, to kill mites and parasites.

 Great writeup Sager.  Good advice above by Shudock too.  I just feed my flock commercial layer pellets plus kitchen scraps whenever possible since feed is getting more costly.   The potatos and squash from lst years harvest that are getting a bit funky now I chunk up and simmer on the wood stove before dishing up to my hens.
I wrote a little bit about my first processing experience in the comments of my WSID article.  I used  a simple plucker rig similar to Safewright’s photo in post #7, chucked in a power drill, and it was fine for the 4 or 5 birds I did at a time.  The real key I found was getting the scalding right; if you do the feathers come right off; if you’re only doing one or two birds you can just as easily pluck by hand.  

I found the meat from my 20± week old dual purpose breed cockerals was much different than supermarker chicken; much firmer texture and more flavor.  

I’l try to post some pictures of the gizzard and what i found inside one if folks are interested; amazing what chickens can eat and process.

Storey’s Guide says about 4 lbs of feed is needed for a hen to produce a dozen eggs.  At $14/50 lb for layer pellets that works out to $1.12/dozen.  When you figure in the initial feed to raise a hen to maturity, feed during molting when the hen isn’t laying, wasteage, etc. I’m sure the cost is a lot more per dozen, not even counting the materials bought to build the coop.  I usually ask for $3/dozen when I given extra eggs to neighbors and put the $ in my kid’s special fund.

Gotta set up the brooder for the new chicks coming in the mail next week!


Woodman I am interested! What did you find inside that gizzard??

My photo might be too messy to post here, but there’s good one at the bottom of this page:


I save one gizzard to show my kids later, and we found it loaded full of grass, stones, and other stuff like bits of glass and wood.


A few months back I was walking in the produce aisle of my neighborhood market. I found myself wondering what they did with all the perishable fruits & vegetables that don’t sell.
As I assumed, the store manager confirmed for me they toss a lot of produce out every day because of mandated FDA freshness regulations. The produce certainly still looks fine & perfectly edible when it’s declared "expired", but the store is required to throw it away.

I told the manager I had a few chickens and asked if he’d mind if I came by every few days to nab some of the food they’ve tossed out. He loved the idea of supporting a local "farmer" (in my incredibly-suburban Silicon Valley backyard) and invited me to simply drop off a 5-gallon bucket in the morning which their produce inspector fills for me & then pick it back up at my leisure later in the afternoon.

I’m happy because I’m getting a lot of free, very high-quality, nutrutious food for my birds.

He’s happy because his waste product is now going to productive use in the community. Plus he gets free eggs from me every once in a while.

My chickens, of course, are thrilled. 

Sharing as a model for you other backyard chicken farmers to consider…

Tank you for this use full article. 
I am building  a plucker and need to get the rubber studs.

Would anyone know where they can be bought.


Thank you

 There’s many on Ebay,This website is a source for various plucker parts and plans
For doing just a few birds in the backyard  I used this simple rig

[quote=Mr. Fri]
Let’s see, just thinking out loud…  You have 48 chickens for 4 families, that’s 12 each. If each family eats 2 birds a week, you would have enough for 6 weeks. Since they take 8 weeks to grow, you would need to harvest 64 birds every 8 weeks. Because that’s a lot to process at once, you would want to harvest a batch of 32 birds every 4 weeks.  Wow, that’s a lot of work. I guess I’d have no problem losing weight if I had to live off my own[/quote]
My four kids would fall over with shock and joy if we ate two chickens a week!  It sounds like a lot to me, though that is just my perspective.  In years past chicken meat was not eaten as commonly as it is in modern mainstream American culture, and I would guess that has something to do with how much work it is to raise and process the "old-fashioned way."
My family eats approx. one turkey or 2 chickens in a month.  We also eat some beef, pork/ham/bacon, and sausage, all of which we are able to purchase locally if we wish, and I try.  We could also get lamb and goat meat locally.  We also eat eggs, nuts, beans, lentils.  I’m trying to gradually accustom my family to a more sustainable diet.  We try to think of meat as a special treat or an addition to dress up veggies and grains, not the center of the meal.  It has been a gradual process and will continue over time.  We still have time.
For those who routinely process their own poultry, how many times a year do you process meat birds for your family?
Also, nothing yet has been said here about turning roosters and "spent layers" into stewers, but presumably the process is the same?

