Things that can go wrong raising meat hens:
1. It’s too cold or damp. They can be cold . They can be damp. But they can’t be cold AND damp.
Meat hens should be fully feathered out before they have the heat lamp turned off. If not they will pile for warmth. Especially if the space is small. Putting small blocks of wood in the corners of the brooder to prevent a corner pile is key. If they are introduced to the pasture and it’s still chilly, they will pile for heat and sometimes crush one another. They also will lose body weight to shivering.
2. Not getting them up to their best weight (feed-to-weight conversion) by eight weeks. Cornish crosses are not great foragers. So don’t expect to raise them solely on pasture and get them to 7lb-8lbs in that time. They will need a feed ration as well for optimal health and growth. And bigger is not better with this breed. You may leave them and let them get over 10 lbs and think “now that’s a chicken !” You May luck out and they will be fine. But most likely they will end up going off their feet or have a heart attack. They were breed for 8 weeks and a specific size. I have found they are true to their breed.
3. When moving the chicken tractor, no matter how slow, sometimes one gets a leg stuck. This can cause cellulitis in the leg, and to be inedible.it also causes them pain, which I hate to see. When they get really big near the end of the eight weeks , it helps to have two people moving to hurry the fatter slower ones along .
4. Predators can wipe out your family’s nourishing food for the winter, and your hopes and hard work in one night. Scout everyday for signs of predators. Keep a live trap set outside the tractor if necessary, and check it every day.
5. Thinking you are going to save so much money raising your own meat hens because all they are going to eat is bugs and grass and a bit of food. This is a biggie. This is definitely not the reason to grow your own. Your time counts. Inputs matter. I don’t actually save money raising my own meat birds. So why do it? Ethically, I want to be connected to my food. But in the real world of our bank accounts ? I am eating a better quality of meat than I could ever afford on our income.
From a farming aspect, raising meat birds only pays when you can achieve a good volume and rotation of batches onto pasture. I’m in Nova Scotia , where anyone raising over 200 birds has to have a license from Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia. You can’t sell them legally otherwise.
It’s hard being a small farmer sometimes. There are wolves at every door. Oh but what a glorious business when it all comes together!
Love, Jenn xx