Week 1: A Study on Raising Hybrid Poultry on Pasture

by Charlotte Walker

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to raise hybrid poultry? Are these birds really the mutated freaks that the media portrays them as? Can these birds be raised in a manner in which they have a good, happy (albeit short) life?

We decided it was time to find out for ourselves.

We recently brought home thirty Lohmann Broilers. This is a hybrid, high performance variety of poultry. That description sounds more like a description for a car than an animal but this is how the company that developed them describes them.  We have never raised hybrid poultry. We had no  intentions of ever doing so until someone accused me of having a strong misguided bias towards heritage poultry. There is often truth to be found in criticism and deep down I knew that this guy did have a point.  His comment got stuck in my head.  I kept asking myself  “how can I really have such a strong opinion or preference without really and truly knowing what it’s like to raise these birds?” My husband and I discussed the matter at length and we decided to give it a try.

Hybrid? What does that mean exactly?

Hybrid poultry are a result of genetic, nutritional, and environmental research. They are scientifically bred to produce heavy breast meat and to grow quickly. They are ready to process in 8-10 weeks. These birds reduce costs, provide meatier breasts and improve overall efficiency for poultry producers, when compared to heritage varieties. Keep in mind that these improvements do come with a cost to the animal.  They have an unnatural insatiable appetite and will eat themselves into serious health problems unless you manage their feed intake carefully.  I am told that with careful feed management you can avoid many of the reported problems. This is one of the many things we intend to observe as we raise them.

The Pasture Raised Hybrid. Will it work out?

We will be pasture raising these birds. We’d like them to have access to a pasture, worms and bugs, sunshine and wind.  All living things need clean fresh air to be at their best health.  Exercise is also important for achieving the best quality meat. I also hope that having pasture will make our work of keeping sanitary conditions easier. Whether or not they will actually take advantage of or enjoy this freedom remains to be seen. I am hopeful but I  have read accounts where it is actually more difficult and stressful for them outdoors. They have been bred for high production facilities where by design they do not need to move around too much. These are not your ordinary backyard chickens.

If you want to know more about the modern meat chicken industry this article from  the PennState Extension is a really quick but excellent resource.

There are so many questions to be answered

I have so many questions because there is so much mixed information out there about these birds. Will they free range and forage in the pasture? Will they get too fat to move around? Are they really always hungry and never “full”? Can they really be raised humanely? How are we going to feel about this whole thing

Observations (Week One)

The chicks are one week old and this is what I have noticed so far.

  1. They drink a LOT of water, about 3x more water than food
  2. They eat a LOT of food and spend a lot of time at the feeders. Take the feeders away for ten minutes and they get very vocal about expressing their unhappiness
  3. Their litter gets wet and smelly very fast. We have been changing it twice daily
  4. They snuggle and peck and run around just like our heritage birds did
  5. They  appear quite a bit “older” than they really are
  6. Their feathers started developing on their wings at two days old and at the end of the week the wings are almost fully feathered and the tail feathers are starting to come in for about half. That is crazy fast right?
  7. They get really dirty. Their underside is matted and we are doing our best to keep them clean. Two had baths just because it was “that” gross.

You might also want to check out our daily photo log that documents their weight and development for the first week:

http://walkerland.ca/daily-growth-of-a-hybrid-chicken-week-one-in-pictures/

Growth

Daily Growth of a Hybrid Chicken: Week One (In Pictures)

We have photographed and weighed their growth and development each day. Take a look, it’s quite interesting.

Pasty Butt

We had three cases of pasty butt yesterday, and a few others have this issue today. We have only ever had one case of this before so it’s a bit worrisome. They are in a quiet room, good temperature, very content, good quality feed, clean fresh water. I just don’t know what to say about this.  If we were not monitoring them carefully we may have lost 10% of the flock, and counting.

Pasty butt is where faeces is crusted to their vent, making it impossible for them to excrement. This is fatal if not treated. Soaking their bum in warm water and letting to stool loosen and helping it fall off is really the only remedy. Don’t pull it off, its a sure way to irreparably injure a chick.

Cleanliness

Week 1: A Study on Raising Hybrid Poultry on Pasture

Day 7: The underside of this bird is lightly matted with urine and faeces from lying in it. I am finding that this is really hard to prevent.

I am changing out their bedding 2-3 times per day. Even still, their faeces is incredibly wet and it gets on their fuzzy bodies and especially the underside where thy lay down. Keeping the birds clean has been quite difficult and I was surprised by this.I would hate to be dealing with hundreds of these little critters, it is a lot more work to keep conditions clean that in was with our heritage chickens.

Documenting this experience

 

 

We are going to continue to document the experience of raising these birds. Keep checking back for further updates or follow us on facebook where we will also be sharing regular updates as well.

Let us know your experiences

Have you raised hybrid birds? What was your experience like? Would you do it again? This is a big learning experience for us so feel free to share your insights and experiences in the comments. We would love to hear from you.

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