This was my experience, too, but only at the small independant markets. My first experience however was when I went into a large supermarket chain where I was told that they were prohibited by corporate policy from giving this waste food away. The manager told me that if a person were to  consume this, the company would be exposed to the liability if people got sick, therefore all this food was to be picked up by a large truck and shipped to Los Angeles (over 100 miles) to be shredded and composted. What a waste of fuel and food.
Another good source of free food for livestock is spent grain from beer breweries and distilleries. Although grass fed animals are much healthier to eat than grain fed, using spent grain is an exception. This is because the brewing process removes the sugars and carbohydrates that raise the Omega 6 levels, but leaves behind the protein and nutrients. And the critters love it. For those with small flocks, the waste from a couple of  home brewers would be sufficient to significantly reduce their feed bill.

Earthwise, the same exact thing happened to me. Hannaford absolutely refuses to let me take their old produce for them. Total waste of fuel and food is right.
I didn’t know that about brewer’s leftover waste - thank you! That is another resource I will try.


Also, nothing yet has been said here about turning roosters and "spent layers" into stewers, but presumably the process is the same?
The I'll be doing trying that later this summer as my flock is replaced.  This link has has a good article on cooking chickens depending on their age.  Older birds need to be cooked slowly at low temp to keep from being tough but are reportedly excellent.



Yes we used to raise 20000 chickens per house for processing by Tyson Foods. What you are doing is similar to what they do by machine and they immediately cool the birds and pack as quickly as they can process the birds. I also worked in one of those plants.  I will save this article for the day the economy collapses.(:

Helpful article. Regarding ordering chicks through the mail, be CERTAIN to watch the little guys for a condition known as "pasting up." The trauma from the shipping process can cause poop to dry on the chicks rear end thus preventing the bird’s ability to deficate. If this condition is not remedied quickly you will lose these ones. The solution is to put the chicks rear end under warm water and remove the poop. The chick will squak, but remember that you are doing the right thing. Usually after this first time of removal there will be no further problems.
Be CERTAIN to use a RED heat lamp for the brooder. A white light will drive the chicks nuts. How would you feel if you had sunlight blasting on you 24/7?

Also, I recommend allowing the girls to go broody, which means that the hen will incubate and hatch the eggs naturally. If you allow mom to care for the chicks you will have great success. Mom, however, may choose a dangerous area to incubate because once hatched the chicks may not be able to get to the ground. The solution is to move mom and the eggs during the nightime to safe, secure, and secluded location. I also like this approach because the natural way is the way Mother Nature intended.

Regarding roosters, i have multiple roosters and they get along fine.

The key is to be sure to provide PLENTY of space for everyone. Imagine yourself in cramped conditions 24/7.

Watch for internal and external parasites, which if left unintended will kill your birds through a slow and agonizing process. While I, knock on wood, have had no problems I use IVOMEC SHEEP DRENCH as a prophelaytic once or twice a year. Do not dose more frequently than this if not warranted otherwise you will encourage resistant parasites. I like this product because it is broad-spectrum and thus treats both internal and external parasites (there are one or two internal parasites for which a different medication is required. Analyze the droopings for signs of parasites and on a regular bases analyze the feathers and skin of the birds for signs of infection.

Do not confine. Cage free animals allowed to free range are SO MUCH HAPPIER and as a consequence healthier and more productive.

Really nice write-up, Sager!  Thanks for  sharing your learning experience with the rest of us. 

