How to Keep Meat Chickens Alive
They said it couldn’t be done.
I was skeptical myself.
I’ve lost more meat chickens to predators on my farm than I would like to discuss.
It’s a tragedy.
- They have been eaten by the raccoons.
- They have been torn to pieces and spread all over the farm for me to find.
- They have been literally pulled piece by piece through the holes in the chain link fence.
In my experience, it is more than just sad to watch the meat chickens die, it is infuriating.
I recently had a tiff on Facebook that was confusing to some and offensive to others.
It was about my pig, Fern.
A few weeks ago Fern got pneumonia and was really sick. She didn’t feel well. She wasn’t eating. All she did was sleep. She wouldn’t get up or even ‘oink’ at me.
I was distraught. My POOR PIGGY!
I didn’t want her to be sick. I felt so bad for her. I ran to the doctor (twice) to get medicine for her. I gave her all my milk that week (even the cream) so she would eat something. I checked on her several times each day.
Fern made a full recovery. She was back to her jovial self in just a few days.
4 weeks later I took Fern to the butcher so I could eat her.
Someone on facebook was upset. How could I be concerned about my sick animal one day and eat her a month later?
There are 2 reasons-
I really care about my animals. I truly love them and want them to be happy and healthy. Just because I am going to eat them doesn’t mean I don’t care about their well-being.
It is critical to the farmer that the animal LIVE until processing day. When an animal dies prematurely it is devastating. It doesn’t matter if it is because the coyotes killed it, it died giving birth or it died of pneumonia. When an animal you are raising for meat dies it is upsetting and costly. Not only do you lose the meat that would have provided for your family, if you are raising livestock as a business it crushes profits.
This is true for any animal, even meat chickens. Even though you are going to butcher them and eat them; it doesn’t make it OK for something else to kill them or eat them.
In fact, it is worse.
You’ve invested in the birds. You’ve invested in all the feed they’ve eaten. You’ve spent days and days filling drinkers and replenishing feeders. You may even be dragging the dang things around your farm (in a chicken tractor) so they have fresh grass to snack on.
When something else kills your chicken dinners it’s as aggravating as heck.
I decided a couple of years ago that we would just eat rabbit meat instead of chicken so I wouldn’t go through the pain of trying to raise meat chickens. They are just too delicious for the woodland creatures to pass up.
It has been 2 years since I raised any meat chickens.
Reluctantly, I agreed to raise some with a friend. She asked me if I would teach her how to butcher meat chickens and I said yes. The plan was for both of us to raise 15 chicks to slaughter weight and then butcher them at my farm.
In late August I brought home 25 meat chickens.
FUN FACT: I bought the original 25 meat chickens (broilers, AKA Cornish Rocks) from Tractor Supply. Unfortunately, 15 or of them turned out to be layers, but the nice folks at Tractor Supply happily gave me 15 more meat birds so everything was right with the world.
Anyhow, I kept them in a brooder for the first 3 weeks of their lives before they completely outgrew the tiny hutch.
They needed a new home.
I have been drooling over a neighbors swanky meat-chicken raising system and begging DH to build me one. It is one of those PVC pipe/ chicken wire tractors.
DH told me I didn’t need one of those fancy systems because I have Gus. DH came up with the fantastic idea to put the meat chickens in the field with Gus (our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog).
I conceded and thought it was worth a try.
We drug… and I do mean “drug” the dog kennel down the hills and through the woods into the pasture with Gus… with a 4-wheeler.
When you raise meat chickens they need food, water, and shelter.
I put our King Feeder in there (it’s great – it holds 50 pounds of feed & has a rain hat so the food won’t ever get wet), a 3-gallon drinker and an igloo for them to huddle in if the weather was bad.
I threw a tarp over one side to give them some protection from the wind/ sun.
And there, living in the lush grass are my meat chickens.
I posted a little pic on social media of their new home and was met with great concern and warnings.
I was warned-
- Half of them would be dead in the morning.
- That they would all be dead at the end of the week.
- That they would be pulled through the fence by the local wildlife.
Gus was my only hope.
I told DH all about the well-meaning friends on Facebook and Instagram. I told him that Y’all said my chickens would all die.
DH was adamant. He said the world was wrong and he was right. He said that Gus would protect my flock. He was completely unwavering. He said I needed to trust my dog and my husband.
It was social media v/s DH
Facebook was sure I was a chicken murderer – DH told me the chickens would be fine.
Well, I’m happy to report that Gus is worth his weight in gold. We didn’t lose one chicken.
Tips to Protect Meat Chickens
I have successfully raised meat chickens in our barn and in the wide open spaces of Kentucky. Here are some precautions that anyone can use to help keep meat chickens alive until they are ready to kill them.
That is so funny.
“Stay alive so I can kill you.”
-said no one ever…..
except for the homesteader.
If you’ve tried to raise meat chickens in the past and only spent money to feed the local wildlife – Here are my best tips to up your chances at keeping meat chickens alive:
ONE: Guard Dog
Obviously, this is my favorite method. Our livestock guardian (Great Pyrenees) did a fantastic job protecting our meat chickens. We put the pen holding the broilers right in his pasture (where he resides with the sheep).
Gus was there day and night, watching and guarding. I fully credit this sweet dog with the miracle of 25 meat chickens living 8 weeks in the great outdoors.
Arguably location is key when it comes to raising meat chickens.
I was very precise when I picked the location of the chicken tractor. I put it right in the middle of Gus’ world. I also located it just outside of the barn where he sleeps. I wanted the chickens to be close enough to Gus that he would hear if something (like a coon or opossum) was lurking, even in the middle of the night.
If you do not have a guardian dog and want to raise chickens outdoors in the field or grass (in a tractor), place them close to the house. Predators are less likely to go after them if they are near activity and commotion.
Raising them in a barn or building is also a good option. This is how I raised mine before I had Gus (the dog).
I built a chicken run in the corner of our big barn. It was right in front of the sliding door so I could open it during the day. This gave the chickens sunlight and fresh air but they also enjoyed the protection of the barn at night.
You could take it a step farther by giving them access to the outdoors during the day and returning them to the barn at night.
If your chickens are outdoors and do not have a guardian animal for protection you may try your favorite radio station.
All I can tell you is that this worked for a friend. She plugged in an old jambox near the meat chickens and blared music all night long. It kept the predators away and provided music for the chickens too.
FOUR: Really good Fence
I have been told that even though chicken-wire is the best option for keeping chickens safe, a determined varmint can still pull chickens through the wire (Eww).
The problem is that chickens are not that smart.
Meat chickens are infamous for leaning against the fenceline. If they aren’t eating or drinking, they are usually lying against the fence waiting for something to rip their heads off.
In the cage above, you can see there is the chain link fence on the outside. If you look closely you’ll see a second fence made of chicken wire about 10 inches inside the cage that is stretched around a metal fence post.
This arrangement prevents the local wildlife from getting their paws on a chicken.
You could use 2 layers of chicken wire or any other wire. The fact that there are 2 layers is what is protecting the chickens – not the type of wire used.
Stretching a second fence 10 inches inside the first prevents predators from reaching the chickens. If they can’t grab a chicken, they can’t eat it.
In 8 short weeks, it will be time to butcher the chickens, yourself.
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