Hello, I'm new (very new) to chickens and am looking to keep approximately 15-20 meat chickens at a time on my 1/3 acre property. I'm willing to devote a 25' x 25' area to these ladies in the corner of my property.
My thought process was to have an 8' x 8' stationary coop with a deep litter method of maintenance, and fence in the rest of the 25' square area for them to free roam during the day. I know this would increase my feed requirements, but I'm willing to make that compromise. My question is, will this be sufficient space for these meat chickens considering most people put them out to pasture with a portable coop? And are there any other considerations I need to take?
I have laying hens and haven't raised meat birds, but my neighbor does! You can absolutely do a deep litter method, but they're gonna make way more poop than you can imagine. I have 13 birds in a mobile 4x10 coop that has an an enclosed "pen" about 3x4 where the roosting bars and feed are, and I put about 6 inches of bedding in it and I have to change it about every 3 weeks.
You have plenty of land to move about a mobile coop if you want to consider that route. My neighbor fashioned a simple 12x12 frame out of pvc pipe. it's about 18 inches tall at the sides and has a ridge down the center 24 inches tall, just like a roof on a house. he drapes a tarp over it, tied down along the perimeter, acting as the roof so the birds stay dry. all four sides of his coop are wrapped in metal hardware cloth (think window screen but the holes are 1/2 inch square) so raccoons and other undesirable critters don't get free meals. It was affordable to build, lightweight and therefore easy to drag across the grass, and can easily be anchored to the ground in the event of high winds and storms. He raises about 75 birds in that size coop and moves it every day.
If you can move them about you will have happier, healthier birds that can forage on grasses and bugs, helping offset the feed costs and yielding tastier, more nutrient dense meat. You also won't need to purchase or find suitable bedding on a regular basis if they get fresh lawn every day (or two in your case with less birds). They're still gonna need a high protein broiler feed, and lots of it.
Btw, I buy birds from my neighbor after they've been processes and I pay about $4/lb. he feeds them certified organic feed. His chickens I buy are 5 to 6 lbs, dressed. Yes, I buy $24 chickens, but I know what I'm getting, and it's worth it to me. You could sell a few, helping to offset feed costs. Just a thought
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You might look at paddock shift designs and chickens on compost designs to see if you can concoct the best of all possible chicken infrastructure. There are a bunch of different designs for paddock shift systems, some with mobile coops and some with stationary coops, some with permanent fencing, some with temporary. I recently set up a paddock system with a semi-mobile coop and permanent fencing. The main problem with the one big yard design is that eventually it will just turn to dirt if you can't rotate the chickens off it periodically.
Here's a design for a coop for chickens on compost:
James, I was figuring they would make a lot of manure. Glad to have that confirmed. Is it much more than laying hens produce? I can't really do the mobile unit on my plot because I'm designating the rest of the yard to intensive vegetable production. If I come across pasture in my area that people are willing to lend out, I might take advantage of it.
Tyler, I had never heard of the paddock design, and that seems like it would work perfect for the small space that I'm wanting to utilize. Maybe I could seed different plants in different paddocks that contribute to their diet. Thanks for the suggestion!
I've been really impressed with how well the paddocks are working with the chickens so far. I kept them on one paddock until they appeared to have turned it to pure dirt, because I wanted to plant specific cover crops for a future food garden (for humans) but once I took them off it, the grass grew back insanely thick and healthy! I should have expected this from what people say about managed intensive grazing. The grass might be so aggressive that I'm not able to grow other plants, we'll just see. But I am very happy with the system so far.
The 25x25 run will be enough space but it will get pretty messy by butcher time. Deep litter is a good way to go but you have to work it a bit more than you would with hens. The meat birds really do poop a lot more. Like maybe 2 to 3 times more. I didn't really believe how messy they were until I started raising them. And I do Rangers which are said to not be as bad as the Cornish crosses.
Anyway last year I did 25 meat birds in a space that was 16 ft x ~30ft. Small area in the front was covered and the rest open. The covered area in the front, where they spent the nights got really nasty really fast. I was laying down new bedding every couple of days. Not a big deal but would have to go in break up the poopy, trampled mats, stir it into the deep litter and add a fresh layer of bedding. They don't really scratch as much as hens and their heavy body size and large feet really seem to mat down the litter in heavy use areas. So be prepared to keep the deep litter stirred up and have plenty of fresh bedding. The rest of the run wasn't as bad, as it was mostly a weedy, brush patch and it took awhile for them to trample and scratch it up. I wanted them to clear it out which was part of the reason I set them up there. I just kept adding garden scraps, weeds, tree trimmings, and lots of wood chips and let them scratch up everything. They were in this area for about 8 weeks. They were in the brooder for the 1st 3-4 weeks and then spent a couple of weeks in my large chicken run with the hens before I butchered them. 8 weeks of poop and litter created a nice thick pile of bedding which I racked up into one large compost pile to cook overwinter. It should be a nice garden addition this spring. The run was pretty much dirt when I raked everything up and I seeded with some oats and clover. Got a nice amount of growth there through the fall and then I let my laying hens have at it in the late fall.
If you were just going to raise one batch of meaties each year I would do something similar. Let them go ahead and clear out the area for the 2-3 months you have them. Once you butcher you can reseed the area and it'll have time to regrow through the fall and spring. Should be some nice pasture again by the time you are ready for the next batch the following summer.
The paddock system works really well too. I'm working on improving my setup so I have a few different runs I can rotate my laying hens through. Having the ability to let an area recover/regrow is really good. So if you're raising multiple batches of meat birds or if you also have hens or keeping full time residents then a paddock system is a great way to go.
Chris, thank you sir! I've been keeping up on a horse barn near my property about once every two weeks and making compost from it. It might be nice to source my compost from my chickens in the back yard instead of doing all the hauling from down the road.
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