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Brooder Management for Starting Pastured Poultry Chicks

Getting your birds off to a good start isn’t rocket science, but it is so very important. Good or bad decisions and management practices in the first three weeks follow these birds through maturity. Make sure your brooder is as air tight as it can be within reason, but also has flaps to offer ventilation when it’s warmer outside. If you are starting them in late March or early April when the overnight lows can dip down near freezing and the spring winds are blowing, a drafty brooder will cause you lots of problems. Conversely, a batch started in August that doesn’t have good ventilation will suffer just as much. We’ve added flaps that can be propped open for cross ventilation to help aide in this.

You want the air to move through the brooder, but not “on” the birds. I’ll also run a fan blowing out of the brooder in the warmer months to draw air through it. You’ll also want to make certain it is a nice and toasty 95 degrees on the floor no matter the time of year, with space enough for the birds to get away from the heat when need be. It is a delicate balance, and if it’s too hot or too cold, they will pile up and suffocate one another.

After they are a week old, weather permitting, you can reduce the heat slowly. If it’s in the warmer months of the summer, you’ll want to most likely turn the heat off in the middle of the day and flip them back on at dusk. I’ll admit that our brooder configuration has room for improvement, and every step we take to improve the first three weeks of a chicks life will yield exponentially good results all the way through to processing. The same can be said if the brooder environment is stressful, with exponentially poor results.

You’ll also want to make sure and give the birds plenty of grit to get their gizzards going. We’ve taken to using creek sand for two reasons. One, it’s free and store bought chick grit gets pricey fast. Two five gallon buckets take me only a few minutes to fill and bring back, which saves me buying small bags of chick grit at $6 per bag. If you use the store bought grit, you’ll find yourself cutting back on how much you use in order to save a dollar, when the opposite is what you should be doing. A healthy gizzard produces a healthy bird that yields a better finished weight in a shorter time frame. And isn’t that the name of the game? Secondly, the sand is full of minerals and bio-nutrients not found in pulverized rock that I believe are really helpful to the chicks. It also has various sizes of stone, similar to that found in nature. The chicks can pick and choose what grit size they want. Remember, we are trying to mimic nature in a production system. Everything we can do to that end will benefit our enterprise.

About Darby Simpson

Profile photo of Darby Simpson
Darby grew up on his family’s seventh generation farm located in Central Indiana, just 25 miles outside of Indianapolis. However he never learned anything about the family business. He began his own farming enterprise in 2007 after reading “Pastured Poultry Profits” by Joel Salatin as well as several other sources of information pertaining to small scale pasture based meat production. The operation produced 150 pastured broilers that first year that were quickly sold and generated a base of avid customers who were left clamoring for more. In 2008, the enterprise grew to 1,000 birds while pastured pork was also added, with the hogs all being spoken for thru successful marketing to the existing customer base. By 2012, the farm was producing up to 3,000 pastured broilers, 125 turkeys, 60 hogs and 12 beef per year while using less than 20 total acres. The farm now financially supports Darby and his wife Brandy, along with their two young boys, Ethan and Zach. Darby has transitioned himself from a successful mechanical engineer into a full time farmer and enjoys the many benefits that come with being self sufficient in ones livelihood. His success shows it is possible to build a business from scratch with little or no knowledge of what Joel Salatin affectionately calls “lunatic farming”.

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One comment

  1. Excellent ! Have not had a herd of chickens in a long while and heading there sooner than later. Many good points .

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