Our first meat birds of the year moved out of the brooder and into the chicken tractor this week.  It was a greatly desired move, as meat birds just smell, and short of adding fresh bedding to the brooder more than twice a day, there isn’t much else we can do about it.  They still smell a bit on pasture, but the breeze, the daily moves to fresh grass, and the natural soil decomposition process helps control it much better.

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These chicks are only about 3.5 weeks old, so it is still a bit cool outside for them be able to regulate their body temperatures.  They have more muscle than standard breeds at that age, which helps, but it is still a big risk.  To minimize our risk, I installed heat lamps in the tractor temporarily, and we give them fresh straw or hay under the lamps to give them a dry place to lay in wet weather.  In addition, if it is windy or cool, we have a clear plastic sheet over most of the open front to provide a bit of greenhouse-effect heating and reduce any chilling by wind, while still allowing sunshine to penetrate.  The sides are left partially open to ensure plentiful ventilation.  So far, so good.  The chicks seem very happy, and since this move also means they are being watered via our 5-gallon bucket gravity-drip system, it means I am also very happy to have my twice daily water-container cleaning chores eliminated.

If you are concerned about the crowded look of this tractor, this is actually planned for several reasons.  First, meat birds don’t walk and move around like standard breed chickens.  The eat, sleep, and poop, and not necessarily in that order.  They usually lay down as they eat, and they poop where they lay.  They get up only when they have to.  To encourage some exercise, we position their water, food, and the heat lamp in different areas, so they are forced to move around if they want sunshine, food, water, or warmth.  It’s like trying to get the worst couch potato you know to exercise!! No easy task.  They simply don’t need a whole lot of space to move.  We also supplement that limited space by moving them daily to new ground.  By moving the tractor to fresh ground each day the birds always have fresh air and sunshine, green grass, bugs, and soil to scratch and peck at, as well as clean lounging areas.  These frequent moves mean we don’t have to use any type of preventative antibiotics or “crutches” to keep the birds healthy.  We simply supply them with a well-balanced diet and some grit, and nature provides everything else they need. The fresh bugs and greens also encourages them to walk around a bit more than they might otherwise.  Because there are currently almost 70 chicks in the 36 sq ft tractor, it will become crowded quickly.  Right now, in the cool weather, it is safer to keep them together for increased body heat.  In the next week or two, however, we will be splitting them into 3 groups, with each group getting 36 sq ft.  This will allow their personal space to expand as they grow, further ensuring health and exercise.

 

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