Free-Ranging Broilers

I just returned from dropping off our first batch of 25 broilers at the butcher shop. It feels so nice to drive back into the farm and see less birds hanging around by the coop and water. Less birds means less work, feed, and manure!

We released our broiler chicks, gosling and ducklings from the brooder at 3 weeks of age to have free-range access to our farm.4When we raised our broilers last year, we kept them in a pen and moved it twice daily to new grass. We also allowed them access to feed all the time. This time, we decided to allow them to free-range, and only allow them access to purchased feed twice daily for about 30 minutes.

Allowing them to free-range is not only easier for us to manage, but it allows them more opportunity to use their legs and get exercise. Restricting access to feed encourages more foraging, while slowing their growth so they don’t grow too big for their legs and become immobile. Our broiler flock this year was all feathered out and healthy looking, as compared to last year where many birds were missing feathers.12It took about 2 extra weeks for our broilers to reach butcher weight since we restricted access to their feed. Rather than being ready by 8 weeks, our chickens needed 10 weeks to reach their full size.

We witnessed our free-ranging broilers eating grass and even running! Based on our experience last year, I wasn’t sure if either of those things were possible until we saw it for ourselves. Besides the intense desire to eat and eat and eat, our free-ranging broilers behaved much more like a normal chicken should and they were better able to express their chicken nature.36We got all set up to butcher chickens ourselves this year as we did last summer, however we got 2 birds into the job, and the chicken plucker stopped working.

Nobody wanted to hand-pluck so we hauled them over to our butcher and paid for the pros to finish processing our broilers. We really have to admit it is so nice to drop off a flock of chickens and pick them up all nicely wrapped and ready to cook.

That just may be our new method of operation!

We should raise one more batch of 25 broilers this summer in order to be set with chicken for an entire year. Nothing beats a juicy, home-grown broiler on a hot grill in the summertime!5

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