how many meat birds per square foot

Note: As a member of the New England Poultry Extension group, Dr. Knight was asked to contribute to Penn State Extension Small and Backyard Poultry Flock Programming with this article. The following article introduces him and detailes his recommendations for pastured broiler flocks.

Hello, my name is Dr. Colt W. Knight, and I am the state livestock specialist and assistant extension professor for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. I serve as the lead investigator for the Maine Pasture Poultry Project and I raise pastured broilers at home on my farm. When I first arrived in Maine in 2017, there was a tremendous amount of interest in folks wanting to raise pastured broilers, but I noticed there were quite a few misconceptions about raising chickens on pasture which lead to a great deal of confusion among new producers. Unfortunately, science-based recommendations for raising poultry was all geared towards large-scale production or raising chickens in barns. The summer, the University of Maine started the Maine Pasture Poultry Project where we raised broilers on pasture and meticulously recorded feed intake, water intake, forage utilization, growth, carcass, and climate data to share with producers in New England. Along the way, I hosted dozens of pasture poultry workshops to gather information from existing pasture poultry producers and share what we had learned raising poultry at the University of Maine teaching farm.

Getting Started – what do you need?

First, you will need a brooder set up to get the chicks started off on the right track. You can learn more about brooders from the University of Maine Livestock website1.

Secondly, you will need a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is a small, movable building that gives the chickens free access to the pasture while shielding them from the sun, keeping them dry in the rain, acting as a windbreak, and keeping them safe from predators. Chicken tractors come in many different styles. Two popular variations are the taller A-frame Jon Suscovich-style3 tractor, which is roughly 5 feet tall, and the shorter Salatin-style2 tractor, which is about 10 wide, 12 long, and 2 high. 5 wide, 10 long, and 5. 5 tall. But the possibilities for chicken tractor design are endless, only constrained by your creativity. Pasture-based chickens require 1. A Salatin-style tractor could hold 80 birds, whereas a Suscovich-style tractor could hold 36 birds due to the 5 square feet per bird. If you reside in a region where there are many predators, you might want to think about enclosing the chicken tractor field with electric net fencing. By doing this, animals are kept from digging beneath tractors, penetrating through fences, or ripping wires.

I prefer the A-frame style tractors for several reasons. I enjoy being able to enter the tractor and look closely at the birds, waterers, feeders, and other features. I also like to hang my feeders and waterers. A great way to cut down on waste and maintain a clean environment for the hens is to hang feeders and waterers. Furthermore, the feeders and waterer move in tandem with the tractor whenever I move it. Finally, I can watch every chicken up close as I maneuver the chicken tractor, avoiding the common issue of accidently running over the chickens with the tractor frame.

Thirdly, there must be plenty of room for you to maneuver the tractor on pasture. You won’t need to move the tractor more than once every few days during the first week the chickens are out on pasture. After that, in order to maintain the pasture’s health and keep the area free of chicken dung, you must move the tractor every day.

Lastly, you need a plan for processing chickens. Currently, most processors are booked way in advance. Before buying chicks, I strongly advise locating a processor and scheduling an appointment. Consult your local Extension service for assistance with rules, regulations, and permits if you plan to sell the meat from your poultry. As an alternative, processing your own chickens requires less equipment. But, if you intend to process a lot of birds, you should definitely spend money on pluckers, a big scalding pot, killing cones, and packaging for long-term storage. Butchering is a fantastic book written by Adam Danforth that includes excellent step-by-step color photographs. I suggest that students enrolled in my meat-cutting schools use this book as a textbook.

Once the chicks arrive, they will spend approximately 2 weeks in the brooder until they start to develop feathers. Then they can move outside to the chicken tractor with a heat lamp installed. After the chicks have had about a week to acclimate to their new environment, you can remove the heat lamp and begin rotating chickens through the pasture. The first week they are on pasture you will only have to move them every 2-3 days as their litter builds up. You will want help from one other person when you begin moving the tractor with the chicks. One person will move the tractor while a second person with a broom moves the chicks away from the tractor frame. This prevents the chicks from being run over by the tractor frame. Chicks learn quickly and will happily move on their own once trained. By the second week, they are on pasture, the tractor needs to be moved daily to prevent chickens from standing in their own litter and damaging the pasture. Our publication on pasture-raised broilers has an excellent description of forage utilization and pasture health. That manuscript can be found online at Journal of the NACCA online

Week 1 – Brooder

Week 2 – Brooder

Week 3: Transfer to the chicken tractor and install a heat lamp

Week 4: Take out the heat lamp and put the hens outside on pasture Move tractor every 2-3 days.

Week 5 – Move Tractor Daily

Sixth Week: Pull Tractor Every Day; Cornish Cross Should Weigh About 5 25 lbs live weight, and produce 4 lbs carcass).

Week 7 – Move tractor 2x a day

Week 8: Move the tractor twice a day (Freedom Rangers should weigh about five kilos). 25 lbs, and produce a 4 lbs carcass).

