Sunday, April 25, 2010

Broilers Invade the Phelan Ranch!!!

Broilers are in the Field!!! On Saturday we put all 102 cornish cross chicks out to pasture. They spent a little more time in the brooder than desired (24 days), but they were super happy to be put on the cool green grass.

Since this time of the year is cooler and we shouldn't experience too many hot days before we butcher, we used the Salatin pen design, only reduced to 8 X 8 instead of 10 X 12. This makes a more manageable pen that can be pulled in any direction. Salatin usually puts 75 - 80 birds in the 10 X 12 with 100 birds being the max. Using this as a template, we put 50 birds in one and 52 in the other. I wouldn't recommend putting any more than 55 in an 8 X 8 pen. Also by making our pens 8 X 8 it allowed us to exclusively buy 8 foot lumber and have ZERO waste pieces. I would only recommend this style pen if the temperature stays below 92...ish (F) while the birds are larger (older than 5 weeks). We went ahead and put chicken wire beneath the tin on the sides so we could remove the tin if necessary (like if the temp reached 93).

Here is the breakdown of supplies to build one of our 8 X 8 broiler field shelter.

2 - 2x4x8ft Pine Studs
5 - 1x6x8ft Pressure Treated pine
5 - 2ftx8ft pieces of tin (all but one cut in half)
1 - 24in X 25ft of 1 inch poultry netting (chicken wire for the sides)
1 - 48in X 4ft of 1 inch poultry netting (for one of the doors)
1 - Box of 1 5/8 dry wall screws (1 lb)
1 - Box of roofing screws (1 lb)
1 - Chicken waterer and bucket
1 - Feed trough (6in PVC works great... just add a spindle)
1 - Dolly of some sort to hold up the back of the pen while moving.
1 - Spool of wire for handles on side of pen. (30ft??)

Here they are headed to the pen. What large legs they have... almost big enough to nibble on... yummmmm.... Longest 8 weeks ever! That is just a cage I made out of some welded wire we had lying around. I put cardboard in the bottom so their legs didn't poke through.

Settled right in and began to eat right away. This is a good sign that everything is in order. Before you move them out to the pen, have everything prepped and ready to go. Water in the waterer and feed in the trough. Shoot me any questions if you have them.


  1. how much does it cost to build one of these pens?

  2. We built a similar tractor out of PVC pipe. It's only 5x5, but we only ever have a maximum of 12 birds at a time ;). Living in the suburbs, like we do, means doing everything on a much smaller scale. What we liked about the PVC is that it's incredibly lightweight and very easy for one person to move.

    We just brought home our first batch of ten broilers the other day and they are currently in the brooder.

  3. What are you using for the crates to transport the chicks from the brooder to the field? I've seen the expensive plastic ones you can buy but I haven't been able to justify the cost of buying any of them new. So that leaves me with throwing the chicks in the back of the pickup and hoping they don't jostle around too much...

    I like the idea of putting the chicken wire underneath the tin so you can take the tin off if necessary. Up here in ND (our farm is two miles south of Canada) we only get at most one week of upper 90 degree weather in August, so heat usually isn't too much of a problem but it would still be nice to have the option.

    Oh, and congratulations on your marriage, too! May the Lord continue to guide and direct you and your wife as you together serve Him.

  4. Oh, never mind. I see I missed what you wrote about using the welded wire with cardboard. I'll have to give that a try. I appreciate your informative posts, keep 'em coming!


  5. Cost is around $200 if you buy everything new...

    We DID NOT buy everything new. Our cost was about $75.

  6. Here are a few questions:

    1. Will a regular dolly work to move the pens?

    2. How do you fence sheep in one and two strand electric fence?

    3. How do you graze pigs without them messing up your grass, or can

    I know the last two questions are not about broilers, but they are questions I have been wondering.

    Thanks for the help!


  7. Graham,

    I'm not sure about the regular dolly. I used the Polyface design and I'll try to get a picture of it in use on here soon.

    We use 2 wires on what we call "permenant" electric fence (even though it is easily moved) and 1 wire about 24in off the ground on our temporary electric fence.

    I love for the pigs to root, but if you don't want them to you can put rings in their noses. Ask your local feed store or vet about what they can get in the way of pig nose rings or rooting rings. They will know what you need.

    Hope this helps.


  8. Your broilers are looking good! I need to put in an order for mine soon. I just bought a used chicken tractor for $20! It just needs a little sturdying up and it'll be ready to go!

    I can comment on the sheep fencing. I'm currently fencing my sheep and goats using poly tape, it's 1/2" wide. It's hooked to the main fence and I can use the 2 strand method to fence off paddocks. I'd say the first strand is about 8-10" from the ground and the second is 2'. They respect the fence and I can even use just one strand of the fence about 20" off the ground. Knock on wood, it's been working great!

  9. Which months do you plan to run the broilers? We're about the same latitude as you and highs for July/August tend to range from 94-98 most summers. I was thinking I would run the broilers until July and pick back up September. Some farmers run all summer with a different style that they they call "greenhouse style" where they have what looks like a pen with a very high, vented ceiling to let heat escape.

  10. I use a similar system I built from PVC and junk around the farm. I lost 30% of my birds to coccidiosis or something like that, during the grow out phase. Did you experience many losses during your time at Polyface, or in your new venture?

  11. Cara,

    We will probably only do broilers in the spring and fall... skipping the summer completely. I'm not sure of our exact dates, but this spring we are ending tomorrow, the 29th of May. We may also try to build different style pens.


    30% is a big loss. 10% is what I consider acceptable and anything less is better. What caused the coccidiosis? If it happened during the brooding phase, you might have had bedding that needed to be added to or a water system that got contaminated frequently. This year we lost 0% in the brooder and that had a lot to do with sanitation of bedding and water.

  12. I use Joel's stir often, add more, deep bedding ideas from Pastured Poultry Profit. We had them in the brooder with 0 losses. Once the moved onto pasture it was a different story, we lost 4 in one day out of a 60 bird pen. At the 5th week they stopped keeling over 1 or 2 a day but by then we had lost 16 out of 60. By butchering we only did 39 out of the 60 we started with. We had exceptionally cold and wet weather, I think we might have put them out a bit too early.

    We have switched to freedom rangers as they fit our profile a bit better. I see Polyface is doing freedom rangers this year too.

  13. Grady, have been trying to make contact with you. This is a layer question rather than broiler. Which poultry netting are you using for your layers? Also, how many rolls for how many layers? Thanks, Sara Shelton

  14. Hey Sara,

    Premier make great netting. 3 rolls of netting (160 ft each) will make a 1/4 acre. Thats enough ground for 1000 birds for 3 days... or so.

    We only run about 70 layers right now in one net for 6-7 days. I want to run 500 and I would use 2 nets.

    My email is

    Our website is

    How everything?


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