In our last post we discussed the role that a chicken tractor has within our homestead system. Now, we are at 1 month in to the current chicken run and you can begin to get a sense of just how quickly these Rock Cornish Cross chickens grow. This mutant breed between two types of chicken produces most of the commercially grown, store-bought chickens that consumers eat. The upside to this crossing is you get a chicken that grows very rapidly allowing you to harvest the birds for meat within a very short period of time. (Thus, the “Young Chicken” label you see on store bought chickens.) The downside is that they grow too fast for their bones to keep up with them and support their weight, so letting them grow for a long period of time means seeing them develop leg problems, fall over and die. So no opportunity to keep them as your pet chicken or even a egg layer bird because by the time they reach egg laying maturity, they start having health problems related to their rapid weight gain. The genetics resulting in these chickens from the crossing of their parent breeds would by natural selection be weaned out because of the low survival rate, but in our ever productive search for the better chicken, we actually select for this mutant variation because of the benefits for meat production.
For these birds though, they don’t live the droll ordinary caged and confined life of a bird raised in a production operation. They’ve got plenty of forage for their main source of feed and are actually weaned down from the main diet of commercially manufactured feed once they are done brooding and have feathered out. Instead of an all-you-can-eat free-choice commercial feed diet, they are let out of the chicken tractor during the day to hunt and peak around for their food. They run to the clovers first; the most delectable of choices for them, followed by grasses and other native species forbs we have in our pastures. They always make their way over to the closest llama poop pile where they rake away and grab bugs and flies. When the evening rolls around, they get a bucket of chicken feed, enough to fill out their already full crop, and round out the day. The token amount of feed also serves the rancher by easing the task of getting them all back into the tractor for the night.
Be sure to check out the video update to this post and see these 1 month old chickens in action: