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Feed conversion rate for homegrown broilers

Homegrown chickenAs I  mentioned yesterday, the feed conversion rate of 3.5:1 for pastured Cornish Cross is extremely tough to beat.  We've tried four different experiments with raising heirloom chickens as broilers and yet my very best feed to meat conversion rate was 5:1.  The figure means that my chickens required 5 pounds of storebought feed for every pound of meat I got back, half again as much as what Cornish Cross would have consumed.

My best results came from Black Australorps who ran in the woods in the spring (thus getting nearly maximum forage) and then were slaughtered at 12 weeks.  At the far opposite extreme, Dark Cornish chickens raised on overgrazed summer pasture and killed at 16 weeks had an abyssmal feed conversion rate of 8.8:1.

Here are some mistakes you should avoid if you want to feed your broilers as little as possible.

  • Feed to meat of chickens of different agesSlaughtering the chickens at a more advanced age.  At 12 weeks, light-weight breeds result in carcasses of two pounds or smaller, so it seemed to make sense to kill some a month later.  Unfortunately, the growth rate of chickens peaks around 6 to 10 weeks, so you have to feed your flock more and more for that extra growth.  To feed the least, slaughter your chickens young.
  • Raising chickens during the summer lull.  In our area, the succulent plants that chickens prefer are a spring and fall attraction, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the Cuckoo Marans we raised on summer pasture had a feed conversion rate of 5.2:1 even when killed at 12 weeks.
  • Black australorps on pastureKeeping broilers in with laying hens.  My third batch --- Black Australorps part two --- had a truly awful feed conversion rate of 7.6:1 at 12 weeks.  The problem here is that I mixed the broilers in with our laying flock, assuming that the hen we tricked into adopting them would make sure the chicks had first dibs on the food.  This worked at first, but during the last month (when broilers consume the majority of their lifetime feed), the mother hen cut her offspring loose, and they were stuck at the bottom of the pecking order.  I had to throw in more and more food just to make sure they had enough to eat.  In future, broilers will always get their own coop and pastures.

Chicks pecking for maggotsEven if I don't repeat any of these mistakes, it's going to be tough to cut the amount of feed we give to our broilers enough to achieve the awesome feed conversion rates of Cornish Cross.  That said, I have high hopes that the Light Sussex we're currently experimenting with might do better than our best batch of Black Australorps.  I hatched the Sussex chicks so late that I figured they wouldn't harm the garden if allowed to free range, and they've been gorging on wild food ever since.  Meanwhile, I'm gauging their feed needs by the state of their crops, which allows me to feed them much less than the books tell me to.  I'll report their feed conversion rate on our chicken blog around Thanksgiving, so stay tuned!

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.



This post is part of our 2011 Chicken Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Your link "gauging their feed needs by the state of their crops" seems to be broken.
Comment by Brian Fri Oct 7 13:35:35 2011
Thanks for catching that! I meant to have that post show up on our chicken blog before this post showed up on Walden Effect, but clearly I got confused. :-) That link will work next week, but for now, you can read a rough draft at http://avianaquamiser.com/pending/How_much_food_do_chicks_need63/.
Comment by anna Fri Oct 7 15:02:47 2011

What about everything you were writing about about a year ago re: using compost worms as chicken feed, or growing your own bugs (I can't remember what they were, you had a pick of someone growing them in a plastic bin in their bathtub???) ... what percentage of a chicken's food can be bugs/insects? Compost worms are so easy to grow -- could they become a slightly larger portion of the protein for chickens?

This is totally a city person question, sorry. I just recall there was a phase where insects were being investigated as a protein source? What about worms? I have some worms doing very well in a large bin that is mostly leaves, egg cartons and misc kitchen scraps. Would those worms have much nutrients for chickens?

(Dumb questions, I know...this is why I only sign with my initial!)

Comment by J Sat Oct 8 01:59:17 2011

That's not a dumb question at all! Insects and worms are actually chickens' food of choice. The trouble is that they're hard to grow in large enough quantities that they provide much food for chickens. I'm hopeful that Harvey Ussery's book will have some realistic advice, because my experiments with growing invertebrates so far haven't been chicken-worthy.

Compost worms are probably the best option, and now that our worms are finally happy eating horse manure, I could see us having an excess of worms sometime next year. The trick, then, would be harvesting the worms for the chickens without losing the castings --- which are even more important to the garden than the worms are for the chickens.

The other way to look at it is to diversify the pasture environment to the point where invertebrates naturally grow. Worms, grasshoppers, praying mantises, grubs, and Japanese beetles seem to be some of the most sought after foods of our chickens --- if we could trick more of them into walking into our chickens' hungry beaks, we could feed less. One way to do that is to let the chickens roam over a very large area, which we're actually having a lot of luck with right now with our Light Sussex.

I'm sure you'll hear much more about the insect side of raising chickens as we try things out!

Comment by anna Sat Oct 8 08:46:08 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime