In 2011 instead of ordering day old chicks to replace our laying flock (which will be 2 years this summer ’11) and turkeys, we wanted to raise a superior flock. One that really thrives in our weather and our farm environment. When you order from a hatchery, you get mixture of chicks, some good some not so good. Our strategy is to select our best chickens and turkeys and cull (a.k.a eating) the rest.
We selected seven meat chicken and a rooster (Red Rangers), two turkey hens and one tom (Narragansett) and two egg layer breeds, Buff Orpington and New Hampshire Reds. We rotated the hens and roosters in and out of our chicken tractors. We had to separate the roosters from the ladies for two weeks prior to collecting eggs in the hopes of pure breed chicks.
Here’s a video I made of our turkeys. It shows the whole process of selecting chicks and then processing:
It takes around 21 days for a chicken egg to hatch and 28 days for a turkey.
Heritage Turkeys (Narragansett): Freken fabulous. 90% the turkey eggs develop and hatch. Also, they are are BEST foragers, eat the least amount of grain and are extremely hardy. Oh yeah, they also finish beautifully. Hens are about 8 lbs and Toms around 15 lbs. Finish carcass weight, cleaned with out heads or feet 🙂 Besides all that, hens are smart, will get broody (sit on a clutch of eggs) and forage for bugs, seeds and such ALL DAY LONG (no joke)… which means their meat and fat is INCREDIBLE! The Toms have a bit of an ego trip and you probably don’t want too many of them 🙂 All they care about is puffing up and strutting around. Our tom, “Puff Daddy” thinks he’s a guard dog and scares all our delivery trucks away.
Meat Chickens, “Red Rangers”: We tried this breed as an experiment instead of using the white meat bird, Cornish Cross. Here’s what happened… our Red Ranger rooster does mate w/ the ladies. He’s healthy and robust and so are the ladies… They are just HUGE. I can’t believe I kept them alive for six extra months for breeding stock. They’ve eaten us out of house and home. They are incredibly fat and lazy. They have dirty hinny feathers and don’t clean their butts! From 70 collected eggs red ranger eggs, we’ve hatched three successfully. Terrible stats. I’m so disappointed with this breed. Another thing to consider is that these guys may look a bit better than the typical fast growing white chicken (Cornish Cross), but they act the same. They’re incredibly lazy, eat A TON OF FOOD, grow too fast, they DON’T forage and just sit around the feed bin. Now, do you want to eat this kind of bird? Oh yeah… they have a high mortality rate since they grow so fast some of their little hearts, lungs and organs can’t keep up and they have a high death rate. To make this “hit home” this type of chicken is what you buy at the grocery store, health food stores and mega wholesalers (Costco and Sams). Even if you’re buying “organic chicken”. I’ll tell you what, it makes me want to find and eat another breed of chickens. One last thing… these fast growing broiler chickens are sooo lazy they don’t even keep their hineys clean and they stink even though I move them to a new patch of grass EVERY DAY! Can you image?! It grosses me out.
I need to find a new breed for meat chickens… currently, I’ve decided to focus my efforts on raising heritage turkeys to fill the freezer. There finished carcass weight is the same as the huge fast growing broiler chickens, but they’re extremely healthy and their organs are beautiful when process… AND they don’t require all the food that broilers do. They forage for at least 80% of their food.
Take-away… Eat more heritage turkey, stop eating fast growing broilers, find another breed that’s slow growing for a meat chicken!