Meat chickens gathered at the waterer | Little Red Farmstead

Meat Chicks Moved to the Great Outdoors (a 3.5-Week Update)

Meat chickens gathered at the waterer | Little Red Farmstead

Saturday morning, I opened the barn door to find one very confused meat chick looking at me from outside his brooder. Clearly, they were getting big enough to hop or fly or otherwise foist themselves out of the brooder, which said to me: Time to go outside!

Thankfully their new home didn’t require much work: I took the string trimmer and knocked down some of the tall grass in their pen-area, re-attached the ladder inside their coop, and set up fresh food and water for them.

Then I brought 24 very dumbfounded meat birds outside to their new home.

Meat chickens on grass at last | Little Red Farmstead

Having never raised meat birds before, it amazes me how fast they grew! Of course, I read plenty about their growth rate, but seeing it first hand is a whole other matter. At three and a half weeks old, these chickens are easily two or three times as big as egg layers the same age would be.

Not to be insulting to Cornish Crosses, but they’re not exactly the brightest birds either. Corralling them into the coop at night has been interesting. Picture me just after dusk with a head lamp, waving my arms around, trying to herd little chickens without stepping on them… Now that I think about it, maybe they ARE the smart ones, having fun making me look ridiculous!

Meat chicken setup behind our barn | Little Red Farmstead

They are, however, good at what they’re meant to do–eating and growing. I’ve employed two techniques that I’ve read about and heard about on podcasts to help keep them from getting too large too fast such that it’s detrimental to their health:

  1. We allow them to eat as much as they want, but only for 12 hours at a time. After that, I take the food out of their pen and the only food they have access to is anything they can forage in the grass.
  2. I moved the food and water away from the coop, and away from each other, so minimally they have to walk in a triangle formation back and forth from the coop to the water to the food a few times a day. This helps keep their heart and legs strong to support their heavy bodies. I’ve been gradually moving the food and water a bit farther apart too, now that they’re getting the hang of being outdoors.

I’m hoping those two strategies will serve us well to get them to processing-age.

When our processor told us these birds would be ready at 7 weeks, I was skeptical (I was thinking more like 9-10 weeks), but now I’m starting to believe him. If all goes well maybe we’ll do a second round of birds before the summer is over.

Amanda lives with her family on a little red farmstead in northwestern Pennsylvania. By day she's a web developer specializing in WordPress and in her off time she enjoys working with goats and other livestock on the farm, canning, knitting, and crocheting.