How much food, water, and forage will the chickens consume?

This depends on a number of factors, including breed, sex, climate, diet, and target finishing weight. However, if we keep a few things constant, I can give you a fairly accurate estimate. First, I prefer to raise chickens to produce a carcass weighing 4 pounds, which is the perfect amount of meat for a typical American family. Cornish Cross should reach this weight at 6 weeks of age, and slower-growing birds should reach this weight between 8 and 9 weeks of age when fed a 2020%%crude%20protein%20starter/grower ration. For a Cornish Cross, roughly 15 pounds of feed will be needed per bird to reach harvest weight; slower-growing birds will need about 16 pounds per bird. Cornish Cross will use about 3. 6 gallons of water per bird; birds with slower growth rates will require slightly more (4–4) 5 gallons/bird).

Though it seems like a contentious topic, the science is clear. What about forage utilization? How much grass are the chickens eating? Shouldn’t this save me money on my feed bill? Firstly, compared to chickens raised in commercial chicken houses, chickens raised on pasture will need more feed. They require more energy to fulfill their demands because they use more energy moving around and maintaining their body temperature. Second, we can observe that when we go to move the tractor the next day, the grass has disappeared, giving the impression that the hens are eating a lot of forage. To be clear, unlike ruminants (cattle, sheep, and deer) or hind-gut fermenters (horses, rabbits, and elephants), chickens lack the digestive anatomy necessary to efficiently break down and digest molecules like cellulose and other fiber constituents of plant cell walls. The majority of the disappearance of forage is caused by pecking, trampling, and scratching. In our 2017 pasture poultry study, we estimated the amount of forage that the chickens consumed and measured the amount of forage that they removed. Measuring forage utilization provides us with a valuable grazing tool. You do not wish to remove more than 2050% of the forage above the group in order to maintain a healthy pasture. If you remove more, the nutrients from the roots mobilize to restore the above-ground portion of the plant, which will result in a drastic reduction of root structure. The health of the pasture starts to deteriorate when the root structure is damaged. Thus, after pasture utilization reaches a certain percentage, you must move the chicken tractor. Up until they are six weeks old, you only need to move the tractor once a day with Cornish Cross puppies; after that, more frequent tractor movements are required. To what extent, then, is forage the chickens’ diet? On a grass-based pasture, you can anticipate three Six percent of the chickens’ dry matter diet is made up of forage. You could probably anticipate that 5% of their diet would consist of forage if they were on a pasture that was based on legumes. That is about 1 pound of forage per bird.

Weeks 1-3: Treat your layer chicks in a manner akin to that during this period. Give each chick two to four inches of space for the feeder and up to two square feet of floor area. For absorption, cover the brooder floor with three to four inches of litter, such as pine shavings. This keeps birds warm and channels their energy into growing.

Week 4 of processing: To give the broilers more room, relocate them to a heated coop. Give each chicken at least 4 square feet of space and 6 to 10 inches of feeder space. Provide each bird with 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space if they are free-ranging.

As a backyard flock raiser, you are familiar with the chicken math drill. You start with three hens and soon you have thirty. However, did you know that there is a version of chicken math specifically for broiler chickens? You can add up the proper nutrition and care for broiler chickens to reach mature weight in six to ten weeks.

Biggs claims that a crumble formula—like Purina® Meat Bird Feed—is simpler to consume and process. “During the first six weeks, each bird will typically eat about 10 pounds of feed.” After six weeks, they will consume three to four pounds of feed each week. They may be small, but they are voracious eaters. ”.

Separately raise meat birds from other backyard fowl to lessen stress and the chance of disease transmission. Consider lighting your coop to increase feed consumption. One 40-watt bulb, hung about 6 ft. above the chicks, is needed for each 200 sq. ft. of pen space.


How much space do you need for 50 meat birds?

How Much Space Is Needed For Chickens (50-2500+ Chickens!) So, you should allow 10 square feet of space per chicken if you ar raising broiler chickens for the farming of meat. But, you should allow at least 15 square feet of space per chicken if you are raising laying hens for the farming of eggs.

How big of a coop do I need for 25 meat chickens?

How big should a chicken coop for 25 chickens be? As a general rule, a coop should give each chicken about 4 square feet of space. Chickens need room to scratch and dust bathe. Make sure the coop you choose for your hens allows for ample space for them to move freely.

How many square feet does a meat bird need?

Provide 6 to 10 inches of feeder space per bird and at least 4 square feet of coop space per bird. Raise your meat birds separately from other backyard poultry to help reduce stress and risk of disease transmission.

How many Cornish cross per square foot?

A minimum of 2 square feet of coop or tractor space is recommended per bird for optimal growth. Make sure their area is protected from wind, rain, and other fluctuating weather conditions as this can affect their health and growth rate. Cornish cross are typically ready to process around 7 weeks of age.