Raising meat chickens (broilers) to feed your family is a great way to know where your food comes from, plus this meat will taste better than anything you buy in the grocery store. Here are a few things you need to know when starting this adventure to make sure your broilers grow healthily and quickly.


Typical broiler breeds are:

  1. Cornish Cross – white broiler. Fastest growing broiler. Ready for processing in 6-8 weeks.
  2. Freedom Rancher – slower growing broiler. Ready for processing in 9-12 weeks.

The Brooder

Chicks need to be in a temperature-controlled environment called the brooder for the first 3 weeks of life. The brooder is the lift off phase for chick development. It’s best to set up the brooder 24 hours before the chicks arrive so the brooder and the bedding are at the correct temperature for chicks. Chicks lose heat through their feet; therefore, cold bedding could chill them. Ideally, chicks should be in the mail less than 2 days.  Mail delivery is stressful as chicks are being moved continually and aren’t in a temperature-controlled environment. After picking up chicks from the post office, keep your vehicle warm and do not roll down windows. Having the windows down will create a cold draft that could chill chicks. Once chicks are home, it’s time for the brooder. For the brooder, you’ll need:

  • A structure your chicks can live for the first 3 weeks. This can be a large cardboard box, an empty water trough, or you can build a box by cutting 2 4×8 sheets of plywood or OSB in half, length wise.. The size of your brooder depends on how many chicks you’re raising. Chicks need ¾ ft2 per bird while in the brooder.
  • Brooder heat lamp. These can be purchased at most animal supply stores, hardware stores, Lowe’s, etc. Use a red, 250W heat lamp bulb in the heat lamp. The cute, fluffy, yellow feathering on chicks is not insulating, so their environment needs to be warm enough to help maintain their body temperature. For the first week, temperature in the brooder needs to be 95⁰F because chicks can’t maintain their internal body temperature. Decrease temperature 5⁰ every week. Chicks that get cold will have higher mortality and impaired immune and digestive functions.
  • An infrared thermometer to measure temperature in the brooder. You can purchase this from Amazon for about $20. This is necessary to ensure that the chicks are at the correct temp. Check the temperature at chick level.
  • Waterers. A 5 qt waterer will accommodate 25 chicks while in the brooder. Before placing chicks in the brooder, dip their beaks in water to help them find water and encourage them to drink. Water consumption drives feed consumption, so if chicks aren’t drinking, they won’t be eating. The water temperature should be around 80⁰F. Cold water will reduce chick’s internal body temperature, chilling them.
    • Tip: Adding ½ oz (1 tbsp) of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water to the water in the brooder will give your chicks an extra boost. Apple cider vinegar is a natural electrolyte source. Think of it as a natural Gatorade.
  • Having enough feeders will make sure there’s enough space for all chicks to eat comfortably. Broilers are meat birds. The goal is to get them to grow quickly. One of the best ways to do that is by providing plenty of feeder space. Feeder options include trough feeders (which are straight) or round feeders. Either works great. For trough feeders, you need 2 linear inches per bird for the first 3 weeks. For round feeders, you’ll need 1 ½ inches per bird.  Feed is critical for success, and the fresher the feed, the better. Feed should be used within 30 days of being made. Vitamins are not stable and will deplete over time. After 4 months, the vitamin levels will be lower than what’s guaranteed on the tag. Chicks won’t perform well on old feed. For the first 3 weeks, offer chicks a 21-23% Chick Starter feed. Cornish Cross chicks will eat approximately 2.5 lbs. of starter feed per bird. Freedom Rangers need to be in the brooder 1 week longer than Cornish Cross. For the first 4 weeks, Freedom Rangers will eat approximately 3.5 lbs. per bird.
    • Tip: Put starter grit out for chicks starting day 3. Grit is small rocks that poultry consume to help digest feed. Grit comes in different sizes: starter, grower, and layer grit.
  • There are a variety of bedding options available. Pine shavings, rice hulls, and dried sphagnum peat moss are a few common ones. Whatever your preference, remember to keep the bedding clean and fresh. Add more bedding after the first week and then continue to add bedding as manure load builds. Keeping bedding clean and fresh will help prevent ammonia smells from building. After 12-14 days, bedding will get dirty faster.

Coccidiosis. I’m not a big believer in medicating animals unless there’s a problem. To prevent cocci, there’s a more natural way than feeding medicated feeds!  Offering milk or yogurt to chickens at day 7 and day 14 helps feed the good bacteria in the GI tract, preventing coccidiosis. Offer as much milk as the chicks will consume for 2 hours, and then take out the leftovers. Hot milk will spoil.

