We built a few hover style brooders that hang from the ceiling. The chicks are free to go in and out of the hover brooder as they see fit and this allows them to regulate their own temperature so there is a bit less worry about whether the brooder is too hot or too cold. This also mimics the way a mother hen keeps her chicks under her but allows them to run in and out to forage or warm up. By keeping their feed and water out in the open area of the brooder the chicks feather out quicker to reduce the brooder time required before they are moved out to pasture.
The frequent addition of fresh wood shavings balances the carbon to nitrogen ratio and results in a deep bedding system the chicks enjoy scratching and pecking through in search of small bugs and bits of food. One study published by the Ohio Ag Extension back in the 1930's compared two batches of broiler chickens. One batch was put in a brooder that was completely cleaned and sterilized prior to the arrival of chicks and fed a typical grain ration. The second batch was put in a brooder that had not been cleaned and was using a deep bedding system and fed a deficient grain ration. Surprisingly the mortality rate was lower and the daily weight gain was higher in the second batch! The power of deep bedding.
Once the chicks feather out and graduate from the brooder we move them out into chicken tractors and portable electric netting. Daily moves of the chicken tractors disperses the manure across the pasture and prevents the buildup of excess manure or parasites. The birds really look forward to their daily moves and are ready to rush in and gobble up any unlucky crickets or grasshoppers that may be still hanging around.
This year we had some predator issues so Hank was put on broiler guard duty and after that we did not lose a single bird. After about 8 weeks they are grown out and ready to go to the processor for the freezer.
You are what you eat, so you are what the chicken eats.
We feed a 100% organic grain ration that is corn and soy free. Although it is more expensive and forces us to charge a bit more for our birds we believe it is actually cheaper than the long term environmental and health consequences caused by the use of herbicides (round-up) and chemical fertilizers which are a by product of the oil refining industry. We are also tired and bored of driving through the countryside that is dominated by two crops - corn and soybeans everywhere.
Not only is this monoculture madness extremely vulnerable to pest and disease pressure but it also has fostered the destruction of entire ecosystems and soil health. By feeding an organic grain ration based on barley and field peas we hope to support a bit more diversity in the farm supply chain. Small grains such as barley are usually part of a more diverse crop rotation and the fact that they are organic means no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used on the fields. Supporting small scale farmers by purchasing clean food also results in cleaning up the ecosystem, a win-win scenario.