Glenda C writes: Can you raise layers and broilers at the same time and can they share a space? Totally have NO idea about chickens, sorry if it is a dumb question.
Great question, Glenda! Believe me, after answering a ton of questions at farmers’ markets over the years, there is no such thing as a dumb question. The lack of knowledge regarding food production is sometimes overwhelming, but I give you mad props for asking a question that I guarantee others are also wondering.
The answer is somewhat challenging because I don’t know what your set-up is and your available space for raising poultry. It is possible, but there are a few reasons to not raise them together to consider before you purchase chicks.
If you have the space available, I would recommend raising your broilers (meat birds) and your layers (chickens that are primarily used for egg production) separately, especially if you are going to buy Jumbo Cornish Cross broilers (I plan to discuss heritage meat breeds in an upcoming post).
There are a few reason why I make this recommendation. First, the feed is different for meat birds versus layers. Broiler feed will likely have a higher protein for faster muscle growth. This is important for a cross broiler because they will be ready for processing in seven to eight weeks, and you’ll want the most muscle on your bird as possible because your processor (if you don’t harvest your own birds) will likely charge by the bird, not by weight. It will cost around $3 per chicken to slaughter, clean, and bag. It will cost more if you want your carcass further processed, such as sectioned or deboned. It’s usually the same to process a three-pound or a five-pound broiler, so it’s more cost-effective to beef-up your birds with a high-protein feed.
Laying chicken feed is formulated with calcium and other nutrients for egg production. This helps your girls lay eggs with hard shells and encourage consistent production, especially for hybrid breeds, such as my fave, Golden Buffs. Layer feed is usually about 16 percent protein, which is lower than broiler feed, so it can take a little longer for your meat birds to gain an acceptable harvest weight.
I’m going to assume that GlendaC already has some sort of coop for laying chickens, and I understand not wanting to spend a great deal of money on another coop for broilers. However, I really feel this is an important investment for your homestead. There are a ton of ideas online for mobile broiler coops, and you may be able to make an inexpensive pen in a short amount of time. It’s really important to make it secure, though, because once your broilers are six weeks or so, they’ll start to pack on the pounds, and it is difficult for them to move at a quick pace.
Broilers also don’t roost, so your coop can be just a few feet high. But be sure to give them enough ground space for ample pasturing during production. Like your layers, broilers love to snack on a variety of protein sources, such as worms, insects, and mice, and you can proudly claim that your birds are not strictly vegetarian-fed (eye-roll), which is a marketing term I have come to loathe, and one that really confuses my customers as to what naturally raised poultry should be.
Broilers will also start heavily soiling their ground at around five to six weeks, meaning they’ll really be chowing down on their feed and, ah-hem, projectile pooping all day long. Now, this might be a slight exaggeration, but not really. Broilers produce a lot of manure (like, coating the ground in yellow stink), and you’ll need a coop that is easily moved daily, either by hand or by tractor. This job is usually allocated to my hunky husband, who will move the coop every morning, giving the broilers access to fresh pasture.
Another upside to a broiler pen is that once your birds are harvested at eight weeks, you can use it for other livestock, such as raising a colony of meat rabbits. Again, make sure it is secure from predators! I can’t stress this enough because we lost four hens last week due to coyotes and (we think) an owl or hawk. Or, if it’s a temporary set-up, simply store it in your barn until next summer.
Once you’ve got your broiler coop up and running, you’ve ordered your chicks, and you’re ready to go, there’s one more thing in which to prepare: your brooder. Broilers will also need to spend a few weeks in a heated brooder. I’ve used a plastic tote, wooden box, and my father-in-law’s antique brooder, all with success. The key is using a heat lamp, maintaining a good temperature, and keeping your chicks dry by adding fresh bedding every day. If you notice a chick with a pasty butt, remove the white poop from its rear and it should be fine once you notice it is able to pooh properly.
They will quickly feather out, losing their yellow fluff within a week or so. I usually put my broilers out in their mobile coop after two weeks, depending on the weather. This is when I switch from medicated chick starter feed to broiler feed with the higher protein percentage.
Your cornish broilers will be ready to process in about eight weeks, and it’s really easy to raise enough chicken to feed your family in one flock. I generally order 75 chicks, with the goal to have 60 to process. You can count on some loss during production, so order a few more than you need.
I hope this helps you get started on raising broilers in addition to layers. I always take pride in being able to raise superior-quality poultry for my family, friends, and customers. Once you start raising your own meat chickens, it’s definitely hard to go back to carrageenan- or salt-water-injected store-bought nonsense. And please keep posting your questions! I’m so happy to help and address your concerns about raising poultry. I’ve got a few more reader questions to answer in upcoming posts.
Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer from Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo and has a BA in English, with a concentration in creative writing. She raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne at her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.
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