Observation is key to raising any livestock! Chicks in the brooder should be checked multiple times a day. Spending time with chicks and watching chick comfort will help you catch small problems before they become big problems. Catching problems early on and acting on them will help keep chicks healthy and productive.  If you’re seeing mortality within the first 2 days, this is usually indicative of shipping issues, hatching issues or chick quality. If you’re seeing mortality from day 3-7 days, this usually suggests early brooder management problems such as the brooder temperature was too cold, or chicks didn’t find feed and water soon enough. The main objective in the first few hours of chick placement is to get them to eat and drink.

In the field

At week 3, the chicks are ready to leave the brooder and go into their mobile chicken coop. Broilers are much heartier after the brooder phase. However, pay attention to the weather before putting them outside. If the forecast calls for rain, keep broilers in the brooder until the rain stops to help the transition outdoors to go smoothly. The easiest way to transport chicks outside is with chicken crates. These crates will work great for transporting the birds to processing too. Now, there are so many different mobile chicken tractor designs. Spend some time on Google and see which one is the right fit for you. The Suscovich style pen is easy to build and light weight enough to move. They hold 30 birds.

  • Space requirements: Provide 1 ½ ft2 per broiler. When raising broilers in the dead heat of summer, increase to 2 ft2 per bird.
  • Feeders in the field. Trough feeders work best in the field. You can make one out of 3 in. PVC pipe that hangs from the top of feed coop by cutting out the top 1/3 and putting caps on the ends. Provide 3 in. of feeder space per bird, so broilers have plenty of space to eat. For the best results, feed twice daily. Broilers need enough feed at each feeding, so they don’t run out of feed. We never want to see an empty feeder. When returning to feed, we want to see 10% left over. This will be mostly fines. From week 3 to processing, offer an 18-19% broiler grower feed. Cornish Cross will eat approximately 11 lbs. of feed per bird while in the field if processing at week 7. Freedom Rangers will eat approximately 13.5 lbs. of feed per bird if processing at week 10.
    • Tip: Put grower grit out for the broilers. Best results are seen if you mix starter grit and grower grit 50:50 from week 3-4 and then switch to only grower grit. Grit is crucial for ensuring birds get the most out of their feed.
  • Waterers in the field. The Plasson Bell Drinkers Broiler Waterer is a great option. This waterer can be gravity fed from a 5-gallon bucket. 1 Plasson waterer per 50 birds. Remember! Water consumption drives feed consumption, so if chicks aren’t drinking, they won’t be eating. Like in the brooder, waterers should be kept clean. Hang a scrub brush on the chicken tractor, so it’s accessible and easy to remember.

Observation is the key to success. Watch your broilers for 15-20 minutes each day. This will help gauge how comfortable and happy your broilers are. Observing broilers will help catch small problems before they turn into big problems.



  • Living Space: Start with ¼ square foot (ft2) of living space per chick for the first week increasing ¼ ft2 per chick per week. If chicks will be in the brooder for 3 weeks, you’ll need ¾ ft2 per bird. After week 3, chicks need 1 ½-2 ft2 per bird.
  • Feeder Space: For the first week, provide 1 linear inch (in) of feeder and waterer space per chick increasing by ¼ in. weekly. Plan ahead. If your chicks are going to be in the brooder for 3 weeks, you’ll need 1 ½ in. per bird. After week 3, provide 3 inches of feeder space per bird. Feeder space is CRUCIAL for the best performance and growth uniformity.
  • Waterer Space For round feeders and waterers, allow ¾ in. per chick increasing ¼ in. weekly.

Estimating feed needs:

  • Using feed with corn and soy? 3 lbs. of feed per pound of carcass weight for Cornish Cross. 4 lbs. of feed per pound of carcass weight for Freedom Rangers.
  • Using soy free feed? 4 lbs. of feed per pound of carcass weight for Cornish Cross. 5 lbs. of feed per pound of carcass weight for Freedom Rangers.

Ages 0-3 weeks

  • Feed a 21-23% protein chick starter feed. This feed needs to be a crumble or fine mash so it’s small enough for chicks to eat.
  • Plan for 2.5 lbs. of starter feed (both corn and soy feed and soy free feeds) when raising Cornish Cross.
  • Offer starter grit starting day 3.
  • Chick needs to be in a temperature-controlled environment called a brooder.

Ages 3 weeks to 8 weeks

  • Feed 18-19% protein chick grower feed. This feed should be in a pellet or coarse mash so it’s the correct size for chickens.
  • 11 lbs. of grower feed per bird for corn and soy birds or 15.5 lbs. of soy free feed per bird when raising Cornish Cross.
  • Offer grower grit.

Ready to Process:

  • Depending on breed and what you’re feeding, your processing age is anywhere from 6-12 weeks.
  • It should take 7 weeks to get to a 4.5 lb. carcass weight for Cornish Cross on a corn and soy-based diet. It should take 10 weeks to get to a 4.5 lb. carcass weight for Freedom Rangers on a corn and soy-based diet.
  • On average, chickens will lose 1/3 of their live body weight at processing.
  • Use chicken crates to transfer birds from mobile chicken tractor to processing.