Broilers in the Late Fall?

I got an email from a friend asking about getting started with broilers. In summary, the local pastured chicken producers are planning to retire leaving a hole in the market and she is anxious to begin. I edited the email below slightly.

The “chicken people” at the local farmer’s market are throwing in the towel. They’re in their 70’s and are ready for retirement. As a result, there is no one selling chicken or eggs. When we asked them if they had eggs last weekend, they wanted to know if we were on the waiting list. And at the closest FM, the vendor sells out in 3 days after processing.

[My farmer] reminds me that there is a huge hole in the FM since there’s no one selling chicken. I remind him that we’re six months or so from being able to get some land. He goes on to say that we could do it at his farm. I come back with “but it’s 7 days/week and we work” and he responds with “if you buy the feed I’d be happy to move them and feed them when you can’t get out here”. The lady in front of me responds with “I’d be your first customer and if you raised turkeys I’d LOVE you”.

[Husband reminds her that they] don’t have a lot of time as it is and we would have to drive about 25 minutes each way to tend to the birds. We both work…

My thoughts are that we could raise the broilers here for 3 weeks and then move them out to the farm for the next 5 until they’re ready for processing. They could follow his cows on pasture. A win-win for them and us.

Potential problems:

1. We live in suburbia with crazy predator pressure…the raccoons visit the trash can every night and are not afraid of us. Perhaps electronet would be enough?

2. He does not have a LGD so again, there’s the predator issue. Electronet again?

3. The drive. That’s 2 gallons of gas every time we go out to move/feed the birds. About $7/visit

4. Profit. Based on your numbers and Joel’s book, it looks like we could make about $5/bird.

5. Processing equipment. I’ve checked Craigslist and other local sites to see if anyone is renting out their equipment and no luck so far. I wouldn’t consider purchasing it for this potential venture.

6. The split. I have no idea what [the farmer] would want out of this. Who knows…he may not want anything at all but even if he didn’t, that just doesn’t seem fair. What would be a fair compensation? Part of his real estate taxes? “Free” chicken? A monthly rent?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Well, my first thought is that you sent this on October 5th. That means IF you can get chickens today you’re looking at a slaughter date on or after December 1st. Because day length gets so short and chickens go to bed early, your slaughter date will necessarily be after…like December 15th. I don’t know where you are but I don’t like butchering chickens in the cold. Where we are November and December can be cold, dark and rainy months…not the weather we want to tend to chickens in. Plus, you will be depositing a large quantity of manure on pasture that is going dormant in the cold…potentially leaving the ground without a blanket over the winter.

From there, let’s go through your questions one at a time.

1. Predator pressure in town.
You are right to be concerned. I’m always amazed at how many raccoons I see when I visit Sarasota, FL. Based on what I have seen, most major cities have similar problems. Add in little yippie neighbor dogs and stray cats and your little chicks are in for a rough time. That doesn’t make it impossible though. Electronet will add significant peace of mind if you keep it working daily but they don’t exactly give the stuff away. I have seen cats learn to jump right through the netting which leads me to believe skunks can do the same. You will have to be creative about dealing with predators as you are unlikely to impact the population level by trapping a few animals…just open up some territory.

2. Livestock Guard Dog
Yup…Electronet. To be specific I would go with single-spike PermaNet and plan to support the corners in wet weather. Again, this only goes so far. If your farmer will be moving the chicken tractor you’ll need to buy enough fence that he won’t have to move it too. Otherwise, your labor costs will eat you alive.

3. The Drive
Oh, golly! 25 minutes? No way. Deal breaker. Ain’t happenin’. If for no other reason just because of short days. You want to go visit your birdies after work? It will be dark.

4. Profit
Well, I don’t know what you are selling the birds for but if you spend $7 to drive out there a couple of times each week and pay a worker to move, feed and water the birds…not sure there is anything left over. Charge what you have to.

5. Processing Equipment
Really, this depends on how many birds you’re talking about. For 25 birds you just need a stock pot and a couple of sharp knifes. You could manage 250 birds with the same equipment but a Whizbang plucker starts looking pretty good as you move up from there.

6. The Split
This one is tough. I always calculate 3 minutes per chicken tractor per day not counting time spent walking to the field. That’s just filling water, feed and moving the birds. 3 minutes per day for 35 days spread across 60 birds in each tractor. You can calculate what you are willing to pay him based on the difference between your feed, chick, housing and fencing costs and your sale price. It might be better to contract with him…offer him $X for delivering Y birds at Z average slaughter weight on December 7th with a bonus for numbers or weights above those margins. Then you are hands-free, essentially buying a live bird, butchering it and doing the marketing. No 25 minute drive.

What I would strongly consider:
I wouldn’t want to put broilers out in the field this late in the year. It’s just too hard on the turf. If I were you I would consider raising 25 birds in a chicken tractor over a garden bed this year. Just leave the chicken tractor in one spot and add straw or wood chips regularly to “uppen the soil” as Andy Lee detailed in the book Chicken Tractor. You will want to protect the birds in your yard from predation but this would allow you to manage your birds on a daily basis, gaining your degree in Advanced Broiler Management along the way. You’ll have a freezer full of meat for your family, a few to sell or give to loved-ones and the foundation you need to start strong when you really launch your business in the spring.

Those are my thoughts. Hopefully other readers will chime in. Again, since you haven’t raised broilers previously, I would rather see you invest in portable infrastructure and keep a few birds at home then really launch when you move in the spring. Since it’s already fall you really shouldn’t be out on pasture.

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6 thoughts on “Broilers in the Late Fall?

  1. And the birds don’t grow as well in the short days, consuming much more food just to stay warm. Broilers don’t really fully feather out, making for a cold, miserable bird for 8 weeks, not to mention the caretakers getting cold…just thought I would throw that out there too.

    • Thanks. My initial reply was about 20 pages long and included that detail. Somehow I missed that in my revision.

      Julie read my original reply and said, “Why don’t you just answer her questions?” lol

  2. I’m with Matron and HFS – not a good season to be raising them on pasture, for all the reasons already mentioned. If you feel really compelled to do it, I would house them in a structure somewhere closer to town with really really good ventilation (that is also raccoon proof – good luck), and deep bed them. A garage that you can open windows on, a greenhouse, something like that.
    Use this time to accumulate all the stuff for chicken raising, because there is a surprising amount. Figure out your business model, your costs/inputs. That’s what winter’s for. Order birds when you know you’ve got some land or space you’re closer to.
    Way up here in the frozen north (irony, we’re having a heat wave), you can’t even get broilers from the hatchery this late in the season – only the commercial producers can.

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