As usual, Sager, a super article.  Though it may be a while 'for I graduate from my "layer girls" to some broilers- the Sweetheart wants rabbits…- your great article gave me plenty to ponder, not the least of which, certainly, is our relationship with "the cones".  Aloha, Steve.

I haven’t read all the posts here so please excuse if this has already been mentioned-
Save All InEdible Parts for Fido and Phelix! Cats & dogs given a natural diet will live longer with less problems. We insist on having our processor save us all the parts not salable to the general public - necks, feet, gizzards and liver, though too much liver is not good for animals. We insist on saving only our own chicken parts because we give our birds extra minerals and nutrients naturally and withhold any chemical so our dogs and cats will benefit from the more nuterient dense food too.

If its raw food- all the better for the health of your animals! Their teeth will be cleaner too.

Here’s how we do it-

Once the raw parts come from the processor we bag in daily portion size bags and seal. This is easier than chipping away at a frozen lump of parts! Take out a couple of days of food at a time and de-thaw. We add a vitamin B complex to resist woodticks and some Azomite minerals to further enhance the nutrient density of the food. Supplement additional nutrients with fresh greens from your sprouting system (wheat grass, barley and the like) for a completed diet for your pet.

Mealtime never tasted so good and your pet food bill with end (so will most vet bills).

 We raise and slaughter our own chickens and have for several years. I do worry that the chickens are conscious during too much of the bleeding process and, if I could use a 22 pistol properly I would shoot them. I think it would be more humane. I have a friend who swears that a properly used knife can actually get up into the brain while it cuts the artery. I don’t know whether we are doing that correctly and plan to ask him to come and help this year.One suggestion for waste disposal: we raise and slaughter 60 birds - so we can have one chicken each week and a few to share with friends or trade. There is a lot of waste. We compost it in a big pile of peat moss with lime. I think you could save your leaves each year for this purpose if you didn’t want to use peat moss. However, the latter is really a magic substance. When it is dry it preserves things, it is one of the world’s most absorbent substances and, when wet, it breaks down organic matter really fast. We add water and lime and put the chicken blood and waste into the middle of the pile. We do fence it off but the dogs and other critters don’t seem to be attracted. One guy I know from our composting department in the Mass DEP says he can compost a whole cow in peat moss in 4 months. 
I am feeding my dogs raw food now - human grade. They are biggish dogs - 65# and they get alot of exercise. 17 ounces of food per day seems to be a good amount. There is a cheap market near me where I buy chicken thighs. I supplement with pasture raised beef and liver. The rule of thumb is 10% bone, 10% organ meat and 80% meat and eggs. We have our own free range eggs. We supplement with a capsule of fish oil and a scoop of a seaweed/kelp supplement designed for dogs. 
So far so good. Very expensive and I don’t like using factory raised chickens at all so I am considering using the incubator to raise a lot of baby chicks specifically for dog food. My vet is just so upset over all of this and says my dogs will get worms. Anyone have any experience doing this?
I have been on the raw dog food yahoo user group and they are pretty hard core. I am not crazy about the site. 
The whole issue of animal feed is important. I am trying to get away from extruded dried food whether it be for chickens, horse, goats or dogs. Chickens and goats are easy. Dogs and horses harder. And for all of them, being sure that nutrients missing in our own soils, such as selenim, are present in their food is huge. We have to give Selenium and E to our goats or they have trouble kidding. 
I would love to have a thread on reducing non-local inputs to animal food in a safe way. 
Is there a way to follow comments on this site? They seem to disappear in a couple of days.

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For those who want to butcher birds without plucking - here is a great how to article with photos that demonstrates skinning your birds:


My only other comment is watch out for electrical fires!  your photo shows the power strip outlet laying in dry wood shavings - YIKES!

[quote=groovy mike] 
My only other comment is watch out for electrical fires!  your photo shows the power strip outlet laying in dry wood shavings - YIKES!
I think that’s a new, experimental type of BBQ method! Let’s see how it turns out.