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Feeding Meat Chickens

The first batch of 2024 chickens are very nearly ready and I'm hoping to butcher some in a couple of weeks’ time. I had originally planned for them to finish about now, but they have taken slightly longer than anticipated. I'm trialling a different breed and feed mix this year you see. The breed is the Hubbard JA787 instead of the J757. The differences aren't vast, instead of a 12-week rearing period with the 57's I'm running the 87's for around 10 weeks. Although the 87's main difference is that it’s essentially a faster growing bird you can, with some precision feeding, slow them down. 

This being my second time with 87's however it has taken a bit of trial and error with the feed mix. Typically, the chicks are fed chick crumb for the first 3 weeks of life, transitioning to a grower pellet from week 4 onwards. With chick crumb being higher in protein I'm following a Richard Perkins type model this year where I feed chick crumb throughout the full life of the chicken and split it with other ingredients. The chickens are getting straight chick crumb for the first 3 weeks of life before being split with organic wheat and fish meal from week 4 onwards. There is always a bit of maths involved in feeding a large number of chickens for optimal performance. For meat birds I find the key is getting your protein percentage right.

Fish protein is ideal, most chicken feeds contain soya as their protein source. My bought in chicken feed this year, the chick crumb contains no soya and is non Gmo. It's the Smallholder Range Baby chick Crumb. The protein comes mainly from beans and pea protein. In fact, these are the exact ingredients in my chick crumb: Wheat, Field Beans (Fava), Wheat Feed, Pea Protein, Linseed, Di-calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Maize Gluten, Yeast, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate, Seaweed, Nettle, Garlic, Fructo-oligosaccharides, Inulin.

Alongside that the chickens are like I say being fed organic whole wheat and fish meal. Then once we get out onto pasture various species of insects and vegetation are added to the mix. 

The ratio of chick crumb to wheat and fish meal is dependent on the life stage of the chicken, for the first couple of weeks I feed 100% crumb. I then transition the chicks to a mixed feed over about a week, so they have time to adjust. Typically, during the main growing period I'm splitting the crumb/wheat ration 60/40 respectively. Close to the end of the rearing period you can slow your chickens down and simply maintain their weight rather than gaining by changing those ratios in favour of wheat.

This year’s trials are one step forward along the road to perfecting the feed formulation for both optimal performance and cost efficiency. Eventually we would like to be able to grow at least some of our own chicken feed.

Everything in farming is trial and error, even if someone has written a detailed book or given you instructions on how to do something. There are so many variables that each farmer has to adapt his or her approach to their own context. For example, for me at the start of this season, that means considering the temperature, is it normal for this time of year, is it below average, we’ve had some cold nights of late. Where will the chickens be situated, on an open plane open to the winds or down in a valley, which way do I need to face the coops so they are protected from prevailing winds and overbearing sun? These things alone can be the difference between finishing at 10 weeks or 12. You have to adjust and adapt each part of the rearing process so that you get a quality product at the end of it that is still cost effective enough to produce.

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